On frigid winter mornings, I am a devotee of Hestia, Greek Goddess of the Hearth. I descend the wooden steps from my bedroom, shoulders shrugged against the cold, put my dog Willow outside in the shivering dawn, and turn toward the green enamel Vermont Casting wood stove. Like women throughout history, I tend the household fire to warm the chill and light the inner darkness.
In ancient Greece, Hestia was the virgin goddess who protected the sacred eternal fire. Being a virgin goddess like Artemis or Athena, meant she was “one-in-herself,” not dependent on a wifely role that defined her in relation to a man or god. Her hearth was the central altar in every home and temple, the heart of family and spiritual life.
Hestia’s fire has been the center of my domestic world, too. When family filled this house, we stayed close to the stove in winter—two boys, a man, a dog, a cat, and me. The heat dried our damp socks, warmed our boots, and brought us together.
The wood stove is in the central room of my two-hundred-year-old house. Warmth radiates to surrounding rooms and up the stairs. In ancient times, the heating fire was also the kitchen fire, providing cooked offerings for rituals and deities or meals for the extended family. In Greek homes and temples, the first and last food and wine were offered to Hestia and in return, she provided safety, stability, nourishment, and a sense of belonging.
In the cold months, my fire stays lit unless I leave the house for more than twelve hours. When I return from town, the fire is here to greet me. When I return from longer trips, the cold house feels abandoned, so I first remove the spent ashes from the firebox, build an orderly crisscrossing structure of paper, small dry bark, and sticks, and strike a wooden match. The kindling smokes and crackles. When the draft pulls hard and the flames flare, I load the stove with hunks of dried oak or hickory from the woods on my property. Whiffs of acrid smoke perfume the air when I open the stove door to add more wood, and orange flames glow through the glass stove door.
Willow watches, waiting for me to move aside so she can lie on the warm hearthstone. When the fire roars, we feel safe at home.
This morning, after filling the stove’s belly, I sit on the floor with my back to the heat as I often do on frigid mornings. Willow sleeps beside me, wedged between the fire’s warmth and my thigh. There is no place we would rather be.
Hestia is my companion in winter quiet and writer’s solitude. I’m sure the Goddess will not mind if I name her “Protector of Widows.”
“Hestia, you who tend the holy house…with soft oil dripping from your locks,
come now into this house, come, having one mind with… the all-wise: draw
near, and withal bestow grace upon my song.“ ~Homeric Hymn to Hestia
What gives you a sense of home? Do archetypes, gods, and goddesses help you understand your experience? For other blogs about mythology, see Ganesh: Patron of Writers and Lord of Beginnings. I hope you enjoy other pieces I’ve written about my land and home.