We especially want to be hospitable to the Gods and ancestors. We politely invite Them to our rituals, we offer Them food and drink, and we regale Them with tales and re-enactments of Their mighty deeds. We say farewell when we’re done. We want the Gods to know we take our virtues seriously and that we’re good hosts.
Meanwhile, our human guests sit in the corner quietly waiting for the ritual to start while a handful of regulars are holding a loud private conversation in the kitchen.
Nobody thinks our human guests are unimportant and nobody means to be inhospitable, but that’s what countless visitors to Pagan gatherings experience eight times every year. We’re busy setting up for the ritual and then we have to change clothes and check on one last thing and then a good friend we haven’t seen since the last ritual pops in and we have to talk to them and then it’s time to start and who are those people sitting in the corner and I guess somebody said something to them and and and…
And the end result is that people who are looking for a spiritual community decide this isn’t the place for them. If we’re lucky, they forget about us. If we’re not, they tell everybody at the next place they go how unwelcome we made them feel.
Hospitality is a virtue and a sacred obligation, but it’s also work. If we don’t have a good plan and then follow through with it, the work won’t get done.
Have a designated greeter. Designate someone whose job it is to greet guests as they arrive. That way Jack isn’t thinking Jill spoke to the young couple sitting in the northwest and Jill is thinking Jack did it.
Introduce yourself. Offer a handshake, but be ready to drop it if it isn’t picked up right away. Don’t offer hugs to strangers – some people don’t like to be touched and don’t appreciate being pressured into it.
Ask questions. “Where’d you hear about us?” “Take you long to get here?” And if you’re not sure, don’t be afraid to ask “have you been here before?” I see people who come to one ritual and then don’t show up again for six months – if there’s something unusual about them I may remember I’ve seen them before, but if not I can’t be sure. Better to ask than to guess wrong.
Let people talk. Most people like talking about themselves. Let them. Your job isn’t to show them how much you know or to correct their misinformation or to tell them how much you liked the book they’re reading, your job is to make them feel at home. Let them talk.
Tell them what they need to know. Point out the bathrooms and let them know where they can put their coats. Particularly if someone shows up way early, let them know where everyone is gathering and what time you’ll start. Needless to say, start on time – Pagan Standard Time is an abomination!
Tell them what they need to know to fully participate in the ritual. Assume that there’s at least one person who’s attending their first Pagan ritual. A good ritual will have plenty of cues for participation, but make sure people know when they’re expected to respond. If there are songs or chants, go over them before the ritual begins. If you’re casting a circle, ask people not to cross it and point out who can cut them out if there’s an emergency. If you’re not, let them know it’s OK to step out if necessary. If there are parts where everyone is expected to participate, make sure they know that before you begin.
Be accommodating. If you serve alcohol in the ritual (Simple Feast, Cakes and Ale, Reversion of Offerings, etc.) make sure there’s a non-alcoholic version available. Make sure there are chairs for those who need them. Jason Mankey made a good case for standing in ritual where ever possible. He’s not wrong, but I’ve found that if people aren’t moving, they’re generally more attentive sitting than standing. Even when you have everyone moving (like for a spiral dance) there may be some who can’t – make sure you have a place for them to sit and something for them to do.
Take care of your guests’ needs. How do you know what they need? ASK! Most Pagan groups are small and run on a tight budget – you may not be able to provide full ADA accommodations. But if you ask, you may be able to make their experience better, and you’ll let them know hospitality isn’t just a pretty word.
Thank them for coming. Of all the things they could have done that night, of all the entertainments and social gatherings and family obligations competing for their time, they chose to spend an hour or so with you. That’s at least worth a thank you.
Ask if they have any questions. Maybe something in your ritual was unclear to them. Maybe they had a great spiritual experience and want to talk about it. Maybe they like what they see and want to know when they can come back.
If they tell you something you don’t want to hear, smile and thank them for the feedback.
If we are hospitable to our guests, they’re more likely to come back. If they feel welcome, they may decide our group is some place they want to make their spiritual home. Even if they don’t, they’re likely to say good things about us to their friends. In ancient times the Gods were known to disguise themselves as humble travelers to test the hospitality of mortals. Those who were good hosts might be rewarded, while those who were not could expect the opposite.
But if we take our Pagan virtues seriously, we won’t be hospitable because of what it will get us. Rather, we will be hospitable because it’s the right thing to do.