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 Bhava, meaning “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.