The arch-Heathens regarded hospitality as strongly as they did a gift. The arch-Heathen would set the table just as soon as a guest’s shadow touched the threshold of the house. Once inside the home, the guest was under the protection of the host. The host was to protect the guest with all of his power. If something were to cause the guest misfortune in that setting it would affect the entire household. Evidence of these feelings still exist today. In fact, this term is a familiar one and hospitality is still valued in today’s culture. Most Americans are familiar with the notion of ‘southern hospitality.’
A fine example can be found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” Early in this work we find dwarves arriving at the hobbit’s house. As they arrive, they are invited inside and food and drink are immediately presented. They continue to arrive in a seemingly endless stream and Bilbo the hobbit continues to bring forth provisions. He continues to bring out food and drink because, for his tribe, the objective is not simply to provide a few morsels, but to ensure that the guests are fully satisfied. Contemporary Heathen hospitality is a bit different, which is to be expected. Rare is the stranger who becomes a guest and even more rarely would anyone empty their stores for a stranger. There are hotels and restaurants for that sort of thing; hospitality has become an industry.
The most important aspect to understand about hospitality is the fact that the act itself is bound to honor. It can be an honorable act, and a failure to provide proper hospitality can be a dishonor. Another Real Heathenry article established that honor is defined by one’s inner-yard. The particulars of what makes for ‘proper’ hospitality is also defined by one’s inner-yard. Honor can change over time which is why hospitality today is different from the oldest examples. It’s also worth discussing that the responsibilities of hospitality are not exclusive to the host. The guest also has responsibilities.
Considering the same excerpt from the “The Hobbit,” we find that the dwarves, while emptying the larder and casks, have caused quite a mess in the hobbit’s home. It is usually not appropriate to leave this for the host to clean up, even if the host insists. So the dwarves go about merrily cleaning dishes, sweeping, and otherwise tidying up the house. They continue to do so until the house is back in order. Although this isn’t the limits of a guest’s responsibility, it is a good example. The general idea is for a guest to do what is necessary to ensure that the next time they arrive at the host’s house, the host will feel joy that the guest has come to visit. To do otherwise may promote a sense of dread instead, which is the root of the expression, ‘to over stay your welcome.’
The power of food and drink are deeply ingrained in Heathen traditions. They have obvious ties to The Feast, and even today, act as a gift to the guest. Bonds can be strengthened as you sit across the table sharing stories and thoughts of life. The guest is allowed to briefly experience the frith of the house and the guest may even experience the very spirit of the house itself. The luck of the host is shared in these moments, and a good guest will likely take some of that luck with them, having literally consumed it. The modern Heathen will do well to recognize hospitality for what it is and establishing the limits and expectations of proper hospitality will certainly occur whether it is formally established, or comes about organically. In either event, know your responsibilities as defined by your inner-yard and abide by them. Doing so will only strengthen your honor, frith, and therefore your luck.
“All that a gift could do, food and drink could also bring about; it could mean honour or dishonour, could bind and loose, give good fortune and act as a cheek upon luck.” -Gronbech
[wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=1 linktext=’ The Culture Of The Teutons, Vol 1 by V. Gronbech’ /]
[wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=2 linktext=’ The Culture Of The Teutons, Vol 2 by V. Gronbech’ /]
[wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=11 linktext=’Honor in German Literature by George F. Jones’ /]
Hospitality and Graciousness as Valued by the Vikings by Piper Marshall