All the Goddesses are inspiringly interesting, but there is something about Hestia that stands her apart from the rest. In Greek mythology, Hestia is generally recounted as an un-personified Goddess. Aside from two stories, Hestia is not defined or chiseled by human characteristics; she is instead expressed as an essential flame at the center of a round hearth. Considering that symbology and characteristics associated with a Goddess tell us something about her specific medicine and power, what then does Hestia, eldest of the Olympians teach us with the Hearth Fire?
To better understand the power of Hestia, lets start by unpacking one of her “personified” myths, the story is of her beginning. Hestia, first born to Rhea and Kronos, was the first victim of her father’s fear-driven madness. Immediately after the birth of his children, one by one, Kronos would swallow them in a vain attempt to evade his prophesied doom (that one of his sons would usurp him). Not only the first swallowed, Hestia was also the last rescued from the dank, intestinal confines. She was also the only of her siblings who faced the dark digestive tract alone. This shines light on Hestia’s first teaching, the power of solitude and surrender. During this time of quiet and lonely incubation, Hestia experienced firsthand the hidden potential of internment and darkness, none other than the restorative and inspiring gifts of solitude. In order to realize the gift of solitude, Hestia had to practice surrender. This Hestian medicine is echoed in the Psyche myth (further articulated in the previous Goddess blog: Psyche and the Heroine’s Quest) and is also coherent with the energy of the Hanged Man, of the Tarot deck. Hestia does not rage against her binds, nor panic or writhe in the noose of constriction. Instead, her wisdom is to assume a holding pattern, to choose the hold as a meditative embrace; an opportunity to nestle in as a soul hatchling. As we all know through direct experience, life not only gives us lightness, joy, bliss, summer and spring to explore and live through, it also provides winter, bogs, heaviness, grief, sadness, and stagnation to inspire transformation and release.
Hestia’s main teaching is about the power of being WITH the dark night of the soul, or similar such episodes in life. Being with what is skillful means to overcome the alternative: being uselessly destroyed or consumed by darkness. Engaging our binds as a potential, in a wise way, is a powerful way to grow. In Positive Psychology and Learning Theory terms this is can be thought of as resilience training and even post-traumatic growth. Hestia teaches us to homeopathically treat stuckness with staying power, to engage and honor stagnation or the noose as a vehicle for transformative process and healing. We all know that “this too shall pass”, but the trick is not to live through difficult times with numbing resolve and/or escapist techniques. Of course, this is not always possible, especially in cases of mindless violence and overwhelming trauma, but in otherwise more frequent and healthy experiences of life’s great challenges, what would it be like to engage a Hestian perspective and hold steady within our series of challenges as sacred opportunities? How different might it be if we stayed and felt fully what IS, instead of numbing out or running away? The medicine and myth of Hestia’s beginning teaches us the power of presence in both the womb and tomb of life. She teaches of the discernible value of being WITH pain, confinement, pressure, darkness versus trying to escape it. Hestia’s power is the BE HERE NOW mantra, choosing to trust life as a sacred pilgrimage of opportunity, transformative process and essential wholeness/holiness.
Aside from her teachings regarding equanimous presence, Hestia herself represents the art and power of making sacred our lives and our work. To intentionally make sacred is paramount to empowered choice, responsibility, and, I believe, our safety (especially if we choose to life our lives or do our work in the realm of God/Goddess/Divine forces/powers. Hence why I am introducing Hestia now, before we meet any of the other Goddesses!). Being an individual who intentionally and consciously works in the spiritual realm, as a shamanic practitioner and yoga therapist invoking Hestia and her symbol (the hearth fire) to open sacred space is essential to my work’s efficacy and safety. The dangers of contacting God/Goddess power outside of sacred space is made explicit to us through countless myths and stories. Medusa immediately comes to mind, as does Psyche, both young women of unprecedented beauty, who unintentionally and innocently invoked jealous rage from Goddesses, who inflicted terrible misery on both. All this drama happened outside the protection of sacred space. Or think of all the stories of mortal women who undeservedly elicited the wrath of Hera, after Zeus, Hera’s philandering husband, seduced, raped, and/or impregnated them. All these dreadful stories ring warning bells as per the risks associated when mortals and God/Goddess relate and connect outside of Hestia’s helm. On the contrary, countless stories and ancient (and modern) rites tell of the uplifting potential of contacting divine energy WITHIN sacred spaces, temples or anywhere where sacred space has been intentionally invoked. So, what makes one space sacred, and another not? I believe it is Hestia.
Remember, aside from two stories, Hestia is not personified. Unlike her siblings, she is abstract, more an idea, a symbol, an essence, than she is a character. In truth, there is something essential to Hestia, as implied by her symbology. (Small side note here, unpacking Hestia’s potency, in its entirety, is a quest I am NOT endeavoring to complete with this blog; I do hope my perspectives catalyzes your own synthesis and expansion of her meaning and medicine.) This essential quality is reflected in mythology and ancient Greek practices, as Hestia sat, the sacred flame, at the center of every God and Goddess’s temple. She received the first offering of every ceremony and ritual, and appropriately so, as she is also the eldest, first in the order of Olympians. Hestia’s presence commands order, she is the initial, the threshold and gateway for sacred communion between divine and mortal.
Taking a closer look at her symbology, fire is often a metaphor for spiritual consciousness, or even Great Spirit itself. The rest of her symbol, the center of the round hearth, shows that Hestia is also a space holder, a specific location and shape. Space itself is often depicted as the equal and other half to Great Spirit, as the Great Void (even our modern mythology of physics acknowledges space and light as the essential creation beings). So, Hestia is a metaphor that translates the Great Spirit, as the light of consciousness, and the Great Void, as the space of consciousness, into a safe space and threshold for us mortals to intentionally contact these divine powers. In the end, it all comes down to intentionality, and holding the image of Hestia, as an alchemical key, enables us to open sacred space, and empower our work and lives in a sacred AND safe way. Hestia, of course, was not just the keeper of the temples, she was also Goddess of the common home’s hearth. Hestia and her sacred making can be invoked in ritual, ceremony, and also around our dinner tables, or anywhere that we intentionally invite her presence and helm to do our good work.
Hestia is a Goddess and essential symbol that unifies the ethereal divine Light/Space with the definable, individual flame/hearth. She is an “in-between” or unification metaphor, which in and of itself can inspire contemplative reflection on what she is ultimately mirroring for us (hint, hint, Psyche and the Heroine’s quest is an example of this reflected potential). Regardless of her potency as a metaphor, Hestia, as the wisdom keeper of the threshold and of the sacred flame provides us with power to call on and intentionally make sacred our work. It seems no coincidence, that cross-culturally a candle, fire, or flame is lite to initiate sacred work. Whatever we want to call it, this power of intention, evoked when lighting our candles, makes sacred our work. I am calling this power Hestia, and I am grateful for knowledge of Her to help all of us learn to walk in beauty in an intentional and sacred way.