Paying Homage to Hestia by Sara Wright

This morning I was kneeling in front of my new wood stove kindling a fire from hot coals when I felt the presence of the Greek Goddess Hestia, Lady of the Hearth moving through the house. The goddess manifests as a crackling wood fire, and when I kneel before my wood stove to coax coals into flames I feel as if I am paying homage to her.

I have spent two winters without a wood stove, and have missed this ritual fall lighting of the fire, and the knowing that I am participating in ancient practice that extends back far beyond the Patriarchal Greeks to the dawn of humankind.

Today I felt her presence in a visceral way as I looked out the window at the first flakes of white snow disappearing into wet ground, and felt the hearth warming beneath my feet.

Hestia symbolizes the importance of creating sacred space within one’s home by honoring the fire that turns wood to ashes and re –kindles itself, resurrecting what was dead. This is also a time to give thanks for every tree that sacrifices itself to keep us warm…

(one of author’s dogs, “Hope,” gravitates instantly to the heat of the wood stove)

Hestia’s name means “hearth” or “fireplace,” and her status shows how important the hearth was in the social and religious life of Ancient Greeks. Making and preserving fire was essential for early cultures, which made the household fire a sacred element at a very early stage of “her – story.” In later days, Hestia became its embodiment.

Hestia received the first offering at every meal in the household with families pouring sweet wine in her name and dedicating the richest portion of food to her.

The hearth fire in the household was not allowed to go out by any family unless it was ritually distinguished.

In the Greek myth, Hestia was one of three “virgin” goddesses; the other two were Athena and Artemis. I interpret this virgin aspect as being “one unto herself, indicating wholeness which has nothing to do with chastity. Athena was a goddess of war and got lots of attention, Artemis was Mistress of Wild Animals and also a great huntress. Hestia was acknowledged as Mistress of the Fire, and cultivator of the home place. Of the three goddesses she got the least attention, probably because the Greeks were a Patriarchal warring culture that valued men over women, and thrived on conquest, rape, and killing (power over). Honoring any peaceful nurturing goddess of the household was less important.

There is an interesting story about a potential rape of Hestia by a drunken god while she was sleeping. The braying of a distressed donkey awakened Hestia in time to ward off this atrocity and thereafter, on Hestia’s feast day a donkey that wore a garland was included in Hestia’s festivities. This intervention by a loving animal may carry a significance that is easily missed. Animals can represent women who are living in a state of wholeness because they have married instincts to awareness. To become en – souled is a holy undertaking that connects a woman to All That Is.

This winter I welcome Hestia as Keeper of the Fires into this house asking for her blessing, honoring WOMAN who tends the potentially transforming element of contained fire in her own home or realm.

 

Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.



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12 replies

  1. Great post. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say Hestia got little attention in the patriarchal texts. Surely she got lots of daily attention from women in the home! Enjoy your fire.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. You are right Carol -Patrairchy would of course discount her! I do believe she gets plenty of attention from women – but there is something about this ritual lighting of the fire that puts me in mind of how grateful I am to be participating….always wonder if others feel that way…. coming out of the solstice time – for me it is fluid – not just one day but like all ritual seems to occur over a period – more process oriented – I have had candles lit everywhere in the living room to acknowledge the turning and celebrating winter darkness – it is odd that once the solstice passes so does the need to have the living room festooned with candles….curious. I attended a virtual gathering last night where everyone spoke to the return of the sun – gosh, we can’t even move into winter in peace – always the light – are we a culture addicted to light?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. A lovely post, and a wonderful way to connect daily to fire and our connection to the sacredness of home. I really do think that the devaluing of our bond to the places where we dwell is deeply related to our devaluing of the Earth, our common home, and rituals like yours help heal that wound. I love the photo of your home – so cozy!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. agreed – not acknowledging our bonds to place we lose something critical – last night on a zoom meeting I heard one woman speak to being imprisoned in her house although she spent time outdoors… one wonders how much time went in to creating her space.

    Like

  5. Enjoy your fire. Thanks for the history of Hestia. I have a small figure of her on my “home” altar, which is in the center of my home and also has a little house and a tall candle (plus a lot of other things) on it.

    Happy Winter Holidays (all of them) and keep your fire, both literal and metaphorical, lit. Bright, homey blessings.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. The lineage of Hestia must go way back, perhaps to when Innana herself gave her own daughter the task of tending the flame. Here was a tool for warmth, yes, but for so much more. It cooked meat, making it healthier. It sanitized water and brought healing teas to the community. It created community itself with stories, songs and ritual around the fire. There is so much more. Like you, I treasure the long dark nights. My kitties and I create a sacred space that is all our own, and dance.

    Thank you for this reminder of the beauty of night. Blessed hearth fires to you.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Heart/hearth warming post. I love the photo of your dog basking by the wood stove. Our kitty has her own special seat on the wide apron around the wood stove where she loves to loll, turning from one side to the other thoroughly warming herself. It is good indeed to give thanks to the trees who give us firewood. This year all our wood is from the crown of the fallen oak (the trunk and the larger branches remain where they fell). I am awed and grateful. Thanks for this post.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Oh Elizabeth i am always giving thanks for trees – i live in a house made of trees (logs) view them from every window, heat with them, rejoice with them and experience heartbreak when they are torn away from their roots by storms or people….

    Isn’t it curious how our animals gravitate towards these short winter days – how content they are in the darkness – how sweet the sleep…

    I just heard on public radio that 1/3 of the oak trees in our country will be gone by 2050 – horrifying – here in Maine I have been watching the maples – I’ve known they have been in trouble for a few years and FINALLY I learn that scientists are saying what I know from observing – maples can’t deal with climate change – they are dying or trying to move north to survive – and people wonder why I am so obsessed by trees.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have seen the maples struggling, too. This autumn they looked healthier than they have in a while. I hope they are finding a way to go on living and thriving. There are so many oaks near me and amazing cedars. I will go on loving and noticing, praying and praising. Merry Yuletide!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I wish I didn’t always have bad news when it comes to trees… i remind myself daily that under the trees there are roots and millions of miles of hyphae capable of creating new beginnings if all else fails…

    Liked by 1 person

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