Musing on Hestia
This is a goddess who often seems to get left out or receives only the token first and last offerings. A rather quiet seeming divinity, not as flashy mythologically as the other Greek divinities and often taken for granted I think. She is one of my favorite divinities however and always has. I’ve had a couple of items bring her to the forefront of my thoughts of late. First is the comment my boss made when describing to her daughter what a hot flash is like:
“You know the sudden flash of heat you get when you open the door on a hot oven? That is what a hot flash is like, except it is coming from inside.”
Yep, a pretty accurate description. Later that day I read a chapter on Hestia from “Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods”. (Supposedly written in Percy’s “voice”…except I don’t remember him being so…cheeky. It is written in the conversation style of a pretty typical teenager which really makes the rather accurately told, so far any way as I’m only about a fifth of the way in, myths very accessible to the younger generations.) I love how she is presented in this book.
With both these things on my mind, I started pondering Hestia’s place in a woman’s life as I was getting ready for bed. While the gods are more than archetypes, they also can fulfill that function. Of all the “major” Greek divinities, Hestia is the only one that doesn’t have an obvious place in a woman’s cycle, from child to elder. Or does she? Artemis is seen as the young child running free. Athene, I see as the transition to young adult. Aphrodite is sexual awakening. Persephone is the transition from young adult to wife. Hera is the wife. Demeter is the mother. But what about Hestia, lady of flame? She belongs to all and yet to none. Her flame is about home but also about transformation. Maybe she is the menopause transformation. The heat of transformation, belonging to all (family, job, parents, etc.) but yet the change also forces you to look to yourself more and again.
I prayed to her that night as I got ready for bed. If she would alleviate my symptoms so that I got more than 3-4 hours of sleep, I would write that story that she features in that has been percolating on the back burner along with all the other projects I want to do. I ended up getting about 6 or so hours of sleep. So I spent yesterday looking over my outline, which wasn’t as full as I thought it was, and researching all the details that I wanted to include. It ends up that this story is going to be quite a bit longer than I originally intended…like 8 long chapters instead of the short story that I had originally intended.
In doing the research, I came across some interesting information. Some of which I won’t share, because it triggered some interesting conclusions that will be part of the story that I write. But because this story will take quite a bit longer to write than I originally thought, I wanted to get something written and posted for her NOW as a preliminary thank you the the lovely, fiery and often overlooked lady of the hearth.
Hestia is looked upon as the the eldest and the youngest of the Olympian siblings (as opposed to the Olympian children like Athene and Hermes). She is the first born to Rhea but the last disgorged by Kronos. She is the most retiring of the six siblings in that she doesn’t like conflict but do not think that she is harmless as fire can burn just as easily as it can warm. As the first born and first consumed, she was alone and then got to watch as each of her siblings joined her in that paternal prison. I believe that she raised her siblings as well as she could with the limited knowledge and resources that she had. As the eldest in my own small family, I can see how she tried to guide, care for and shape her younger siblings. And how that shaped her personality when she was “reborn”. She is very much the maternal female that has never given birth. Her concern has always been focused on the well-being of the individual, with the family unit, with providing the care needed so that growth can happen. She is the behind the scenes caretaker who is often taken for granted and forgotten, only remembered if she isn’t there or things don’t go smoothly. That isn’t to say she isn’t loved by her siblings, because she is. For 4 of them, she is the only mother figure they’ve ever known. Yet they were happy to leave her realm of control and seem to rather look at her as backward, slow, out of touch, unimportant…until there is a problem. Then they return to her hearth to talk about the issues, the changes in their life. Even if she doesn’t say a word, her mere presence, her attitude of listening helps them gain perspective so that decisions can be made. I see her as a colorful, laughter loving divinity full of surprises in the same way that a kitchen, which is always the center of any party no matter how a hostess tries for otherwise, is full of wonderful and surprising things.
One of the things I used to do before I had a child, was to brew up a couple cups of tea, place one on the altar before her candle (which I do not leave burning all the time but light before each ritual and you know what, I think she is perfectly fine with that, the practical goddess that she is) and talk with her about all the things happening in my life. It was nice to have a listener that didn’t judge, who was happy to listen and just be there. Someone I didn’t have to worry about how what I was saying may affect them or change the way they think of me. It was an excellent way to clear my head during stressful times. I really need to go back to doing that.
So many things to say about this lovely goddess…what else to add? Oh, the menopause angle. Whenever there was a change in the household, the change was brought to the hearth to tell the goddess…whether a birth, a death, etc. Fire is an element of transition and menopause is essentially the body transitioning from reproduction to an unproductive state. In my own experience it effects every function in my body, from mental outlook to sleep cycles to weight to digestion to… It is a natural function of the body that transitions the woman from the physical “mother” status to the physical “crone” status. It is every bit as much a mental process as it is a physical process. I’m having to face the fact that I will never again be that young, slim, sexy lady again and in a society that seems to prize that above all, it is very stressful transition. Stress makes hot flashes happen more often and more intense. The only plant that Theoi.com listed as tentatively associated with Hestia is the the chaste tree. From all my research yesterday, it appears the the chasteberry is an adaptogen that helps the female system to normalize. It uses include dealing with PMS, irregular periods and alleviating menopause symptoms. It is something I plan to try as another weapon in my arsenal to get me through the physical transition that often seems like cruel and unusual torture when I can’t sleep more than 3-4 hours a night.
Other things that I found out, one of Hestia’s symbol is the kettle. The oldest kettle found came from MMesopotamiaway before the common era and looks very similar to the tea kettles still in use. There were used to boil water to make it safe for drinking. I find this association ironic, because I collect tea pots. To me they are a symbol of hospitality and friendship. A symbol of warmth and friendly conversation. Out of curiousity, I looked up the etymology of the word and on the same page is the similar etymology of cauldron.
kettle (n.) Old English cetil (Mercian), from Proto-Germanic *katilaz (compare Old Saxon ketel, Old Frisian zetel, Middle Dutch ketel, Old High German kezzil, German Kessel), probably from Latin catillus “deep pan or dish for cooking,” diminutive of catinus “bowl, dish, pot.” One of the few Latin loan-words in Proto-Germanic…Spelling with a -k- (c.1300) probably is from influence of Old Norse cognate ketill. The smaller sense of “tea-kettle” is attested by 1769.
cauldron (n.) c.1300, caudron, from Anglo-French caudrun, Old North French cauderon (Old French chauderon “cauldron, kettle”), from augmentative of Late Latin caldaria “cooking pot” (source of Spanish calderon, Italian calderone), from Latin calidarium “hot bath,” from calidus “warm, hot” The -l- was inserted 15c. in imitation of Latin.
So every time I see a bowl or cauldron with a female divinity, I’m going to think Hestia. It also adds some interesting ideas for altar decorations since representations of Ceridwen are easier to find than representations of Hestia (which typically fall short in my opinion, however artistically lovely they are) . I am amused that the three bowls I painted and added to my main altar also unintentionally honored her.
Other items of interest:
- Divinity of home building
- presides over cooking, hostessing
- Goddess of the sacrificial flame, shares in every burnt sacrifice and in the communal feast that follows after such sacrifices
- received oaths spoke at the hearth
- the hearth was also the place to seek asylum
- “true” fires are lit by friction (which makes lighters and matches perfectly acceptable ways of lighting her fires) or by magnifying glass
- often confounded with: Kybel, Gaia, Demeter, Persephone and Artemis
- typical sacrifices: fruit, water, oil, sweet wine and 1 year old cows
Lady of the Hearth, Keeper of the Flame
Wherever you are the Gods have a home
Enter this space, make it your own
Giving me your blessing and guidance
Bless this space and each just desire
Grant me peace and your goodwill