Hospitality is the Law

Hospitality is the foundation of Paganism. Reciprocal relationships, maintaining the right order of things, Ma’at, the mos maiorum, harmony: whatever you call it, hospitality is key in nearly every Pagan religion, ancient or modern. This I believe.

Down here in the South hospitality is simply called manners, and manners are a big deal in the South. While we seem to have made a virtue out of being a bitch in this day and age, it’s not getting us anywhere and it’s certainly out of keeping with Pagan tenets of balance and harmony.

RobPurdie Flickr CC

Hospitality puts the responsibility on both the host and the guest. The host is responsible for creating a welcome environment, offering food/drink/shelter and treating the guest with the respect they are due. The guest shouldn’t come empty-handed, should should show the host gratitude and respect, and should behave in a way that gives honor to the host. For instance, if you invite someone to dinner then there should be a place for them to sit and food for them to eat, you should make the guest feel at home and you should thank them for coming to visit. As a guest you should bring a contribution for dinner, thank the host for inviting you and not get in a drunken fist-fight in their front yard. It’s pretty basic stuff.

“Thanks for coming! Have a seat! I’ll get you some sweet tea.”

“Thanks for inviting me! I brought a pan of cornbread to share.”

This applies to a lot of areas of our lives. As a Wiccan, this totally applies to how we worship. The guests within our circle are not merely Wiccans but the Gods themselves. Just as we treat them with great courtesy and bear gifts, they don’t come empty-handed but carrying blessings. Here on this blog, this is my hall. I try to be hospitable. I try to post regularly. I try to respond to readers. I don’t always live up to the responsibility of being a good host. I’m human. I make mistakes. However, I also don’t tolerate rude guests. You can disagree without being rude. You can tell me I’m wrong without being rude. Your courtesy is the gift you bring. If you think I am full of crap, then why are you walking into my hall? Sitting on my sofa? Drinking my sweet tea? You are wasting your time, which could be best spent being a good guest in a hall you respect, or being a good host in your own hall.

Hospitality as a concept on the internet or in ritual is fairly easy compared to hospitality in our communities. Bringing a dish to a potluck is an example of hospitality. Your host should be clear about the number of people arriving and you should bring enough to share with everyone. If you’re not bringing home leftovers then it should be a mark of pride that people went back for seconds of your dish. It should be a mark of pride that if your group hosts a potluck feast that no one should go home hungry, and that’s not the responsibility of a single person, but of each member of the group.

Hospitality means that when you are a guest in someone else’s ritual you abide by their rules, and you treat their practice respectfully. Also, if you invite a guest into your home, you shouldn’t trash their religion and spiritual practice. Just as rude as it is for a Christian to invite a Pagan into their home for the purpose of convincing them their religion is wrong, it is just as rude for a Pagan to treat a Pagan guest of another tradition shabbily because they believe their practice is “wrong.”

The Delphic Maxims, the Havamal and other ancient texts give instruction for being a good guest and a good host. Craft laws in their many variations exhort us to treat each other with love and respect. We talk about love a lot in the Craft, but love is a difficult emotion to master. In occultism there is a lot of talk about the will, but the will can become a tyrant and excuse for bad behavior. When it comes to interacting with each other productively and smoothly, hospitality is the law, over love and will. Hospitality is just good manners, and if you can’t master that, how can you master love and control your will?

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://hellenicpolytheist.wordpress.com/ Pythia Theocritos

    I love this post, especially where you mention being a good host to the gods. I haven’t always been the best guest or host, but I strive to have manners because doing so is social lubricant and helps build bridges between individuals and communities.

    This is a small side-tangent, but I see reciprocity towards the gods as one of the things balked against the most by some neo-pagans I encounter in my community; the idea of worship and sacrifice to deities (even when you’re not necessarily asking for something from them) has been with a scoff, as if the gods exist to serve wo/man. I think before anyone can master hospitality towards other humans, getting these same concepts down with the deities who have chosen one is a great first step.

  • http://hellenicpolytheist.wordpress.com/ Pythia Theocritos

    I love this post, especially where you mention being a good host to the gods. I haven’t always been the best guest or host, but I strive to have manners because doing so is social lubricant and helps build bridges between individuals and communities.

    This is a small side-tangent, but I see reciprocity towards the gods as one of the things balked against the most by some neo-pagans I encounter in my community; the idea of worship and sacrifice to deities (even when you’re not necessarily asking for something from them) has been with a scoff, as if the gods exist to serve wo/man. I think before anyone can master hospitality towards other humans, getting these same concepts down with the deities who have chosen one is a great first step.

  • Illiezeulette

    I love this post.  I grew up in Texas, and even in the South (or are we Southwest?) I see more and more people growing up without a basic education in etiquette.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, where culture is vastly more permissive (which is both good and bad), the presence of manners is even more diminished.  At least, that is my experience.  As a Roman Recon wannabe, I am attempting to integrate more and more virtue, including hospitality, into my life.  Having meaningful conversations about this need among my peers are so few and far between that sometimes I lose hope for my generation (I’m a twenty-something).  Glad to see Pagans and Recons taking up good old habits.  (:

  • Illiezeulette

    I love this post.  I grew up in Texas, and even in the South (or are we Southwest?) I see more and more people growing up without a basic education in etiquette.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, where culture is vastly more permissive (which is both good and bad), the presence of manners is even more diminished.  At least, that is my experience.  As a Roman Recon wannabe, I am attempting to integrate more and more virtue, including hospitality, into my life.  Having meaningful conversations about this need among my peers are so few and far between that sometimes I lose hope for my generation (I’m a twenty-something).  Glad to see Pagans and Recons taking up good old habits.  (:

  • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

    Even though I’ve spent most of my life in the South, I had never really thought much about ‘Southern hospitality’ until one of the teachers in my Japanese class in college (who was from Japan herself) told the class that she found the southern US to be the region of America most like Japan because of the emphasis on hospitality, manners, etiquette etc. I’ve always found that to be an interesting observation. I’m so accustomed to that kind of Southern hospitality and I’m so comfortable with it that I find it kind of jarring to be around people from other parts of the US where there is a much more brusque and no nonsense culture.

  • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

    Even though I’ve spent most of my life in the South, I had never really thought much about ‘Southern hospitality’ until one of the teachers in my Japanese class in college (who was from Japan herself) told the class that she found the southern US to be the region of America most like Japan because of the emphasis on hospitality, manners, etiquette etc. I’ve always found that to be an interesting observation. I’m so accustomed to that kind of Southern hospitality and I’m so comfortable with it that I find it kind of jarring to be around people from other parts of the US where there is a much more brusque and no nonsense culture.


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