A Southern Girl’s Guide to Hospitality

Let’s face it: a lot of the information out there about interacting with the Kindreds and establishing a devotional practice is damned intimidating for a beginner.

Most of us in the West don’t have a devotional tradition to draw on, and when we try to find others who can maybe show us the way we drown in technical terms and ideas we can’t understand yet. Add in the arguments about the info that is available and it can be more confusing than helpful.

I’m not an expert by any means, but I have been doing this for awhile. I figured I’d provide my perspective for any beginners out there simply looking for a place to start.

Maybe you’re new to the whole idea of hard polytheism, and just don’t know how to interact with entities who are real individuals and not theoretical constructs. Or maybe you’ve had an experience you don’t understand with an entity you’d like to get to know better. Maybe you’ve never had an experience like that and would like to. Perhaps you want to take your practice out of the Circle for the first time and start working with Them in day-to-day life. Or it could be that you’re none of these things and simply want some new ideas.

If any of that applies, then this is the post for you. Forget about “god phones” and “Ordeal” and “god spouses” and everything else that can be confusing and overwhelming. You can get to that later.

Right now? Right now we’re going to focus on the foundation of it all: Hospitality.

What is Hospitality?

Simply put, Hospitality is the fabric of social interaction. It’s how we make others feel welcomed, enjoyed, and appreciated in our presence. We normally talk about it in terms of “host” and “guest”, but with some tweaking it applies to every interaction we have.

The most basic premise is “treat others as you’d like to be treated”. This applies across the board, whether you’re dealing with your neighbor down the hall or a God that fills you with awe and reverence. There’s a reason why every culture I’ve ever come across values Hospitality so very highly. Without it we can’t connect to others – and a devotional relationship is all about connection.

Connections go two ways, and Hospitality is reciprocal. All of us have to do it for it to work. Just as fabric requires a warp and a weft to be woven, so too does Hospitality require all parties involved to engage. The very first extension of Hospitality sets the tone for future interactions. I treat you well, you treat me well, we both respond in kind, and our relationship is strong and balanced and everyone’s happy. It’s when Hospitality is not reciprocated that we start having issues.

This is really important when we’re dealing with the Kindreds. No one likes to be taken for granted, and often the only times people interact with Them is to ask a favor. That’s not how you treat those you honor and value. Without extending Hospitality first, that whole “setting the tone for future interactions” thing never happens.

And that’s a problem. Without that connection, that mutual maintaining of the social fabric, They are not any more inclined to bother with you than you would be inclined to deal with some random stranger who popped up out of nowhere and asked for money.

Many of us really don’t get Hospitality as a concept. We never learned it.  However, when it came to establishing devotional practices with the Kindreds I was lucky. I do have a tradition of Hospitality to draw on. I’m a Southern girl. Hospitality is born and bred into those of us born below the Mason-Dixon, and the rules don’t change simply because the entities who come callin’ are non-corporeal. Hospitality has guided my interactions with the Kindreds from day one, and when in doubt about how to proceed it’s still my fallback.

The Basics

There are a few basics to Southern Hospitality that are directly applicable when working with the Kindreds: being ready to entertain, offering food and drink, and showing respect.

Be Ready to Entertain

When I was growing up I was quickly taught the difference between public and private areas in the home. Public areas were anywhere guests might go, and private areas required an invitation. The distinction was important, because the public areas had to be public-ready at all times, just in case we got unexpected visitors. Guests had to immediately feel comfortable, and that meant things needed to be straightened and dusted and plumped and generally feel welcoming. Not perfectly cleaned, of course. Then it looked too perfect, which made company think they had put us out and required extra effort on our parts. Just tended and together. (Of course, when I’m expecting company I sterile-clean everything, then leave like a glass in the sink so it doesn’t look like I tried too hard. But I digress.)

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*bustles over to the sink* “Oh, let me get that towel. Sorry the place is such a wreck, hon. I wasn’t expecting company, but I’m SO glad you’re here!” *hugs* “You just have a seat and get comfy – would you like some sweet tea?”

Additionally, the formality of the visit and how well I know the guests determines where they’re entertained. Company I don’t feel particularly close to get entertained in the living room. Family gets a seat at the dining table (and usually coffee – we’re all into the caffeine). That’s just the way it works.

It’s really no different for the Kindreds. The areas They visit need to be clean and tended to. Ones I don’t really know yet get entertained at the altar. Ones I work closely with either have a shrine space decorated to Their preferences or get invited to the dining room table. Land Spirits almost invariably get the run of the kitchen, unless They request differently. My Lady goes wherever the hell She pleases. All of those places need to be kept at least moderately presentable at all times. No dust on the altar, the shrines tended, the table cleared, and everything just generally picked up.

Offering Food and Drink

When someone first moves into a Southern neighborhood, neighbors often bake a cake (or cookies, or pie – usually something very dessert-like) and bring it to the new family. The new family then offers a beverage (almost always sweet tea) to the visitors and they all share the dessert together.

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A typically Southern presentation – sweet tea and a tart.

While they’re all eating and drinking they get to know each other. Introductions are exchanged, advice on local attractions is given, and offers of assistance are made. The new residents are thus encouraged to become entrenched in their new community. Southern people traditionally look after each other, and that whole relationship begins with an initial exchange of items guaranteed to send people into a diabetic coma. From then on every time the neighbors visit the host offers food and drink, in echo of the original exchange that helped them get to know each other in the first place.

Southerners are all about the food and drink. Looking back, I cannot think of a single social occasion – not one – where food and drink weren’t somehow involved. That initial offering of cake and tea is the whole foundation for connections between people. It’s a physical embodiment of a social contract.

That doesn’t change simply because the guests aren’t physical. We just take on the role of physical hosts. We invite Them to visit us, and offer Them food and drink while They’re here. It’s being friendly.

There are a couple of levels to the food and drink thing.

1)      Visiting Fare: Desserts are almost all “Southern specialties”. Most people seem to have one thing they make in this category that’s like a signature dish, and they keep it around all the time just in case. Fresh-baked cookies, pies, and cakes are standard fare. (I do no-bake drop cookies.) Breads and rolls work too, as do appetizer things, and in a pinch store bought is perfectly acceptable. Sweet tea and coffee are both commonly offered drinks, but any liquid including water is fine. These are kept handy for any “just stopping in to say hi!” visits. As we saw above, these also work for “let’s be friends” presents.

2)      Sharing a Meal: This is the next step up from drink and dessert. The host doesn’t go through anything special, they simply offer the guest a portion of whatever they’re having for their meal. This always includes a drink, and often includes a dessert (and if it didn’t before, the host’ll hit their “just dropping by” stash and make dessert happen).  Common when someone stops by at mealtime (since eating in front of a guest without offering a portion is incredibly rude) and during long visits.

3)      Invited Sit-Down: This is when the guest is specifically invited to attend something like a dinner party, and the host pulls out all the stops. We’re talking nice dishes, tablecloths with candles, multiple courses, and a meal designed to suit the tastes (and dietary restrictions) of the guest. The host is not expected to break themselves to pay for it, though – it’s fortunate so many Southern meals are cheap to make!

4)      Potluck: When the host invites multiple guests – think backyard barbeque or a big fish fry – guests typically bring a dish for everyone to share. If the event is small enough the host handles the entrée (or the main dish for something like a birthday party if no entrée will be served), and guests handle all the appetizers, desserts, and sides. For truly large events everyone brings something, and multiple people bring entrée dishes. That way people can celebrate together, there’s enough for everyone, and no one person has to bear all the costs. And hey, if you bring something you’ll know there’s at least one item there you like.

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Um, yeah. The Southern potluck is an endurance sport. Expecting one person to cook all that is just inhumane, especially in 100* weather!

This directly relates to offering food and drink for the Kindreds. The first level? That’s the kind of offering made when you’re just saying “hi”, whether it’s a standard daily thing or an introduction. Sharing a meal is a nice thing to do with Kindreds you’re already working with – I make them a plate of whatever I’m having, and I generally shoot for something I cook myself. The “invited sit-down” level is where planned meals in a specific Kindred’s honor come in. When the whole community is involved in a ritual and honoring, like a Sabbat observance, everyone who shows can bring something to share with other guests and with the Kindreds.

I’ll go into how to do all this in the later posts (yes, another series is already in progress!), but the concept is straight out of Southern hospitality rules. Offerings don’t have to involve a whole cast and choreography crew, or be ruinously expensive – simply share what you have as you can, and if even a slice of cake and glass of tea are beyond your resources water works just fine. It’s the offer that’s important, not so much what’s being offered at this early stage.

Showing Respect

So the guests are comfortable in the clean and pretty space you’ve prepared. You’ve made the initial overture of offerings. Now you get to interact and play host/ess. Because you’re a polite person, you want to interact with everyone respectfully. Luckily Hospitality has rules for that too.

1)      Respect Other Perspectives: Acknowledge the fact that you don’t know everything, that your experience and perspectives are limited, and that everyone has something useful to contribute to a discussion. That means sincerely listening when other people speak and considering what they say, not dominating the conversation or interrupting, and inviting everyone to participate and feel like part of the discussion.

2)      Respect Conversation: If you can, before a guest shows up find out about who they are and what they do. Then ask about it when everyone gets together. Southerners don’t just gossip to gossip – it’s another way to create community. Ask after the baby their sister had, how their job at the mill is going, whatever. It shows sincere interest.

3)      Respect Timing: It’s often jarring to go from “hello!” to “get to work”. Small talk allows us to ease into the issue at hand, and then ease out again. It also allows us to demonstrate interest in the person in front of us for more than what they can do for us. In an emergency this can go out the window, but otherwise? Life’s a bit slower in the South. Slow down and allow things to unfold naturally. It makes everything warmer and friendlier.

4)      Respect the Unexpected: If an unexpected guest shows up and you can possibly manage it, make them feel absolutely welcomed and like you wanted them there all along. If it becomes a habit you don’t like, gently talk to them about it while letting them know this isn’t a rejection of their company but their timing. If someone you didn’t expect shows up at a party or whatever, try extra hard to make them feel welcomed. If you absolutely can’t manage a visit due to scheduling, apologize profusely and reschedule.

Again, this all directly relates to interacting with the Kindreds. When engaging with Them, give Them time to talk too. Actively listen to what They say to you, and offer up your own responses. If They are quiet, ask Them to speak and give Them time to do so, and be perfectly ok with it if They choose to stay quiet anyway. Do your research before They show if you can, so you know a bit about who you’re visiting with, and leave yourself open to hearing their side of the story too. Visit with Them and chat a bit – and remember that conversations go two ways. And of course, if Someone drops by to visit without being planned do your best to accommodate Them. If it’s simply not possible, reconnect with Them as soon as you can and visit.

Advanced Ideas

When in doubt you can’t really go wrong with the basics of a tended space, a thoughtful offering, and respectful behavior. However, should your relationship(s) deepen the Hospitality you offer will change. That’s perfectly normal. You’ll find out what specifically makes Them comfortable when They visit, so if you get a strong sense that They want to change something, that’s fine. Go with it.

This could include things like favored foods and drinks, preferred incenses, greetings They particularly enjoy that remind Them of times past, etc. For instance, the Land Spirits I’ve worked with don’t really like sweet tea, but I’ve yet to meet one that doesn’t like milk. During Beltane, when I specifically reach out to the Land, I make a big deal about bringing in a wide variety of non-local cheeses and honeys, so They can sample stuff They may not have had before. Several  Gods I’ve worked with like alcoholic beverages, but preferences ranged from chardonnay and merlot to beer and rum spiced with red peppers. One Goddess I’ve worked with actually prefers pure spring water.

Just as in human relationships, the depth of what you share with a Kindred can change too. Perhaps the initial introduction leads to a friendship, or a teacher/student arrangement, or a love affair. All of that will develop in time, as you and the Kindred in question get to know each other. That’s when things like “god phones” and “god spouses” and such come into play, and They’ll tell you when (or even if) They want that.

But to start? Practice basic Hospitality. Dust the altar, offer a slice of cake and a glass of sweet tea, settle in for a nice visit, and see what you learn!

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