Hestia, was the daughter of Cronus, Titan of the Harvest, and Rhea, Mother of Gods. Part of the first generation of Olympians, she was the sister to Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Hades, Poseidon. Hestia is the first and last, oldest and youngest, of the children of Cronus. First born of the siblings, she was the first to be swallowed by Cronus in his attempt to circumvent prophecy and not have his throne usurped by his children. A Homeric Hymn from 700BC tells us that as the first to be devoured by Cronus, she was also the last to be yielded up again.
Hestia was a great beauty, a “queenly maid,” who both the Poseidon and Apollon asked for her hand in marriage, however Hestia refused and asked Zeus to let her remain an eternal maiden (unmarried). Zeus agreed, and she swore by his head to remain a maiden forever, in this vein her traditional sacrifices were cows no more than one year old. Zeus raised Hestia to a place of high honor and placed her at the center of the house, that which had the richest portion, as keeper of the flame of Olympus. Here she lived a life of service to her family and home. While Zeus was King of the Gods, Hestia could be considered to be the beating heart of Olympus. Zeus declared that among all mortal men she would be chief amongst the Goddesses.
Hestia is a Maiden Goddess, but she is also worshiped as a Mother-like Goddess because of her place at the hearth. The hearth was looked upon as the sacred center of domestic life, and Hestia the giver of all domestic happiness and blessings. As the goddess that ensured the right order of domesticity, she was believed to dwell in the inner part of every house, and in fact, to have invented houses.
Solemn oaths were sworn by the Goddess of the hearth, and the hearth itself was a sacred asylum where suppliants implored the protection of the inhabitants of the house. The hearth was the first place that guests were taken when entering a home, there they would be feed, warmed, and offered a change of clothes if need be, before continuing with the business at hand.
Because the hearth of the house is also the altar upon which household sacrifices were made, Hestia was looked upon as presiding at all sacrifices. As the goddess of the sacred fire of the altar, she had a share in the sacrifices in all the temples of the Gods. Due to her unique birth order, Hestia is given the first offerings at every sacrifice, and very last libation of wine.
To the ancient Greeks a town or city was an extension of family, and therefore had its sacred hearth as a symbol of a harmonious community of citizens and of a common worship. Supplicants were offered protection and sanctuary at the hearth. Ambassadors of State were brought first to the hearth of the city to be welcomed by the by the priests that would act as their hosts. This tradition continued through the Roman Empire, whose Goddess Vesta was nearly identical to Hestia. While the two share a background, the Romans embellished the worship of Vesta, and established the only full time religious order in Rome, the Vestals, to carry out her worship.
It is said that Hestia, being of a mild and self-sacrificing nature never took the time to pick a symbol for herself. She has the fewest ancient stories associated with her, and while she was perhaps the most important Goddess in ancient Hellas,
Today her mild manner has made her often the most forgotten. As modern Hellens we can extrapolate from ancient sources those actions and associations that may bring us closer to the Goddess Hestia.
- A Hearth
- A Flame
- A Circle
- Kitchen Witchery
- House Blessings
- Fire Opal
- Young Cows (Veal)
- Being Veiled
- Chaste Tree
- Service to the Gods
- Acts of Hospitality
- Acting As Host
- All Ritual Sacrifice/Offerings
- Candlemas/Imbolc (?)
Hestia’s virtues were believed to be: mild, gentle, forgiving, peaceful, serene, dignified, calm, secure, stable, welcoming, and, above all else, well-centered.
No specific festivals for Hestia, however she is a part of all festivals. Modern followers of Hellenic Gods might consider honoring Hestia especially at Imbolc or Candlemas.
To this day the Greek word for hearth is Hestia
- #13 Honor The Hearth (Hestia)
- #30 Exercise nobility in everything
- #43 Be accommodating in everything
- #67 Master wedding feasts
- #91 Live together meekly
- #97 Be courteous
- #107 Pursue harmony
Ancient Hymns To Hestia
Homeric Hymn 24 to Hestia (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th – 4th B.C.):
“Hestia, in the high dwellings of all, both deathless gods and men who walk on earth, you ahve 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, Argeiphontes [Hermes], son of Zeus and Maia, . . . 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 Kronos (Cronus), and you also, Hermes.”
Homeric Hymn 24 to Hestia:
“Hestia, you who tend the holy house of the lord Apollon, the Far-shooter at goodly Pytho, with soft oil dripping ever from your locks, come now into this house, come, having one mind with Zeus the all-wise–draw near, and withal bestow grace upon my song.”
Orphic Hymn 84 to Hestia (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
“To Hestia, Fumigation from Aromatics. Daughter of Kronos (Cronus), venerable dame, who dwellest amidst great fire’s eternal flame; in sacred rites these ministers are thine, mystics much blessed, holy and divine. In thee the Gods have fixed their dwelling place, strong, stable basis of the mortal race. Eternal, much formed, ever florid queen, laughing and blessed, and of lovely mien; accept these rites, accord each just desire, and gentle health and needful good inspire.”
Modern Myth: Hestia & Dionysus
Robert Graves claims in his book ‘The Greek Myths’, written in 1955 that Hestia gave up her throne on Olympus to make way for Dionysus. However, when reading the source material he cites, no such ancient story can be found.
From ‘The Greek Myths’ by Robert Graves (27.12):
“Finally, having established his worship throughout the world, Dionysus ascended into Heaven, and now sits at the right hand of Zeus as one of the Twelve Great Gods. The self-effacing goddess Hestia resigned her seat at the high table in his favour; glad of any excuse to escape the jealous wranglings of her family, and knowing that she could always count on a quiet welcome in any Greek city which it might please her to visit.”
In actuality, amongst the cities of ancient Hellas there was never a set grouping of the Twelve Olympians, what mattered was that there was a council of twelve, the Dodekatheon. Who resided on the golden thrones was subject to debate, and varied per location. While Graves is always known for spinning a nice story to fill in the gaps of history, and his tale seems like something fitting of Hestia, there is just no historic evidence that it is true.
Thank you for joining us for this discussion. The material presented is originally from Hestia Comes First, a White Oak Grove Hellenic CUUPS discussion with Kristen Kirk. ©2017 Kristen Kirk