Our world changed in a heartbeat — anxiety frequently accompanies sudden and unexpected change. And when the anxiety of change is elevated, the instinct to imagine often turns to visions of ruin or doom; hence, telling mythic stories during this time can be of assistance. Myths turn our imaginative eye to the symbols and archetypes that sustain our humanness. They support us in the process of seeing through the literal world. How might we see through, or find a way of thinking about, the viral symptoms that are capturing our day-to-day headlines?
Symptoms are signposts to the soul. Soul does not consign the Coronavirus exclusively to an exterior reality or an event, but also identifies its inner dimension. An unwelcome visitor has been brought to the doorstep of our global village. What do we do? What would Hestia do?
I find it extraordinary that around the world the governments’ guidelines are directing us to stay home, to seek the shelter of our home-place! We are all called home to Hestia’s hearth to regain our focus, to relocate our center, to realign our values, to reflect upon, and to recover what’s been lost — and we have time to be contemplative and creative. [*]
Worldwide, we are advised to return to Hestia, the divine image of stillness and quiet. In her presence we may get a glimpse of what this time means to us, whether with personal reflections on family life, our rituals, our values, or collectively in terms of our humanness and greater humanity. The first stage in any profound transition is to go quiet — in this stillness we can feel Hestia’s embrace.
Hestia was the first-born child of Cronus and Rhea. She was the first of the Olympians, the first to be devoured by Cronus, and the last of his five children to be disgorged from his belly. The god Zeus escaped this fate, yet he always acknowledged his sister Hestia as the first goddess and the one to whom appropriate sacrifices must be made before family meals.
Hestia is first- and last-born. Being centered and focused on the inner world, she remains untainted by the world outside. Hestia is not found on the outer rim of the wheel, but is situated at its center, carrying qualities of stillness, discretion, centering, quietness, and stability. While uncomplicated by the world, she is not indifferent or unmoved by its suffering. Her spirit pervades places of sanctuary, refuge, and asylum. In the still atmosphere of the central hearth she creates the space for images to gather around. She is host to both guests and ghosts, providing the psychic room and nurturing space within which inner images can breathe. (1) Hestia is hospitable to all who arrive at her door.
Hestia welcomed the uninvited visitor as guest. The goddess knew that the voice of the divine spoke in many tongues, through many vessels, and in many ways; therefore, whoever arrived on the doorstep was welcomed. Even the diseased were offered hospice, as this was her way of healing. I am reminded of Rumi’s beautiful poem The Guest House, always appropriate, but ever so in the climate of today. (2)
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
As a goddess of hospitality, her presence is invoked in the guest chambers of the hospices and hospitals through rest, quiet, and stillness. She is the balm carried on our prayers and healing images for those in hospices and hospitals.
Few myths, statues, or temples remain of Hestia; she is rarely personified, yet before life became focused away from the home, she was the most honored goddess, worshipped at the center of every household. By Classical times Hestia was not included as one of the twelve Olympians, having been replaced by Dionysus. Hestia and her brother Hades are the only two siblings who remain separate from Olympian family dramas. Their places are internal, interior, introverted.
Few images or altars survive to remind us of their worship or importance. As gods of place, both Hestia and Hades have been re-placed and dis-placed, potent clues as to what we have culturally and psychologically done with these archetypes, these essential aspects of instinctual life. In a modern context Hestia’s hearth has become displaced onto the hustle and hurry of life, the lack of time and busyness of the outer world. As an image of the center, Hestia is not personified nor remembered by outer images and icons. In many ways she is missing, lost in the unconscious, yet ironically the governmental decree to shelter-at-home invites us to honor the goddess once again, to revive her presence and authority at the center of our lives.
Central to our psychic life, Hestia is the sacred center — the goddess who honors sacred space and protects sacred images. Hestia is hospitable, welcoming guests and ghosts to gather around her hearth, as here, with focus and attention, we tell and hear the stories of life.
As the hearth, Hestia is the center and focus of the home, the curator of family life, offering a place where our circle of ancestors can gather. As custodian of the hearth, she personifies the fire burning at the heart of life, the fireplace of the home, and the flame lit in the city center. She is the Olympic flame that will burn even though the games cannot be played. She sustains the inner world, but has been forgotten in the stampede of outer life. Formerly consigned to the unconscious, she has reappeared in the center of this pandemic.
The myth reveals that the instinct for centering ourselves, personified by Hestia, is the first divine child consumed by Cronus, the Titan god of time. Saturn, Cronus’s successor, is characterized by authority, organization, management, and control of the outer world; along with time, this all devours the presence of mind needed to be centered at the hearth of our inner world. Hestia personifies the last qualities to be released by the cartel of Cronus. We are called back to the hearth to contemplate the creative act of centering.
Has Cronus, as we’ve known him, finally released enough control to reset our human priorities, values, ethics, and integrity?
When we do not honor Hestia, we dishonor an archetypal pathway that connects us to our center, our stillness, our inner life. We risk being drawn out before we have fully repaired our relationship to Hestia. She invites us back to the hearth to reset and re-center the world that forgot her, a world brave enough to be still. A world still enough to heal.
[*] Editor’s note: Vesta is the Roman name for the Greek goddess Hestia. Asteroid Vesta is the brightest asteroid in the sky and has an orbit of 3.63 years.
(1) Barbara Kirksey, “Hestia: A Background of Psychological Focusing,” from Facing the Gods, edited by James Hillman, Spring Publications, Inc. University of Dallas, Irving, TX, 1980, p.110. The author explores the etymological connections between hospitality, host, hospital, ghost, and guest.
(2) See Rumi, The Guest House.
Bio: Brian Clark is the creator of the Astro*Synthesis distance learning program which has been shaped from his experience as an astrological educator and counsellor over the past 40 years (www.astrosynthesis.com.au). Brian has his BA (Hons) and MA in Classics and Archaeology from the University of Melbourne, and has been honoured with lifetime membership from the state, national, and professional astrological organizations in Australia. His books and articles have been translated into numerous languages. His newest book, Soul, Symbol and Imagination: The Artistry of Astrology, is a reflection on his vocational path in astrology. Brian now lives in Tasmania with his wife Glennys and dog Rufus.