archetypes, Greek mythology, Winter

Hestia (goddess of hearth and home)

Hestia was the first child of Cronus and Rhea. The oldest of the 12 original Greek gods and goddesses of Olympus, and also the youngest (because Cronus ate his kids and then brought them back up in reverse order – nice). From this, we can surmise that Hestia was pretty important in the ancient Greek pantheon, but we hear very little about her. Most of us know the story of Demeter and Persephone in the underworld, and Artemis and Apollo’s fierce revenge. We know about Hermes’ winged sandals, Hera’s jealousy and Zeus’ bad temper and lightning bolts. But Hestia? She’s barely ever mentioned. Why?

The answer is simple – Hestia wanted it that way.

Unlike almost every single other Greek deity, Hestia went out of her way to avoid drama and attention. She didn’t get involved in the infamous Olympian intrigues, and she refused to marry (Apollo and Poseidon both popped the question, but Hestia wasn’t interested). Often, in depictions of the twelve major deities of Olympus, Hestia is replaced by Dionysus (the god of partying, wine and theatre). Perhaps this was due to people thinking her demure nature and quiet passivity was dull, but I don’t think Hestia cared.

You see, Hestia is essential, and she knows it.

Hestia is the anglicised version of her name. Her Greek name is Εστία (pronounced es-tee-ah). She was the goddess of home, and goddess of the hearth. On Olympus, her job was to take the good stuff from every sacrifice, to any deity, and feed it into the fire on the mountain. And so, part of every sacrifice belonged to her. Every hearth-fire belonged to her too. And, in those days, there were hearth-fires everywhere: in every home, every temple, even up on Mount Olympus.

In fiction, from American Gods to Rise of the Guardians, it is always the attention paid by humans to deities which give them strength. How could the ancient inhabitants of the land we call Greece not spare a thought for this goddess who tended the hearth-fire, the heart and soul of their homes? It was their way to cook, heat water, stay warm … they needed the hearth-fire much more than they needed the gifts of other deities. This is why the Homeric Hymns say of Hestia: “Among all mortal men she is chief of the goddesses”.

Hestia is my favourite Greek goddess. I guess I resonate with her because I, too, am pretty quiet. I hate to make a scene and I like to keep drama at arm’s length (or preferably in another room!) But I know that I’m the glue that holds my family together. My immediate family can’t function (as in feed and clothe itself and get to places it needs to be!) without me, and I’ve come to the rescue of my extended family more times than I can count, in many different ways. I sometimes wonder if that makes me a mug, but I’ve come to the conclusion that’s who I am. I fix things. I keep the fire burning.

But I only recently connected my Hestia-tendencies with home. You see, for most of my adult life, I’ve avoided spending time at home. I liked to be outside (still do) and I had the idea deeply ingrained in my subconscious that I should run, run, run as fast as I could away from words like housewife and homemaker.

But then we went into lockdown. And there’s nothing like being forced to stay in your house (in Greece, we literally had to send an SMS to walk out the front door, and there was a curfew) to make you realise the difference between a house and a home.

So I got my Hestia on.

But wait a sec, before we get into the practical part, I just want to make one more point. Just as Edison (allegedly, probably not) said “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration”, I would suggest that Hestia is one percent inspiration and 99 percent appreciation. You can make your home look like a Pinterest board (and trust me, if I had the $$, I would!), but unless you APPRECIATE it, you won’t feel it. And if it doesn’t look like Pinterest, you’ve got to appreciate it anyway.

And that’s my secret. Before lockdown, I was already waaaaaay more than halfway to my Hestia sanctuary. You see, I suffered from depression for years after the birth of my second daughter, and it was really, really awful. I recovered, as much as a person can from an illness like that, but it changes you. You appreciate with every breath how fortunate you are to be standing here (hanging out laundry, ironing, washing dishes, fill-in-the-blank). I can’t put it into words, but five years later, it still hits me so hard sometimes that I almost cry with joy: I’m still here. 

I sincerely hope none of you reading this had such a dramatic and traumatic route to appreciation (although, statistically, you may have, or may still be going through that, and I celebrate your bravery). But however you find it, actively seek out that gratitude for what you have and what you do. Even if it’s not Pinterest-worthy, even if it’s not how you want it, and especially if it’s YOU. Appreciate YOURSELF most of all – how amazing you are and all the hard work you do. You don’t need anyone else’s praise or recognition to validate you. The fact that YOU know you’re a queen is enough.

So… how do YOU get your Hestia on? 

You create.

What you create is down to you. We all have our own groove. Here are some ideas:

Create an atmosphere. Use essential oils, lighting, decorations, music – whatever feels genuine to you.

Create a thing. Knitting, soap-making, repurposing furniture – all those ‘home’ crafts people are forgetting and then relearning connect us to our inner Hestia.

Create something in the kitchen. Oh, hey, this is my groove. I love food – buying it, growing it, harvesting it, preparing it, cooking it, and above all I love eating it. Winter is the perfect time to get busy in the kitchen (and not just because the oven is on and it’s warm!) It’s a great time to dig out the old recipes that take you back to your roots, try out something new, cook something special for family and friends, or bake some holiday treats. I know it’s not always easy to find the time to get cooking, but if it lights you up, do it.

I hope, during these dark and cold winter days, you manage to find your inner Hestia. Remember, ultimately, the cult of Hestia was a cult of appreciation for the little things. The magic is always in the details, and it’s in YOU.

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