Hestia, The Queen of Fire – Part Three

“Young men, praise Hestia, the most ancient of goddesses.”

[verse preserved in Proclus’ Commentary on Plato’s Cratylus, quoted in Greek and Egyptian Mythologies by Yves Bonnefoy, translated under the direction of Wendy Doniger]

This will be my last installment (for now) on Hestia, before I move on to the many other members of My Personal Pantheon. This post will focus on Hestia in relation to philosophy, with a focus on the Pythagoreans and Neoplatonists.  [Edited to add:  Please keep in mind that this is not my only view of Hestia.  Part One and Part Two contain pictures, personal anecdotes, mythological lore, a link to a Mary J. Blige song, and far fewer references to ontology.] If you are completely new to Neoplatonism, I highly recommend starting with my post on Proclus, which links to a number of resources to help the newcomer navigate through this type of material.  Also, a number of these quotes were found on the *fantastic* Hestia page at HellenicGods.org, which is an incredible resource for Hellenic pagans/polytheists and one of my favorite websites in general.  Many of these quotations will require further commentary and elaboration, which I honestly don’t have time to provide at this moment (though I will probably return to later), so if you have any questions on this admittedly difficult material, please let me know in the comments!

Hestia and the Pythagoreans:  The Fire in the Middle

“The Pythagoreans offered significant cosmological observations . . . It is also noteworthy that the early Pythagoreans denied the geocentric and geostatic model of the universe. According to the testimony of Aristotle (De caelo 293.18), they placed *fire* and not earth at the centre of the universe. The earth became a celestial body, which creates day and night by its circular motion around Hestia (hestia meaning ‘hearth’). Ten divine celestial bodies – ten being the perfect number, which encompasses the whole nature of numbers – rotate rhythmically around Hestia in the following order: the dark counter-earth (antichthon), the earth, the moon, the sun, the five planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury) and the sphere of the fixed stars (aristotle, Metaphysics 986). This new cosmological model is usually attributed to Philolaus (B7 and A16) and explained through the importance of the Monad in Pythagorean metaphysics. Since the Monad is the divine source of all numbers and is identified with, or represented by, the purity of the fire, the source of the celestial bodies should be a divine fire in the centre of the cosmos (Aristotle, Metaphysics 986).”

[p. 38-39, Introduction to Presocratics: A Thematic Approach to Early Greek Philosophy with Key Readings by Giannis Stamatellos]

Pythagorean Fragments of Philolaus
[full text here]

“10. (Stob. Eclogl.1:5:7:p.360) The world is single; it began to form from the centre outwards. Starting from this centre, the top is entirely identical to the base; still you might say that what is above the centre is opposed to what is below it; for, for the base, lowest point would be the centre, as for the top, the highest point would still be the centre; and likewise for the other parts; in fact, in respect to the centre, each one of the opposite points is identical, unless the whole be moved. b.(Stob.Ecl.l:2l:3:p.468) The prime composite, the One placed in the centre of the sphere is called Hestia.”

“11. a. (Stob.Ecl.l:22:l:p.488) Philolaus has located the fire in the middle, the centre; he calls it Hestia, of the All, the house [policeipest] of Jupiter, and the mother of the Gods, the altar, the link, the measure of nature. Besides, he locates a second fire, quite at the top, surrounding the world. The centre, says he, is by its nature the first; around it, the ten different bodies carry out their choric dance; these are, the heaven, the planets, lower the sun, and below it the moon ; lower the earth, and beneath this, the anti-earth (a body invented by the Pythagoreans, says Aristotle, Met i: 5) then beneath these bodies the fire of Hestia, in the centre, where it maintains order. The highest part of the Covering, in which he asserts that the elements exist in a perfectly pure condition, is called Olympus, the space beneath the revolutionary circle of Olympus, and where in order are disposed the five planets, the sun and moon, forms the Cosmos world; finally, beneath the latter is the sublunar region, which surrounds the earth, where are the generative things susceptible to change; that is the heaven. The order which manifests in the celestial phenomena is the object of science; the disorder which manifests in the things of becoming, is the object of virtue; the former is perfect, the latter is imperfect. b. (Plut. Plac.Phil.3:ll). The Pythagorean Philolaus located the fire in the centre, it is the Hestia of the All, then the Anti-earth, then the earth we inhabit, placed opposite the other, and moving circularly; which is the cause that its inhabitants are not visible to ours. (Stob.Ecl.l:21:6:p.452). The directing fire, [of] Philolaus, is in the entirely central fire; which the demiurge has placed as a sort of keel [to] serve as foundation to the sphere of the All.”

Hestia and Plato, Part I:  The Essence of Things

“Socrates: “What may we suppose him to have meant who gave the name Hestia?…….that which we term οὐσἰα (ed. ousia) is by some called ἐσἰα (ed. esia), and by others again ὠσἰα (ed. osia).  Now that the essence of things should be called ἑστἰα (ed. estia), which is akin to the first of these (ἐσἰα=ἑστἰα), is rational enough.  And there is reason in the Athenians calling that ἑστἰα which participates in οὐσἰα.  For in ancient times we too seem to have said ἐσἰα for οὐσἰα, and this you may note to have been the idea of those who appointed that sacrifices should be first offered to Ἑστἰα (ed. Hestia), which was natural enough if they meant that ἑστἰα was the essence of things.  Those again who read ὠσἰα seem to have inclined to the opinion of Heracleitus, that all things flow and nothing stands; with them the pushing principle (ὠθουν; ed. othoun) is the cause and ruling power of all things, and is therefore rightly called ὠσἰα.” 

[Plato’s Cratylus, 401, translated by Benjamin Jowett –  quote with editor’s notes appears on the Hestia page at HellenicGods.org]

Socrates’ convoluted etymology of Hestia = Ousia, (aka Hestia = Essence, Being Itself, the Essence of All Things) is an important idea that the later Neoplatonists will pick up and run forward with into intricate realms of cosmological speculation, with Hestia as one of the principle or essential components of the cosmos itself.

Hestia and Plato, Part II:  She Who Abides

“Zeus, the mighty lord, holding the reins of a winged chariot, leads the way in heaven, ordering all and taking care of all; and there follows him the array of gods and demigods, marshalled in eleven bands; Hestia alone abides at home in the house of heaven; of the rest they who are reckoned among the princely twelve march in their appointed order.”  [Plato, Phaedrus 246 (trans. Jowett)]

This description of Hestia as the goddess who abides at home on Olympus (while Zeus leads a procession of the other Olympians in their chariots) will later become the key image and the cornerstone for later Neoplatonist interpretations of Hestia. If there’s one image from Plato most relevant to Hestia, it is this one:  Hestia, She Who Abides.

Hestia and Plotinus:  The Intellect of the Earth

“Plotinus, who denominates the intellect of the Earth, Hestia” [Ennead IV, 4, 27]

Hestia and Porphyry:  Essence, the Source of All Being

“Hestia, existing within the Father as a source and cause of all being, equals ontotes [Being itself]”

[Lydus, Mens. 4.94, referencing a treastise attributed to Porphyry, quoted in Porphyry and the Gnostics: Reassessing Pierre Hadot’s Thesis in Light of the Second- and Third-Century Sethian Treatises by Tuomas Rasimus, in Plato’s Parmenides and Its Heritage: Its reception in Neoplatonic, Jewish, and Christian texts p.89]

Hestia and Sallust:  The Guardian Power

Farther still, of the mundane Gods, some are the causes of the existence of the world; others animate it; others again harmonize it thus composed of different natures; and others, lastly, guard and preserve it when harmonically arranged. And since these orders are four, and each consists of things first, middle and last, it is necessary that the disposers of these should be twelve. Hence Jupiter, Neptune, and Vulcan, fabricate the world; Ceres, Juno and Diana animate it; Mercury, Venus, and Apollo harmonize it; and lastly, Vesta, Minerva, and Mars, preside over it with a guardian power. But the truth of this may be seen in statues as in enigmas. For Apollo harmonizes the lyre; Pallas is invested with arms; and Venus is naked; since harmony generates beauty, and beauty is not concealed in objects of sensible inspection. Since, however, these Gods primarily possess the world, it is necessary to consider the other mundane Gods as subsisting in these; as Bacchus in Jupiter, Esculapius in Apollo, and the Graces in Venus. We may likewise, behold the spheres with which they are connected ; viz. Vesta with earth, Neptune with water, Juno with air, and Vulcan with fire. But the six superior Gods we denominate from general custom. For Apollo and Diana are assumed for the sun and moon ; but the orb of Saturn is attributed to Ceres; aether to Pallas; and heaven is common to them all. And thus much concerning the mundane Gods in general, the sources of their progression, their orders, powers, and spheres.

[Sallust, On the Gods and the World, VI, quoted in The Platonic Theology of Proclus (Book VII, Chapter 1) translated by Thomas Taylor]

 Hestia and Proclus, Part I:  The Fountain of Virtue

Hestia is described as “the cause of the virtues”  [Proclus, Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato, Book III p.539, trans. Thomas Taylor]

Hestia as “the fountain of virtue” [ibid, note on p.675, cf. Chaldaean Oracle fr. 51 & 52]

Hestia and Proclus, Part II:  The Fixed Hearth – Permanency and Stability

“But if as some say, the assertion that “Hestia alone abides in the dwellings of the Gods” (p. 848, quoting Plato’s Phaedrus 274a), is spoken of this earth, Plato will be very far from giving motion to the Earth.  If however we do not admit that the Hestia there mentioned is the Earth, yet it must be granted, that there is a guardian power in the Earth of the nature of Hestia.  For as we say, that in the Heavens, the poles are connectedly contained by Hestia, thus also among the elements, the Earth.  And as the supermundane Hestia, is to the great leader of the twelve Gods, so in mundane natures is the Earth to the Heavens.” [ibid, p. 848-849]

fixing the earth indeed, as a firm seat or Vesta” – [Proclus, Platonic Theology of Plato: Book V, Chapter 20, translated by Thomas Taylor]

“Plato however, apprehended that the number of the dodecad is adapted to the liberated Gods, as being allperfect, composed from the first numbers, and completed from things perfect; and he comprehends in this measure all the progressions of these Gods. For he refers all the genera and peculiarities of them to this dodecad, and defines them according to it. But again dividing the dodecad into two monads and one decad; he suspends all [mundane natures] from the two monads, but delivers to us each of these energizing on the monad posterior to itself, according to its own hyparxis. And one of these monads indeed, he calls Jovian, but he denominates the other Vesta.” [ibid, Book VI, Chapter 18]

“Since therefore, as we have before observed, there are twelve leaders of all the mundane Gods, of all daemons, and farther still, of such partial souls as are able to be extended to the intelligible, again in this dodecad, the mighty Jupiter and Vesta are allotted the more ruling order. But the principality of the rest is coarranged with these, and has a secondary dignity. And Jupiter indeed, being neither the intellect of the universe, as some say he is, nor the intellect in the sun, nor in short, any one of mundane intellects or souls, but being expanded above all these, and preexisting among the liberated Gods, elevates the choir of Gods, and of the genera superior to us that follow him, and imparts paternal goodness to the multitude converted to him. But he is the leader of all the other numbers that terminate under the twelve Gods. Again however, Vesta indeed governs an appropriate multitude, but she neither has the order of the first soul, nor is that which is called the earth in the universe. But prior to these, she is allotted a ruling power among the supercelestial Gods. She imparts however, her own peculiarity to the numbers of the other leaders, in the same manner as Jupiter. For the leaders that are suspended from the decad, participate also of these two monads. Jupiter however, being indeed the cause of motion is the leader to all things of a progression to the intelligible. But Vesta illuminates all things with stable and inflexible power; though Jupiter also abiding in himself, is thus elevated to the intelligible place of survey ; and Vesta on account of an inflexible and undefiled permanency in herself, is conjoined to the first causes. The emission however of a different peculiarity, affords the difference of dominion. For since there are twofold conversions in the Gods (for all things are converted to themselves and to their principles) each form of conversion indeed, was impartibly in king Saturn. For according to Parmenides he is demonstrated to be in himself, and in another. And the latter indeed, pertains to a conversion to a more excellent nature, but the former implies a conversion to himself. In the secondary however, and more partial Gods, both these forms shine forth in a divided manner. And Vesta indeed, imparts to the mundane Gods an undefiled establishment in themselves; but Jupiter imparts to them an elevating motion to first natures. For Vesta belongs to the undefiled, but Jupiter to the paternal series; but they are divided by a subsistence in self, and a subsistence in another, as we have before observed. It must be said therefore, that every thing stable and immutable, and which possesses an invariable sameness of subsistence, arrives to all mundane natures from the supercelestial Vesta, and that on this account all the poles are immoveable, and the axes about which the circulations of the spheres convolve themselves. It must also be said, that the wholenesses of the circulations are firmly established, that the earth abides immoveably in the middle, and that the centres have an unshaken permanency [from this supercelestial Vesta.]” [ibid Book VI, Chapter 21]

Hestia and Proclus, Part III:  She Who Imparts Permanency, Stability, and Essence

“Hence it is necessary that in all things there should be each of these [essence, motion and permanency], and that essence should subsist as the first of them, this being as it were the Vesta and monad of the genera, and having an arrangement analogous to The One.” [Proclus, Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato, p.560]

Essence, as we have said, has the first order in the genera, because it is as it were, the Vesta of being. [ibid, p. 581 – cf. Philolaus fr. 7d]

For essence itself is the summit of all beings, and is as it were the monad of the whole of things. In all things therefore, essence is the first. And in each thing that which is essential is the most ancient, as deriving its subsistence from the Hestia of beings. – [Proclus, Platonic Theology, Book III, Chapter 9]

“And thus much from Proclus, concerning that great mundane divinity, the earth, who in the language of Theophrastus is the common Hestia of Gods and men; and on whose fertile surface reclining, says he, as on the soft bosom of a mother or a nurse, we ought to celebrate her divinity with hymns, and incline to her with filial affection, as to the source of our existence.” – [ibid, Book VII, Chapter 23 reconstructed/written by Thomas Taylor and quoted on HellenicGods.org]

“That Saturn (ed. Kronos) in conjunction with Rhea produced Vesta (ed. Æstia) and Juno (ed. Ira or Hera) who are co-ordinate to the demiurgic causes.  For Vesta imparts from herself to the Gods an uninclining permanency, and seat in themselves, and an indissoluble essence.  But Juno imparts progression, and a multiplication into things secondary.  She is also the vivifying fountain of wholes, and the mother of prolific powers; and on this account she is said to have proceeded together with Jupiter the demiurgus; and through this communion she generates maternally, such things as Jupiter generates paternally.  But Vesta abides in herself, possessing an undefiled virginity, and being the cause of sameness to all things.  Each of these divinities however together with her own proper perfection, possesses according to participation the power of the other.  Hence some say that Vesta is denominated from essence (απο της εστιας; ed.ahpo tis æstiahs) looking to her proper hyparxis (ed. approx. essential being).  But others looking to her vivific (ed. life-giving) and motive power which she derives from Juno say that she is thus denominated ως ωσεως ουσαν αιτιαν (ed. os osæos oosahn ætiahn) as being the cause of impulsion.  For all divine natures are in all, and particularly such as are co-ordinate with each other, participate of, and subsist in each other.  Each therefore of the demiurgic and vivific orders, participates the form by which it is characterised, from Vesta. The orbs of the planets likewise possess the sameness of their revolutions from her; and the poles and centres are always allotted from her their rest.

That Vesta does not manifest essence, but the abiding and firm establishment of essence in itself; and hence this Goddess proceeds into light after the mighty Saturn.  For the divinities prior to Saturn have not a subsistence in themselves and in another, but this originates from Saturn.  And a subsistence in self is the peculiarity of Vesta, but in another of Juno.”

[An extract from the Manuscript Scolia of Proclus On the Cratylus of Plato, found in The Theology of Plato: Proclus, trans. Thomas Taylor, Prometheus Trust (Somerset, UK), Vol. VIII of The Thomas Taylor Series (TTS), pp. 680-682 and quoted on HellenicGods.org]

Hestia and Theosophy:  Gravity, The God of Modern Science

These last quotes are essentially a summation from all the above, found in G.R.S. Mead’s book, Orpheus, which draws heavily from Taylor’s translations of Proclus, but with some late-19th-century theosophical speculation and comparative spirituality thrown in for good measure.

“Therefore Vesta and Juno are distinguished as follows by Proclus (Crat., p. 83): ‘Vesta imparts from herself to the Gods an uninclining permanency and seat in themselves, and an indissoluble essence. . . .

Now ‘in her mundane allotment’, that is on this physical plane, Vesta is the Goddess of the Earth. Thus it is that Philolaus (apud Stobæum, Eclog. Phys., p. 51) says: ‘That there is a fire in the middle at the centre, which is the Vesta [Hearth] of the Universe, the House of Jupiter, the Mother of the Gods, and the basis, coherence, and measure of nature.’ All of which puts us in mind of gravity, the god of modern science. . . .

Microcosmically, again, Vesta is the ‘ether in the heart’ of the Upanishads, the ‘flame’ of life; and he who knows the mysteries of Tapas, that practice which calls to its aid the creative, preservative, and regenerative powers of the universe, as Shankarâchârya explains in his Bhâshya on the Mundakopanishad (i), will easily comprehend the importance of Vesta both macrocosmically and microcosmically. . . .”

***
In lieu of a detailed commentary, here is my own extrapolation of these ideas in the form of a philosophical hymn/adoration/collage to Hestia:

A Philosophical Hymn to Hestia

I sing of Hestia,
the most ancient of Goddesses,
the Fire in the Middle,
the Centre of the Cosmos,
the Centre of the Sphere,
the Prime Composite,
the All, the Source, the Good,
she who maintains order,
she who is the Essence of All Things,
The Goddess of Being,
She Who Abides,
she who alone stays at home in the dwellings of the immortals,
tending the central fire in the heaven of Olympus,
the intellect of the Earth,
the Source and Cause of All Being,
she who presides over the universe with a guardian power,
the fountain of Virtue,
she who fixes the firm seat of the Earth,
who stabilizes the poles,
a ruling power among the supercelestial Gods,
imparting permanence to All,
illuminating all things with stable and inflexible power,
she who contains an inflexible and undefiled permanency in herself,
she who is conjoined to the first causes,
she who is responsible for everything stable and immutable,
she who imparts order to the cosmos,
she who fixes the circulations of the heavenly spheres,
bringing an unshaken permanency to the centre of the Cosmos,
she who is the summit of all beings,
the monad of the whole,
she who imparts from herself to the Gods
an uninclining permanency,
a seat in themselves,
an indissoluble essence,
she who abides in herself,
possessing an undefiled purity,
the Essence of All,
the Cause of Impulsion,
she who subsists in the self,
she who embodies all gravitational forces,
the Ether in the Heart,
the Flame of Life,
She Who Creates, Preserves, and Regenerates the Universe,
she who is honored both first and last in all things,
All hail Hestia, the most ancient of Goddesses!
[And now I will remember you, and another song too . . .]

The Survival of Paganism – Honoring Our Pagan Precursors

Much of my post yesterday dedicated to Thomas Taylor, “The English Pagan,” was inspired by an anonymous article I stumbled across, published in Fraser’s Magazine in November 1875.  The full text of the article can be found here.  While the article is rather lengthy, and at times condescending towards some of the figures it describes, I find it fascinating that an article published at the height of the Victorian era could contain so many interesting anecdotes about post-classical historical figures who defended paganism/polytheism and/or actively identified as pagans themselves.  Here are some further highlights that may be of interest to contemporary pagans (keep in mind this was published in 1875):

“Throughout the middle ages we meet with the most earnest sermons against idolatry; and indignant diatribes, like those of Eligius and Peter of Blois, show how much even of the ancient ritual still lingered in the popular observances which it was their object to destroy. In the darkest of the dark ages, the student of mediaevalism who penetrates beneath the crust of that singular literature of myth and legend which had gathered round the Christian story will find sufficient evidence that the divine fire of Hellas, although hidden and dim, was still alight, ready when the hour arrived to leap out, as leap out it did in that wonderful fifteenth century, to fill the world with a flood of light and beauty. From the Renaissance downwards the old creed has never been without hierophants or disciples.”

Gemistus Pletho [George Gemistus Plethon] (1355-1452)

“It was at Florence that we find the ancient learning brought face to face with the ideas of modern civilisation; and here amongst the distinguished scholars whom Cosimo [de’ Medici] gathered around him arose the first Academia Platonica of the revival. Of this institution, founded for the purpose of encouraging the study of Plato, the famous Gemisthus was for many years the great luminary. Only a few fragmentary remains of his works have come down to us, and we are indebted almost entirely to his enemies for what we know of his opinions; but it is evident that he was one of those enthusiasts who, like the Alexandrian eclectics, dreamed of a universal religion which should harmonise in one philosophical worship the varying religious instincts of all mankind. According to George of Trebizond, he entertained most of Plato’s opinions concerning the nature of the gods and the necessity of sacrifice.

‘I have heard him myself,’ said George, ‘when we were together at Florence, say that in a few years all men would embrace with one consent a single and simple religion. And when I asked him if it would be the religion of Jesus Christ or that of Mahomet, he answered: ‘Neither one nor the other; but a third, which will not greatly differ from Paganism.’ . . .

The principal work of Gemisthus was a treatise On Law, burnt after his death by Scolarius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who reports that it taught a plurality of gods, some eternal and others of late development, under the presidency of a supreme being whom he called Zeus.”

Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) [and Luigi Pulci (1432-1484)]

“Ficinus, the next principal of Cosimo’s academy, was a worthy successor of Gemisthus. He is said to have cherished an almost idolatrous veneration for Plato, whose bust he kept in his chamber with a lamp burning constantly before it. In his writings we find that strange mixture of things, Pagan and Christian, which is so characteristic of the period of the Renaissance. . . . Although a priest, and holding valuable preferment, he proposed that preachers should expound the Parmenides and the Philebus [of Plato] alternately with the Epistles and the Apocrypha in the churches. It is the opinion of some of the best Italian critics that Ficinus assisted Pulci in the theological and metaphysical part of that very remarkable poem the Morgante, and that the bold arguments against Christianity which are put into the mouth of the fiend Aztaroth are especially his. Pulci’s conception of the Deity is essentially pantheistic, and in more than one place he ventures to predict the approaching extinction of the Christian religion. The publication of this book and the escape of Ficinus from any active persecution are striking instances of the freedom of thought which existed in Italy during the fifteenth century.”

Hemon de la Fosse (c. 1603) [and his companions]

“In the time of Louis XII, a young scholar of Abbéville, named Hemon de la Fosse, became so enamoured of the Olympian deities that he conceived the greatest hatred to Christianity. On the 25th of August, 1603, being at high mass in the cathedral of his native town, he suddenly snatched the host from the hands of the officiating priests, and dashed it to the ground, exclaiming, ‘What, always this folly!’ . . . The unfortunate Hemon was immediately cast into prison, but no persuasion or threats could induce him to abjure his opinions. He maintained before the priests who were sent to convert him that Jupiter was the sovereign Lord of the Universe . . . Language like this could have but one result. He was burnt alive in the market-place of Abbéville, after having both his hands cut off, and his tongue bored through with a hot iron. His last words were, ‘C’est ce que je ne puis faire; j’en suis bien fâché.’ [‘I am very angry and this is what I can do about it.’] Nor was this case a solitary one. We are expressly told that many of the Spanish students held similar opinions, and quitted Abbéville to avoid the fate of their companion.”

Voltaire (1694-1778)

“It is reported that when Voltaire first visited the ruins of the Coliseum, he was observed to make a profound obeisance before the great head of Jupiter, and being questioned as to his reason for this strange act of devotion by the scandalised ecclesiastics who accompanied him, is said to have replied, ‘I pay my court to him now in the day of his adversity, in the hope that he will remember me when his turn comes round again.’”

David Hume (1711-1776)

“He [David Hume] tells us in one of his essays that the Olympian system was too supremely beautiful, and too well adapted for the needs of man to have ever finally perished; and gives his opinion that even in these degenerate days it must still prevail in some part of the world.”

John Fransham (1730-1810)

“Another English Pagan of the last century was John Fransham, a poor scholar of Norwich, who had arrived at many of [Thomas] Taylor’s conclusions, while the latter was yet a child. In 1769 he wrote, but did not publish, a worked called The Oestrum of Orpheus, in which he openly avowed his belief in a plurality of gods. Bayle had said that a consistent Spinozist who carries out his principles to their logical conclusions must infallibly end in polytheism, and Fransham held himself to have proved the truth of the proposition. With Spinoza, he held that the first cause is uncreated and indestructible, but not intelligent–is no other indeed than the entire, eternal, and finite mass of matter composing the universe; but he refused to believe that this chaos was shapened and animated by a single co-eternal mind, but, on the contrary, held that nature through a thousand voices proclaimed the existence of innumerable, intelligent powers or forces, ‘plastic and designing,’ who ruled all sublunary affairs, and may most fitly be designated by the nomenclature of the Hellenic theology. He wrote a collection of hymns addressed to Jupiter, Minerva, Venus, and Hercules . . .”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and the German Romantics

“In recent times the Pagan spirit has been greatly diffused. In Germany for a century past it has many years in a growing tendency to accept the beautiful creations of the Hellenic cult as a graceful symbolism of the conclusions of modern science. The philosophical side of the revival we find in Heyne and Schelling, the aesthetic in Wieland and Frederick Schlegel, and above all in Goethe, who of all moderns was perhaps the most thoroughly a Pagan. The most singular reports used to circulate throughout Europe about Goethe’s heathenism.

‘It is not surprising,’ said La Liberté de Penser in 1832, ‘that we find the bust of Jupiter placed before his bed, and turned towards the rising sun in order that he may address his morning prayers to him on waking.’”

John Sterling (1806-1844) [and also Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844)]

“In England, traces of the same feeling are to be found in Shelley, and more recently in Sterling, who looked with a loving and longing eye upon the poetical world of Olympus. In a letter printed in his Life by Archdeacon Hare, he expresses his belief that a time will come when, pedants having ceased to seek either true history or false religion in that beautiful creation, it will become known to all the earth, even to the now gross and suffering multitudes, as an inexhaustible treasure-house of noble joys. He relates also with great zest the story of Thorwaldsen, who one day dining with Bunsen at Rome, and becoming wearied of the theological conversation of his host, threw open the window, which commanded a noble prospect of the city over which the planet Jupiter was shining with great splendour, and filled his glass ‘to the honour of the ancient gods.’”

***

I find this Victorian-era article to be a healthy reminder that throughout history, there are countless “modern” (post-classical) pagan precursors for what we are all doing now.  This article highlights a few of those names, and just off the top of my head I can think of many more . . . Michael Marullus , Mark Akenside, John Keats, Richard Henry Horne, Albert Pike, and Louis Ménard (whose 1876 book, Rêveries d’un paien mystique [Reveries of a Mystic Pagan] was the inspiration for the title of this blog).  These are just a handful of our modern pagan precursors who lived and wrote long before the 20th-century pagan/occult revival. If you know of any others who you’d like to discuss, please feel free to share their names in the comments!

It may not be a single continuous tradition, but these heroes were out there, long before our time, defending the gods, honoring the gods, writing hymns to the gods, and even performing rituals to the gods, in times and places when it was extremely dangerous to be an avowed pagan.

And today, on the birthday of Thomas Taylor the English Pagan, I think we should all raise a glass (or pour a libation) to our modern pagan precursors and remind ourselves, that “[f]rom the Renaissance downwards the old creed has never been without hierophants or disciples.”

Thomas Taylor – “The English Pagan”

“It is curious that Thomas Taylor, the Platonist, is really a better man of imagination, a better poet, than any other writer between Milton and Wordsworth. He is a poet with a poet’s life and aims.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tomorrow marks the birthday of Thomas Taylor (May 15, 1758 – November 1, 1835), one of my personal poet-heroes.  Taylor, the first to translate into English the whole of Plato and Aristotle (and many other classical texts, including most of the Neoplatonists), was also a self-identified pagan/polytheist (a rare thing in eighteenth-century England!).  As a poet, philosopher and translator who dedicated his entire life to connecting modern English readers to the beauty and wisdom of the classical pagan past, Taylor is a significant precursor who should be revered by contemporary pagans everywhere.  His work influenced many other writers, including William Blake, Madame Blavatsky, William Butler Yeats, and Kathleen Raine.  Percy Bysshe Shelley was reputedly part of an Orphic circle of Romantic writers who were inspired by Taylor to honor the Greek gods with hymns and ritual.  And Taylor has left a significant impact on American literature via Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who were profoundly influenced by Taylor’s work and frequently quote from his writings and translations.

Most of Thomas Taylor’s books can be found on the web via Google Books or Archive.org, but the best way to read his translations and original writings (while supporting a good cause!) are to buy the beautiful editions published by The Prometheus Trust, and available for purchase in the U.S. via Opening Mind Associates.

Some Articles and Tributes to Thomas Taylor:

Thomas Taylor: A Great English Platonist

Thomas Taylor the English Platonist (.pdf file)

Thomas Taylor – Wisdom’s Champion (.pdf file)

[The following anecdotes are excerpted from an anonymous essay entitled “The Survival of Paganism,” published in Fraser’s Magazine in November 1875. The essay, though at times somewhat hostile and condescending towards Taylor’s life and ideas, contains some great anecdotes, as well as what amounts to a “fan letter” to Taylor from a fellow pagan.  This letter is a fascinating glimpse into the past, which in many ways reminds me of an 18th-century version of the type of correspondence one might see amongst modern pagans on the email lists and blogs of today.]

***

Excerpts from The Survival of Paganism [Fraser’s Magazine, November 1875]

About the end of 1789 a mysterious looking pamphlet entitled A New System of Religion, was to be found upon the counters of the London booksellers who dared to deal in unorthodox literature. The name of neither publisher nor printer appeared upon the title-page, and, following the precedent of the earlier English works on freethinking, it bore the manifestly false imprint of ‘Amsterdam.’ This singular production advocated in very plain language the doctrine of a plurality of gods who are intermediate between the great Demiurgus of nature, and man. Our planet forming such a small and insignificant portion of the great universe—’a mere toad or viper, perhaps, in the scale of worlds’—it is in the highest degree presumptuous to suppose it the work or even the care of the Zeus who represents LAW, passionless, immutable, and supreme. It is the lesser gods who influence human affairs and ‘produce those singular events which by some are imputed to fortune and by others to a special Providence;’ and these gods were to be approached by prayer and sacrifice after the manner of the ancients. The doctrines here taught were, in fact, little more than a restatement of the opinions of Proclus and the later Platonists. The evident earnestness of the writer forbade the idea of a joke, and the few Reviews that condescended to notice the pamphlet were almost unanimous in setting it down as the work of a madman. The discerning few, however, who had met with a translation of the Hymns of Orpheus, published two years before, must have recognised it at once as the work of Thomas Taylor, well known to a small circle of friends as an enthusiast in Greek literature . . .

. . . From a very early age Taylor appears to have set before him as the great ambition of his life to leave behind him a complete English version of all the hitherto untranslated writings of the Greek philosophers, and this work he nearly accomplished. His works, which consist mainly of translations of these writers, extend to sixty-four volumes . . .

. . . [W]hile studying Plato [Taylor] accidentally met with Plotinus, whose writings he accepted as a kind of revelation, reading them, as he informs us, ‘with the most rapturous delight.’ From Plotinus he went to Proclus, and read him through three times, a feat probably performed by no other mortal since the Renaissance. The luminous pages of Proclus completed the work which Plato had begun, and Taylor became a Pagan, and a Pagan, too, with a zeal and hatred against Christianity and its professors which has more in it of the spirit of loathing and abhorrence, which one may suppose to have animated some disestablished sacerdos of Constantine, than a mild and cultured scholar of the nineteenth century. Nothing but the small and limited circulation of his books can explain the fact that he escaped a prosecution, for in the Pitt and Eldou days many far less plain-spoken denunciations of the national religion were visited with fine and imprisonment. According to Taylor, the Christian religion, or, as he prefers to call it, ‘the jargon of innumerable sects,’ established a tyranny over the human mind utterly unknown to the ancient world—the tyranny of religious despotism—and has extirpated from the earth the ‘dominion of wisdom and virtue, substituting in its place the modern spirit of barter and trade.’ . . . Penetrating and smooth, it has crept like oil through the various communities of mankind, ‘suppressing the effervescence of desire, restraining the restless spirit of inquiry, and calming the impetuosity of genius,’ reducing all human affairs to one universal and uniform mediocrity. . . .

. . . It was one of the dreams of his life to establish in London a Pantheon, in which the worship of the deities should be performed in an appropriate and decorous manner. Failing this . . . he turned one of his rooms at Walworth into a sacrarium, in which at times he offered up sacrifices to his favorite gods. There is even a tradition that one night, when the fury of the French Revolution was at its height, the sleepy old Charlies who guarded the City were astonished by the appearance of a procession of priests, with Taylor at their head as Arch-flamen, who performed the sacred rites of lustration in front of the Old Exchange, formally receiving once more the sleeping city into the dominion of the king of the gods. . . .

. . . We cannot find that Taylor made many disciples. The most distinguished was the Marquis de Valadi, a young Frenchman of good family, whose short but eccentric career reminds one in many ways of Shelley’s earlier life. This enthusiast ran away from his friends in Paris to sit at the feet of Taylor in London, sending before him the following letter, which the master afterwards printed, and which we are tempted to give as a curious specimen of the sort of stuff which men could be found to write during this feverish time:

To Thomas Taylor, better named Lysis,
G. Izarn Valadi, of late a French Marquis, and Tannisaire,
Sendeth Joy and Honour.
12 Xbre. 1788, vulg. aera.

O Thomas Taylor! mayst thou welcome a brother Pythagorean, led by a Saviour God to thy divine school! I have loved wisdom ever since a child, and have found the greatest impediments and been forced to great struggles before I could clear my way to the source of it; for I was born in a more barbarous country than ever was Illyria of old. My family never favoured my inclination to study; and I have been involved in so many cares and troubles, that it cannot be without the intervention of some friendly Deity that I have escaped the vile rust of barbarism, and its attendant meanness of soul. My good fortune was that I met eighteen months ago an English gentleman of the name of Piggott, who is a Pythagorean philosopher, who easily converted me to the diet and manner agreeable to that most rich and beneficent deity, Mother Earth; to that heaven-inspired change I owe perfect health and tranquility of mind, both of which I had long been deprived of. Also my own oath has acceded to the eternal oath (which mentions the golden commentator on G.V.) and I would more cheerfully depart from my present habitation on this Themis-forsaken earth, than defile myself evermore with animal food, stolen either on earth, in air, or water.

I met with thy works but two days past. O divine man! a prodigy in this iron age! who would ever thought thou couldst exist among us in our shape! I would have gone to China for a man endowed with the tenth part of thy light! Oh, grant me to see thee, to be lustrated and initiated by thee! What joy, if, like to Proclus’ Leonas, to thee I could be a domestic! who feel living in myself the soul of Leonidas.

My determination was to go and live in North America, from love of liberty, and there to keep a school of temperance and love, in order to preserve so many men from the prevailing disgraceful vices of brutal intemperance and selfish cupidity. – There, in progress of time, if those vices natural to a commercial country are found to thwart most of the blessings of liberty, the happy select ones, taught better discipline, may form a society by themselves, such a one as the gods would favour and visit lovingly; which would preserve true knowledge, and be a seminary and an asylum for the lovers of it.

There I would devoutly erect altars to my favourite Gods: Dioscuri, Hector, Aristomenes, Messen, Pan, Orpheus, Epaminondas, Pythagoras, Plato, Timoleon, Marcus Brutus and his Portia, and above all, Phoebus, the God of my hero Julian, and the father of that holy, gentle Commonwealth of the Peruvians, to which nullus ultor has, as yet been suscited!

Music and gymnastic are sciences necessary for a teacher to possess — (what deep and various sense these two words contain!) and I am a stranger to both! O Gods! who gave me the thought and the spirit, give me the means! for all things are from you.

Thomas Taylor, be thou their instrument to convoy into my mind knowledge, truth, and prudence! Do thou love and help me. I will go to thee to-morrow morning.

P.S. May I look to thee, endowed with an ancient and no modern enthusiasm!

[signed] “Gracchus Crotoneios.”

***

The enthusiastic Marquis de Valadi did end up living with and studying with Taylor for a time, but he eventually returned to France and was guillotined during the Reign of Terror at the age of twenty-seven.

“Impetuous ignorance is thundering at the bulwarks of philosophy and her sacred retreats are in danger of being demolished, through our feeble resistance. Rise then, my friends, and the victory will be ours. The foe is indeed numerous, but at the same time feeble; and the weapons of truth in the hands of vigorous union, descend with irresistible force, and are fatal wherever they fall.” – Thomas Taylor

***

I’d like to end this little tribute with the final lines to Thomas Taylor’s beautiful “Poetical Paraphrase on the Speech of Diotima in the Banquet of Plato” (full text here in a .pdf file):

When re-ascending by a vig’rous flight,
A man begins to gain this beauty’s sight:
If Love’s right path he steadily pursue,
His end propos’d will nearly rise to view.
With love to some fair body first inclin’d,
To many next, he then should soar to mind.
From mind to art, from art to science rise,
Till beauty’s science he at length descries:
Nor e’er in this ascent remit his flight,
Till boundless beauty burst upon his sight.
Here, dearest Socrates, alone resides
The happy life, for ever here abides.
Here is the only source of true delight,
To live eternal in this beauty’s sight;
A glimpse of which, if ever you attain,
Will prove the vulgar thoughts of beauty vain:
The beautiful itself will not appear
In costly robes, in youths or damsels fair;
In burnish’d gold, or in the di’monds blaze,
Or in the echoes of immortal praise:
Tho’ to the many phantoms such as these,
Alone are beautiful, alone can please;
Whose very presence such delight can give,
With these they wish eternally to live;
And such unreal beauties to secure,
With patient mind the wants of life endure.
If transport then arises from the view
Of beauty such as vulgar souls pursue;
Think of that boundless joy the mind conceives,
Whose eye the beautiful itself perceives:
In simple essence beaming on the sight,
Not fair with figure, nor with colour bright.
To souls refin’d, can such a life be seen
Of little worth, contemptible or mean;
Perceive you not, that he whose piercing eye
Is able perfect beauty to descry,
Thus, and thus only, fill’d with wisdom’s seed,
Virtue substantial can attain to breed?
Till now become the fav’rite of the skies,
Mature in virtue, and completely wise;
His soul indignant leaves this frail abode,
And reigns exalted ‘midst the Gods a God.

“Everything is Overflowing with Gods” – Proclus

Start here:

On the Occasion of the 1,600th Anniversary of the Birth of Proclus (2/08/12) by Edward P. Butler

Henadology: Philosophy

Proclus Page at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Proclus Page at the Shrine of the Goddess Athena

Proclus Page at Kheper.net


Now go buy this right now:

Essays on a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion by Edward P. Butler, available here.

Some Books for Your Home Library

I recommended reading these in the following order:

1. The Unfolding Wings: The Way of Perfection in the Platonic Tradition by Tim Addey

(available for purchase in the U.S. here)

2. Beyond the Shadows: The Metaphysics of the Platonic Tradition by Tim Addey & Guy Wyndham-Jones

(available for purchase in the U.S. here)

3. Proclus’ Elements of Theology translated by Thomas Taylor

(available for purchase in the U.S. here)

4. The Philosophy of Proclus, the Final Phase of Ancient Thought by Laurence J Rosan

(available for purchase in the U.S. here)

5. Proclus’ Theology of Plato translated by Thomas Taylor

(available for purchase in the U.S. here)

6. Proclus’ Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato translated by Thomas Taylor

(available for purchase in the U.S. here and here)


Hestia, The Queen of Fire – Part One

It seems only right to begin this series of posts on My Personal Pantheon by writing about Hestia – the Queen of Fire, the Goddess of the Hearth and Home, the Keeper of the Flame, she who is honored both first and last in all things.  I have always begun my rituals and festival celebrations by honoring Hestia.  She and Hermes (my patron) are two deities with whom I feel an incredibly deep connection, and they themselves are also quite closely connected, as the following Homeric Hymn beautifully demonstrates.  I love my little green Loeb edition of Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns, which has its own special place on my home shrine.  I carry it whenever I travel or go on a spiritual adventure, and if I were ever asked to swear on a sacred text, this would be my book of choice (as it was the choice for Melissa Gold when she became a citizen of Canada).  Every evening before dinner, if we are eating at home (which is most days), I read the Homeric Hymn to Hestia (and Hermes) – which I have now memorized – and pour a libation of wine into the wooden offering bowl on my household shrine.

The Homeric Hymn to Hestia (and Hermes)
Hestia, in the high dwellings of all, both deathless gods and men who walk on earth, you have gained an everlasting abode and highest honour: glorious is your portion and your right. For without you mortals hold no banquet, ― where one does not duly pour sweet wine in offering to Hestia both first and last.

And you, slayer of Argus, Son of Zeus and Maia, messenger of the blessed gods, bearer of the golden rod, giver of good, be favourable and help us, you and Hestia, the worshipful and dear. Come and dwell in this glorious house in friendship together; for you two, well knowing the noble actions of men, aid on their wisdom and their strength.

Hail, Daughter of Cronos, and you also, Hermes, bearer of the golden rod! Now I will remember you and another song also.*
(translated by H.G. Evelyn-White)

*When reciting this hymn aloud, I always change it to say “Now I will remember you and another song too.”  This phrasing comes from the Thelma Sargent translation of The Homeric Hymns, which is one of the first editions of the Hymns I found in a used bookstore long ago.  Sargent ends many of the hymns (including this one) with “and another song too.”  And I’ve always liked the rhythm of that phrasing better.

This beautiful hymn has become the touchstone of my daily household practice.  Since I mostly work from home as a writer and an educator, the juxtaposition of Hestia and Hermes is especially appropriate.  I’ve always enjoyed the idea of these two gods, friends of mortals and givers of good things, working together for the household.

Claudia Trophime’s Epigrams to Hestia

Claudia Trophime (Ephesian Priestess of Hera and Prytanis/Chief Priestess of Hestia, 92/93 CE):  Two Epigrams (Inscr. Eph. 1062. G)

(In prose) Claudia Trophime the prytanis wrote this song of praise to Hestia:  (in verse) she [the goddess] both gave satisfaction to the gods in their feasts, and tends the blooming fire of our country.  Sweetest divinity, flower of the universe, you tend the eternal flame of fire from heaven on your altars.

(In prose) The same priestess wrote this: (in verse) The [mountain] Pion secretly drinks within himself the moisture from the mist and draws it into his sides towards the vast sea.  How then can one describe you [goddess], who keep and hold within yourself the god-sent fire, a remnant of the harmony [of the universe]?

[from Women’s Life in Greece & Rome:  A Source Book in Translation (2nd ed.), by Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen b. Fant]

The above two epigrams are by Claudia Trophime, one of the rare women writers whose work survives from antiquity.  Claudia Trophime is therefore not only one of my Poet-Heroes, but was also a priestess of two of my favorite goddesses, Hera and Hestia.  These two epigrams contain some incredibly powerful imagery for Hestia, and “flower of the universe” is a potent image for the Queen of Fire.  I imagine her hearth-fire burning in the form of an orange or yellow flower at the center of the cosmos.  I also love the idea of Hestia holding the divine fire within herself, which is perhaps one of the many reasons I associate Hestia with the creative fire that inspires all poetry and art.  Building and tending a fire, maintaining a steady flame, is symbolically akin to the process of writing poetry, composing music, painting, sculpting, or any other form of expression where we must hone our creative fire, “the god-sent fire, a remnant of the harmony of the universe,” to bring light and warmth into the world through our art.  Hermes certainly represents the power of words and language and communication, but I personally believe that Hestia, too, is a poet.

Emily Dickinson and Hestia

Which may be why I’ve always associated Emily Dickinson with Hestia.  Think about it . . . is there any poet more associated with the home than Emily Dickinson?  For most of her adult life, she never left the home at all!  A recluse and a hermit, who took to wearing all white in her later years (the above photograph is apparently an exception), she mostly kept her own company and quietly wrote an incredible corpus of verse (1,789 poems) that is one of the most powerful expressions of intellect, beauty, and wisdom in the English language.  And many of her poems have a connection to fire . . . and also volcanoes.  Adrienne Rich wrote a famous essay on Dickinson entitled “Vesuvius at Home,” (a line from Dickinson’s poem, “Volcanoes be in Sicily”) which is a particularly apt phrase to describe the poetess.  The following poems by Emily Dickinson have a particularly Hestian feel to me, though there is certainly a volcanic/Hephaestian element in there as well. [Note: I use the Franklin edition of Dickinson’s poems as it is much closer to her original handwritten poems than the earlier editions, which were often “fixed” by conservative editors.]

Ashes denote that Fire was —
Respect the Grayest Pile
For the Departed Creature’s sake
That hovered there awhile —

Fire exists the first in light
And then consolidates
Only the Chemist can disclose
Into what Carbonates —

– Emily Dickinson

Dare you see a Soul at the “White Heat”?
Then crouch within the door —
Red — is the Fire’s common tint —
But when the vivid Ore

Has vanquished Flame’s conditions —       
Its quivers from the Forge
Without a color, but the Light
Of unannointed Blaze —

Least Village, boasts its Blacksmith —
Whose Anvil’s even ring       
Stands symbol for the finer Forge
That soundless tugs — within —

Refining these impatient Ores
With Hammer, and with Blaze
Until the designated Light        
Repudiate the Forge —

– Emily Dickinson

On my volcano grows the Grass
A meditative spot —
An acre for a Bird to choose
Would be the general thought —

How red the Fire rocks below       
How insecure the sod
Did I disclose
Would populate with awe my solitude.

– Emily Dickinson

Volcanoes be in Sicily
And South America
I judge from my Geography
Volcano nearer here
A Lava step at any time
Am I inclined to climb
A Crater I may contemplate
Vesuvius at Home

–  Emily Dickinson

These are a few of the many poems that have led my strange brain to imagine Emily Dickinson as a priestess of Hestia (and I have much to say on the subject of Emily Dickinson as a pagan/polytheist – which I’ll save for a later post, but in the meantime here’s a link to one of the better essays on the subject –  Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx by Gary Sloan). And just as I see Emily Dickinson as a Priestess of Hestia, I like to envision Hestia as an Emily Dickinson-esque poetess, secretly writing poems as she tends the Cosmic Hearth . . .

Aristonoos’ Hymn to Hestia [third quarter 4th c. BCE]

Holy Queen of Sanctity,
we hymn you, Hestia, whose abiding realm
is Olympus and the middle point of earth
and the Delphic laurel tree!
You dance around Apollo’s towering temple
rejoicing both in the tripod’s mantic voices
and when Apollo sounds the seven strings
of his golden phorminx and, with you,
sings the praises of the feasting gods.
We salute you, daughter of Kronos
and Rhea, who alone brings firelight
to the sacred altars of the gods;
Hestia, reward our prayer, grant
wealth obtained in honesty: then we shall always
dance around your glistening throne.

[from Greek Hymns: Volume I by William D. Furley and Jan Maarten Bremer]

I don’t have too much to say about this lovely hymn except that the idea of Hestia dancing round Delphi makes me smile!


A Few Personal Associations with Hestia

There are so few myths connected to Hestia.  Poseidon and Apollon apparently courted her at one point, and she asked Zeus to remain a virgin to preserve the peace . . . this story feels like an elemental or aetiological myth to me, a love triangle between fire and sun and sea.

Asses/Donkeys are the only animal I know that were ever officially associated with her (actually associated with the Roman Vesta), but I’ve decided that the Turtle, the Snail, and the Hermit Crab should all be sacred to Hestia, for the obvious reason that, like Emily Dickinson, they never leave their homes.  Our pet turtle is certainly sacred to Hestia.

Robert Graves invented a myth that Hestia gave up her throne on the Olympian council of Twelve for Dionysus, and while no one has been able to find an ancient source for that myth, I’ve always liked the story.  It’s the type of thing that Hestia would do. I imagine those twelve thrones in a circle, with Hestia in the center tending the hearth-fire.

Which reminds me of a line from the Hermetica [though I know this quote later shows up elsewhere, perhaps in Thomas Aquinas?] – “God is an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.”  This is how I theologically interpret Hestia.  Hestia is an infinite circle or sphere of warmth and light and cosmic fire . . . her hearth-center is everywhere, in every home and every heart . . . and the circumference of her light is nowhere, since her influence extends throughout all being as she illuminates all things.  I often associate Hestia with the Platonic Form of the Good . . . though I will write about her Neoplatonic associations in a later post.

I find Hestia in all shades of orange and yellow and red, as well as white (the color of the robes worn by the Vestal Virgins).  I see Hestia in candles and torches and bonfires, and even in the tiny blue flame of the propane stove that heats our home.  My group of family and friends have been celebrating the Pagan Wheel of the Year, and I choose to honor Hestia at the four Celtic fire festivals (Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh, Samhain).  I can see Hestia being friends with Brigid and Isis and Grandmother Spider, swapping stories over the fire.  I see Hestia in the faces of many elderly women, crones, spinsters, maiden aunts, and various types of nuns.  Hestia often has the wrinkled face of my maternal Greek grandmother, who sat me on her lap and first told me the myths.  Hestia is there in the smell of a home-cooked meal or anything delicious baking in the oven, and I feel Hestia in the warmth of a home-made quilt or afghan (my mother is an incredibly talented quilt-maker and textile artist, so home-made quilts have always represented comfort and home).

The poet Robert Duncan often writes of “The Household” to describe his relationship with his partner, the collage artist Jess (the two were together from about 1950 until Duncan’s death in 1988).  Since I am a man married to a wonderful husband (we’ve been together over twelve years now), and we have chosen not to have or adopt children, I find “The Household” is a perfect term to describe the intimacy of our particular family (aka two men, one pet turtle, and about 10,000 books).  Honoring Hestia is one way I can honor the household and partnership we’ve created together.

In my Pythagorean Tarot deck, Hestia is The Queen of Wands.  In my Classical Mythology deck, there is a charming affirmation for Hestia:  “I find home within myself and create sacred space in my life.”

Hestia is represented on my household shrine with a small, circular, gemstone-encrusted jewel-box I found years ago when I first started actively honoring the gods.  It can hold a necklace and a few other tiny objects, like rings or coins or little stones.  I carry it whenever I travel and it carefully protects my other small sacred objects.  When it sits on top of my Loeb edition of Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns, it forms the center of my portable shrine, a representation of my household that I can bring with me wherever I go.

Orphic Hymn To Hestia*
[The Fumigation from Aromatics.]

Daughter of Kronos*, venerable dame,
The seat containing of unweary’d flame;
In sacred rites these ministers are thine,
Mystics much-blessed, holy, and divine.
In thee, the Gods have fix’d their dwelling place,
Strong, stable basis of the mortal race:
Eternal, much-form’d, ever florid queen,
Laughing and blessed, and of lovely mien;
Accept these rites, accord each just desire,
And gentle health, and needful good inspire.
Translated by Thomas Taylor

*In the original, Taylor uses Vesta and Saturn.  If it doesn’t substantially alter the rhyme or rhythm, I usually mentally substitute the Greek names for the Latin when I read these aloud.

I love the Taylor translations of the Orphic hymns, especially the phrasing in the first edition (which can be slightly different in places from the versions featured elsewhere on the web).  That final couplet is a particularly strong ending to a prayer.  And I love that Hestia is described as laughing – the laughter of the Olympian gods is one of the most joyous aspects of the Hellenic spiritual experience.

Resources for Hestia

Hestia page at Theoi.com

Hestia page at HellenicGods.org

Hestia page at Neokoroi.org

That’s all for now . . . I still have a great deal about Hestia to discuss, such as the Neoplatonist interpretations of the goddess, more personal associations, more of the ways I honor Hestia in my spiritual practice, and some interesting and unusual representations of Hestia, Vesta, and the Vestal Virgins in art history, but I will have to save those for Part Two . . .


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