When we think of the concept of the Indo-European Sacred Hospitality, we understandably immediately conjure up the Greek custom of ‘Xenia’ – and Zeus and Hermes going in disguises to test same. What is less-known is that Athena, too, has a patronage-portfolio role over this area under her Aegis likewise – part of a persistent pattern of the Goddess in question being every bit the counterpart and the equal of the Sky Father Deific.
However, we more rarely think about the salient occurrences of the typology in either the Vedic or the Eddic mythic spheres.
The Eddic, is best represented via the Grimnismal – wherein a disguised Odin does just exactly this: goes to test the commitment to the value of hospitality of the ill-fated Geirroth, as part of a bet with His Wife.
And whilst we could draw from a literal litany of exemplar instances in the Hindu understanding (which I’ve previously provided a few people with in the past when they’ve been delving into these occurrences) – the one I think deserves our explication today concerns the Vratya. More specifically … the AdiVratya Himself, as encountered within the Hymnals of the AtharvaVeda.
But first … what is a Vratya ?
Well, to keep things exceptionally brief – they’re a clade of “warrior-mystic[s…] armed with lance and bow, with long hair and an appearance that could suggest frenzy or insanity or intoxication, often mounted upon horse or wagon, renowned for their singing ability and correlate control of the essential wind-force of breath, possessed of great and secret knowledge, wandering and to be received with care and hospitality as an honoured guest” – as I put it in GHOST DIVISION.
It is not hard to see how these are conspicuously resonant with Shiva-Odin Himself.
To speak to the etymology of ‘Vratya’, and to quote from GHOST DIVISION once more –
“[Vratya] is often translated into English as “vagrant” [apt, as this comes from exactly the same root as “wanderer”, with added ‘uneasiness’ connotations of a rough-looking man … both of which arcen back to ‘Gangleri’], or “outlaw” [one also beyond the realm and its law, in the wilds] – or, most particularly for our purposes, one of that order of mendicant (warrior-)monks illustriously aforementioned.”
So, it should therefore come as absolutely no surprise when the AdiVratya – the First [of the] Vratya, turns out to be Shiva Himself.
And to but briefly parse the scriptural excerpts I had intended to post upon the matter … these all come from the AtharvaVeda’s chapter in glorification of He, and deal directly with the notion of the Sacred Hospitality.
The implicit sense, we might surmise, is to always treat the visiting Vratya well – for one never knows when he may in fact turn out to be He. And dire consequences might then ensue for the one who would maltreat him – as Geirroth found out to his fatal enlightenment in the course of the Grimnismal [‘Sayings of the Masked One’].
“1 So let the King, to whose house the Vrātya who possesses this knowledge comes as a guest.
2 Honour him as superior to himself. So he Both not act against the interests of his princely rank or his kingdom.”
“1 Let him to whose house the Vrātya who possesses this knowledge comes as a guest.
2 Rise up of his own accord to meet him, and say, Vrātya, where didst thou pass the night? Vratya, here is water, Let them refresh thee. Vrātya, let it be as thou pleasest. Vrātya, as thy wish is so let it be. Vrātya, as thy desire is so be it.
3 When he says to his guest, Where didst thou pass the night? he reserves for himself thereby the paths that lead to the Gods.
4 When he says to him, Here is water, he secures thereby water for himself.
5 When he says to him, Let them refresh thee, he thereby wins vital breath to exceeding old age.
6 When he says to him, Vrātya, let it be as thou pleasest, he secures to himself thereby what is pleasant.
7 That which is pleasant comes to him, and he is the beloved of the beloved, who is possessed of this knowledge.
8 When he says to him, Vrātya, as thy will is so let it be, he secures to himself thereby the fulfilment of his will.
9 Authority comes to him who possesses this knowledge, and he becomes the controller of the powerful.
10 When he says to him, Vrātya, as thy desire is so be it, he secures to himself thereby the attainment of his desire.
11 His desire comes to him who possesses this knowledge and he gains the complete satisfaction of his wish.”
“1 The man, to whose house, when the fires have been taken up from the hearth and the oblation to Agni placed therein, the Vrātya possessing this knowledge comes as a guest.
2 Should of his own accord rise to meet him and say, Vrātya, give me permission. I will sacrifice.
3 And if he gives permission he should sacrifice, if he does not permit him he should not sacrifice.
4 He who sacrifices when permitted by the Vrātya who possesses this knowledge.
5 Well knows the path that leads to the Fathers and the way that leads to the Gods.
6 He does not act in opposition to the Gods. It becomes his sacrifice.
7 The abode of the man who sacrifices when permitted by the Vrātya who possesses this knowledge is long left remaining in this world.
8 But he who sacrifices without the permission of the Vrātya who- possesses this knowledge.
9 Knows not the path that leads to the Fathers nor the way that leads to the Gods.
10 He is at variance with the Gods. He hath offered no accepted sacrifice.
11 The abode of the man who sacrifices without the permission of the Vrātya who possesses this knowledge is not left remaining in this world.”
“1 He in whose house the Vrātya who possesses this knowledge abides one night secures for himself thereby the holy realms that are on earth.
2 A second night . . . . the holy realms that are in the firmament (the rest as in verse 1).
3 A third night . . . the holy realms that are in heaven.
4 A fourth night . . . . the holy realms of the Holy.
5 Unlimited nights . . . . unlimited holy realms.
6 Now he to whose house a non-Vrātya, calling himself a Vrātya, and one in name only, comes as a guest.
7 Should punish him and not punish him.
8 He should serve him with food saying to himself, To this Deity I offer water: I lodge this Deity; I wait upon this, this Deity.
9 To that Deity the sacrifice of him who has this knowledge is acceptable.”
Now, of course, as a further point .. if memory serves, Odin’s mantle in the Grimnismal is blue-black.
And what do we, again, find in the AV hymnals upon the subject?
[ I ]” [ 7 ] His belly is dark-blue, his back is red.
8 With dark-blue he envelops a detested rival, with red he pierces the man who hates him: so the theologians say.”
The Red likely stands also for Fire, for reasons that ought be obvious considering the Flame conceptry associated with Odin, as well as the strong concordancy of Agni and Shiva, and both with Odin as we have previously explored.
And speaking of the Fire – it is, of course, a foundational principle of the Indo-European divine metaphysics of ritual that we welcome the Gods as Guests to partake of the Rites and hospitality in Their Honour. The notion of a particular God or Gods acting as the guarantors of this via continual assessment via more broad-ranging means is, therefore, similarly unsurprising.
There are further points we could undoubtedly make upon the (Adi)Vratya – and in various of my previous works we have done just exactly that (including the rather fascinating Cloak of Night) … but for now, it is enough.
Hail to the AdiVratya – The Wandering God – The Divine Above-Law Himself.
ॐ नमः शिवाय