I recently wrote a piece about Pagan tattoos. Hundreds of people posted pictures of their artwork and many more folks told the stories of how those designs came about and why they were so compelled to etch them indelibly into their skin.
And this got me thinking - Tattoos are altars, of a kind. They are permanent representations of a moment or a belief or a particular rite of passage. These permanent, personal altars are like touchstones to those important times. In most cases, they are carefully thought out. They are planned. The placement, the design, the colours, the images and the symbols are all considered. Then there's the actual "building of the altar" itself.
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. The host had and has many tasks in his process, but the guest had/has an important part to play as well: the guest is expected to be courteous and not be a burden to the host. The house was a sanctuary in ancient Hellas with a lot of social rules attached to it. Guests could not enter certain parts of the house, and male guests were kept away from women at all times. Long term guests had a slightly different status, as they became part of the oikos, but they were still subject to restrictions when it came to social an religious behaviour. This practice was known as 'xenia' (ξενία), and we'll be talking about a very special version of it today: xenia related to Gods and heroes.
Xenia is described a lot in mythology. Especially the more general form of it where Theoi disguising themselves as beggars or undesirables and come to the door of an unsuspecting mortal features in many myths. The host is judged on the hospitality offered; good things befall those who treat guests with respect, very bad things befall those who do not. One of my favorite Hellenic myths shows this in great detail; it's the story of how Baucis and Philemon received some unexpected visitors. You can read the myth here.
Theoxenia is a little different, it's a specific ritual meant to bring the Gods closer to us and invite Them into our home. Heroxenia is the same practice, but for the heroes of Hellenic mythology. In short, theoxenia and heroxenia were a kind of Hellenic sacrifice in which worshippers presented foodstuffs to Gods or heroes (not usually at the same time, or at least not at the same table), who then attended the meal as guests, or xenoi.