Hearth and Kith
What do you think it feels like to be the Gothi or Gythia who attends the monthly Blot, perhaps setting aside several hours of travel time and personal expense only to find they are on their own - nobody else has bothered to turn up? Well, since I am not Gothi of my Hearth, the Middlesex, I cannot comment - you will have to ask Mike.
However, I have been in such a situation on numerous occasions over many years when I was a teacher of a Zen martial art, and my reaction (certainly towards the end of my teaching 'career' which ended last year) was 'FU2!'.
However, to be fair, a large part of the fault was mine. A major problem was the fact that I had accepted a 'deal' that effectively gave me the teaching premises free provided I did not charge tuition fees, but only 'dojo fees' of £1.50 per session per student. Now, this is not normally the way it is done. More usual is to charge a Dojo fee of around £2.50 per session plus a tuition fee of some £20 per month - the latter to be paid whether the student turns up for class or not. And standard etiquette, which I did not insist upon, of letting the teacher know in advance if a class was to be missed. In the 'good old days' of martial arts, having a student miss classes without prior permission would have got them kicked out. Back then it was a privilege to be part of the Dojo, not a commercial right.
So, not only was I providing a 'service' for rock bottom prices but I allowed it to become 'casual'. Instead of them paying typically £30-£40 per month they were paying an average of £6 to £12 as they chose. In short, it did not work because of the psychology - something given away has no value. In other 'more traditional' venues students paid the full fees and were a lot more punctual - they had paid a lot and were going to make damn sure they got value for money. Makes the £15 per year for KoY membership seem somewhat cheap doesn't it? Not to mention the fact that students expect, and are expected, to train two nights a week for years if they wish to progress. And that is a level of commitment most Heathen organisations can only dream about.
The Relationship between Hearth and Kith
However, with the Kith of Yggdrasil (KoY) it is not primarily a question of money but of that commitment. In my opinion we need to be a lot more formal about our Hearth structures and obligations towards each other as members of the Hearth. In addition we need to clarify the relationship between the Hearth and the KoY. In many ways the lines between my Hearth (The Middlesex) and the KoY have become blurred due to the preponderance of elected officers coming from our ranks. Our Blots have become KoY Blots and our events KoY events. In my opinion this has weakened the Hearth and done little for the KoY.
While our Hearths do welcome members of the KoY to their Blots they are under no obligation to do so to all Hearth events, nor are they under an obligation to advertise social events in Sunwheel. Where a Blot or event is advertised in Sunwheel, KoY members who are not Hearth members ideally need to inform the Hearth that they wish to attend. This serves two purposes, firstly as a matter of courtesy but also to make it clear that we are not one homogeneous mass of interchangeable pic'n'mix religious functionaries. And one more thing that should not need spelling out, but probably does - if a person says they are going to turn up then they should keep their word. If they cannot then they should inform the Gothi or relevant Hearth officer in good time. The (heretofore unspoken) corollary being that they might not get a particularly warm welcome if they ever deign to show their face after failing to abide by such courtesies.
Finally something that also needs clarifying. While Hearths can invite whoever they like to their events, they also have the right not to invite people.
The Benefits of the Hearth
What should a Hearth be?
Now, I do not think that there is any dictionary or manual defining Heathen structures that would provide a comprehensive answer to this question. So I am going to spell out a baseline of what I believe a Hearth should be, and how a it should function. As an aside, I think that we (the KoY) have been rather remiss in failing to define what we want and expect from this most basic and essential institution. Part of this is obviously due to the fact that Hearths are relatively autonomous, and each should choose its own way of doing things. Nevertheless, I obviously feel that the following suggestions and observations have a degree of merit.
In my mind a Hearth serves two functions - it exists primarily to serve the Gods, and then to serve the needs of its members. It is this latter capacity we need to address.
What I want from a Hearth is simple - a group of trustworthy and honourable like-minded people gathered together as a family in common purpose and resolve. Additionally I might add that it is preferable for all the members to actually like and trust each other, or at least for there to be no disunity that cannot be resolved. It is a group of people who meet together at both formal and informal social occasions, who can also offer a measure of mutual support and comradeship. Most important of all, being a member of a Hearth is a privilege, not a Right. This is where the formality should arise, and the following is a list of suggestions.
Membership and Obligation
Do we actually have a formal list of members for our Hearths? And if not why not? Or does anyone just feel free to turn up to a Blot or function as they like (or more commonly, not)? I would like to see each Hearth have a definite list, and for those on that list to realise that they actually have to do something as part of the privilege of being a member - and particularly the privilege of remaining a member.
What duties would be expected of a Hearth member? Well, the single most important duty would be to turn up to Blots and other special events. Or, if in exceptional cases that was not possible, to let the Gothi know in advance and provide a reason. Just how much a member could miss and still remain a member would be a matter for the Hearth, but I definitely envisage situations where membership was terminated due to lack of interest, by either party. Should a member fail in their obligations they would be removed from the list.
Within the context of the KoY it would simply mean that they become 'lone members of the KoY'. And if they did want to attend a Hearth function they would have to ask permission as a matter of courtesy like any other KoY member. In addition they would also no longer be informed of any non-KoY Hearth events.
And what else? Well, a commitment to recruit new members looks like becoming a necessity. This should not just be the job of the PR Officer of the KoY but of every one of us. What it means is another obligation of Hearth membership would be to bring at least one friend or colleague to a Hearth function per year. I have often said it in jest - "Everyone bring a friend and we double the size immediately", but it is absolutely true.
Then there is the question of money. It actually takes money to provide the necessities of a Blot. For example, mead is not cheap! And if we do want Hearth regalia do we expect someone else to provide it, free of charge? Briefly, there should be some sort of attendance or membership fee to not only cover costs but accumulate a surplus for special events. How much, and how it is collected, is up to the Hearth but we should not expect the Gothi or Gythia to foot the bill alone, which is what often happens.
To end this section, an answer to a simple question - how does one become a member of a Hearth in the first place? Well, that is pretty much up to the Hearth itself but in general one should not expect to automatically join just by turning up. The Hearth should offer an invitation to those who they feel are compatible with the regulars, and who have shown due diligence in attending publicised functions - and that may take several months, or perhaps never.
Community There are also some subsidiary issues we need to think about, which while not essential might go some way towards inducing more of a sense of community.
One idea is that of 'partnering'. This is where members are paired up with the intention that each should ensure the other is kept informed of what is happening and also keep the group informed of any relevant personal matters.
Then there is the notion of 'merchandising' in a general sense e.g. creating a sense of community through common items of jewellery, clothing etc. Now, I know that quite a few Heathens are averse to 'dressing up' for Blots but in some ways we could learn something from the Wiccans on this one. We do not have to go to their extremes, but we may wish to consider Hearth customised jewellery such as rings, pendants, pins, brooches, hammers etc. Perhaps also sweatshirts, embroidered patches for clothing and so forth. It most certainly does not have to be historically accurate!
We really do need to make it feel that being a member of a Hearth is something special - because it should be and it is. The Hearth should be a major aspect in our social lives, just as the church is to a dedicated Christian or the Lodge is to the Freemason. And the only thing stopping it being so is us.