The Gift of Hospitality by Carolyn Lee Boyd

The Earth’s abundant gifts of hospitality

Hospitality is the way of Nature. Every spring, the Earth provides us with warmth, beauty, water, and nourishment. In winter, the Earth offers tools to heat and shelter ourselves. When we are sick, medicine is as close as the forest and meadow. She has welcomed a variety of life forms as the environment changes over our planet’s many geologic ages. Living beings have always been the wanderer in need knocking at Earth’s door and She always gives Her all to us.

This welcoming attitude has been reflected in customs of offering strangers food, water, and shelter in ancient and contemporary cultures and religions around the world, including goddess reverence. We see the influence of hospitality in the many goddess temples that welcomed and, for living traditions, still welcome, anyone in need of healing. These include those of the Egyptian Neith, the Italian Angitia, Idemili of the Nnobi Igbo people, the Yoruba Oshun, and others. We also see it in stories of women caring for one another like that of the Greek Maenads, ecstatic women worshippers who were unable to return home after attending rites and fell asleep in a town along the way. During the night, the town’s women silently encircled them, holding hands, for their protection.

Stories of the Celtic Brigid, especially, are deeply evocative of the many of facets of hospitality. Patricia Monaghan in The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog notes that “generosity was Ireland’s prime social value, with lowly farmers emulating chiefs by keeping an open door and a spread table for every passing stranger” (pg. 177). In fact, when Saint Brigit needed a place to build her religious community, she travelled to Kildare and asked a local ruler for some of his land which, as host, he was required to give.

Beyond this obligation to travelers, Brigid also shows the way to a deeper and broader hospitality that ensures that the needs of all must be met.  As a child Brigid stole jewels from her father’s sword to sell to feed the hungry. She justified her action by saying it was required by traditions of Celtic hospitality. As a goddess, she also punished those who refused to help those in need. In parts of Scotland, this generosity was re-enacted by people who ate sparingly at the feast on St. Brigid’s day in order to distribute food to those in need. This focus on ensuring that the basic needs of all are filled was also encoded into ancient Celtic law. In Ireland, anyone with medical needs received not only care but sustenance regardless of ability to pay while in Cornwall, children, elders, and strangers were given food and shelter. Could Brigid, as an Earth goddess associated with the abundance of nature in springtime, have influenced these hospitable practices?

Entrance to St. Brigid’s Well: Liscannorman, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, in the 21st century, we can see the tragic results of the loss of this expansive view of hospitality in many places around the world, and that these effects definitely relate to feminism. Domestic and international “social safety nets” are often underfunded and non-profit organizations offering food and shelter are overwhelmed. And of special importance to feminists, the UN says that women suffer most. Women are more likely to go to bed hungry and experience the greatest levels of extreme poverty across the world. The UN also notes that “many women and girls live in insecure, undignified and unsafe conditions, at increased risk of homelessness and violence” due to lack of income, lack of property rights, domestic violence, and more.  

In addition, the work of this broader hospitality has been devalued and devolved mostly onto women to their financial, physical, and emotional detriment. According to Oxfam, among the reasons women are poorer than men is that women do twice as much unpaid care work for children and other family members and others as men do.  In addition, paid occupations that are low-paying and relate to caregiving are held overwhelmingly by women, according to the American Association of University Women. So, what was once, and in some societies still is, a sacred obligation for all members of society has devolved in our own onto women in ways that force women into poverty and an inability to meet women’s own basic needs.

The lessons to be learned from the ancient custom of hospitality, especially in relation to female divinity, Brigid, and women’s status today, are many: 

The importance of hospitality to our society’s overall well being must come to pervade our worldview. Those cultures honoring hospitality enshrine it in myths about deities and holy beings, fairy tales and folk tales, proverbs, and religious texts and practices. We must find a place for it in our own cultural institutions that now devalue hospitality. 

In the most hospitable cultures, all are expected to be hospitable regardless of gender or other characteristics. Unpaid and low paid care providers must be honored and adequately compensated by society for the work they do that benefits us all. Caring for those in need must be an obligation of all.

Embedding basic rights to food, shelter, and medical care in laws and formal declarations  help give hospitality validity. Almost 75 years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that all have a right to “food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security.” Clearly this is an aspiration rather than a reality, but where there is a vision, there is a path forward.

The customs of hospitality include not only obligations for hosts, but also for guests. As guests on the Earth, we, too, must be hospitable, which includes not only ceasing exploitation of our planet, but caring for each other with compassion. Ancient goddess myths, stories, and practices, can help lead the way. Just as the Earth welcomes us, may we all welcome each other to our planet by offering our deep and heartfelt hospitality to all.

Carolyn Lee Boyd is a writer, drummer, and herb and native plant gardener.  Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in a variety of print magazines, internet sites, and book anthologies. She explores goddess-centered spirituality in everyday life and how we can all better live in local and global community. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com,where you can find her writings and music and some of her free e-books to download.

Sources beyond those already noted: Peter Berresford Ellis, The Druids; Claire Hamilton and Steve Eddy, Decoding the Celts; Patricia Monaghan, The Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines; Patricia Monaghan and Michael McDermott, editors, Brigit: Sun of Womanhood; Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica

Photo credits:

Bridge of Flowers: Carolyn Lee Boyd

Entrance to St. Brigid’s Well: Liscannorman, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons



Categories: Human Rights

Tags: , ,

6 replies

  1. Oh if these beautiful customs could be brought back into mainstream! This article gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. We live in Costa Rica and periodically people come to our front gate looking for help. We make up food bags that are ready to give to these people. We also share the extra bounty from our garden with our neighbors and friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your comment. What you are doing is exactly what is needed – hospitality and generosity to all those who come into your every day life as well as living with a spirit of hospitality and generosity. Thank you so much for letting us know about your life in Costa Rica!

      Like

  2. Oh, yes yes yes, we should be kind, generous, and hospitable to other people today and take care of our blessed Mother Earth, too, as She has always taken care of us. Love the photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Barbara! I took the first photo at the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. Many decades ago this small town decided to create a place of beauty and grace and so planted a magnificent garden across what had been an abandoned railroad bridge. It is definitely worth seeing if you are ever in the area!

      Like

  3. I loved this post. Thank you. Extending hospitality has been so important to me, and has been one of the biggest losses of this pandemic for me. I live near a Benedictine community and retreat center. Hospitality is one of the cardinal Benedictine values, and I have learned so much from them about extending hospitality to those who visit as well as out into the world. I love your recognition of the hospitality of the earth. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Beth! I hadn’t thought about the effects of the pandemic on hospitality, but you are right and I think this is one thing that has led to the feeling of extreme isolation many have expressed. I did notice, however, that especially at the beginning of the pandemic many communities did come together to increase support for food banks, people volunteered to help out neighbors who needed deliveries of food or medication, etc, but nothing replaces that human connection of being together. I hope the increase in understanding and support of those most in need in our community can continue in person as the pandemic eases.

      Liked by 1 person

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: