"Hospitality in ancient Hellenic was a complicated ritual within both the host and the guest has certain roles to fill and tasks to perform. Especially when someone unknown to the host came to the door, the ritual held great value. This ritual practice of hospitality was called 'xenia' (ξενία) and is described a lot in mythology. This, because any unknown traveler at the door could be a Theos or Theia in disguise or they could even be watched over by a Theos or Theia who would pass judgement on the host."
Today, I'm expanding upon my previous post about ritual hospitality with some tips about modern interpretation of the ancient practice. Society has changed, after all, and those wishing to actively practice xenia will find themselves in situations where they will want to assume the best in strangers, but who must safeguard themselves against abuse of all kinds. We are practicing an ancient, sacred, honor-bound, ritualistic tradition, but the other person--unless Hellenistic themselves--most likely is not. And so, when the doorbell rings, and a stranger asks if they can use out bathroom, we hesitate. And rightly so. In the original post, I spoke about the modern ideas of hospitality:
"In contemporary culture, hospitality has lost much of its meaning and practice. Gifts are brought for the host these days, refills are in the fridge, staying for dinner is only possible if you have and appointment, etc. Bringing back some of the old hospitality customs might not be a bad thing at all. It would sure bring us closer as a community and, really, it would be wonderful to knock on the door of a house when you're in need and know that you would receive all the help the host can possibly give."
In my post about beggars in ancient Hellenic society, I wrote that beggars performed a very important--cleansing--task for those who allowed the beggar entrance and food. How much miasma was removed, depended upon how much you gave to the beggar in question. This was a ritual--a strong, always returning, everyone-was-aware-of-it-and-knew-their-part, ritual. It was part of ritualized xenia but there was much more to it. Also in that first post:
"[a] guest should not have to wait to be greeted, they must always be accepted into the house and offered the best of everything, an inquiry as to the nature of the visit is delayed until the guest has eaten, recovered from the journey and sometimes--as found in other sources--has bathed and/or slept. Often, everything is set aside to help the guest with his or her quest because it was assumed no man or woman left their home unless they really had to.
Next to this, there are two other important rules concerning xenia; the guest is expected to be courteous and not be a burden to the host and, and this is very important, the host must give the guest a parting gift--a xenion (ξεινήιον). The more valuable the gift, the better."
Can these values be carried over into modern day practice? Much of it can be. Make your home a place people want to visit. Make it homely, keep it clean, and keep the pantry stocked with enough food to feed your family and an extra mouth. When a guest comes over, invite them in. Offer them drinks and remember to ask if they desire a refill. Alternatively, allowing someone who has been to your home before free access to your fridge and pantry is a sign of trust and hospitality as well. When it's time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, offer them a place at your table. When night falls, offer them a place to sleep that includes bedding and a clean towel. Keep a couple of spare toothbrushes, so those who sleep over unexpectedly can brush their teeth in the evening and morning. They get to keep the toothbrush, of course.
Introducing parting gifts may be difficult, but perhaps there is 'a bottle of wine you wouldn't be able to finish anyway', or a 'piece of jewelry you bought for them but you hadn't gotten a chance to give'. Alternatively, consider taking a gift with you every time you visit them as a kind of delayed parting gift, or speak of your intentions to present them a parting gift and follow through. If you don't feel drawn to it, there is no need to reinstate the practice, of course. If you are visited by other Hellenists, it may be a special addition to your relationship.
So how do we deal with strangers? Courteously, for one. If someone comes looking for aid, pay attention to them. Secondly, know places which can offer help. If you don't want strangers using your bathroom, is there a shop nearby where a non-customer can make use of the bathroom, for example. If it's something you need to get from inside the house, ask them to wait outside. Standard safety precautions. Being a Hellenist asks you to trust the world around you, but not in so much that you must put your well-being or that of your family at risk. Consider beggars, who were left on the threshold. Give what you wanted to give when you return, just be friendly and inviting about the whole thing; xenia is eighty percent attitude, and twenty percent physical acts.
In ancient Hellas, most of the worship was done in temples. We turn to our own homes for worship today, so we suddenly find ourselves in a position where xenia applies to the Theoi as much as it does human beings. Much of what I wrote above also applies to the Theoi: keep a clean house and an inviting attitude, present gifts to the Theoi, and make them feel welcome. Practice katharmos every time you enter the space set aside for the Theoi. Be respectful, and aware of mythological no-no's. Offering Demeter pomegranate seeds around the time Persephone departs for the Underworld, for example, is not encouraged.
All in all, the practice of xenia is as much ancient ritual as it is common sense. It's the cookie you got with your tea when you visited your grandmother, it's the friend who you know you can crash with when you suddenly find yourself stranded, it's the neighbor who comes to invite your for coffee and cake when you have just moved in, and it's the house where you know you'll get a good Halloween haul. Xenia is about being friendly and inviting to the world, and about being in it. In modern society, we all have our own little islands on which we function, but xenia was a component of a society where community mattered. It's that focus that still drives xenia today.