Hestia is the firstborn Olympian, older even than Zeus, and was the daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. The ancient Greeks had an expression, “Start with Hestia,” meaning “begin at the beginning.” She is the symbol of the hearth fire, living in the center of the flame. Pythagoras said, “The fire of Hestia is the center of the earth.” Cicero described her as the “Guardian of Innermost Things.” Hestia’s name means “home and hearth”, the oikos, the household and its inhabitants. The Greek word is thought to have originated from the earlier Sanskrit word vas which means, “shining.” She sat on a plain wooden throne with a white woolen cushion. Her Roman equivalent is Vesta, for whom a large asteroid in the Main Belt is now named.
In ancient Greek religion Hestia is a maiden goddess of the hearth, architecture, and the right ordering of domesticity, the family and the state. She was one of the original twelve Olympians. Few images of the goddess Hestia exist; in Athenian vase painting she was depicted as a modestly veiled woman sometimes holding a flowered branch. In classical sculpture she was also veiled, with a kettle as her attribute. Her symbols, the sacred flame and the circle, were often used to represent her.
An early form of the temple is the hearth house; the early temples on Crete are of this type, as is the temple of Apollo at Delphi, which always had its inner Hestia. The hearth of the Greek pyrtaneum was the ritual and secular focus of the community and its government. Hestia received the first offering at every sacrifice in the household. She was also offered the first and last libations of wine at feasts. As the goddess of the family hearth she also presided over the cooking of bread and the preparation of family meals. When a new colony was established, flame from Hestia’s public hearth in the mother city would be carried to the new settlement.
As goddess of the sacrificial flame, Hestia received a share of every sacrifice to the gods. Hestia’s functions demonstrate the importance of the hearth and its fire in the social, religious and political life of ancient Greece. The hearth is essential for warmth, food preparation, and the completion of sacrificial offerings to deities. Just as the accidental or negligent extinction of a domestic hearth-fire represented a failure of domestic and spiritual care for the family, failure to maintain Hestia’s public fire in her temple or shrine was a breach of duty to the broad community. A hearth fire might be deliberately, ritually extinguished at need, and its lighting or relighting would be accompanied by rituals of completion, purification and renewal, comparable with the rituals and connotations of an eternal flame and sanctuary lamps.
Thousands of years ago the hearth was a simple circle of stones and formed the first altars. A portion of what was burned in the hearth was seen as a sacrifice and was consciously intended to stay aligned with the divine. It’s no coincidence that the two words are nearly identical, heart and hearth. The symbolic hearth of Delphi was not just the spiritual heart of ancient Greece, but also the center of the world. If the sacred hearth fire went out, it could only be rekindled by the sun, or by rubbing two sticks together. At this time of year as we experience the astrological sign of Cancer, symbol of the home, it’s a good time to light a candle, or symbolic altar fire, and honor our innermost heart.
Based on and excerpts from Goddesses for Every Day © 2010 by Julie Loar. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA www.newworldlibrary.com
About The Author: Julie Loar is the multiple award-winning author of six books and dozens of articles. She has a BS in Psychology, has done postgraduate work, and has been certified in numerous professional training and development programs. Julie was a Human Resources executive in two major corporations, and an independent training consultant, working with large companies. Her latest book, Goddesses For Every Day: Exploring the Wisdom & Power of the Divine Feminine Around the World, (available at Satiama) has won three national awards. Her popular astrology feature appears in ATLANTIS RISING magazine, and she is a featured contributor on John Edward’s web site, InfiniteQuest.com where she has her own internet TV show. She has traveled to sacred sites around the world, researching the material for her books and teachings. Each year she leads a sacred journey to Egypt. Visit her at http://www.julieloar.com