Boundaries and Hospitality

“Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even though you wish they were.” – Proverb

We don’t have doors in our house. We have doorways, but no actual doors. So, my Significant Other put up old sarongs to at least give us some privacy in the bedroom.

We have a black cat named Bansidhe. She sings to us all the time (I haven’t noticed anyone dying whenever she cries, but who knows, right? She is a cat after all. I also haven’t noticed her herding fairy cattle, but I’m pretty sure she does that at night while we’re sleeping. At least it sounds that way…). She also has trouble crossing over our threshold at the curtains. At first I just assumed that my cat might be a little…well, you know, special. But then I started watching her when we did ritual. She never crosses our Circle. She is also an excellent companion on guided group meditations, and in my own astral temple work. She is very good about digging her claws into my knee at just the right moment to bring me all the way back. So I started watching her when she was going in and out of our bedroom.

She works her way up to it and then seems to force her way through. If I open the curtain for her and invite her in or out, she has no problems at all. But when she’s doing it herself, she does that adorable cat hunter butt wiggle thing and gets this look of extreme focus on her face as if to say, “I’m GOING to do it, NOW”.

So I started thinking that maybe my personal shields on the bedroom were a little much…

But what can I say? The bedroom is my Sanctuary, it is where I go to retreat from the world and from people and from all of those grating social activities that drive me nuts. When I’m at work, I’m forced to be polite and nice to people who do not always give me the same courtesy. I see it as a part of my professional demeanor to be as polite in all situations as I can be. Having a bad day? No excuse to take it out on other people.

So when I get home from work, I need a place away from the stresses of the outside world. I also don’t particularly like having people living in my space. I work my ass off and sacrifice a pretty big part of the actual me to work the job that I do. And while there are things about the job that I love, there are also things, most notably a lot of coworkers, that make this job an absolute misery for me. But, at the end of the day, I like having a steady paycheck with benefits. I like knowing that I can pay the rent to ensure that my sanctuary is always there. So working a nine to five job is a sacrifice that I’m willing to make. Having that Sanctuary is essential.

We live in a shotgun apartment. (Shotgun Apartment Layout) Our bedroom is not only our shelter, it is in the heart of our house. It is the most protected room physically in the whole place, which I’m sure adds to the shielding me and my Significant Other have created.

I’ve had more than one person tell me that the shields on my bedroom were particularly strong, but until my poor familiar started having trouble dealing with them, I had never noticed this myself.

In this house, it’s not just me, but my Significant Other as well. While he is a much more social person than I am, like me he appreciates his space. So I’m sure that between  him and I, the shields on our bedroom (which is where we spend a majority of the time in this apartment), are pretty spectacular.

Last year, I had someone that I respected tell me that I’m an “aggressive, territorial bitch”. I had told her son, who was going to be our landlord, that I didn’t want a strange girl living with us. He had hired a girl to watch the house while they were doing repairs on it and she was living in the rooms that we were moving into. I had told him that I didn’t mind if she stayed until she found a new place, but that I wasn’t comfortable with her living with us for very long. She was someone that I didn’t know, who wasn’t going to be contributing to the household expenses, and who was not someone that I had personally invited. I saw her as his employee and therefore his responsibility. I didn’t think this was being unreasonable. But I was told that I was a bad Pagan and that I lacked “hospitality” for not wanting to house this stranger. I think, that out of that entire horrible conversation, as I was torn to shreds and generally sat there with my mouth hanging open in shock through all of it, that it was this accusation that hurt the most.

My S.O. and I went on to house people continually from October of 2011 to March of 2012 without respite (in the shotgun apartment with no privacy). It wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction to this accusation either, it was because of promises that my S.O. and I had made to various people months prior. It wasn’t until after that whole long period was over that I looked back on my supposed “territorial aggressive bitchiness of no hospitality” that it occurred to me how absurd the whole thing was.

But that accusation has nagged at me for months now. Where does our responsibility to be “hospitable” end? Especially for people like me who need privacy from the outer world for our physical well being. I can’t emotionally handle being around people for very long. I have to like you a lot and trust you even more to be O.K with you in my space for long periods of time. When I’m around people constantly, it wears me down, first mentally and then physically. Again, I have a stressful job, and the stress of those people adds onto my stress with regular social situations. I’m O.K with the fact that I have some social anxiety and maybe a slight case of agoraphobia; I know how to deal with those things and live a relatively normal social life. But I also know that there are times when I have to seclude myself in order to shore myself up for when I am around people.

If nothing else, I think the shields on my bedroom, which aren’t particularly intentional, are a good example of how willing I am to keep people OUT of my personal space when I am home.

I never before saw that as meaning I lacked hospitality. How can I give hospitality if I am too sick and worn down to give the type of shelter to a guest that is essential to  hospitality?

I think that hospitality can be a troublesome issue for modern Pagans. We can’t quite just allow every person who wanders by into our homes anymore. The dangers of inviting strangers in are much different than those of the past. Our lives are also not ruled by the social obligations that ancient lives were. We don’t give service to a ruler who then has obligations to us, and our lives are not intertwined with the rest of society in the same way either. And while we do still have obligations to the Gods (otherwise, what’s the point of being a Pagan?), we have much less of a connection to our neighbors and communities than ever before. Community has been the subject of a lot of Pagan blogging lately. People have been asking why it’s so important or why they should be as invested in the Pagan community when its generally quite a mess. I’m sure that this was never a concern to our ancestors. Community was their whole lives. Of course, we also don’t have to worry about breaking social obligations and becoming  outcasts, deprived of the resources of greater society. We can happily live outside of social boundaries if we choose to, and other than alienation from the rest of the herd, we can do our own thing mostly in peace.

I would say that my Significant Other practices some of the purest forms of hospitality that I’ve ever seen in a modern Pagan. If he meets you and you need a place to stay, he invites you home with him. But these interactions are still within the personal sphere. He has also traveled the road pretty extensively for over thirty years and appreciates hospitality in ways that I’m sure most “landed” people don’t. It’s not uncommon for me to come home and find another musician crashing on the couch for a night or two.

I think this also comes down to a debate between the hardcore reconstructionists and those who are more on the Neo-Pagan side of things. To be someone who is actually reconstructing whatever Pagan religion that you’re practicing, the act of hospitality takes on a much greater significance than it does for someone with a more current frame of mind. Xenia was an extremely important aspect of the ancient Greek practices and some form of this is found in most other Indo-European cultures.

I had never seen myself as being inhospitable before. I have more house guests than most people that I know other than the pirates. And one of the things I love so much about my pirate crew is their ability to ensure that everyone in our group has the things they need. Lost your job? Don’t worry, we’ll keep you fed and put a roof over your head until you find something new. The pirates are the best example of a working community that I’ve ever seen. I see hospitality as giving someone a place to stay who needs it until they move on or have gotten back on their feet from whatever, not indefinitely housing someone who doesn’t have any reason to need it. I think that the point you have no extra energy to give a “guest” is the point where the guest is no longer acting in that particular role. It’s just like any relationship, there should be an energy exchange, not an unhealthy energy drain.

I think, as with so many other things, it comes down to doing the best you can. Sometimes we set boundaries because we need them, and it isn’t always the best choice to open your home up indiscriminately. There is a reason we set a circle and only invite certain beings into our rituals. Our homes are the same way. If we aren’t inviting every spirit or deity that wanders past in ritual, why are we supposed to do the same with strangers? We shield for a reason, we cast circles for a reason. Our homes have many sacred elements, and shelter our religious and ritualistic lives as well. We are not the ancient societies that first came up with these ideas, and while I still expect to help people where I can, I have to watch out for myself too, since I no longer live in a community that will.

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2 thoughts on “Boundaries and Hospitality

  1. Rev. Kimberly Rich says:

    Hospitality is so misunderstood these days. Everyone puts the burden on the host. They forget that the guest has responsibilities as well. Being polite and being hospitable does not mean being a doormat. It does not mean taking crap from an unruly, non-contributing guest.

    I have had some of the best hospitality in the world extended to me. A roof over my head, my own room, food in my belly, things that I needed to repay. I cleaned, I was quiet, I contributed as I could financially I tried to truly be respectful of the space I was using and the needs of my hosts. I also honored the conditions of my stay, which were to heal and find work that would allow me to support myself on my own and save money to achieve that end. Yes, conditions are part of the hospitality contract. it is just that, a contract.

    I do not think that you are rude or inhospitable. I think that you should expect the reciprocity that is implicitly due in these situations. To accept any thing less, diminishes not only hospitality as a virtue, but your own self-worth.

    As for Banshee, you could give her a free pass through that ward. Unless you want to keep her at bay as well.

    Blessings

  2. I totally don’t blame you about having conditions on just who you allow in your space, and how you do, as well. I don’t find that as being “inhospitable”, but more so as being more genuinely hospitable, because when you do choose to host someone, it comes from a place of truly desiring to, rather than a place of obligation.

    I am like that. I don’t just allow random “couch surfers”. I’m also a mother, and I’m not going to allow just anyone into the home I share with my daughter. She has to feel just as comfortable as I do with who we allow in. However, when I do allow people to stay over, I am the “Hostess with the Mostess”, and like to pamper guests.

    It’s a good thing to know your boundaries, and it doesn’t make you a bad person for holding to them.

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