Xenia (ξενία) is hospitality, the guest/host relationship protected by Zeus Xenios, the aspect of King Zeus who presides over strangers, friendliness, and compassion. Xenia requires that we don’t turn our backs on those who are in need and defenseless, as Zeus Xenios obligates us to be kin to strangers since they are in a vulnerable position. This ritual relationship holds great value, especially if the stranger comes to your door, because sometimes a God may mask themselves as travelers and be encountered in daily mundane life mingling among mortals. Since the person standing before you may be a God, we should treat everyone with great kindness and generosity. Such compassion for the vulnerable is the desire of King Zeus. It is thought that a host who performs poorly for a God will blind themselves to the light of the Gods and incur wrath upon themselves, while those who perform well for a God may earn their blessing. Besides that, any wanderer, whether they be beggar or refugee, is protected by Zeus Xenios.
The stranger, or xenos, who receives hospitality, is bound to the host, who provides hospitality and help. A xenos can be defined in several ways depending on the context, including foreigner, stranger, guest, host, and friend. This means once the guest and host engage in xenia they participate in a reciprocal relationship where they each become a xenos, and thus both are binded to certain obligations.
There are two critical elements of xenia, the first being the protection of the guest. The host, whether a state or the head of a household, is obligated to provide protection for the traveller, which includes food, shelter, and a facility for bathing. Only once the traveler had first eaten and was comfortable could they be asked questions such as their name. However, this is reciprocal, and so the guest, likewise, holds their own obligations of being humble and courteous, and not be a burden. The second element of xenia, if applicable to the situation, is the guidance toward their next destination. Once the guest is ready to part the host should provide them a parting gift called a xenion (ξεινήιον), and likewise, if possible, the guest should provide the host a gift as well once they resume their journey. The exchange of gifts between the two xenos binds each other in the future.
Xenia should be provided whether that person is a follower of the true faith or not. It is a sin, a direct transgression against the Gods, to deny someone of hospitality just because they do not follow the same path as you do. Not only does the divine Emperor Julian tells us that such men are worthy of pity, not hate (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, I 135), but it is understood that all wanderers come from Zeus Xenios (Homer Odyssey, 6. 207).
Xenia would often be placed within a ritualistic context. Sometimes this would be in the context of a household ritual between the head of household and a beggar, where the kurios (Latin: Paterfamilias) would welcome a beggar into his home. This series of exchanges can be boiled down to a practice of purification, where the beggar becomes a scapegoat to load onto the miasma of the household. They come in to take not only gifts, but also the home’s impurity. When they depart, the miasma leaves as well.
Another example is Theoxenia (or Heroxenia), a particular ritual which is a kind of sacrifice in which worshipers will present foodstuffs to a God or Hero, who attended the ritual meal as xenos. By inviting the God or Hero into our home, this ritual is intended to bring ourselves closer to the divine.
Household Xenia Today
One should approach strangers with courtesy, for one. If someone comes looking for aid, be sure to listen and pay attention to them. Secondly, know places which can offer help. If you don’t want strangers coming in your home to use your bathroom, see if there is a shop with a bathroom or even a public bathroom. If there is something which you need to retrieve from inside of your home, kindly ask them to wait patiently outside. Being a Hellene 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. Standard safety precautions are still required. Leave them at the threshold if you must, but when you return give what you wanted to give. But remember to be friendly and inviting while doing so. If possible, provide the xenos with a parting gift. It doesn’t need to be particularly extravagant– even a few bottles of water or canned foods can go a far way. If one is without a parting gift at the time, consider visiting them one day and delivering it, or speak of your intentions to present them with one and then follow through with it.
Xenia, Philanthropia, and Social Justice
There are plenty of people who, on the one hand, purport to serve the Gods and preach messages of hospitality, charity, and salvation, and on the other hand, are unwilling to extend these to the underprivileged, whether they be refugees, immigrants, the poor, minority groups, and so on. Instead of helping their fellow man, many of the so-called pious have spread hateful rhetoric and actively participate in a whole laundry list of bigotry, including but not limited to xenophobia, racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, ableism, and countless other vices, all while claiming to be devout followers of divine will. This line of double-think is, quite simply, moronic and vacuous— a product of western secularism whose state-religious apparatus has created an environment which permits such hypocrisy.
Western secularism is not truly pluralistic, despite its claims to the contrary. It has turned the concept of worship into something which is exclusively “private,“ with our religious lives being independent of and out of view from the “secular” eye of the public. This view is an artificial construct that is Protestant in nature, and inherently untenable not only for proper Hellenes and polytheists, but for all religions which hold an immanent view of the divine, where the Gods, and the practice of religion itself, penetrates aspects of even day-to-day mundane life. Religion is not merely confined within the temples— it is part of a lifestyle, and the separation currently present in western secularism is absurdly unnatural; allowing for one’s “beliefs” from their “private religious life” to blatantly contrast with their practice in everyday life to almost comical degrees. This ultimately both creates an environment where vulgar chauvinists can exist, even in otherwise explicitly pluralistic religions such as ancient polytheisms, and severely limits our service to the divine, which includes social justice, the concept which holds that all peoples have an inherent equal worth, and thus should have equal access to the same privileges and opportunities.
After all, it is detailed in the sacred Chaldean Oracles that Love (Eros) is the first creation of the heavenly father, Zeus (Chaldean Oracles, fr. 42). He then fills each divine soul with a “deep eros” to bring them back to the Gods (Chaldean Oracles, fr. 43). We can therefore understand that human life is the mirror of divine love, as far as possible. And as justice depends on, and descends from, the Gods, and just as we give the Gods their due, and just as human societies are best when they reflect a harmonious soul, so should human life include justice for all and each person receiving that which they are due. We can reflect on this in Aristotle’s discussion of friendship and politics in chapter eight of his Nicomachean Ethics, which is summarized nicely by Jeffrey S. Kupperman, who writes “when people are friends there is justice” (Kupperman 2014, 49). Aristotle tells us that Justice has its origin in friendship, which should be “felt mutually by members of the same species, especially among human beings, for which reason we praise philanthropists” (Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics, VIII 1155a19-22). Iamblichus, building off of Aristotle, defines reciprocal justice as the “reciprocity of the equal and appropriate” (Iamblichus 1988, 46-47). This reciprocal form of justice, which is justice in its fullest sense, always guarantees a “non-diminishing, baseline-status of people, even if the status of some increases” (Kupperman 2014, 49), and always includes an element of friendship (Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics, VIII 155a) which is important because it is “only in friendship that equality and reciprocity are truly possible” (Kupperman 2014, 49) (Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics, VIII 156b-25) (Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics, VIII 1159b25-1160a1-30). In short, justice, which derives from the Gods, is “associated with philanthropy, which is connected to friendship” (Kupperman 2014, 52).
The divine Emperor Julian also comments about social justice as service to the divine, asking how “the man who worships Zeus the God of Comrades, and who, though he sees his neighbours in need of money, does not give them even so much as a drachma, how, I say, can he think that he is worshipping Zeus aright?” (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, II 305), or how one inhospitable to strangers who “wishes to sacrifice to Zeus, the God of Strangers [Zeus Xenios], even approach his temple?” (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, II 305). Singing hymns of praise to the divine while simultaneously turning a blind eye to strangers or the ill fortunate is sacrilege– a clear violation of Xenia, the Hellenic virtue which entails hospitality to strangers. And part of Xenia is Theoxenia– where a God can assume any form, even that of a foreigner; where one thus must be polite, kind and respectful to everyone, regardless of their appearance, origin, language or manner. This is because, as the Emperor Julian says, “it is to the humanity in a man that we give, and not to his moral character” (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, II 303). This common humanity lies within all of us. The divine Plato writes that the closest embodied thing to the Gods is the human form (Plato Timaeus, 44d), and it is written by the divine Emperor that when the common father and King of the All, Zeus, was setting all things in order, there fell from Him drops of sacred blood, and from these drops of divine blood arose the race of man (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, II 307). It, therefore, follows that we are all kin, as the Gods tell us through Plato, and that we are all descended from the Gods– and thus all common members of the same family: that of the supreme Zeus’ (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, II 307). And because every man is, whether they like it or not, “akin to every other man” (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, II 305), it thus follows that the virtues of xenia and philanthropia are, in truth, inseperable.
Therefore, to properly worship Zeus, the common father of all, and the Gods under Him, we must be helpful and care for those of us who are less prosperous than others, regardless if they different or foreign. The Gods are the sources of virtue and order, and so we should serve Them by actualizing virtue and its cultivation, justice, in human society. Much like how in Plato’s Republic the individual who escapes the cave willingly descends back to try freeing those still trapped inside (Plato Republic, VII 516e-517a), those of us who are servants of the Gods and more fortunate than others should willfully cooperate with the divine to promote well-being and virtue among humankind, and accomplish efforts which brings benefits to humanity, so we may all be brought closer to the Living Immortals. Thus, we cannot be opposed to helping the vulnerable, because otherwise, we are failing in our task to serve the Gods.
We can see many actions by the divine Julian, the last great leader of the Hellenic religion, which brought benefit to mankind, such as the establishment of universal charity for the less fortunate regardless of religious affiliation, the restoration and reopening of temples which had been vandalized, destroyed or shut down by extremists, the restitution of confiscated temple properties, and an edict of universal religious tolerance in the year 362 ACE. He even challenged social hierarchy by writing that it was not necessary to be rich or important to be a priest, and that even the poor and humble could be appointed, provided they possessed “love for God and love for his fellow men” (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, II 337) (Nicholson 1994, 2). These all could be considered edicts of “social justice” by contemporary standards.
It is through praxis that the teachings and methods of one’s beliefs (doxa) are brought into their everyday life, where they are not simply memorized, but integrated and lived in accordance to. So if you claim to worship and serve the Gods, then act on it and try to make the world better. Stand up on behalf of those who need an advocate. Listen to those who are victims of injustice and fight alongside them. Volunteer at a charity, homeless shelter, or a refugee center. For as the world becomes plagued by the cold discordance of inequality, nationalism, and intolerance, may we find light in the Gods. Because regardless of where we’re from, our upbringing, or our status and social class, we are Their children, and by promoting virtue among our fellow man, we are brought closer to Their warm embrace. For Hermes is the guide of travelers, Lord Dionysos is the protector of foreigners and slayer of tyrants, and Zeus is the bringer of justice, who punishes those who violate Xenia. And it is the eternal Gods who are far more worthy of our devotion than any state, flag, or politician.
Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics, translated by Martin Ostwald. NY: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1962.
Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus, and Wilmer Cave. Wright. The Works of Emperor Julian. Volume II. London: Heinemann etc., 1962.
Iamblichus. The Theology of Arithmetic. Translated by Robin Waterfield. Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes Press, 1988.
Johnston, Sarah Iles. Ancient Religions. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.
Kupperman, Jeffrey S. Living Theurgy: A Course in Iamblichus’ Philosophy, Theology and Theurgy. London: Avalonia, 2014.
Majercik, Ruth. The Chaldean Oracles: Text, Translation and Commentary. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1989.
Nicholson, Oliver. The ‘Pagan Churches’ of Maximinus Daia and Julian the Apostate. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 45, pp 1-10. 1994
Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969.
Plato. The Complete Works of Plato. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. United States?: Akasha Pub., 2008.
Rüpke, Jörg. A Companion to Roman Religion. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.