Letters from Midgard
One reason for rituals is to deliberately remember the things that are important to you. Take them out of the back of your mind and put them in front for a bit, so you really know they're there. Turn them over and look at them carefully.
One of the most important and currently underrated of rituals is sitting down to eat together. This is not just sitting down to stuff your face and then rushing back to whatever you were doing before you came to the table. This is putting everything else aside to spend time together. Everything else can wait. This time matters.
It's better if someone actually cooks.
We had houseguests for several weeks recently. The young lady was nineteen and had no idea that there is a way to set the table. The tableware is arranged like this, set carefully and straight, not just dropped beside the plates. We had to go over this several times before it seemed to stick. The candles on the table were an easier sale. They required no explanation. Turn the other lights down or off. The world changes. Maybe it even stops.
It is sometimes a few years between visits with my sister. She and her family are very Christian. When they sit down to eat, they hold hands around the table while either my sister or her husband leads a short prayer. She knows I am Heathen, and I think she is a little uncomfortable when she explains to me (again) that this is what they do at their house. Yes, I know that. Her little speech is familiar by now. I let her get about two words into it and I reach out my hands. The little speech stops. She smiles her little smile. We proceed, and we are together.
At my house, things work differently. We sit, and I ask for the table's attention. I look around at our guests, and say the name of each. Then I say, "You are welcome in our household."
It is interesting to watch the faces of those who have not heard this before. There is a pause. They blink once or twice. People seem to understand that this is not just idle table chatter. They wonder what they are supposed to say in return. There are many things that one might say, but "Thank you" or "We are happy to be here" work just fine. Returning visitors recognize that they have encountered this before, and somehow it never becomes casual.
In many traditional cultures, great importance is attached to the welcoming of a guest. There are many stories about this. One is the Lay of Rig, where Heimdall visits the homes of three human couples. And Hávamál, the lengthy poem attributed to Odin himself, begins with the welcoming of a guest. This is one of the most important of personal transactions, and it is important also that it be acknowledged as such, deliberately and on purpose.
Few of my guests know the depth of the promise behind this simple sentence of welcome. It doesn't matter whether they know it explicitly or not. They do know that something just happened. The world changes. Maybe it even stops. No other explanation is needed.
When my daughter was growing up, she and I used to make elaborate dinners for friends. That was often our Saturday Project together. Sometimes the guests we chose to invite were her friends. I remember the first time she asked me, just before we sat down, "Can I do it?" Of all the things it could have been, I knew which one it was. Of course she could, and she did: "You are welcome in our household." The result was the same.
I do not invoke any of my gods, unless the visitors are other Heathens. If they are not, there is no need to pull our guests into something they probably will not understand. The gods are with us anyway.
Steven Thor Abell is a storyteller and the author of Days in Midgard: A Thousand Years On, a collection of original modern stories based on Heathen myths. As of 2013, he is also Steersman of the High Rede of The Troth.
Abell's column, "Letters from Midgard," is published on occasional Thursdays on the Pagan channel. Subscribe via email or RSS.