This post is triggered by my recent discovery that some have a problem with offering hospitality in rituals. It’s kind of startling, well—nothing is that startling, when you have to worry about if your new year’s sashimi is irradiated, or a rainy season without rain, or a random turning on of the news will show the latest bombing victims but still I am baffled and troubled—this is a big deal…Hospitality to the gods is controversial? Really? It is certainly at the heart of Druid ritual in my tradition or any ADF-related/derived one. But I think what lurks in this attitude is the way Americans are so stuck on either/or thinking. Somewhat human-like gods are being offered hospitality so then one is not respectful of those who are mountains, or streams, cinnabar moths, or scarab beetles. Actually, we offer to the land wights as well, and in the context of a rite done in someone’s backyard I often offer birdseed, bread crumbs or something similar that will certainly be appreciated by a certain portion of local creatures. And then there are the ancestors; surely hospitality toward them will take forms that are culturally or familiarly appropriate.
Hospitality lies at the heart of Celtic reconstructionist ethic and worship just like kharis, reciprocity, does in Hellenic. I think one could go around the world and find similar attitudes and practices more often than not. If a community comes together to worship the deities that are more approachable to humans in their specific tradition, it does not mean there are not opportunities to show respect and reverence to other beings further from human ken. To do so is to be mired in binary thinking.
This also gets into theology, and its endless disputes, an area I like to avoid, but seems needed here. First of all it is a problematic word—with its ‘logy’ attached to theos, as we are dealing with an area that does not lend itself to science, but to storytelling, art, myth (theopoetics)…and personal experience (but I will use it as ‘gods talk’). We’re never going to agree. And we lob terms about like hard and soft polytheist as if they are crystal clear. I’m neither soft nor hard, perhaps sandy (well, I do live on what underneath the house foundations is a sand dune), and yes, I think, I like that, because sand shifts; if these houses should all burn or crumble or just shake down in a earthquake some day the sand will be moving again. Take that metaphor as you wish. But let me say, my experiences of the deities are that they are distinct persons (though some are blurred groups), but that doesn’t mean I think they have hard shell-like boundaries like individuals are supposed to have in modern western societies. And they are mysterious; I don’t think I or any other human can really know what their boundaries truly are. And I also experience Them as immanent, and I do get so tired of naturalist and humanist pagans saying polytheists are transcendentalists. On the other hand I know some hard polytheists say they are transcendence-oriented. So in reality there is a great diversity of experience, beliefs and ontologies under the word polytheist.
But back to hospitality. When one is deeply open in the act of hospitality someone who is unexpected may arrive. This is being open to the other. Numerous are the tales of the unexpected guest who happens to be a god, unbeknownst to the hosts (remember Philemon and Baucis?). There’s a well-known Hellenic god known as the One Who Arrives. There’s our word epiphany. The act of hospitality may be an opening of our world. Far from ‘anthropocentric’ it is an invitation to the ‘other’; and animals are likely to show up as well as unexpected deities. I always feel happy when wild animals do arrive or come to take the offerings. In ritual we open to the unexpected.
For those of us involved in reconstructionist practices with Indo-European roots, hospitality actually lies at the center, of not only our practices, but, of our cosmos. Both the words guest and host come from the same proto-Indo-European root, ghosti, that reveals what Ceisiwr Serith calls the ghosti principle: “The principle acting in the universe, society, and ritual that says relationships are established and maintained through the exchange of gifts.” This is something found in many animist, indigenous traditions as well. In archaic systems of exchange the gift was important as a social and economic practice, bonding communities of difference. Hospitality is relationality. Even blogging partakes.