The Dedicant Handbook, Our Own Druidry, defines hospitality as “Acting as both a gracious host and an appreciative guest, involving benevolence, friendliness, humour and the honouring of a gift for a gift”. The Oxford Dictionary online defines it as “the friendly and generous reception of guests, visitors and strangers”.
Michael J. Dangler points out that the word “hospitality” comes from the same root as both “guest” and “host”: the proto-Indo European word *ghos-ti. The * denotes that the word is reconstructed by linguists and not attested to in literature or archaeology. The word *ghos-ti has been adopted in ADF for the central concept of a reciprocal guest-host relationship. This relationship is central to the format of ADF ritual and ethics.
Hospitality was universally recognised as a virtue in pre-Christian Pagan cultures around the world. In many cases, hospitality was essential for survival, especially for the poor, hungry or those travelling afar. Hospitality, the sharing of food, shelter and comfort, was reciprocal, either directly or via reputation. It was expected that a gift be repaid with a future gift, and people known to be generous and hospitable were much more likely to also receive hospitality when they were in need.
Alyxander Folmer writes that “The ancient Norse and Germanic tribes had a strong ethic of Hospitality, which eventually permeated almost all aspects of those cultures. The idea of Hospitality came to influence their politics and religion just as much as it shaped their day-to-day lives. The concept encompassed personal generosity, reciprocity, and even what we today might term “social justice”. By the end of the Viking Era, this had become a highly ritualized practice and a core part of the their worldview”.
Hospitality depends on being both a generous host and a good guest, knowing not to take too much or over-stay your welcome. The Havamal has several stanzas relating to the virtue of hospitality, including:
Hospitality today seems devalued in modern society, especially when it comes to people on the margins such as the homeless and refugees. While I don’t believe we need to open our homes to people we don’t know, the virtue of hospitality should make us think about donating money and food to shelters and food banks, and, on a political level, should make us consider how we treat immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
Hospitality also should extend to our relationships with the other-than-human community and with the land itself. Are we being good guests on the Earth, taking only what we need and sharing resources fairly? Are we hospitable to the wildlife with whom we share our space, by feeding the birds and leaving wild areas in our gardens for hedgehogs, snakes and other creatures?
The virtue of hospitality reminds us that we are not isolated individuals, but are constantly in relationship with other people, with nature and with the planet itself. Living this virtue means striving to make those relationships generous, friendly and beneficial.
ADF, Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009.
Dangler, Michael J. The Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010.
Folmer, Alyxander. Wyrd Words: Pagan Ethics and Odin’s Rites of Hospitality. 2014 [Online: retrieved from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2014/07/wyrd-words-pagan-ethics-and-odins-rites-of-hospitality/, 17/01/2016]