Hestia: Goddess of Meditative Wisdom in Mature Women
Hestia of the Hearth
Hestia as the Fire at the Center of the Hearth
Hestia was the sacred fire at the center of the round hearth, her presence felt in the flames and the glowing coals, the source of light and warmth. She was guarded by the vestal virgins. Hestia is the still point at the center of your self. You yearn for your inner Hestia whenever you need some time and space for solitude. Hestia’s symbolic fire warms and illuminates your mind and body, and gives you a sense of being at home in yourself.
The time when your inner Hestia comes out is in the waning Moon, during your wise woman years. She is beyond the need or delusion that she needs someone or something outside herself in order to be complete. Hestia is perfectly at peace with herself just the way she is. In the period of time when she was a goddess in Greece, tending the fire and keeping it alive was a serious responsibility, or even a sacred one, as the survival of the group depended on keeping warm. Hestia was also a presence in all the marble temples, because the hearth invited divinity. If the body is to be a temple, there must be a source of warmth and illumination within.
Hestia was often honored with rituals. When a couple married, the bride’s mother lit a torch from her own household fire, then followed the newly married ones to their new home, where she lit the first fire in their hearth. This consecrated the new home, and made the goddess Hestia present at the center of the house. Since the fire was brought by the mother-in-law to the new household through the generations, this symbolically continued a matriarchal continuity of the goddess.
A second important custom took place after the first child was born. When the child was five days old, guests were invited to the house to witness the ritual of which the baby was carried around the hearth fire, and in the light and warmth of Hestia, acknowledged as a member of the family. Every city’s main hall or temple had a hearth where Hestia dwelled as well, not only every household. When people set forth to settle a new colony, they would also light a torch from the common hearth and bring a lit torch to the new community. This continued from the mother fire to the daughter fire throughout the settled world.
Hestia was one of the three Olympian virgin goddesses along with Artemis and Athena. They were not affected by the arrows of Eros or the love spells of Aphrodite. As a virgin goddess, Hestia was “one in herself,” not needing a lover, spouse, or child to be complete. She was not motivated by a need to please others or to be liked, but had a great need to follow her own inner values. There are times when Hestia comes to a person only after loss or grief lead a woman to come to a place where she can finally find for herself the rich and inner spiritual life or the wonders of peace and quiet. This does not mean Hestia or the vestal virgins never took a lover, but he never remained the center of their lives.
Roles of Hestia
There are some families in which Hestia can have the role of the maiden aunt, who pampers her nieces and nephews and showers them with gifts. If the occasion arises where a man interests Hestia, he will be a Hermes type man, a businessman who is normally away working most of the time. If he is married to a Hestia type woman, she will find satisfaction in living a quiet, inner life and independently running the household while he is away. Each of them serves a separate and valuable function in this marital arrangement.
Hermes is the protector at the doorway, the guide and companion who communicates with guests and families and keeps the conversation going. Hestia's presence in the house is central to everyday life, because she provides a sense of intactness and wholeness to the home. It appears that Hestia is much different than Artemis and Athena, although they are all in the virgin archetype category. But while Artemis has her domain in the wilderness and Athena in the city, Hestia's domain is the home or temple, or both.
She gets in touch with her values by bringing focus on the little everyday things that are so meaningful to her. She is very insightful, and can feel the significance of other people's actions very easily. Hestia can keep a clear head in the middle of chaos, when other people would get upset when bombarded with so much confusion. She can become emotionally detached and inattentive to others as she attends to her own concerns. This detachment is a characteristic of all three virgin goddesses. Hestia always seeks quiet tranquility.
Hestia is not attached to people, outcomes, possessions, prestige or power, because she feels completeness in her skin just as she is. Her ego is not on the line. Her detachment gives her a wise woman quality, although we have discussed other options for a Hestia who craves a bit more company at a younger age. She normally feels grounded and centered. When Hestia's feminine values are forgotten, or dishonored, the importance of having an inner sanctuary is diminished or lost. Hestia is invited into a woman's personality when there is a need to focus on one matter at a time, or a sense of peace and stillness is necessary.
Hestis obviously is not a very sexual woman, yet if the idea is introduced to her and she is comfortable with a man, she may be surprised that she is so responsive. She finds that sex is a warm and nice experience. Hestia really fits in well with the old fashioned idea of what a perfect wife would be, although she is much more autonomous and independent in spirit than most people realize.
She does attract men who are drawn to quiet and self sufficient women, who will keep the house organized, and will be appreciated for that. Hestia does not need to be a wife or mother to be happy, but may take on the roles for a certain length of time. But by midlife, she may tire of these roles, leave the marriage, and join a religious order or prefer to be alone again. She has the ability to grow older gracefully.
Hestia Brings Inner Peace
Many people get to find their inner Hestia through the spiritual practice of meditation. The Latin word for “hearth” is focus, which those who do practice know is very important to the meditation process if you are to gain any benefit from the practice. It requires focus on being in the moment, of emptying the mind of trivial thoughts, and capturing the stillness of the emotions.
Tending to household duties is a very centering activity for some women, because she is finding inner harmony through making order in the home. The inward Hestia may become emotionally detached and perceptually inattentive to others in her surroundings as she attends to her own concerns. Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, is the archetype active in women who find keeping house a meaningful activity rather than a chore. She has no need to rush, or watch the time, she goes at her own pace and puts everything in order as she is completely in the present moment. Thoughts or feelings may surface in her mind, just as they do when one meditates.
But they will be viewed with a clarity that has a sense of detachment as well. In religious convents or ashrams, work, service, and ritual come together as one cleans the sanctuary, or sets the table for a meal, or in any of the ways a woman brings order, beauty, and harmony. It is still as if an alter is being prepared in a sacred space. There is something nurturing about doing work that may not seem very important, but it is very special to enter any space that has been cared for in this way. Not only light and warmth are being offered, but also food and hospitality, and a sense of family. Hestia warms the heart, nourishes the soul, and makes others feel welcome.
Hestia’s energies permeate a space, and her wisdom is that of being centered, with emotional warmth that is generous, and not possessive. She is not polarizing because she is completely at home in the quiet of herself. In the serene place she provides, comparisons and competitiveness are left outside the door. There are similarities between Hestia and Shekinah, who comes into a Jewish home on Friday evening when the women light candles for the Sabbath meal, and work comes to a standstill. The Japanese tea ceremony is another Hestia type activity that is elevated into a form that brings stillness and serenity to its participants.
Most women feel more needed, productive, and attractive while engaged in activities outside of the home, especially those who were raised in the last few decades. But it is harder in our times to juggle work, home, relationships, and manage to have any time left for oneself. Many women have no time at all to find solitude or any kind of inner life.
So it is in this third act of our lives that we finally can let our inner Hestia out to help us find ways to set aside time for soul searching now that many of our child rearing and household duties have lessened. A Hestia space is not disturbed by anyone else’s presence, emotions, or belongings. As our need for solitude makes itself more known, many women start to fantasize about a sanctuary or dream about one. This is a time when some women may actually join a cloister or a convent, as they find their energies shift the focus inward.
Stages in a Woman's Life
Menopause’s sleep disturbances, hot flashes, or waking up in the night force women to realize their lives are changing and going through a big transition. Some write poetry since they cannot sleep anyway, or have memories or hear songs that make them feel sad. Women of forty five to fifty five are having an identity crisis and hormonal adjustment just as they did at puberty. It is normal to seek time alone to tend that inner fire, to muse about changes you wish to make.
It can be comforting to seek out other women in the same stage of life, and make a Hestia circle to get together and discuss all the ways your bodies are changing and the different thoughts that are occupying your minds. Hestia would be at the center of the circle, either speaking or listening, but will definitely bring clarity to the situation for others. She has always been an inner directed person, so these changes are less difficult for her than they may be for others.
Sometimes it takes an older wise woman or crone to learn what is a productive way to move forward in this life. A Hestia woman shares the attributes of the goddess in being a quiet and unobtrusive person, whose presence creates an atmosphere of warmth and peaceful order. This is an introverted woman, who enjoys solitude, the young girl who was considered shy and always told to go outside and play.
In her adult life she will have a few very good friends who appreciate being with her from time to time. A Hestia woman will not engage in gossip, intellectual, or political discussions, as her gift is to listen with a compassionate heart, staying centered in whatever turmoil is happening around her, providing a warm place beside the hearth.
Bolen, Jean Shinoda, M. D. 2001 Goddesses In Older Women Archetypes In Women Over Fifty Harper Collins NY Part 3 Hestia, The Goddess of the Hearth and Temple pgs. 149-160
Bolen, Jean Shinoda, M.D. 1985 Goddesses in Everywoman Harper Collins, NY Virgin Goddesses pgs. 35-45
© 2011 Jean Bakula