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.
Your vivid description makes me long for the experience of the central home fire. There is nothing like warming the large gluteus muscles near a roaring stove on a freezing day.
Your words make me feel cozy as I slip into my memories of stuffing the stove with wonderfully aromatic and hopefully dry wood.
Here in the warm climate of southern California it is the inner hearth of the home that Hestia must tend.
The goddess Yemanja, the ocean, takes precedent here. In a few days I will go to the ocean with a group of Brazilians to honor her with dance, food and flowers.
Perhaps I will think that our home is blessed by the god of the Air (whoever that is) as the doors and windows stay open and it flows so constantly through the rooms, refreshing and renewing the space.
Thanks for your beautiful response, Lauren. We get to have all these archetypal beings in our lives, some more prevalent at certain times than others. The cook fire is also Hestia, so she lives in your kitchen. I don’t honor her with cooked sacrifice as much as I used to, but plan to make a white bean and escarole soup tonight. I’ll be thinking of Hestia. May you be held by all four elements.
I love coming home to the aroma of curried soups and cinnamon-baked apples. And what REALLY makes me feel like I’m home is when it’s stormy and cold outside and I’m safe and warm, watching the trees across the pond rocking in the wind.
Nice, Robin. I let the fire go out for a few days because it was so warm, but it feels wrong at my home when there is no fire in the wood stove. I lit the fire again this morning. Willow is sleeping on the hearth. All’s right with the world. Thanks for reading and responding.
This brings to mind the image of my Grammie, born and raised in Lexington, Virginia. Visiting us in Buffalo for Christmas one year, she backed up to the fireplace and put her hands behind her back to warm them as well. Then she smiled as she discreetly raised the hem of her dress so the fire’s warmth could reach her body more effectively. She used to say that Southerners put their backs to the fire to face the room, but Northerners put their backs to the room to warm their hands.
What a great story, Liz. I love your southern Grammie and her lifted skirts. Smart woman. I like my back to the fire, too, because that’s where I feel the cold. Sending love your way.
Elaine, I needed this story of warmth this week, when it’s been so bitter cold here. A beautiful description–thank you.
Thank you, Lynne. It’s good this time of year to figure out where we go for the internal and external flame.
Nothing fancy or philosophical this week: I wore my zippered jacket all day long indoors even though house temps remain the same as always. I just wanted to feel snuggly. The lighted Christmas tree still shines day and night.
Oh, our potted outdoor plants have been brought in and are bedded down against the predicted hard freeze in Florida. Tomorrow I bake a pork roast. Perhaps Hestia would approve. Son Joel took all 4 grandkids to south Georgia to play in the snow.
Your post warmed my heart, Elaine.
It was -5 F on my front porch this morning with a frisky wind. Yesterday, the weather turned from adventurous to maddening, but we didn’t get much snow for the wind to blow around and a warming trend begins tomorrow. Keep heart, body, and home warm. Hestia would like the warm oven and would claim an offering from the roast. I don’t know how much, so we’ll keep it a secret. I hope the humans and the citrus crops made it OK. It looked rough for the northern FL citrus groves.
This is an excellent post dear Elaine… While I was writing about Patriarchy and certain Misogynistic Stereotypes in Greek Mythology (particularly Helen of Troy and Pandora) I learnt -by contrast- that Aphrodite presided over sexuality and reproduction, necessary for the continuation of the community. She somehow could be related to Hestia in that sense. Or at least one could consider her a goddess who complements Hestia´s role, being the latter a protector of every Home. The way you relate this Goddess with your life fascinates me!. Sending love & wishing you an excellent 2018 ahead
Thank you, Aquileana. I almost always write memoir and have a strong Jungian bent, so it’s natural for me to bring my study of goddesses into personal life. I’ve probably told you I’ve worked with a group of women studying goddess mythology for over 25 years. We had all been part of a group studying philosophy, including Greek philosophy, and meditation. We began our work around 1990 with Eros and Psyche, reading classical authors and many Jungians, particularly James Hillman for that story. I’m always interested in studying the history of the story from ancient texts and images before figuring out what it means in my life. I find that every mythological story gives me information about the archetypes at play within. When my husband was dying, our group focused on Orpheus (one of the few times we focused on a god rather than a goddess). It was a perfect story for me at that time. I haven’t explored the Aphrodite-Hestia connection, but see how the human community depends on them for creating and protecting the coming generations. Blessed and Peaceful 2018 to you and thank you for the wisdom you share.