Vesta, hearth fire and selfhood

Thanks to my friend Sophie I was this morning reminded of the asteroid Vesta, which has just gone into Capricorn.  I am periodically reminded of how much I love the astrological asteroids, how they can say some things so perfectly, things so necessary, yet until relatively recently so largely unvoiced. I think I can live in a world with asteroids.

Vesta was a Roman goddess of the hearth and the hearth fire, and she was a goddess of the “domestic” in a sanctified sense, one that holds up a luminous and necessary quality which we seem to recognise only poorly nowadays. There is something very specific in Vesta, both a skill and a magic, that warms and protects our own inner flame, even as it gives meaning to words like “family” and “home”. A specific meaning, as light and powerful as a flame’s tongue.

“She was the first-born of the titans Kronos and Rhea and, like the others, was swallowed by her father. When her brother Jupiter (the Greek Zeus), who managed to escape their father’s appetite, freed his siblings, Vesta was the last to be released (because she was the first swallowed) and so is regarded as both the oldest and the youngest of the gods. She was very beautiful and attracted the attention of both Apollo and Neptune who fought for her hand. Vesta rejected them both, however, and begged Jupiter to allow her to remain forever a virgin. When he consented to this, Vesta was pleased and took care of his home and hearth; thus identifying her with domestic life but, more importantly, with domestic tranquility”

Ancient History Encyclopedia

As the above quoted source notes, the Latin word for “hearth” is focus, and the home and the hearth fire are a real centre for a particular, and immensely important kind of benediction and blessing. This is part of how things become well with our world, and with ourselves. Vesta remains virgin, in the sense of being true to herself, her fire unextinguished, un-given-away, undiminished, and thus she has such a beneficial sway over the domestic, and the inward integrity of the self.

I talk more often of “coming home” than I do of liberation, because I have such a strong sense of the importance of Vesta’s domain for all people. It is also the one place above all others that outcasts find themselves exiled from, erased. But I am sure I am not the only person who does most of their magic in the kitchen, and that may sound hokey and quaint but it really isn’t. A kitchen is a place fit for the purpose of magic, and that is simply how it turns out. The other place in the home, if I think about it, is the bedroom. Both these places have an inherently sacred quality which we “domesticate” (how ironic is that?) into certain kinds of semi-exclusivity and privacy, just as we domesticate the long history of interspecies companionship into pooches and kitties. How ever did we turn Virgo into something so trivialized? These are some of the things that Vesta gives back, but there is more still.

Always Astrology says of Vesta:

“Vesta is the keeper of the hearth. She is focus and dedication. She is mental clarity and self-respect.

“Vesta brings out your purest potential and Essence into being. Vesta is organized and perfect. She has a talent for breaking things down into its components. She rules the metabolism and the upper intestine. She carries influence over locks and keys, sisters, security, investments, insurance, and inheritance. She is the epitome of the home and family, ritual, chastity and sexuality, and devotion”

I find I have to approach Vesta in feeling terms (my natal Vesta is in Cancer), and the feeling is strong, integral, deeply connected to one’s sense of self worth. Valkyrie Astrology has some interesting things to say about the goddess also:

“Vesta’s origins in pre-Hellenic Greece were of a much different nature.  Their primary deity was the Great Mother Goddess who was personified by the Moon and represented by the sacred flame, which symbolized the kundalini fire and secret powers of sexual transmutation.  While the women who tended these fires were known as virgins, this was not because they were sexually chaste, but because they were unmarried, thus belonging to no man.  They participated in various rites of a sexual nature and gave themselves to strangers as an act of divine service.  In other words, their raison d’être was not only to keep the home fires burning, but largely associated with ritualistic sex.  Of course the symbolism between fire and passion is far from subtle as well.  Needless to say, in today’s world these women would not be associated with virgins in any way”

I would take some of these claims with a pinch of salt until the research is a bit clearer (I don’t want to end up in Robert Graves land), especially claims that pre-Hellenic Greeks were down with the kundalini, and it was all about sexual transmutation and “the Great Mother”. One of the beauties of a power such as Vesta is that she escapes the ubiquitous, neopagan, quasi-Jungian reduction to a kind of maternal cypher. She is more complex and subtle than that, and I feel that is part of what makes her liberating. There may be many kinds of virginity, and they were certainly once different to our modern definition, but there is no question that Vesta is Virgin. But that there is a poetic association between Vesta, the inner fire that is true to the self and its unfolding, and the implications of that for sexuality and domestic life, is as subjectively compelling as it is unprovable, and that is the kind of territory that astrology works on. As I said, the two areas of the home that I found naturally suited to magic were the kitchen and the bedroom.

Valkyrie Astrologer goes on:

“Astrologically, Vesta contains elements of both Virgo and Scorpio.  Virgo is represented by Vesta, the virgin, and Scorpio is associated with sex and passion.  In the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian cultures, these two constellations of the Zodiac were connected and represented by a serpent.  As the cultural norm became patriarchal, Libra was placed between them in the portion known as “the Chelae,” or claws of the scorpion.   If you think about that, there’s some serious irony there, that this region became Libra, representing relationships and marriage” 

Vesta relates to a part of ourselves which we could devote to another (or do so mutually), out of authentic choice, and which we could devote equally to a non-physical or transcendent object, and while the latter might seem more “chaste” it is in fact both which embody Vesta’s “chastity”, for though she gives, she does not give herself away in the giving. She is the benediction of the circle of selfhood, and the fire of an inner truthfulness and integrity, and she is a part of our self-worth for which there is no meaningful negotiation. Vesta makes whole in a very realistic, practical and personal way.

And as I love donkeys so much, I have to add this quote from Ancient History Encyclopedia:

“Vesta is always depicted as a fully-clothed woman accompanied by her favorite animal, the ass. Since Vesta was goddess of the hearth she was also the patron goddess of the bakers of the city and, as the ass turned the millstone to grind the wheat for the bread, the animal became closely associated with the goddess. She is also frequently depicted holding a kettle (a symbol of the hearth) and also cut flowers (symbolizing domesticity). Like the goddess Bastet in Egyptian belief, Vesta was of special service to women but was popular with both sexes”

Well loved and respected for good reason.

Fire place by Milad Mosapoor [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

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