Generally, when we think of hospitality, we think of the reciprocal relationship between host and guest, which occurs when we open our homes to others.
Of all the Old Ways, hospitality is perhaps the most depreciated and the most undervalued in today’s age of selfish convenience. That is a fact I find sadly ironic, as hospitality is the most sacred virtue to the Gods.
That can be seen heavily throughout the Eddas and Sagas, where a breach of hospitality was considered the worst offense someone could make. The Lokasenna shows the aftermath of a violated hospitality – Loki crashes the party because the Gods didn’t invite Him, and the fact He wasn’t invited was a breach in hospitality.
The truth is, that is a breach in hospitality that most of us have committed at some point in our lives. If you’ve ever purposefully excluded someone from a group outing, despite the fact that person belongs to the group in question, then that is a breach in hospitality.
That raises the question about whether it’s appropriate to invite someone that you know will violate the unwritten laws of hospitality, and my answer is yes. I say this because every person must be given the opportunity to show that they know what the rules of hospitality are. As the host, if that person violates those rules, it then becomes your responsibility to see that person out.
To make this clearer, let me give a more solid example.
I’m the organizer for a local writing group, and when there are events, I always announce them on our facebook page, provide directions to the event if directions are needed, and greet people when they arrive at the event.
Now, if I were to message only certain members of the group rather than announce the meeting to the entire group, I would be violating the rules of hospitality. Someone would find out, and then I would be dealing with the backlash of someone’s resentment because they weren’t invited to an event they had every right to attend.
At the event, if someone starts acting inappropriately towards the other guests, then it is the host’s responsibility to ask that person to leave, and to explain why they are being asked to leave. But the person must first be granted the opportunity to act properly.
In today’s world, it is far more common to simply not invite someone, and that causes a great deal of resentment in the person who wasn’t invited. Because someone who hasn’t been invited always discovers that they weren’t invited, and they are hurt by it because they don’t understand why they weren’t issued an invitation.
If, instead, you offer someone an invitation (even though you are afraid that they will act inappropriately), you stave off that hurt, and if the person then chooses to engage in inappropriate behavior, you can ask that person to leave and explain why they are being asked to leave. While that might still anger them (that risk is always there), at least they will have a reason to cling to. And, hopefully, the next time they are invited to an event, they will remember why they were asked to leave at the previous event, and behave more appropriately.
Now, to turn this towards what it means to be hospitable in someone else’s home, there are different sets of etiquette for the host and the guest. Some of them can be gleaned from the Havamal, but most of them are common sense.
If you invite someone over to your house, then, as the host, you should expect to adhere to the following:
- Offer food and drink
- Offer place to sleep (if hosting overnight)
- Accept any help a guest offers
- Accept gifts offered by guests (this can be the help offered)
- Be attentive to guests
If you find yourself at someone else’s house, then, as the guest, you should expect to adhere to the following:
- Graciously accept food and drink offered to you
- Offer gratitude for having a place to sleep (if staying overnight)
- Offer help where it is needed
- Offer gifts (this can be in the form of help and doesn’t have to be a physical item)
- Be attentive to the host and respectful of house rules
These all seem like common sense, but a lot of people fail to adhere to them. If you go to someone’s house and you have a strict dietary regimen, it’s important to check with the host first to make sure that the host will not find offense to you bringing your own food. You should never expect the host to adjust their meals to suit your diet as the guest. As a host, you should always be willing to allow guests to bring their own meals if they need to stay on strict diets.
Now, there are people who will argue with this and say that a host should be willing to provide any type of food a guest desires, but that’s a selfish motivation fueled by today’s world of convenience. I don’t go to a Mexican restaurant expecting to be served Japanese food, so I don’t go to other people’s houses expecting their cuisine to meet any special dietary needs. Any dietary needs a guest has is the responsibility of the guest. While a host should always offer food, a host shouldn’t be expected to offer food that they don’t normally keep on hand. That’s just common sense.
I mentioned being attentive for both the host and the guest – that means that entertainment should be agreed upon between both parties. For example, a host shouldn’t play video games without including the guest in the activity, and a guest shouldn’t be playing games on their phone when the host is attempting to have a conversation with them.
While I wanted to touch on those two examples of hospitality – events and homes – I also wanted to discuss larger group settings, like classrooms. A lot of people, especially students, assume that a classroom is a place to goof off and do whatever you want. There is little respect between teacher and students, and respect is the spring hospitality flows from.
In a classroom, especially a college classroom, where the students pay to attend, it amazes me how disrespectful other students can be towards teachers. A lot of students will speak up and tell a teacher he or she is wrong without any discernible reason (except, perhaps, to be disagreeable), and I find that to be crass behavior. If a teacher has asked students to point out flaws in their logic (which they do sometimes, especially in math classes), then it’s okay – the teacher is essentially “the host,” while the students are “the guests.”
If more people viewed classes as events with hosts and guests, then perhaps there would be more respect, but I doubt it. Respect and hospitality seems to be a thing of the past, for the most part, and it’s sad that our world has turned into a culture of selfishness in the name of convenience.
There is a ton of disrespect in the world at large, and most of it started with my generation – the one where smartphones, computers, and technology became the main source of communication. I see it in my peers all the time, and it deeply offends me when it happens to me because I believe that respect should be given in order to be obtained, and when someone fails to offer that respect to me, then I have no reason to offer it back.
At a very basic level, if I go to lunch with a friend, I shouldn’t have to worry about my friend constantly checking his phone. The conversation should be occurring between the two of us, unless we are both in agreement and trying to get in contact with a third person to invite. Or if one of us is dealing with a crisis and makes the other person aware of it – respect is very easy to give, but very few people make the effort.
A lack of respect can also be seen in the way people go about disagreeing with one another. If your first response to someone who has a dissenting view from yours is to call them names or tell them how wrong and stupid they are, then you are violating the rules of hospitality. It is possible to disagree with someone and still treat them with respect. According to the lore, it is even possible to go to war with someone and still treat them with respect.
Respect and hospitality go hand-in-hand, and until we reinstate respect as a mandatory way of life, then hospitality may continue to fall by the wayside. As Heathens, we are called to act with hospitality, as the Gods consider hospitality the most sacred of all the natural laws. Our faith is founded on goodwill between us and the Gods, and that goodwill is found through the sacrifices we offer the Gods – the very act of sacrifice is hospitality in its purest form, and it is vital that we remember that in everything we do.