Hospitality Begins with Ditching Expectations

Hospitality can be a challenge. Especially when you’re dealing with many different Powers, from many different pantheons and with vastly different outlooks. The key seems to be making every Power invited feel truly and sincerely welcomed.

But where to start?

Kathleen Norris, in Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, said that “True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person”. This idea forms the foundation for how I approach hospitality, and the first step towards it is to abandon my preconceived notions.

Several of Those I honor have a very one-dimensional representation. This is both limiting and inherently unfair. I tend to research everything to death before I move forward, but I have consciously stopped myself from doing that here. It’s the same reason I would rather meet people in person than trust gossip. I don’t want the course of our relationship to be charted in advance. Besides, how many of us really feel welcomed if there’s some sort of reputation already in place that we have either live up to or distance ourselves from?

Treating Them with dignity requires that I allow Them to reveal what They like as They like, without pressure or agenda of my own. I don’t care what other people have said. I want to hear what They say. I don’t want to box Them in with another’s words, I want Their words to fill the silence. I want to get to know Them better, on Their own terms, and establish mutually fulfilling relationships. Only when that’s done can I hit the books.

So far this has been an interesting (and, for me, incredibly uncomfortable) way to proceed. At first it felt almost disrespectful, like learning Their stories would be a token of good faith. Instead They seem to enthusiastically support the way I’m engaging Them. Who doesn’t want a chance to introduce themselves without bias or baggage? That aspect alone is making the process fascinating, and I’m fairly sure that when I do consult the lore to verify what I’ve gotten through UPG I’ll have some interesting differences to sort out. History is almost always written by the victors, and there is little victory in the historic record for Those I honor.

The relationships I’m forming are still tentative, but I’m already learning personality quirks. We’re forming working relationships, rather intense ones in some cases, very quickly. I honestly don’t think the work would be going this well if I was full of what I expected to find, instead of remaining open to whatever comes.

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On Hospitality

In my last post I spoke briefly on hospitality before moving on to my altar/shrine. I thought I’d revisit the topic and explore it in greater depth. This will likely be a series, actually – so consider advanced warning given!

Hospitality is one of those rules that seems universal, and can be found everywhere from the Norse sagas to the modern practice of bringing wine when invited to dinner. Hospitality is a sacred exchange, and the give and take of it forms the basis of relationships. In India (and there is some interesting exchange between Celtic and Vedic practices) residents have a concept of Atithi Devo Bhavameaning “the guest is God”. The idea is that guests are offered the same things one would offer a deity.

Of course, the inverse is also true. In our culture, when we’ve distanced ourselves so much from the gods, hospitality gives us a concrete way to again pave the way for relationships. We simply  begin offering the gods the same considerations we offer our guests.

The Greeks did this exact thing. They had the concept of“xenia” – literally “guest-friendship” or “ritual friendship”. When speaking of gods the concept was called “theoxenia”, and though the execution of the rules varied a bit for Them the intent stayed true.

Xenia consists of three basic rules:

  • The respect from host to guest. The host must be hospitable to the guest and provide them with food, drink, and even a bath if required.
  • The respect from guest to host. The guest must be courteous to their host and not be a burden.
  • The parting gift from host to guest. The parting gift is to show the host’s honor at receiving the guest.

Those of us who have devotional relationships with our deities already practice this. We extend hospitality and welcome the Kindreds into our lives. We provide food and drink, care for Their shrines, clean and cleanse Their images. We make other offerings too, to show our honor at receiving Them – dishes used strictly for Them, procuring Their favorite foods and drinks, space in our homes, regular acts of service and devotion, sacrifices as varied as the Powers themselves.

This does not have to be expensive. I went from honoring 3 Powers to honoring 10 in a day. This was a significant adjustment. I wanted everyone to feel welcomed and honored, and I started fretting about how an urban monastic like myself could make them comfortable in such limited space, on such limited funds.

Which was, of course, ridiculous. Hospitality is a reciprocal thing, and as stated earlier one does not overburden the host. As I was willing to offer the best I had, They were graciously willing to accept it. Coming up with something for all of Them was within even my budget. Would They appreciate other offerings in future? Of course. But They are more than willing to work with me while I sort it all out.

In the meantime I offer what I can as I can, welcome Them with joy and reverence, and am honored by Their presence in my life. By such things are relationships deepened and enhanced – hospitality in action.

Rooms, Storage, and Doors – Thoughts on Altars

This Exploration I welcomed seven new Powers into my life, and left space for an eighth who will come later. This was a big deal. I’ve worked with my Lady, the Ancestors, and the Land alone for so long and with so few interruptions that adding anyone else to the mix is difficult for me to conceptualize, much less do. But time? It approacheth, and I had to hasten to get everything together before Their arrival.

 All Southern girls are trained in hospitality from the cradle. Mix in working primarily for a Celtic deity and the idea of Hospitality gains both a capital letter and an even stronger emphasis. Taking care of guests is damn near instinctive at this point.

 Prepping to welcome these new Powers was in many ways like prepping for any important guest. I did all the typical things, like clean and cleanse the house, air the place out, etc. My house is a reflection of me, and I want it to be neat and orderly and serene for guests. Especially serene. That’s important.

 Unlike my usual preparations, however, those coming to visit don’t really use the front door. They have another way to access my space. So I completely restructured my altar.

In Vodou practitioners use veves – highly stylized lattice-like symbols representing a given Power – as a type of homing beacon and doorway the associated Power can use. I don’t use veves, but providing doorways to energy has always been part of my practice. In the past it’s been an action (invocation and/or offering) but I finally – finally! – found images that suit each Power I’m now working with. (Cue the peasants rejoicing here. This took YEARS.)

Every image is up on my wall now. The whole thing feels “done” (except for a shelf I’m adding next week below everything to hold offerings). Here’s what I came up with:

Image 

All neat and tidy, isn’t it? I’ve got representation of my Lady, the Ancestors, the Land, AND the new Powers I’ll be working with. I even have a space ready and waiting for the Power I’ve been told will join me later. All the Kindreds have a place now! Thrilled does not begin to cover it.

It was only this morning, when I was completing my devotions, that the difference between my altar and most of the others I’ve seen finally occurred to me. It’s not “busy”. I don’t have tons of stuff. Some pictures, a shelf under my Lady’s image for two of Her things and an offering bowl, and another shelf holding my prayer beads and the like. That’s it. I thought about it and eventually understood the reason for the difference.

 In general, altars are a designated space for spirituality/magick and a place to store the myriad of tools needed for same. I approach both of those ideas from a non-standard angle, and that is reflected in altar construction.

 First, the designated space idea. The altar is seen as liminal space – sacred, protected, a space where we can commune with the Kindreds and do magickal work separate from our daily lives. It’s like a little cubby with walls of energy instead of sheetrock.

I am directly opposed to that view, at least in my own practice. If the altar is the space in my home that is sacred and protected, then that implies that the rest of my home is not. If I need a liminal space set apart from life to interact with the Kindreds then I’m trying to keep Them compartmentalized somehow. That’s just not how I approach my spiritual life. Integration is my keyword and has been for years. I mean, I sleep with my phone. Friends and family can contact me any time I am not at work (since one has to eat, and that takes priority). Why would I not be at least as accessible to the trusted Powers in my life?

Physically an altar is supposed to be the place that containerizes all of your magickal bits and bobs. It holds your tools, your BOS, herbs and stones and divination tools. Some people keep their books there too. The need for storage is why so many people have altars with storage ranging from bins to whole closets.

I simply don’t do much magick. I’ve always come in more on the devotional side of things, and that trend has only continued over the last decade or so. Now I’d say that 95% of what I do is devotional, not magickal. Tuning forks are the only tools I use regularly – most of my magick is based on direct energy manipulation and perspective shifts. My magickal library is extensive, but it and my BOS are electronic and thus need no shelf space. In short I don’t really need my altar to be a centralized place for magickal workings. I don’t do enough to justify the dedicated space.

So my altar? It’s not a place set apart or a storage area – it’s another door into my home, where I endeavor to make the guests who use it comfortable and welcomed. I’ve locked that door, because safety consciousness is never a bad thing, and the pictures of the Powers I work with are simply a different kind of key. That works for all of us.

Exploration

And so the Wheel turns and brings us to Exploration. Also called Candlemas and Imbolc, in my calendar this is the time of year when expansion in the mental and spiritual realms is paramount.

I haven’t been posting much anywhere on the interwebs since Origination (12/12). My focus abruptly shifted at Origination, and the directions I received at Solstice have been… different enough to require all my attention.

In addition to all of this I am now sharing living space with another person and all of their spiritual relationships and spiritual activities, which has required some flexibility on everyone’s part.

It’s not over, either, since I’m currently adding several more deities to the mix.

My directions from my Lady at Solstice were simple: “Develop a new devotional practice to deities I have carefully chosen for you. And don’t screw it up.”

Um… ok?

You have to understand that my Lady is both fiercely protective and possessive. She has seen some of the interactions between deities and Their people and wants none of that for me. She has been incredibly careful of who She’ll let me work with (both in general and specific), has taught me incredibly intricate shielding and powers much of it Herself, and in general has been a mama bear with a fuzzy baby cub.

I’m the fuzzy baby cub in the above metaphor, by the way.

So this direction has left me a bit confused. My instinctive reaction was “please no – I serve YOU and don’t want anyone else!”. She rather enjoyed that, truth be told, as it confirmed things for Her. However, I have been reassured that these new deities will in no way detract from my service to Her – that, in fact, these new relationships ARE a service to Her. That made everything A-OK for me.

That brings us back to Exploration. This is the time of year for establishing new deity relationships. I’m in the process of completely revamping my altar space to accommodate new presences, and am making substantial changes to my daily practices to honor everyone. MUCH more change than I’m comfortable with, but I trust my Lady implicitly. She wouldn’t overburden me, so I know I have the time and energy to do this right. And by asking me to take this on She’s trusting me as well. Also, from another perspective, the fact that They are willing to work with me on any level is immensely flattering – They are all amazing, even the ones I’m only now getting to know.

The formal welcoming ceremony for Them is tomorrow, after I have everything ready to receive Them. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even post a picture of the new altar space!