In my mind, I’ve had this rather clear distinction between prayer and magic. Prayer is a private conversation between you and a Power. That conversation might be celebrating that Power, thanking them, praising them, asking for their assistance, expressing your fears and concerns, or just touching in. It’s characterized by communication.
Magic, specifically spell work, is also expressive but less nebulous in its purpose. Magic (spell work) is intended to get shit done. Instead of talking to someone, you go out and take care of business. The spell worker draws upon personal skill, the ability to move energy around, and a high degree of problem solving ability in order to bring about their desired outcome. Though there are instances when spells and prayers might be very similar in form, in my mind these two things work best when they’re fairly distinct. To me, calling spell work “just another word for praying” was rather missing the point of both activities, but to each their own.
Recently though I’ve been rolling around a new perspective on both these activities. The ability to get your ideas across, to communicate clearly and meaningfully with the Powers, and the confidence that help will be forthcoming are all important parts of prayer. Praying is in its own way a magical skill. It’s the power of petition. Anyone can pray, just like anyone can do magic. However, saying a prayer does not make you a pray-er any more than doing magic makes you a magician. Time, effort, and a good relationship with the relevant Powers are also important.
There are Powers for whom prayer is magic. They are easily petitioned and respond rapidly. Some people are exceptionally good at achieving outcomes through prayer. Some people are able to become exceptionally good at it. All this means that the same ethical guidelines that apply to one’s magical practice must be applied to any practice of prayer that might be undertaken.
Prayer is not necessarily “safe” or “harmless”; ask anyone whose family members have tried to pray their gay away, to pray away the perceived flaws of gender identity or expression, or for that person to return to the fold of a religion left behind. Prayers don’t simply just hang out in the universe doing nothing if some sacred mediator decides that that power isn’t needed. Your actions, including the energy you send out in the form of a prayer or petition for intervention, will have consequences.
Right now I’m thinking about sitting down at the bargaining table with a particular Power, one who likes prayers. Learning her prayers and then reciting them would incline this Lady towards my request. Her eagerness for this particular offering suggests that prayers do, in fact, have more value than we (I) might have ever imagined.