I’ve been reading Sue Monk Kidd’s Traveling with Pomegranates, which has me contemplating the marvel of sacred journeys, marked transitions in a woman’s life journey, the passage from maidenhood to motherhood, the finite gift of fertility and the inevitable movement towards Old Woman or crone. It’s a lot to chew on as I feel my own passage from one form of dance into another: that step into motherhood which moves me into the middle ground of life’s dance toward death.
New mothers receive, often unexpectedly and without preparation, the profound and often inescapable invitation to tend the Proverbial Hearth. Don’t we 21st century women think we can take it all on, leaving the fireside kitchen for someone else to tend? How many of us resonate with Sue Monk Kidd when she writes that she’d imagined herself “traveling more in the orbits of the so-called ‘virgin’ Goddesses like Artemis and Athena, whose forms of the feminine are about the search for an independent self. They are the ones who could bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan. I haven’t pictured myself as a “mother goddess” type. My children have always existed at the deepest center of me, right there in the heart/hearth, but I struggled with the powerful demands of motherhood, chafing sometimes at the way they pulled me away from my separate life, not knowing how to balance them with my unwieldy need for solitude and creative expression.”
In seeming contrast there is the Goddess Hestia, the Goddess of the Hearth or Fireside, whose task is to keep the home fires burning, symbolizing nurturing and the continuity of a spiritual flame within the home. As I delve into her history, I am surprised to find she is also a so-called “virgin goddess,” the sort of goddess who is self-contained, independent, uncorrupted and un-partnered (yes, like the free wheeling Athena and Artemis). Virgin goddesses aren’t necessarily asexual so much as their sexuality cannot be owned or controlled by a partner. Instead, the virgin goddess lives in her own circle of dominion.
Wikipedia tells me that “Hestia doesn’t trouble to find an emblem for herself” (her practical divinity perhaps too obvious and self-explanatory for such grand measures). “She did not roam nor did she have any adventures” (after all, she didn’t even leave the Hearth for the sacred processions of Gods and Goddesses). Instead, the divine feminine face of Hestia is ultimately about the ability to dwell firmly and contentedly in one’s place without need of fanfare or external recognition. She points with grace to the ability to belong to one’s home as a gesture of radical settling into the nurturing role of sitting fireside, at the helm of family life.
What a contrast from the seeker’s heart and the Goddess archetype who flies the expanses of sky and earth: the Woman who journeys, who pilgrims, who ventures into the unknown, who controls forces of nature and vicissitudes of harvests through her ebbs and flows. I feel the tension in my own experience as I settle into home more often – still pulled to far-away places and drawn to the lures of “doing” and still resisting what I’ve labeled the “specter of routine.” Yet with the surrender into the rhythm of routine also emerges the deepened settling into place, the ability to actualize dwelling in the best possible sense of spiritual art.
I have not been one who is archtypally drawn to home and hearth, although I see the roots present in my longing to tell the story of where I come from through my family history, the valuing of good food and shared meals, the contentment of creating beautiful, intentional space. Hestia never called me with her quiet, subtle expression of creative power – and yet she is the one who makes the world go round so to speak. She, tender of fire, hearth and family, maintains order and feeds life. She is the backdrop of rhythm in the “specter of routine” (which is of course really not a specter so much as mis-labeled resistance of present callings as a mother).
Of course there is a time for pilgrimage (after all few of us can be as self-contained and rooted as Hestia) – a time when a journey is a necessity in marking a transition or transformation. Perhaps a great lesson of motherhood is the awakening into realization that journeys can indeed also be profoundly inward into vast regions of the fire of heart and soul. A journey also lies in this rooted transition towards hearth and home, family and food – where nourishment comes in the form of simple, quiet meals and slow walks up the stairs with sleeping child in arm. Hestia knows the art of doing each mundane task with great love and as a gift, with no need for recognition or fan-fare. And still, it is she who keeps the fire of life burning.