Plays Well With Others: A Brief Meditation on Hestia

“Hestia was one of the twelve Olympian gods. She was the goddess of the hearth or, more accurately, the flame burning on the hearth, the center of the household. Consequently, she was also the goddess of domestic life.” — Women of Classical Mythology: A Biographical Dictionary by Robert E Bell

Wow, that just sounds … so … scintillating, doesn’t it? Artemis gets to run wild across the mountains, Athena stomps across battlefields, Hera is the flippin’ Queen of Heaven, and Hestia … well, she gets a pile of burning sticks.

Woopitydoo.

Actually, pause for a moment and think about that. Hestia is the Goddess of the Hearth. She both is the hearth itself, and the guardian spirit of the hearth. She both is, and watches over, the fire that lies at the physical and spiritual center of the ancient Greek home. Whereas a family might travel to a temple of Apollon or Dionysus for a specific festival, Hestia’s shrine was lovingly tended every day.

Now keep going. That fire was the family’s source of warmth. It was used to boil water and cook food. That fire — Hestia — was responsible (in part) for providing the family’s basic sustenance, its very means of survival.

That “in part” bit is important. It offers a key insight into both Hestia’s character, and just how important she truly is. Hestia’s fire warms the waters provided by the rains of Zeus and the rivers and lakes of the nymphs. Hestia’s fire cooks the wild game provided by Artemis, the domesticated meat provided by Hermes and Apollon and Pan, the vegetables and fruits and grains provided by Demeter and Dionysus, the fish provided by Poseidon, even the milk provided by Hera.

Hestia is, above all else, a cooperative Deity.

Transfer and adapt the original functions of the hearth into the modern kitchen, and you get more examples of Hestia playing well with others: food storage, food preparation, mealtime, dinner conversation, cleanliness. So, obvious overlap with Demeter and Hephaestus, but also Hermes, The Charites, and even Hygeia.

Once upon a time, people told stories around the hearth. That links Hestia to fables and poetry and history and literature, and thus to modern radio and television (since so many families today gather around tvs). That’s another link to Hermes and Hephaestus, and also The Muses and Apollon.

A household is more than one person. That means communication and (personal) boundaries. So, here Hestia overlaps a bit with Hermes again. But, whereas he seems more concerned with outer communication and boundaries, Hestia’s interests are more internal, eg communication and boundaries between family members, roommates, heck even people who live within the same apartment building and have to share a laundry room.

Hestia as Lady of Hospitality. Welcoming strangers and making them part of the group; welcoming new members (infant and adult) to the group; but also keeping guests in line, and knowing when to send someone away — or not admit him at all — when he is a danger. So, overlap with Zeus and Aphrodite, and The Charites and Artemis again, but also Eiliethyia and Hekate.

Go back to the laundry, and we have a connection to Athena in her role as Mistress of Textiles, and Hephaestus as the Great Inventor. And the spirit of your local water source.

Additionally, any household with children means Artemis and Apollo, and Athena. And a household with people in any kind of committed relationship means Hera and Aphrodite.

Finally, there is the physical structure of the hearth and home itself. Architecture, building supplies, and construction again tie Hestia to Athena and Hephaestus, as well as the spirits of forest and stone, and Gaea herself.

Hestia may be a Virgin Goddess, complete unto herself, but she is also a Goddess who plays well with others. The house is her abode, her responsibility; and she welcomes inside anyone — mortal or Deity — who acts respectfully and cooperatively and helps to make that house into a home.

[Image “Hestia Full of Blessings” courtesy of wikimedia commons. An image of the tapestry can be found in the book Documents of Dying Paganism: Textiles of Late Antiquity in Washington, New York and Leningrad by Paul Friedlander. This essay will also appear in the forthcoming Unto Herself: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of Independent Goddesses (Bibliotheca Alexandrina) edited by Ashley Horn.]

1 thought on “Plays Well With Others: A Brief Meditation on Hestia”

  1. Fire is the only element that humans must create out of the other elements to use with control. Water, earth and air are inherently helpful; controlled fire took human intelligence to start and maintain.
    Hestia only exists where that ability exists.
    As her devotee these many years I have come to love the circle of creative conversation, wit and humor. It is the fire that gives me bliss, and in this media-addled culture of ours, it becomes increasingly difficult to build.

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