Many Pagan traditions encourage the virtue of hospitality. Hospitality in its most basic form is the idea that a host will treat a visiting guest fairly and generously. In ancient times hospitality extended to offering food and an overnight stay to travelers (often strangers). In some climates, having a meal and a warm place to sleep could have meant the difference between life and death. Many Pagans have even extended the idea of hospitality to giving money to beggars on the street. The idea, put forth in many mythologies, is that the beggar could actually be a deity in disguise. Hospitality can extend to other areas of life as well. Hospitality has been often written about in Pagan blogs. I’m assuming the reader is at least somewhat familiar with the concept or can easily find a relevant posting about the concept.
What’s not always talked about are the responsibilities of the guest not to abuse that hospitality. While the host has the responsibility to be a good host, the guest also has the responsibility to be a good guest. Hospitality is a two-way street and requires certain things from the guest as well. Standards of politeness and humility would suggest that a guest shouldn’t be greedy when offered a meal and should retire early if staying overnight so as not to impose on the host’s time and obligations. Often the guest is responsible for providing good conversation too. At the same time, the guest shouldn’t abuse or overstay their welcome. Anyone who has ever hosted family for an extended stay can relate to these general guidelines. Benjamin Franklin famously quoted that “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”
So what about modern Pagans who abuse hospitality?
Pagans who abuse hospitality include that Pagan friend who raids your refrigerator and cupboards whenever they come to visit. “Yes, I made up some tea for your visit, and could even whip up a batch of nachos if you’re hungry, but I never said you could have a slice of that apple pie you just grabbed, and by the way it’s not mine to give, you seem to have forgotten that I share my fridge with a roommate, and have always had roommates the decade or more that you’ve known me.” I know. That’s a very specific example. Names have been omitted to protect the… um… innocent. Pagan friends who abuse hospitality also include those visitors who can’t take a hint when it’s time for them to leave. You have to go from hints like “It’s getting late. I have work in the morning.” to “Here’s the door. Don’t let it hit you on the way out.”
Pagans who abuse hospitality include the diva special guests at retreats and gatherings who wield their sense of entitlement. Maybe they want… scratch that… Maybe they expect the finest spring water and full course meals during the event. Maybe they treat all staff as personal attendants with nothing else to do. Maybe they don’t talk to the “little people” and I’m not talking about the Fey. Maybe they want to dictate the entire event and not just their part of it. Sure special guests deserve special treatment as honored guests, but there is such a thing as taking things too far. Most Pagan events are running on a shoestring budget and operating with a shoestring staff so that’s something for good guests to keep in mind.
Pagans who abuse hospitality include those who attend Pagan events and do all the taking, but never any of the giving. Sure most Pagan events are geared toward attendees – whether it’s a Pagan ritual, a gathering, or Pagan Pride Day – and some events make up a difference by charging for events. At the same time, most Pagan groups and events that I know of need way more planners and volunteers than they actually have. Hospitality is about reciprocity and doing your part. What’s even worse than Pagans who don’t get involved in their communities are those Pagans who say they’ll do something and then go missing in action when you actually need them.
Pagans who abuse hospitality include those folks who live on Pagan standard time. We all know the folks who you feel you have to tell them to be there an hour earlier than you tell everyone else if you have any hopes they’ll be there on time. Well maybe you don’t know those folks if you are one of them. Someone once said, “There’s Pagan standard time and there’s just f*cking late.” When you’re relying on these folks, it’s almost as bad as the folks who say they’ll be there but aren’t. At least those on Pagan standard time do eventually show up, but they’ve disrespected everyone else’s time and schedule in the process.
Pagans who abuse hospitality include the trolls in the online Pagan forums who go to great lengths to share their opinion that you’re wrong. You make an innocent post or share an event, and then the Pagan haters come out in force. Sure everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but these folks are on the attack – sometimes for the smallest things. These folks aren’t showing hospitality to strangers. They’re out for the kill. Speaking of sharing events, Pagans who abuse hospitality includes those folks online who go out of their way to tell you how to run your groups and events even though they’ll never attend, let alone show up to share their thoughts during the actual planning meetings. What’s worse than the online trolls are those friends who call you out publicly – when you really are wrong about something -rather than pull you aside privately. Friends are supposed to have your back. Despite what some folks say or believe, no one likes to be corrected or told they’re wrong, especially not publicly. Sometimes correcting a friend is the responsible thing to do, but it also must be done responsibly.
For me, hospitality is about treating folks with kindness and generosity, about reciprocal relationships in our communities, and also about not taking or expecting more than your fair share. I also believe in safety and having healthy boundaries. If a stranger shows up on my doorstep looking for a place to sleep for the night, I’m not going to let them inside and will instead refer them to a local help agency. When I was young I was very naïve and not very street smart. I ended up in a lot of compromising situations for trying to be nice and help people. That included being scammed out of money and even once having someone inside my car demanding money when I thought they needed a jump start to their own car. Because of my previous bad experiences, I usually don’t give money to beggars on the street and I certainly don’t give rides to strangers. I often wonder if I am turning down a deity in disguise, but if any really are deities then they should also see where I’m coming from.
Despite these possible shortcomings to the ideal of hospitality, I try to be friendly to strangers on the street; I open doors for people; I let people merge in traffic; I smile at the cashier at the supermarket. Rather than giving out money to strangers on the street, I donate to a local food bank that I know helps people in need. Online I’ve learned to just pass over posts I don’t agree with, though I do defend myself and my opinions if someone goes on the attack. I also get involved in my local communities. Sometimes that’s a hard thing to do since I feel a part of a handful of communities and because I have limited free time. The Pagan and LGBTQ communities are my primary communities, but I belong to and support other communities as well. Sometimes I’m involved in my communities as a host of some kind – whether it’s hosting a workshop, a ritual, a retreat, or some other event. Other times I’m involved in my communities as a participant or guest. I attend events hosted by others and occasionally I’m a special guest at an event.
I hope I’m both a good host and a good guest. I hope you are too.
The Law of Reciprocity is a basic principle that we can relate to our spirituality, to our groups, to our social lives, and even to our jobs, careers, and businesses. The basic tenet of reciprocity is give and take. When you do something nice for someone else, they’re likely to do something nice for you. If you only take and don’t give back, folks are likely to stop giving to you. If you give too much and never get back, you’re likely to feel taken advantage of. It’s all about respect and balanced relationships. This can apply to your relationships with the gods and goddesses, with your guides and totems, with the people in your respective group or coven, with your friends and family, and with your co-workers, bosses, and clients. Reciprocity can be applied to material things like gifts. It can be applied to non-material things like your time, attention, and how you communicate. Reciprocity is about building relationships.
In our spirituality, this means paying attention to our patrons and guides. When Pagans “pray”, we often make offerings and libations. Our prayers often take the form of rituals – whether simple and solitary or complex and involving many others in our chosen spiritual community. We might leave milk and honey for the Fey. We might offer wine or mead to the deities. We might burn a candle or incense to take our prayers to the heavens. We might make an altar and fill it with symbolic items to build our connection between the appropriate patrons or energies. We often share food and drink with the deities and amongst ourselves with blots and feasts further building our spiritual and community relationships. Pagans often say “A gift for a gift” or “A boon for a boon.” Pagans generally don’t expect free handouts from the gods and goddesses. Instead we offer something in return, an offering, our devotion, or sometimes even a vow of some kind.
Reciprocity also applies to our communities, though this is an area that many Pagans need to work on. How often do we participate in or give back to our Pagan communities? How many of us are content to be “solitaries” only coming out of our shells periodically to buy something from our local Pagan shops or to attend only the big gatherings and rituals? Do we even buy from our local Pagan shops or do we order all our supplies online? Do we volunteer to help at the gatherings and rituals or do we just take what is offered? In our Pagan groups, are we a leader or a go-to person? Do we take responsibility or do we sit back and let others do all the work? Do we make contributions monetary or otherwise to Pagan causes or to other causes that are dear to our hearts? Do we give positive feedback to Pagan businesses, groups, and events or do we only give negative feedback when something is wrong? Do we share your esoteric knowledge and experiences with others or do we keep it to ourselves? How you answered these questions will let you know how reciprocal you are and whether you need to do better.
Reciprocity also applies to our relationships with friends and family, as well as our smaller groups and covens. One of my pet peeves in this internet age is the number of people who have forgotten how to really communicate. Sure we post cat videos and status updates to our Facebook feeds, but how often do we really engage with each other. I have a number of friends who never or rarely reply to messages online, or by phone or text for that matter. I’m Pagan not telepathic. I don’t know if my message (sometimes multiple messages) got lost in their feed, whether they’ve got everything under control, or whether they’re ignoring me. With some folks, I feel like I’m talking to a wall both literally and figuratively. I really do need to know if you’re bringing the food to our next gathering, if you’re meeting me at my house or at Starbucks, or if you’re picking Aunt Edna up from her appointment. My dozen or so messages to you across Facebook, text, and voicemail weren’t because I had nothing better to do with my time, but because I really need to know. The last time I saw you in person you implied you would, but that was over a month ago. If you can’t confirm, I need to make other arrangements. Reciprocity is taking responsibility for our communications and taking our responsibilities to others seriously because we’d want others to do the same for us. Communication, respect, and taking responsibility are all key aspects of reciprocity regardless of whether we are dealing with divine entities or with our mundane family and friends.
These same concepts can help us in our jobs and businesses. Do we do our fair share? Do we put off all our work on everyone else? Or are we the ones doing more than our fair share while others slack off? Do we treat our customers right? Do we treat them like someone with expendable money to buy stuff or do we honestly try to provide them a product or service to resolve their need or a want? Are we open to communication, comments, and suggestions?
Reciprocity is closely related to karma though perhaps it’s a little more personal than that. What you put out comes back to you. What comes around goes around. When you treat others well and try to help them, they’re inclined to do the same for you.
Are your spiritual and your mundane relationships reciprocal? If not, what can you do to make them better?