Poetry: to Hestia

As I work through this project of making letter-talismans to the spirits of the gods, as the Sun moves through each decan, it’s hard to know what to do with the poems that emerge as a part of the ritual process. Should the letters’ contents should be kept secret? All or part, some or none? What belongs to the public, and what belongs in the hidden realm. The answer seems to be that some have the potential to belong to everyone.

Hestia, in particular seems to have made up her mind. Her name coming from an ancient word meaning both “the hearth” and “to burn or to cook”, she used to receive the first and last offerings at both bomos and bothros — the high altar where offerings and libations were made to the Olympians and other celestial deities, and the hole or pit where the same sacrifices were made to the chthonic spirits under the earth. Whether at the raised incense stand or lifted altar, or dropped in the memory hole, she was once upon a time accustomed to receive a taste of everything.

To Hestia who keeps the hearth of gods, 
and who, from mortals gets the first and last, 
when old coals, stirred to life with iron rods 
cook the ingredients that end the fast 
or make celebration into the night. 
First among household gods you claim the lead. 
Every house you favor has heat and light, 
and the family eats as much as they need 
to hold bodies and souls in tender care. 
Thus we praise you with flour and oil, 
a morsel of each, the first and last share —
gifts of our skill; our labor and toil — 
and by those oblations and honest praise,
ask blessings on this house for all our days.

And maybe she will again. It’s hard to know what should legitimately belong to any god or goddess, any spirit from the past. We’ve perhaps gotten used to the idea that no spirit should get sacrifices, and that nothing of earth belongs to heaven. But maybe that’s not so.

And that seems to be the case with Hestia. I’ve said before that maybe she’s a goddess on a mission — we in “the west” have had to learn how to think of our houses as something other than LeCorbusier’s “machine for living”, as something more like an ecosystem or an environment that’s suited for more than just ourselves. Maybe, just maybe, responding to Hestia as the living hearth itself, rather than just a tender of the flame in an Iron Age hut, opens us up to connect with our homes in a new way.

Does every spill on your kitchen stove really have to be considered an accident? Or is it an offering?

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