Hospitality and Charity in Early Ireland

Since being dumped head first into it, I’ve been consuming everything I can on Irish Polytheism in both an ancient and modern context. One thing that caught my eye is the almost strict rules concerning Hospitality.

These are, so far, some of the things I have sort of gleamed from reading… Irish sources are a bit hard to find, though, so most of my gleamings have come predominantly from an analysis of the Irish tales I’ve read so far, as well as analysis of Scottish customs from roughly the same time frame. It may not all be accurate, however.

Firstly, Hospitality is not necessarily listed as a virtue, but Generosity is.

Each single combat, then, includes a series of conversations in which the themes of courage, generosity, loyalty, and beauty are reinforced.

– rhetoric of myth, magic, and conversion: ancient irish rhetoric (speaking of events in the Tain)

Given what I know so far, I am feeling like Hospitality would be a subset of this; that the act of showing or giving Hospitality and / or Charity to another is an act of Generosity, making it a virtue in its own right by that association. I may be wrong about this, though, but I don’t feel that I am given most Irish Polytheist whose blogs I have looked at so far have identified (at least in some part) Hospitality as a Spiritual Virtue or large part of their faith.

On the topic of Hospitality itself, though, it appears to be a mutually beneficial, mutually serving thing to which both the provider and the receiver are expected to contribute equally in specific ways.

The host hopes the guest will give attention and chat, wit or news, to the hearth. At least he demands, and demands assertively, that his gift be accepted. You cannot refuse a hospitable offer […] [something like] A drink of tea is your acknowledgement of the host’s unavoidable responsibility, his aristocratic role. You are in his debt.

– Friend or Foe? Hospitality and the Threshold in Scottish Tradition

Here the author uses the word “hopes” but given further evaluation of the rules of Hospitality… I feel like this is more an unspoken contract between Host and Guest; something not outright stated, but is implied or expected culturally and socially. This is further solidified, in my opinion, by another note that I found earlier on in the same article:

According to Mauss, a system of total services is based on contractual obligation, which entails an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to reciprocate.

– Friend or Foe? Hospitality and the Threshold in Scottish Tradition

From the rest of my research so far, I have managed to draw the following conclusions:

Concerning the Host

You are duty bound (socially, culturally, locally, spiritually, etc) to offer Hospitality to anyone who is either in need of it, or whom has crossed the threshold of your house.

There are a few things I have found listed, though, that are listed as “signs of a good (man’s) home” and “signs of a bad (man’s) home”. I think it’s safe to say that, with the emphasis on the Home and Threshold, this also follows into Hospitality and what is required or considered good signs. Ergo, I’ve drawn the conclusion that- should someone cross the threshold of your house, especially– three things are required: Alcohol (listed as “Ale”), access to Hygiene (listed as “a Bath”), and warmth (listed as “a large fire”). Likewise, complaining to (and possibly about) your Guest while they are under your roof is bad Hospitality, as is any harm befalling them under your roof ( listed as “his Hounds taking hold of you”) and something else which is listed as “Strife before you” but which I am not currently sure how to interpret (The Triads of Ireland).

There are few circumstances during which this duty does not apply, or during which the householder is relieved of such duties- such as during times of household prayer or worship. In Scottish sources there is an acceptable way and an unacceptable way to make such circumstances clear to outside, non-household members so that they do not seek Hospitality and / or Charity from you. I am not sure as of yet whether Irish lore or law has any equivalent to this, but given the similarities I assume so.

A failure to offer Charity and / or Hospitality during normal circumstances- or a failure to correctly denote (through the proper methods) that you are relieved of these responsibilities for the time being- results in bad fortune and (socially, culturally, locally, spiritually, etc) retaliation towards you and / or your household.

Concerning the Guest

The person offered such Hospitality is duty bound to accept it. As spoken about earlier, there is also the implication that the Guest is duty bound to provide something in return- such as stories.

Not accepting a person’s Charity or Hospitality offered to you results in bad fortune and (socially, culturally, locally, spiritually, etc) retaliation towards the Householder. It is also an affront to the Provider and is considered disrespectful- though unless directly asking for charity, offers of Hospitality from another should not be too readily taken, but requests denied a few times so as to not seem so eager.

There is an acceptable way and an unacceptable way to directly ask for Hospitality and / or Charity from others (Thigging vs Begging, possibly). In addition to this, asking for Hospitality and / or Charity from a Household during times where they have indicated (using the appropriate methods) that they are relieved of this duty is disrespectful and can result in bad fortune and (socially, culturally, locally, spiritually, etc) retaliation towards the Seeker.


For a list of IriPol resources, including those I used to inform the opinions mentioned in this article, please view this page here.tumblr_od9z4kycsq1urp3f5o1_540

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