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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hospitality in a modern world

 Hospitality is an important quality in both Celtic and Norse tradition. In both cultures, as in many other ancient cultures, hospitality to guests was seen as an important social expectation. In the Norse Havamal we see a selection of advice given in how to live honorably, including this part about hospitality:
  "134. I counsel thee, Stray-Singer, accept my counsels,
they will be thy boon if thou obey'st them,
they will work thy weal if thou win'st them:
growl not at guests, nor drive them from the gate
but show thyself gentle to the poor.
135. Mighty is the bar to be moved away
for the entering in of all.
Shower thy wealth, or men shall wish thee
every ill in thy limbs."
(Bellows translation)

In the Cath Maige Tuired it is a lack of hospitality that is at the root of the second battle between the Fomorians and the Tuatha de Danann, as the lack of hospitality by the half-Fomorian King Bres eventually resulted in a rebellian by the Tuatha de Danann.
 "36. At that time, Bres held the sovereignty as it had been granted to him. There was great murmuring against him among his maternal kinsmen the Tuatha De Danann, for their knives were not greased by him. However frequently they might come, their breaths did not smell of ale; and they did not see their poets nor their bards nor their satirists nor their harpers nor their pipers nor their horn-blowers nor their jugglers nor their fools entertaining them in the household. They did not go to contests of those pre-eminent in the arts, nor did they see their warriors proving their skill at arms before the king, except for one man, Ogma the son of Lain.
39. On one occasion the poet came to the house of Bres seeking hospitality (that is, Coirpre son of Etain, the poet of the Tuatha De). he entered a narrow, black, dark little house; and there was neither fire nor furniture nor bedding in it. Three small cakes were brought to him on a little dish--and they were dry. The next day he arose, and he was not thankful. As he went across the yard he said,
"Without food quickly on a dish,
Without cow's milk on which a calf grows,
Without a man's habitation after darkness remains,
Without paying a company of storytellers--let that be Bres's condition." (Gray's transaltion)

  These are just a few examples of the way that the value of hospitality was expressed in common stories in both cultures. In the first example we see the idea that how we act as a host to our guests reflects on our reputation for good or ill. In the second we see the consequences of failing to offer hospitality when it is expected. In both cases we can see that hospitality involves generosity and openness to guests and that failing to be hospitible opens a person up to consequences of both reputation and (in the Irish) satire. It's clear from this and from other material relating to hospitality in these groups that hospitality was important and most modern pagans and reconstructionists seem to agree with the value of this. Yet how do we, as modern followers of these oder ways, create hospitality in our lives? How do we embrace a virtue of open handed giving and welcome to guests in a culture (talking about America in particular) that is often not reflective of that same value?
  This weekend my oldest daughter had a friend over for a play date. I spent a lot of the visit reminding my daughter that her guest was a guest, and was to be treated as such. When there was only one cookie left, it went to her friend. When they could not agree on a game to play I intervened and said that as the guest her friend should be allowed to choose what to do. This is how I was raised and I feel it is inline with the older values of hospitality, so it is what I want to pass on to my children; however I found out after the other child had left that this is not the usual way of things in modern society. My daughter, who is 8, informed me that when she went to other children's homes she had to do whatever they wanted to do, and was basically treated by the parents as imported entertainment for the other child. I was not happy to find this out, although it gave me an opportunity to discuss the value of being a good guest as well. Of course I also wasn't happy to find out that this child, much like another of my daughter's friends that had come over previously, attempted to steal something while she was here. The whole situation has me thinking about the subject of hospitality and how we, as modern pagans, can create a culture of hospitality - particularly for our children - in a world that is often at odds with those values.
  So far my best solution is to read the stories that I can to my children that emphasize these values and to try to show them by example what hospitality means to me. And what I would like it to mean to them. It's a complex subject, since hospitality is a balance between being a good host and a good guest, and to violate either has consequences, so conveying this to a child growing up in what amounts to a different culture with different values is challenging.
  How do you find that balance in your own life? How much value do you place on hospitality and being a good guest? And how can we, as modern pagans, re-establish this value within our own commuity? Just some food for thought....

 Bellows translation of the Havamal can be found here
 Gray's translation of teh Cath Maige tuired can be foudn here


  1. I'm thinking that part of modern-day hospitality includes treating those who read my blog, and comment on it, as my guests. Which means I can't be rude to them, even if they are being rude guests, and being a good host I have to answer any questions they ask in a timely fashion, etc.

    It doesn't moderate what I post, OTOH, where I am still opinionated and snarky. I may re-think that someday.

  2. That raises an excellent point actually Fern. How far does modern hospitality extend? I have seen someone on an online Norse group argue that the internet isn't "real" and therefore there is no need for any type of frith or grith to be expected or maintained (in other words that while online people can be as obnoxious as they want and it shouldn't be held against them). I have seen others argue the counter point that a "cyber hearth" is just as legitimate as a real one where behavioral expectations are concerned. I think the internet represents a special challenge for modern pagans, because the idea of hospitality is so much more vague here...yet perhaps all the more important because this is the main way that so many of us interact. You have just given me some serious food for thought. Must get on that with the thinking....