Welcoming the stranger and the refugee

Homer’s Odyssey recounts the correct way to welcome a stranger who has been washed ashore: with food and drink, fresh clothing, and fragrant oil to clean the salt from the skin.

"Jean Veber - Ulysses and Nausicaa, 1888" by Jean Veber - Unkonw. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jean_Veber_-_Ulysses_and_Nausicaa,_1888.jpg#/media/File:Jean_Veber_-_Ulysses_and_Nausicaa,_1888.jpg

Jean Veber – Ulysses and Nausicaa, 1888” by Jean Veber – Unkonw. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“[Odysseus said] ‘Yesterday, the twentieth day, I escaped the wine-dark sea: and all that time the turbulent wind and waves carried me here from Ogygia’s isle. Now fate drives me on shore, so that I may suffer harm here too, no doubt. I don’t expect my sufferings to end yet: the gods will inflict many more before that moment comes. But, Princess, pity me: since I come to you first of all, after my heavy labours, and I know none of the people of this land or its city. Show me the way to town, and give me some rags to throw over me, perhaps whatever wrapped the clothes you brought.”

“Then Nausicaa of the white arms answered: ‘Stranger, you seem neither unknowing nor ill intentioned: it is Olympian Zeus himself who brings men good fortune, to the virtuous or not as he wills, and since he has brought you this, whatever it may be you must endure it. But, now you are come to our land and city, you shall not go short of clothes or anything else a hard-pressed suppliant deserves from those he meets. I will show you the way to town, and tell you whom we are. This is the Phaeacians’ country and city, and I am the daughter of valiant Alcinous, in whom the Phaeacians vest their majesty and power.’

With this she called to her lovely maids: ‘Stop, girls, why do you shun the sight of a man? Surely you don’t imagine he’s unfriendly? There will never be mortal man so contrary as to set hostile feet on Phaeacian land, for we are dear to the gods. We live far-off, over the turbulent sea, the remotest of races, and deal with no other peoples. This man must instead be some luckless wanderer, landed here. We must care for him, since all strangers and beggars come from Zeus, and even a little gift is welcome. So bring him food and drink, girls, and bathe him in the river wherever there’s shelter from the wind.’”

Similarly, the story of Baucis and Philemon from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (VIII:621-96) recounts how the old couple were the only ones to welcome Jupiter and Mercury when they visited in disguise.

And in northern Europe, the Hávamál and the Sagas recount instances of hospitality and praise the generosity of the host:

“Fire he needs   who with frozen knees
Has come from the cold without;
Food and clothes   must the farer have,
The man from the mountains come.
Water and towels   and welcoming speech
Should he find who comes to the feast…”

Many ordinary people have not forgotten the virtue of hospitality, and do not sit counting the cost of welcoming and helping refugees from Syria and other war-torn parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Look at the Germans and Austrians welcoming the refugees who came through Hungary; look at the French people welcoming refugees into their homes; look at the British and Icelanders who have volunteered to host a refugee in their homes. Look at the Greeks helping the refugees out of the crashing waves of the Mediterranean.

The virtue of hospitality is one of the most ancient and sacred of Pagan virtues, and is also praised in the Abrahamic religions, of course.

At the same time, the miser, who accumulates wealth and then refuses to share it, was regarded as repugnant in every ancient culture.

The people of Northern Europe became wealthy by exploiting other parts of the world. We didn’t get all this wealth by our own merit; we inherited it from people who plundered it by conquering other parts of the world.

The instability in the Middle East and North Africa has been caused by the wars fomented there by the United States and Britain (among others).

So now that the rest of the world is knocking at our door and asking for our help, why are our governments turning them away? Because they believe that the public have swallowed the myth that the refugees are “scroungers” who are only coming here to claim benefits. Because we have been told the bare-faced lie that they are quite wealthy and are only economic migrants. But no immigrant who is not from the European Union can claim any public funds whatsoever; and most asylum seekers are locked up in immigration detention centres.

And the reason the people of Syria are paying people-smugglers to bring them across the Mediterranean in leaky boats? Because they can’t get a visa to fly here on a plane – because you don’t get given asylum seeker status until you have arrived, been locked up in an immigration detention centre (if you arrive in the UK), and assessed in one of the most bureaucratic and unfair processes in existence.

So what can we do to help?

 

Paganism for Beginners: Values

Pagan values and virtues

Pagan values are grounded in an appreciation of life and the enjoyment of being physically embodied, and the desire for others to enjoy the same experience. A value is shared norm or expectation of a group; something that is considered desirable. A virtue is a quality of a person or a group that is considered desirable. Traditionally, most Pagan ethical codes were lists of virtues which were considered desirable, instead of a set of rules to be kept. The cultivation of virtues by the individual was said to lead to eudaimonia, a happy state of being.

The Temple of Ancient Virtue

The Temple of Ancient Virtue.
Built in 1837 to a design by William Kent. Devised as a cenotaph to the four ancient Greeks who embodied Lord Cobham’s virtues – inside are niches containing life-size statues of Socrates, Homer, Lycurgus and Epaminondas.
© Copyright Trevor Rickard and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Hospitality

This was and is a hugely important virtue in just about every traditional culture, and governed the behaviour of both guest and host. Imagine you are travelling in a strange land, like Gawain in the story of Gawain and the Green Knight. The offer of a nice warm bed, and a feast every night, would be an absolute godsend if you were riding in a howling wilderness at midwinter. Imagine you were shipwrecked on a strange coast, like Odysseus in the story of The Odyssey. Rescuing and looking after shipwrecked travellers would be a sacred obligation in an age when there were no coastguards and few lighthouses. But the guest must also behave honourably towards the host. Many cultures still have the beautiful custom of the guest-gift – something that the guest brings the first time they visit your house. Being inclusive and welcoming to all could be said to be a logical extension of hospitality.

Reciprocity and balance

This is linked with the idea of hospitality. “A gift for a gift” says the Hávamál. Connections between people are maintained by the exchange of gifts (not necessarily physical objects, but the gifts of time and attention). Everything in Nature is balanced, and the same is true of society and culture – as in the saying “what goes around, comes around”. This is related to the Pagan concept of cyclicity, which maintains that everything goes in cycles: night and day; the seasons; birth, life, death, and rebirth.

A common treasury for all

The land is sacred in all Pagan traditions, and looking back at non-hierarchical cultures, we can see that it was held in common by the people, or not owned at all. The persistence of the idea of communal land, despite the Enclosures, the Highland Clearances, and the theft of land from indigenous peoples around the world, shows what an important idea this is.

Honour

The upholding of personal integrity appears in lists of virtues compiled by a number of different cultures and traditions, including the eight Wiccan Virtues, and the Nine Noble Virtues of Heathenry. What honour means to me is being honest in my personal dealings, including all aspects of life, and doing the decent thing: fighting against injustice, speaking up for the vulnerable.

Embodiment: Celebrating being alive

Pagans value physical pleasure: eating, drinking, making love, seeing beautiful things. We find that the enjoyment of these things increases our ‘spiritual’ connection, because we find value in the physical world. We love trees, rocks, mountains, flowers, beautiful art, the ocean, animals, birds, other people, the moon, the night, the sun, rolling hills, water, making love, eating, making merry. Oh yes!

The Charge of the Goddess, written by Wiccan priestess Doreen Valiente, says that “All acts of love and pleasure are [Her] rituals.”

The idea that the divine/deities is/are immanent in the world (intimately entwined with physical matter) also contributes to the sense that being alive in this world is to be celebrated and enjoyed.

Sovereignty

“Women desiren sovereigntie”, wrote Chaucer, at the conclusion of his excellent story, The Wife of Bath’s Tale. Sovereignty is the ability to determine your own destiny. Pagans love being free, and not being coerced. We don’t like to be told what to think, what to do, or how to live. This extends to bodily autonomy, and not being coerced or cajoled into having unwanted sex or other physical contact. The value of sovereignty is particularly important in Druidry.

Conclusion

Paganism is a life-affirming religion, and most Pagans view the physical world as sacred. Pagan values flow from that and embrace it. Pagans do not usually regard spirit as more important or more valuable than matter. Most Pagans view matter as entwined with spirit, or perhaps as a denser form of spirit.

There are many different values embraced by Pagans, but the ones described above seem to be the most widespread. Have I missed any? Let me know in the comments.

Further reading

This post is part of a series, Paganism for Beginners. All the posts in this series will appear in the category ‘A Beginner’s Guide‘. You can find them by clicking on the ‘FILED UNDER’  link at the foot of the blogpost.