The Kalasha are the last remaining pagans of the Hindu Kush. Numbering about 4000, in three adjoining valleys in northwest Pakistan, they are known for their proud polytheism, the freedom (and beauty) of their women, and their wine-drinking.
Among the Kalasha, November is the month of the ancestors, and it is customary to remember them—for “the spirits of the dead are pleased when their names are remembered”—by recounting tales of their deeds.
In Kalasha society, it is impingent upon the wealthy to throw elaborate feasts for as many people as possible; only by sharing their wealth with the rest of the community do they gain prestige. Their Muslim neighbors laugh at them for their lavish, spendthrift ways, but this is indeed the way of the pagan ancestors: from those who have much, much is expected.
Today we will look into the little talked about practice of the washing of feet within the context of xenia. It's something I have been curious about ever since I first read the Odysseia. I had completely forgotten I wanted to post about it, however, until I discovered a post by Robert of Doing Magick, who wrote about his recent experience with the practice--though for different reasons.
Giving gifts to friends, family members, or even acquaintances and complete strangers is a long standing tradition. It existed long before ancient Hellas, but was, indeed, a vital part of its culture. It was tied to both kharis and xenia. Gifts were exchanged between monarchs of city-states to create good will, and were thus an important part of diplomacy.
All votives, thank-offerings, and pinakes were gifts from mortals to Theoi. Athletic competitions always concluded with a price--a gift--awarded to the winner. Gifts were given to the submissive partner in a pederastic relationship, and to favored prostitutes and serfs. Gifts played a much more significant role in ancient Hellenic society as a whole than they do in ours today. The giving of gifts in ancient Hellas was not just a social event, however. There was far more to the practice than one might assume, and today, we will look at the tradition of gift giving in greater detail.
I'm revisiting the practice of xenia today. Xenia, as I wrote in my initiatory post about it, is the ancient Hellenic practice of ritual hospitality. A quote:
"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 in disguise or they could even be watched over by a Theos 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.