“Vesta is the same as the earth, both have the perennial fire: the Earth and the sacred Fire are both symbolic of home.” Ovid, Fasti
Through months of pandemic, many of us humans have been staying very close to the hearth. My life has not changed much in that regard; I have spent most of my adult life at home. Yet in the autumn of every year here in the temperate climes, flaming leaves fall to Earth and I find myself reexamining my experience of Home. The word has many aspects, and the most common definition is the place we live, the structure that shelters us.
But a house is not always a home, is it? Home is created and experienced within; Home as holy opportunity. Every soul, from tree to human, whale to honeybee, experiences Home differently. Home is where we belong, the place where our heart kicks off its shoes and expresses its deepest Beingness.
“Being” has become a buzzword for the ineffable light of our individual self; our light-being, which is masculine air element. But the full extent of our individual human experience includes the embodied bits as well. Embodiment or incarnation is feminine earth element. In the embodied earth element sense, Being isn’t perfectionistic or idealistic. Embodiment includes the gamut of glory and pain, successes and profound hauntings, intractable loves and hates, creative expression and depressed boredom. It is our humanness.
The autumnal heart wants us to open, not only to comfort and abundance and deep connection, but also to that inner voice which calls us to healing; healing in its root meaning of wholing. I am the only one who has access to my inner life, my Beingness. I alone can invite myself deeply Home, wherever I am. Nobody can know my life.
Home is where we feel known, as human, soul, animal, and spirit. When we allow that an eternal loving consciousness imbues all creation, we feel that we are seen by this eternal One. We feel known by it, in whatever form we imagine it. Thus throughout the ages the archetype of Home includes the sacred. Home is a place for encountering an all-knowing holy Companion. In the safety and support of being known on the scale of eternality, we are free to learn and choose to rearrange, to rewrite, to transform, to upgrade, always to the most expanded and loving version of ourselves. Goddess Vesta stands in for the aspect of the holy Companion that is profoundly felt and experienced as Home.
When we don’t belong, we are always looking for something or someone else outside to lend us the experience of Home. But borrowed Home is the Wonder Bread version. It’s lacking deep nourishment, for it does not reflect or contemplate, so nothing new is ever known. Thus, borrowed Home cannot heal, whether we seek it in the form of worldly success, acquisition, gurus, lovers, or whatever we hope will save us from knowing ourselves.
Hope springs eternal, as they say, and surely hope is solid gold, for it is the power to move on to the next thing. However, deep belonging, wherever we find it, is abundance itself, one of Hestia/Vesta’s attributes as goddess of the pantry. Outer-focused Home assumes that uniformity, Wonder bread, is desirable. It accedes that the human soul is often socially unacceptable, that something in our core is unlovable, probably for being unique, different. We are afraid of what we will see inside.
However, uniformity is anathema to Home. Home is no static diorama, but dynamic, creative. Though we are given lots of material to work with from our childhoods, each adult must create deeper Home from their own soul’s core attributes and complex colors and melodies. Some adults will, in fact, create Home very differently from the home of their childhood, as they were born with very different innards than the rest of the family.
Hestia/Vesta embodies the archetype humans experience when responding to an innate call, or invitation, to draw near to inner, heartfelt, transformational warmth. Hestia/Vesta is the inner heart-space symbolized as the hearth, and felt as the warmth and safety of Home. I will now use the name Vesta since it’s more well known in my culture, though goddess Vesta is a Roman borrowing of the Greek Hestia.
Most Americans know of Vesta through the notorious Roman high priestesses of her cult, the Vestal virgins. For some hundreds of years, Romans kept an eternal flame in the temple to Vesta; ‘eternal’ meaning, it was not allowed to go out, though it did on occasion. I cannot easily find any reliable information on deliberate quenching and renewal of the flame, though fire purification rituals were very common back in the day. As were, seemingly, sacred flames tended by priests and/or priestesses. ‘Eternal’ would also refer to the fact that it’s representing the eternal; it’s a portal to or reminder of the sacred, the divine, the holy, the nonphysical realms of the gods. Which includes goddesses, of course.
Vesta was one of the most important of the Roman deities. For a common way of honoring the powers that be (or were) was to sacrifice or burn something on an altar. In that act, Vesta as flame was considered to be assisting.
The Romans considered that the Vestal flame in her temple was a magical protection to the city, as well as to the Republic or Empire, and so the activities of the priestesses were very important (I don’t actually know if the Republic had a cult of Vesta). That these priestesses were virgins catches the interest of your average American of Christianized culture. However, celibacy, male or female, vows or otherwise, are a common enough way for humans to focus on realms beyond physicality.
There are a number of reasons to go celibate, of course. However, I propose that the main reason Vesta’s priestesses were celibate is for the reason of their being tasked with embodying the archetypal, divine energies of the inner feminine fire. Fire element is masculine, generally, but the earth is hot at its magnetic core. That fire without flame which is in the core of the planet, no human has seen or touched. Thus the Vestal virgins embodied this feminine inner fire best by being untouched, as well.
So though fire element is masculine and most commonly represented by the sun, Vesta’s fire is an internal one. That’s where we feel her; in the core magnetism of the inward-turning warmth of Home. Home is where the heart is; Home is where the hearth is. And hearth is where the Earth is, since a hearth is a fire on the floor, basically. As Ovid pointed out in the opening quote, it is rock solid Erda herself that slows us down, brings us inward, and connects us through experiences of peace and belonging, of gratitude and connectivity, of the soul.
Like falling leaves, the pages of our year’s striving fall to the ground, and rest at both outer and inner hearths. We gather in the food, so that we can shift focus (the Latin word for “hearth”) from striving to feed our bellies, to that which feeds our inner being. In gratitude for Gaia’s gifts, we ideally experience belonging to her; belonging to this planet. For now, at least.
At Vesta’s hearth we experience ourselves as humans, as souls in physical bodies, and we rest in the knowing that all is good. Not because it all went our way, but because we have, in the year, learned much. When we tend the inner hearth we find we have grown in heart-centered wisdom, the process-oriented goalless goal of earth element. It’s worth noting that the way in which we tend our home indicates the way we tend our heart. And the way we tend our heart is exactly the way we tend our planet, Erda, or Terra the Romans would say. When we cannot cultivate our belonging to Gaia, we treat her like a stranger. And when we do not belong deeply to our lives, we are strangers to our hearts.
Belonging to social groups is all very well and good, but it’s not always soulful. It can lack depth, especially in a technological society. Vesta’s hearth is now often a video screen, in my society, where we gather around electronic stories and images. It’s possible to find her on the flickering screen, though, in soul deep stories of human belonging, redemption, and transformation.
For anything can bring us from outer focus back to the depths of soul, really. Humans are birthed into liminal space; caught between the unseen and the physical, masculine air element and feminine earth. We vacillate between the two. Indeed the old religions were very much aware of and in respect of human liminality. From Richard Rohr: The edge is a holy place or, as the Celts called it, “a thin place” and you have to be taught how to live there. To take your position on the spiritual edge of things is to learn how to move safely in and out, back and forth, across and return.
‘Liminal’ is from Latin ‘limin’: threshold, and when brides do not step upon it, they honor this holy place Vesta represents. Vesta knows our human dilemma of being caught between worlds. Her office as sacrificial flame tells us that much, for she facilitates the transmutation of the offering from the physical to nonphysical. Thus, though she invites us to stop and sit, to warm ourselves by the fire while she keeps the wolves of lack and fear at a distance, she also facilitates our ability to shift away from physical focus.
Once we feel safe and protected, and we feel we belong, we are encouraged by earth element to go within. There by the fire of our own divine soul, we deepen our human experience. In my life, belonging, or deep acceptance of the physical experience, allows much in the way of soulful creativity and insight. When I am writing, for example, I feel I belong. Not to any particular time, or place, even. But I do belong to Gaia, or perhaps more accurately, to my life on Earth. My life is who I am here, after all. My life is cocreated under Gaia’s auspice, according to her rules, and with her support.
Vesta was rarely depicted, unlike other gods and goddesses. Her temple lacked a statue, unlike most. Instead, the central feature was the hearth itself. Vesta’s worship or honoring was not originally municipal. Her observances began in the home, as a domestic protectress. Thus Vesta is known by certain experiences and activities in our domestic lives. Staying home is certainly one; Vesta never leaves the hearth, for she is the actual flame. Our stove, and especially our oven, is Vesta’s eternal flame. The eternal flame factor used to be more common in appliances with pilot lights that burned for years. The spark of electricity that lights gas ovens and furnaces now is archetypal masculine.
Vesta is there when we fire up the oven, in particular, since ovens are inner space, and inner space, like the womb, is feminine. I think we can all agree that baked goods are comfort foods, and in home baked bread, for example, we experience Vesta’s powers of relaxation, nourishment, and soulful connection. Bread from any other source is not quite the same as that baked in my own oven, no matter how superior in quality! The very scent of baking draws people in and drops their guarded hearts. When I have sold houses a few times I made sure to be baking cinnamon rolls when folks came to tour. In both cases the house sold to the first buyer.
Another reason Vesta was rarely depicted and almost no stories told about her is that, her powers are so close as to need no explanation. She is primordial, innate to the point of being in our bones. Every time we light a candle, every time we eat home baked bread, every time we invite friends and family over to share the table, we are Vesta. And when we draw close to the hearth in solitude and open our hearts to what needs inner tending, we access the deepest definition of belonging, of Home.
Hestia, beloved Olympian who warms my oikos (home) Who provides tenderness, Be with the ones who tend not to a shelter. Bless the homeless, the outcast, and the abused Fold them into your veil of protection and love Build a fire and guide them to it Fill their stomachs and empty pockets Bless all our efforts to find home. edited, original written by Amaranta Argyris, https://breathing-in-gilded-dust.tumblr.com/