Hestia, Greek Goddess
of Hearth and
Hestia, Greek Goddess of the sacred fire, was once known as "Chief of
the Goddesses" and "Hestia, First and Last". She was the most
influential and widely revered of the Greek goddesses.
Though the goddess Hestia was once the most important of the Greek
goddesses, she (like her counterpart, the Roman goddess Vesta) is
virtually unknown today. Her name means “the essence”, the true nature
Scholars often refer to the goddess Hestia as "the forgotten goddess".
Because of the her association with hospitality, the word Hestia can
mostly be heard today used in the names of inns and restaurants, making
some people wonder if “Hestia” is the name of a franchise.
Unlike the other Greek goddesses, Hestia does not have a "story" . . .
there were few adventures to record about her. She simply "is".
Few images of the goddess Hestia exist. A very "private
person", her symbols, the sacred flame and the circle, are usually used
to represent Hestia in works of art.
Hestia's brief stories, retold here, are too scanty to instruct us. It
is her traits, not her actions, that most define her. These virtues
define the goddess Hestia: mild, gentle, forgiving, peaceful, serene,
dignified, calm, secure, stable, welcoming, and, above all else,
Of all the Olympian gods and goddesses, Hestia was the first born. And
also the last. This takes some explaining . . .
Her parents were the Titans, Cronus & Rhea. She was their first child.
But Cronus, made fearful by a prophecy that one of his children would
grow up to usurp his throne, quickly swallowed the infant Hestia (as he
did the brothers and sisters that followed) in order to prevent the
fulfillment of the prophecy.
Later, following the birth of Zeus, the grieving goddess
Rhea tricked her husband into swallowing a rock wrapped in swaddling
instead of the infant, causing him to vomit up all the babies he had
swallowed. First in, Hestia was the last to be disgorged.
Hence, the goddess was often called "Hestia, First and Last".
The goddess Hestia grew in grace and beauty and soon
caught the attention of the gods Apollo and Poseidon who both sought her
hand in marriage.
But Hestia wasn't having any of it . . . saying that Aphrodite's ways
(romance and marriage) were not her ways, she placed her hand on Zeus'
brow and swore an oath that she would not marry.
More than anything else, she wanted to follow a path
that was true to her nature and was of her own choosing.
She didn't require the trappings of power or adventure
(like Athena and Artemis, the other virgin, i.e. unmarried, goddesses).
She was perfectly content and fulfilled, being "Aunt Hestia", and
enjoyed being of service to her family and community.
Zeus, grateful that Hestia’s announcement had averted the possibility of
war between the rival suitors, not only supported Hestia’s wish to
remain single but decreed that Hestia’s name should be mentioned first
in any prayer and that she should receive the first portion of any
sacrifice and be honored in the temples of each of the Olympian deities.
So delighted was he with Hestia's decision, that Zeus handed her the
keys to the family home (Mount Olympus) and offered her the position of
manager, and with it the responsibility of running this vast estate
while the rest of the gods and goddesses wandered about in the larger
world having all sorts of adventures.
True to her nature, Hestia stayed at home, never leaving Mount Olympus,
always there to welcome the others and enjoy their “homecomings”.
The goddess Hestia never involved herself in the fights
and machinations of the other gods and goddesses, somehow managing to
stay above the fray.
Non-judgmental and forgiving, her “unconditional love”
and calm acceptance inspired the love and trust of others in return.
Dependable and caring, Hestia was always there for them and helped them
to manage their lives which were certainly more exciting than her own.
One of Hestia’s most important responsibilities as the
estate-manager was as “Keeper of the Reserves”, seeing to it that all
their clothing and equipment was in good repair and the the pantry
always full so there would be ample food and wine on hand when any of
the gods and goddesses returned from their adventures.
As keeper of the key to all the supplies, Hestia
efficiently managed the large household, pleasing all with her practical
One of the few myths of Hestia tells how the lustful Priapus attempted
to rape her as she slept.
As he approached her bed, a donkey (long since a symbol
of lust) began to bray loudly, awakening the slumbering Hestia. Her
screams awoke all the other gods and goddesses and sent the embarrassed
Priapus falling all over himself as he tried to flee.
Hestia is also known as the originator of the concept of “sanctuary”.
It was an offense to Hestia to refuse hospitality to a stranger. That
those in need were to be sheltered and protected from ill-treatment was
recognized by Hestia’s followers as a sacred obligation.
Special emphasis was placed on the requirement to not
“take advantage” of a female guest, presumably as a result of Hestia’s
experience with Priapus.
Hestia is often spoken of in conjunction with her friend and neighbor
Hermes, the god of communication and travel. They were polar opposites
in terms of personality—Hestia spoke little and stayed at home, while
the outgoing Hermes had the “gift of gab” and traveled to the far ends
of the world.
Though a marriage of such disparate characters clearly
could not have succeeded, they shared strong bonds of friendship. They
are remembered together in the Homeric Hymns (edited by H.G.
”…be favorable and help us you [Hermes] and Hestia,
worshipful and dear. Come and dwell in this glorious house of friendship
together, for you two, well knowing the noble actions of men, aid their
wisdom and strength.”
The circle symbolized Hestia (and her counterpart, the
Roman Goddess Vesta) as the "complete" goddess, the goddess who was
whole, "one complete within herself". Hestia was seen as, not only
psychologically "centered", but also as representing the center, the
center of the home and family, the city, and even the world itself.
The source of Hestia’s sacred fire was believed to be
the molten lava that burns at the center of the earth, connected by an
“umbilical cord” called the Oomphalos to the city of Delphi, a place of
great wisdom and spiritual energy.
The town hall, a meeting place for citizens to discuss
the community's affairs (a forerunner of western democracy), was built
around a hearth that honored Hestia.
The living flame of Hestia was tended constantly and
never allowed to die out, for it represented the energy of all life and
to let the flame extinguish was to invite a cold and barren existence.
When new “subdivisions” were developed, fire was carried from the town’s
hearth to light the fire of the new community, assuring its prosperity.
The Olympic Torch is just one example of the living flame that has
survived to modern times, though it is seldom recalled that it
originally honored the Greek goddess Hestia.
The ritual of a bride and groom lighting a candle together from the
flames of two candelabra to symbolize the creation of the “new” family
from their two “old” families derived from the ancient practice of
bringing Hestia’s flame from the bride’s mother’s home in order to
assure Hestia’s blessing on the union.
Every home had a hearth that was dedicated to the
goddess, and each day began and ended with a ritual requesting that she
protect and nurture the family within.
As the Goddess of Architecture, Hestia intended that homes should be
built from the center out, with the center being a hearth that contained
her sacred flame.
As part of the naming ritual, all infants were carried in a circle
around the altar of Hestia to secure her blessings. There was an altar
to Hestia in the center of every home . . . it was the fireplace, the
hearth, where the family gathered.
Hestia's vision of a house was that it should truly be a
home, a place where one's body, spirit, and relationships would be
nurtured and replenished. . . a place to "come home to" after exposure
to the cold and chaos of the external world.
Hestia is associated with the warmth and comfort of the
welcoming fireplace. Just as the flames glowing from the hearth soothe
us with their warmth and glowing light, the goddess Hestia gives us
security, peace, and comfort and helps us accept the truth of our lives
with inner grace.