Hestia is the Greek goddess of the hearth and home; She presides over domestic life and the happiness of all within the household and is the keeper of the keys to the storeroom. Hestia taught the art of domestic architecture.
She is the firstborn of Cronos (Time) and Rhea (Physical Matter.) As such, She can be seen as the first spark of existence, both literally and figuratively the flame that makes life possible and the warmth of all that which makes life worth living.
A prophecy foretold that Cronos would be overthrown by one of his children, so, in a futile attempt to thwart fate, He swallowed His offspring. When Zeus brought the prophecy to fruition, He made Cronos regurgitate His children who then became the twelve Olympian Gods. Being the first swallowed, Hestia was the last disgorged and was, therefore, both the oldest and youngest of the gods, the firstborn and the last.
The mildest of the gods, Hestia willingly gave up Her throne to Dionysus when Zeus invited Him to live among the other Olympians. She chose instead to serve by tending the sacred fire of
Sought after as a bride by both Poseidon and Apollo, Hestia realized that a competition between the two could become rather heated. Rather than risk hard feelings by choosing one over the other, Hestia instead took an oath to remain a virgin forever. Her decision did more than just quell a potential argument - by remaining a virgin goddess, Hestia is whole within Herself, self-contained, and self-sufficient. Along with the other virgin goddesses Athena and Artemis, Hestia is immune to the fires of passion incited by Aphrodite. Hestia’s fire is the gentle flame of the Hearth, one that warms rather than burns, that comforts rather than excites. Hestia teaches us about the higher aspects of love. (1)
On the rare occasion when She is depicted in art, Hestia appears as a mature woman wearing a veil. More often, She is personified by the hearth itself and the flame burning within it. She is a personal goddess, close to everyday life. Few crafts necessary to the home and community could be created without the light, heat, or transformative power of fire. Thus, Hestia not only presides over home life, but of the community and the state and all that they represent in their highest forms. She provides cohesiveness, permanence, and stability; Hestia is a safe harbor, giving us a sense of being centered, grounded, and connected that Helps us reach our highest potential and connect more deeply with Spirit. In Her presence we feel we have “come home.”
Despite Her vow of virginity, one god, Priapus, did try to have His way with Her. A huge party was thrown by the Gods, after which everyone passed out from too much drink (except for our temperate Hestia who, of course, does not overindulge.) Priapus was the only one who remained awake, and He snuck over to Hestia in the hopes of taking advantage of Her. Before He could, an ass brayed and woke Hestia who, startled by the sight of Priapus lowering Himself upon Her, screamed and sent Priapus running. In this way, the ass protected Hestia’s virginity and became the animal associated with Her. (2)
To the Greeks the ass symbolized lust, making it an interesting choice of animal to link with a virgin. The Greeks, however, were no doubt influenced by other cultures, many of whom worshipped gods/goddesses in the form of an ass. To many, it symbolized those things necessary for survival. Pales, a Semitic ass-god/dess (seen as variously male or female) was originally from around
The importance of the relationship between hearth, family, and community is seen in three ancient Greek rituals. When a child was born, he or she was carried around the Hearth and prayers to Hestia were made before the infant was accepted as a part of the family. When a woman married, she carried a torch lit from her mother’s hearth to the hearth in her new home, and when a
Hestia’s connection to the home links Her to Zeus, the “Head of the Family.” Zeus extols the importance of unity within the family and the sacred act of hospitality to those outside of it. He provides the structure that creates the household and, on a larger scale, community, while Hestia is the warmth and love that makes it a happy home, a pleasant neighborhood or city.
Another god connected to Hestia is Hermes. Together they represent a balance in polarities – the Goddess of the home and domestic life and the God of business and the outdoors. She is stability, He is movement; Hestia’s more serious side is balanced by Hermes’ lightheartedness. She protects life, while Hermes as the Psycho pomp guides the dead. (5)
Hestia had few known temples in Greece, for every hearth was considered Her alter. In
Offerings to Hestia include the first fruits of the harvest, year-old calves, water, sweet wine, and oil. In the home, a portion of every meal was left on the Hearth or burned in the fire in Her honor. In ritual, Hestia received the first and last of the libations poured. (7)
Other names for Hestia are Vesta (Roman), Tabiti (Scythian), Isis as Virgin (Egyptian), Xiuhtecuhtli (Aztec), Sophia (Gnostic), Virgin Mary (Christian). (8)
Festival days of Hestia:
January 15: The Feast of the Ass. This day was celebrated in Rome in Honor of Hestia and the animal that saved Her.
March 1: Considered the first day of the new year in Rome, the sacred fire in Vesta’s temple was rekindled by the Vestals. In homes, small cakes were thrown on the fire in offering. Good fortune was portended if the cake crackled when it burned.
April 28: Feast Day of Vesta, established by Augustus Caesar.
June 7 - 15: Vestalia, the Roman festival of first fruits, began today. Married women were allowed in Vesta’s shrine during this festival; at all other times only the Vestals could enter. Food offerings were made to the Goddess. On the 15th the temple was swept out and closed to the public. (9)
Words associated with Hestia are family, community, compassion, contentment, retreat (as in a place of rest,) refreshment, service, hope, humility, warm hearted, sanctuary, simplicity, faithfulness, quiet, perseverance, modesty, nexus, contemplation, and meditation. (10)
Prayers to Hestia
Hestia, in all dwellings of men and immortals
yours is the highest honor, the sweet wine offered
first and last at the feast, poured out to you duly.
Never without you can gods or mortals hold banquet.
Hestia, in the high dwellings of all,
both deathless gods and men who walk on earth,
you have gained an everlasting abode and highest honor:
Glorious is your portion and your right. (11)
Blessed be the Goddess of Faith
Hestia, Constant One,
Goddess of Hearth and temple.
Teach me the lessons of commitment and contentment,
Service and celebration.
Warm me within and without.
I light this candle in fiery offering to you,
Hestia, Goddess of Fire. (12)
I light the candle, the flame flickers with life.
I call to you, sweet virgin, for you are the guardian.
I pray for your protection and your warmth.
I pray for your companionship when my soul is cold and lonely.
I light this candle for you, in this place where fire dwells.
I burn the incense and feel joy.
I cry in your presence and am not judged.
I stumble and you are there to catch me.
Silent Goddess, observer of life, who guards the dwellings we hold dear,
You who are the first.
You who are the last.
I pledge my soul, my honor, my respect to you, my patron. (14)
Goddess of the hearth, home, and community.
May Your flame of contentment, compassion, service
Burn within me, light the way before me, and shine through me.
Blessed be. (15)
Any act of care for the home, such as cleaning, decorating, and cooking, can be a ritual honoring Hestia when done with intention. Offering your hospitality to others, creating a peaceful, relaxing atmosphere in any dwelling, or taking time for yourself to enjoy the comfort and warmth of your home, your sanctuary, all these can be ways to pay the Goddess tribute, as is any activity that serves family or community.
(1, 5, 8, 10)
Article by Jamie Lyon