When I discovered there was such a thing as devotional polytheism, one thing stuck out at me like a sore thumb: hospitality.
Perhaps it stuck out at me because, being a first-generation Cuban-American, I was raised in a household where hospitality was simply blood in one’s veins. It is part of our cultural language to be fluent in a certain protocol of accepting visitors, from close friends to strangers coming in from the streets. In the mindset of the culture I was raised in, and in the foundation of my family, homes would be not only homes for us, but homes for others. One did not keep a house tidy just for one’s personal or family order – it was imperative to keep the house tidy and clean in preparation – nay, anticipation – to accept visitors at all times (as usually people knocked instead of notifying ahead of time and asking for permission, which was a protocol I learned was present in American culture).
Growing up, I was taught how to make a hospitable home. From the moment there was a knock on the door, we were host to a great guest – it did not matter whether the guest was the ragged flower-seller down the street, the plumber that came to fix the pipes, or my grandmother’s oldest and sassiest friend. Hospitable activities included asking after one’s family, health, work, and self. There was a special space for visitors to sit, and of course the honored guest would receive offers of un cafecito, water, or juice to accompany selections of fresh fruit, cheese and guava, a pastel, and just-finished desserts and breads. If the guest had come into my grandmother’s home at the right time, of course, they would be privy to the first plate of delicious food right from the stove in the best plate they could offer.
This familial yet respectful atmosphere that we learn how to make – and that is also deeply engrained in Hispanic culture as I understand it – was exactly the foundation that allowed me to understand the presence and work of hospitality: making space for someone else. It is something so simple and so fundamental to any kind of worship; and yet, there are so many hidden complexities that it’s taken me much more than a page or two to flesh out what ‘making space’ means to me.
An invitation of bringing the gods into one’s life and home requires a protocol of proper, respectful treatment – and perhaps the most critical aspect of hospitality lies in the idea of making space for the honored visitor in one’s home, be they gods or mortals. It is an action of diplomacy in one’s personal kingdom while, simultaneously, taking on the roles of host, making sure that all proper accommodations are made in order to make one’s home a space of welcome. It is a selfless act, switching attention to someone else – making them feel warm, welcomed, and fully present in one’s home and life.
That is why making space is so difficult. That’s why making space is no easy task, nor is it stable. Making space in one’s busy life is imperative – that is why there are holy days, feast days, and days of worship in religions. And it is something that is challenging to maintain, especially with juggling work, life’s sudden demands and life’s constant ones, personal life, and much more.
I see it play out right before my eyes. As my Family grows, the amount of space in my room lessons. My schedule becomes more constricted, as my slivers of free-time fill up with reminders of prayer, devotional work, and remembering to keep the room clean. “Where am I going to put all of these shrines?” is the one worry in my mind next to “How am I going to find the time to work with ALL of them?” Next to working three jobs and being a full-time grad student, fulfilling my duties to my Spouse and the entities in my care, dealing with everything else that comes into my life… The panic sets in.
I have little space as is – and now I am being asked to give it to the gods?
There is space, I heard Someone say to me. (Most likely Frigg, and I say this happily). Space a-plenty, Ossia, but it is a matter of making it.
So what does it mean, to make space for the gods?
When one begins a devotional practice of any kind, making space is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges to work through. It’s not like a magic ‘on’ switch is flipped where, suddenly, one arranges their life at a cellular level. Room for devotions or offerings doesn’t automatically becomes part of a person’s timeline and way of being. Making room for the gods is a constant cultivation based on constant change, both in your life and Theirs.
And that’s exactly it! Making space is making space – a verb, an ongoing action sustained by an ongoing effort. Every day is a new day – every offering is a new offering – every conversation is a new conversation.
Making space for the gods is an ongoing action that requires energy. Every action made to and for Them requires a mindfulness, a conscientiousness. Every person is different to every Being, and every Being is different to every human, but at the core of a practice is the verb: practice. That is why, sometimes, it gets overwhelming. That’s why, sometimes, I am simply too tired. I am simply overspent. I simply don’t have the time.
Now, this is certainly not to say that the exhaustions and problems of a daily life are not relevant or “excuses.” I vehemently go against this kind of thinking. With all of the demands of our life, sometimes it is a wonder how we can still be awake (albeit barely!) at the end of the day. Sometimes we, with everything that we have to do, simply forget to make room for Them. It happens, and I admit (although sourly) that this has happened to me. It has certainly happened to others. Making space is an issue of practice, daily application, love, and understanding what goes wrong, when it goes wrong, in order to correct the fault. Making space is hard and energy-consuming. It is challenging in its richness and its demands. It is important – crucial. Anyone who tells you differently should look back on their own practice a bit.
Why? One of the biggest reasons why making space is so difficult is because it seems like a physical action. It is much, much more than that. It is also a matter of making space for the gods in our lives, mindfully.
It is making space for our gods by giving offerings when we have given our word to do so. Invitation into our lives, in a way, requires a continuation of that relationship, on keeping our word to ourselves and to Them; one does not invite a Being into a house and home and then behave as if the Being had not set roots there, or was not sitting at the table waiting to be hosted.
Making space is opening one-self, daily, to the opportunity for the influence of the gods in your life. When one is hospitable, it does not mean to me simply a matter of dusting off the coffee table in one’s physical home and replacing the offering cup. It is not about thinking that “I am here and the gods are there.” The gods do not remain stuck on the altar like statues waiting for you to return for another filling; They roam in all places. Making space as an action means opening your inner home, too: your self, your thoughts, your actions. It is being open, showing vulnerability, to the gods roaming within and outside of you.
Making space is being open to the footsteps and handiwork of the gods, for better and for worse. It is being open to Their presence – and not just Their static presence, but Their active presence as well. It is open to Their answers, Their questions, Their decisions, Their words, Their advice, and Their fury.
Making space is allowing the gods to be Themselves – to rid yourself of suppositions of what gods should be and instead understand what They are. Consequently, making space is allowing your vision to be Theirs. It is seeing the world, understanding the world, in a completely different way. It is learning the language of the gods and watching it being spoken in the world around you. It is coming back to your room at the end of a very long day and feeling Them breathe in your home, or recognizing Their touch when something interesting comes along.
Making space is, for some, becoming a conduit to the gods – it is a role, a career, a way of life. For me, every action I make is an offering, and I always do as They ask me to do. Making space is the understanding that I am in relationship with deity, and in doing so I give myself in service to Them. Many times, making space is being space, one’s personal efforts to mindfully represent their gods and be actively engaged in service. (In many ways, making space can be a sort of horsing).
In this rich theology of making space physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally… when one works with the gods, it is not just one sector that is affected. To me, being a polytheist isn’t an issue of figuring out where to put my gods in my house; it’s an issue of where to put myself with the gods in my whole life. It is aligning myself to Their will, forging my path with Them. It is being receptive to Them, understanding Them, and most of all loving Them. It is figuring out how They speak, being attentive when it is time to listen, and being strong when it is time to act.
When one loves their gods, one makes space – and that is just what we (and They) need. When one makes space, all things will come… and all things are made right.