Pagan Values: Xenia, Xenos, and The Theoxenia

Hospitality, Friendly-Strangers, and Honoring the Divine

So having made a place in my life and heart for Dionysus, and having recently graduated with an A.S. degree in Hospitality and Restaurant Management, one of the things that has caught my eye about The Bull Roarer is his place as one of the Theoi Daitioi, or the Gods of Feasting.  Out of this fact, I have as a part of my budding Hellenic Polytheistic studies, and as a personal way of honoring Him, been learning about foods and feasting in a cultural and social and religious context in ancient and modern Greece.  This has also led me into research for a long term project for a written piece about food and wine and their use in Pagan events and rituals in feasting and offerings.  Which is how I learned of Theoxenia.

Theoxenia is a ritual feast honoring a God, or Gods, in Hellenic Polytheism.  The basic outline of this ritual ~ which differed from the feasting related to the more usual  sacrificial rights (Note: for most contemporary Hellenic Polytheists, being raised as city or suburban kids, modern sacrifices are in the nature of prepared food being burnt and offered.) ~ of having a feast with a place at the table (or in the Hellenic mode a dining couch reserved for) a God or perhaps several God; this has been adopted and adapted by contemporary Pagans in a number of ways, both for honoring the Gods and for Honoring the Beloved Dead for those that observe Samhain.

Theoxenia is the act of hosting or showing a God or the Gods hospitality or Xenia, which is the Greek concept of hospitality.  This attitude of treating the Gods like honored guests, is actually one that I first saw fully articulated in Deborah Lipp’s The Elements of Ritual…, where she makes extensive (and fabulous) use of the Honored Guests Metaphor.  That in a Wiccan Circle Witches should treat the Gods, and Spirits, called upon like honored guests… seems rather simple doesn’t it? 

I think that the same holds true for other forms of Paganism, and that this developing of a relationship with the Gods, however we concieve of Them, is a practice common to many forms of Paganism.  It certainly seems to be so in my experiences with Gods, and in what I have read of others expereinces of the Divinities.

Earlier I said that Theoxenia is showing the gods hospitality or xenia, Xenia is the greek word/concept for hospitality.

“Xenia consists of three basic rules: The respect from host to guest, the respect from guest to host, and the parting gift (xenion, ξεινήιον) from host to guest. The host must be hospitable to the guest and provide them with food and drink and a bath, if required. It is not polite to ask questions until the guest has stated their needs. The guest must be courteous to their host and not be a burden. The parting gift is to show the host’s honor at receiving the guest. This was especially important in the ancient times when people thought gods mingled amongst them. If you had played host to a deity (a concept known as theoxenia) and performed poorly, you would incur the wrath of a god.”

Now, I don’t think we need to be too formal, or bound by the forms, that Xenia took in ancient times.  I do think that remembering that Hospitality is a 2-way street an ongoing relationship between Host and Guest, and not merely an obligation on the part of the Host, is key and would help sort out a LOT of drama in the Pagan movement!  Not only face-to-face at events and rituals, but online as well!

Gastblogschaft

Main Entry: gast·blog·schaft
Pronunciation: ‘gäst-blog-shäft Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): pluralen
1 a :
responsibility for hospitable treatment, or response, exhibited by a blogger to readers’ comments 1 b : a blogger’s respect for readers that includes a commitment to accuracy; a tendency to respond to readers’ comments with consideration and a level of respect commensurate with that expressed by readers
2 : a blog commentor’s reciprocal responsibility to comment with the courtesy and respect shown by the blogger
3 : the aura or atmosphere of fun, engaging interaction created by such commitments to respect by bloggers and readers

~ Bernulf from A Heathen Blog: Expanding Inward

Now just as I think we could keep certain things in mind in our relationships with the Gods, and our relationships within the bounds of Hospitality, I think we could examine how we view/interact with one another.  I think too often we in the Pagan community have had pendulum swings of how we view others in the movement ~either they agree with us in every particular or they are teh fluff-bunny or the enemy~ which is where we come to Xenos, which is a complicated Greek word that can range in meaning from “foreigner” to “Stranger with/to whom I have a ritual/social obligation”…

“Xenos can be translated to both foreigner (in the sense of a person from another Greek state) as well as a foreigner or traveler brought into a relationship of long distance friendship. Xenos can also be used simply to assert that someone is not a member of your community, that is simply foreigner and with no implication of reciprocity or relationship. Xenos generally refers to the variety of what a particular individual can be, specifically guest, host, stranger, friend, and, as previously mentioned, foreigner.

The ambiguity of the meaning of xenos is not a modern misunderstanding, but was in fact present in ancient Greece.”

A lot of us are still getting to know one another, and despite the “comming home” feeling so often cited in discussions about how and why one came to Paganism, and depite the goal in some Traditions of Paganism of finding a Family, instant family doesn’t happen… even in a family of choice…

So lets take a few moments to examin how we are relating to our Gods and to one another…

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One thought on “Pagan Values: Xenia, Xenos, and The Theoxenia

  1. Teh awesome post, Pax.

    I do in fact already practise Gastblogschaft. Even when I disagree with someone, I am always polite. Even when they are rude to me.

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