Holidays, holy daze, and the spirits of hospitality

Posted: December 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

I am a feral creature of strange habit and savage routine, and I am probably more grim than is needed (except in certain company, as was recently pointed out to me by a dear friend who has never perceived of me as withdrawn or overly solemn) and I frequently overlook the warmer, nicer, softer things in life. I suffer from the blessings of a critical eye and a disposition leaning toward the severe. As such, the “great American holiday season” is rarely a period where I find myself sliding into the warm-fuzzies and joyous celebrations that most people seem so enlivened by: I hunker down and do my Work, and historically slip away to a local pub or an all-night diner if I feel the need to be in close proximity to other people.

But historically I lived in a home, in a Temple. Now I am traveling through these lands in a van, which is gradually being outfitted as a mobile shrine, worship and ritual nexus and cult-center for my doings. When I envisioned this period of my life, some months ago, as I burned my Temple to the ground, I did not envision quite so many people being in it. All the time.

I have been made the target of an absurd amount of hospitality, especially since the first snowfalls happened, and while this has certainly put a damper on my brooding cave-dwelling-every-night plans, I can’t suggest it as a bad or unwanted thing. It is also a very traditional, sacred, and — dare I say it — polytheistic thing.

Polytheists and animists (“polytheanimists”) practice religions wherein we honor and in some way (whether through practice alone or direct experenced communion) many gods and spirits are greeted, hosted, honored, fed; these are expressions of divine hospitality, which in my estimation make up the primary function and backbone of what it is to be a polytheist. Forget everything else you’ve read, or written, or beaten into somebody with a rogue 2×4: being a polytheist is about intentionally navigating, embracing, and godsdamned living hospitality with your every breath. We receive hospitality, whether we want to admit it or not, every time that we step or sit or screw anywhere in this world: all things were Created and Blessed and are enspirited by some forces greater and infinitely more complex and holy than we. We are guests here. And in turn, our religious structures are a way of reciprocal hospitality: we provide in our home shrines a space to welcome those (sometimes invisible, sometimes terrifyingly visible) forces, powers, gods and goddesses and ancestors and holy powers into the center of our homes and lives and families.

There is no more sacred deed in all of human ken than opening one’s home and heart to a traveler. Whether that traveler is a beloved family member, a misplaced-by-decades vagrant Thracian priest, or indeed a god of the savage wilds or a queen of the mighty sea winds, there is nothing holier nor more profoundly telling of the interrelatedness of the myriad all and the pluralistic everythings than the warm welcome of properly abided ancient laws of hospitality.

And so when they say to me, “No, you’re coming back up this way on Tuesday. There is a meal, and you’re going to be there, because it is more food than one family can eat”, a part of my recoils because I want to be alone in my cave but another part of my realizes these humans are invoking me to their table, where a place is set, and food apportioned in offering. It would be an offense to deny them this, just as it would be an offense for them to not present the offer: and so I go. And I eat. And I repay their hospitality as best I can by being as blessed a guest as I can be. (There were an alarming amount of teenage girls, who I apparently became the subject of whispered gossip and theory amongst. It was almost as if they’d never seen a barbarian priest with goat blood stains soaked into his boots before.)

But the point in all of this is this:

I suck at calendars. Many (if not most!) of my regular conversations with PSVL involve discussing holiday dates and calendric structures, and the truth is that these are just things that don’t stick for me. They never have, and they never will. I don’t even remember my own birthday until somebody points it out. There are only three days a year that I remember to honor: the holiest night of my Thracian lineage, and two days held highest by another group of gods and spirits who I honor and serve daily, which mark the start of my formal relationships with them. Beyond this, I rely on other people to know what is going on. I’m not a “high holiday” kind of person, I don’t do “wheel of the year” countdowns and I’ve never been any good at knowing what day of the week it is. I measure time by bottles, by lovers, by friends, by sacrifices and by blood spilled to ashen stone in the name of the gods I hold in my every breath, as my every breath is held in ownership by Them. Which is all to say that the Winter holidays are not my favorite time of year, socially speaking: there is a lot of expectation for me to be “that” kind of priest, and I am not. I am another kind. A few other kinds, in fact.

But there is one thing that I get, during these weeks, and that is the holiest thing of all: hospitality.

It isn’t about being a perfect host (there is no such thing, for all guests have different expectations) nor is it about being a perfect guest (there is no such thing, for all hosts have different expectations). Infractions will happen with each. Some homes require shoes off when you enter, while others will scoff at this or (if they’re all wearing boots in the living room) feel slighted by your own removal. Some gods want all of their offered and apportioned gifts to be left entirely for them, while others want them to be consumed, or dropped into a specific pit in the side of a specific mountain, or left at a specific crossroads, and so forth. Some guests will leave the toilet seat up, some gods will make passes at your sister, some Thracian priests will accidentally make out with the pretty one that keeps serving him whiskeys and beers until he forgets that he is not in the wilds and the caves. Some hosts will have behavior that offends a guest, and some guests will have behavior that offends a host. The offense is part of the dance of hospitality, which itself is the act of receiving guests, be they blessedly known or entirely unknown and markedly strange in their nature or presentation.

I will track the wilds in with me, when I enter your home. I cannot help it. I try to help it, but I always miss something. I bring that which I am everywhere that I go. Sometimes I try to shield the civilized from myself, but at least around this time of the year, I am learning that it is very much the wildness that they are welcoming into their home in their gestures of offering, of place-by-the-fire, of plate-at-the-table: I am not expected to be other than what I am.

Similarly, when welcoming gods and spirits into your home and shrines and life, you are welcoming them as sacred guests: it is improper as a human host to make tremendous demand upon them in the name of domestic decorum. But it is also upon a guest, be they a god or a wandering polytheist, to navigate the norms of the spaces they are welcomed into with a mind for respect. Being a guest carries as much responsibility, in an entirely different sort of way, than being a host. When hosting the gods, it is important to also remember that we are guests in Their dominions, travelers through Their domains of influence, dallying upon the doorsteps of Their infinities. Act accordingly, as guest or host or hosted guest or guesting host. Pour well from the cups of having to the cups of giving, and know that someday soon, you will be without home, without table, without fire, without shrine, without walls and doors and curtains, and on that day you will rely upon the cup of another to take in your fill.

With no blasphemous intent or implication, I will end with this reflective statement: in these the darkest and coldest of days, I realize humbly once again that interacting with the gods and the spirits is not so very different than interacting with humans, which most today do not do with terrible skill. The laws of hospitality are ancient and to a certain extent elastic enough to stretch into different contexts, but always it is about the relationship between being welcome and being welcomed, and in this day, as I sit at a borrowed table, I find that this is as near to the heart of polytheism that I can perceive of in this moment.

I hope with full humility to succeed half as well in welcoming my gods and spirits — and those of others engaged along the way! — as I have been welcomed and warmed in my wanderings this week. I have often been the provider of hospitality — for humans and spirits alike! — but now is a time for guesting my way through this world, in a manner that I have never done, and in this way I learn the other side of this equation of essential relation.

calvin_hobbes_santa

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Comments
  1. Indeed…I have nothing to usefully add.

  2. bearfairie says:

    As a heart sibling and someone who loves you, I am immensely glad to hear you are being loved and welcomed with generosity and hospitality. I am glad you are being fed and given shelter from the cold. I am the hearth that welcomes the wild back into the civilized, and as one who stands in between feral and domestic (and who is very domestic these days), it makes my heart glad that you have good folks locally who can do this for you.

    I am sitting with the evolving question of what hospitality and devotion to my beloved Powers looks like as a new mother. Most of my daily devotional practices have fallen away- I am nowhere near having a regular schedule, and my time is no longer exclusively my own to shape as I see fit. And I am needing to face how much of my prior daily practices had fallen into lazy defaults, ego and excuses. So now, post partum, I find myself stripped of excuses, stripped down to basics, with this incredible gift of a blank canvas upon which to build a new practice. I am committed to not sliding back into old habits, and I’ve needed to look very baldly at where my god relationships were/are mangled, broken, insincere, incomplete, where I’ve built bad habits and been disrespectful to Those who have given me everything. It is humbling and I feel some fair amount of shame around it. I am meditating on this post, on what it means to be part of the sacred exchanges of hospitality on all sides and all levels. Thank you for letting us be part of your meditations, you are giving me good and valuable and sacred food for thought.

    Blessings and love. You are always in my prayers.

    • Glad to hear you responding here, dear friend!

      You’ve actually just reminded me of a post I was thinking about writing…I need some material to fill in one post a day on my blog between now and the 30th, and I think I have one for tomorrow now! 😉

    • The last quarter of this year has been a period of challenges and tests (as most who know me are aware of!) and perhaps the largest of these is the continued impediment of a consistent formed and structured daily worship routine. Absent my Temple I am without all of the anchors that I have been built around — please take a moment to reflect upon that particular way of wording things, as it is more reflectively true than any other I’ve spoken recently, I think — and I find myself a landslide of mud and debris, spilling out and down and crushing and consuming as it goes. A self-aware landslide which is mindful of the things it destroys, and very much cognizant of the absent tree-line (whose roots once held the earth in place) and stones and *walls*.

      My relationships with my gods are stronger than ever, but my *way of relating to them* is being challenged daily. Stripped naked of my role as Temple priest, and finding myself serving in different ways and different settings, I must examine the role that I carried and filled and assess my own process within it, my own qualifications to take it up again. Similarly I must assess who and what I am absent that role, and where the broken bits are — and which of those bits need repair or replacement, and which of those bits were legitimately healed by and doing just fine within the context of my cavernous Temple role.

      But hospitality has always and ever been the theme and the context on which the content of my relations with the divine powers unfolds. Regardless of setting, or structure; all the world is wild, as well we know, and walls are the bloodiest of lies. Domestication is a thing we wear around ourselves as a blanket to comfort and shield away the harsh realities just outside of it: we think of that inside the blanket as “ours” and that outside of it as “Their’s”, and we act accordingly. But the reality is that the fires and the winds and the waters and the mudslides have very little care for our blankets and the lightning strikes of Sabazios at Night have thunderous disregard for our sense of comfort and when Kotyto has a thing to say, Her voice reminds us of how thin our blanket-against-the-wilds really is.

      So in some respects, hospitality is how we politely ask the gods to let us continue pretending that we have some control down here in the dirt. In Their dirt. If we’re polite enough and respectful enough and generous enough with our offerings and our time and our prayer and our incense and our spirits and our blood-spilled-to-ashen-stone and our dancing and our fucking and our screaming-out-the-mad-brilliance-they-fill-us-with-as-breath, then maybe just maybe we get to stay here in our blankets a little bit longer, feeling enthroned and warm and shielded. Or maybe we get the golden opportunity to burn it all down and dance in the ashen embers as the wilds come creeping back to return to reaching green or snowy white, as the nine winds force surrender to all directions.

      I need coffee now…

  3. […] from my Anomalous Thracian colleague, two posts on the matter of hospitality as it applies to polytheism, and perhaps (though he may not have […]

  4. […] in the last month or so is great coverage of the concept of divine hospitality (here, here and here), or “how to treat your gods like they are real”, in ritual and engagement otherwise. […]

  5. […] “We receive hospitality, whether we want to admit it or not, every time that we step or sit or screw anywhere in this world: all things were Created and Blessed and are enspirited by some forces greater and infinitely more complex and holy than we. We are guests here. And in turn, our religious structures are a way of reciprocal hospitality: we provide in our home shrines a space to welcome those (sometimes invisible, sometimes terrifyingly visible) forces, powers, gods and goddesses and ancestors and holy powers into the center of our homes and lives and families.” – Thracian Exodus: Nomadic Musings of a Wandering Polytheanimist […]

  6. […] “We receive hospitality, whether we want to admit it or not, every time that we step or sit or screw anywhere in this world: all things were Created and Blessed and are enspirited by some forces greater and infinitely more complex and holy than we. We are guests here. And in turn, our religious structures are a way of reciprocal hospitality: we provide in our home shrines a space to welcome those (sometimes invisible, sometimes terrifyingly visible) forces, powers, gods and goddesses and ancestors and holy powers into the center of our homes and lives and families.” – Thracian Exodus: Nomadic Musings of a Wandering Polytheanimist […]

  7. […] a specific kind of host, who was still also a guest. Layers and layers, my friends, this whole hospitality […]

  8. […] literally our relationships (or lack thereof!) to the place, space and circumstance in question. I first wrote about this topic in the early winter while reflecting on hospitality of a more human variety, and […]

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