Vesta: Devoted Guardian of the Sacred Flame

Georges de la Tour, "Mary Magdalene with a Night Light"

Georges de la Tour, “Mary Magdalene with a Night Light”

I.“The chaos of the ancients; the Zoroastrian sacred fire, …; the Hermes-fire; …the lightning of Cybele; the burning torch of Apollo; the flame on the altar of Pan; the inextinguishable fire in the temple on the Acropolis, and in that of Vesta; the fire-flame of Pluto’s helm; the brilliant sparks on the hats of the Dioscuri, on the Gorgon head, the helm of Pallas, and the staff of Mercury; … the pentecostal fire-tongues; the burning bush of Moses; the pillar of fire of the Exodus, and the “burning lamp” of Abram; the eternal fire of the “bottomless pit”; the Delphic oracular vapors; the Sidereal light of the Rosicrucians; the AKASA of the Hindu adepts; the Astral light of Eliphas Levi; the nerve-aura and the fluid of the magnetists; … are but various names for many different manifestations, or effects of the same mysterious, all-pervading cause — the Greek Archeus, or [[Archaios]].“

Madame Blavatsky, “Isis Unveiled“

Morris Graves, “Chalice”

Morris Graves, “Chalice”

II.That which always was

and is, and will be everlasting fire,

the same for all, the cosmos,
made neither by god nor man,
replenishes in measure
as it burns away.“

Heraclitus, translated by Brooks Haxton

Morris Graves, "Lotus"

Morris Graves, “Lotus”

Morris Graves, “Lotus“

III. 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!”

Written by the author of this blog: https://paganreveries.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/hestia-the-queen-of-fire-part-three/

Among Greek Gods and Goddesses, Hestia (the Roman Vesta) was worshiped as first born and last born. She was the first daughter of Cronus (Saturn) and Rhea, the first to be swallowed by her father, and the last to be brought back to life. Hence, she can be viewed as both the primal and the final archetypal principle, much like the fire she was the guardian of. She never married, preserving forever her mystic purity; she never took part in any ceaseless conflicts of other gods and goddesses, as if she had deliberately removed herself from the vicissitudes of the temporal world to stand as a guardian to eternity. The temples of other deities were usually quadrangular, but Hestia’s was circular and covered with a dome, the circle being the symbol of unity and eternity that she stood for. In his Greek Myths, Robert Graves acknowledged her primordial quality when he wrote that the very first image of the Great Goddess was in fact non-representational but just “a heap of glowing charcoal, kept alive by a covering of white ash, … (which) formed the natural centre of family or clan gatherings.”

Reconstruction drawing of the temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum

Reconstruction drawing of the temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum

The Greeks believed that the centre of their world lay in Delphi, where the Oracle was located. This was the navel of the world, where Hestia was worshiped along with Apollo and Poseidon. Her sacred fire was viewed as the burning hearth in the centre of the ancient Cosmos. Both in Greek and Roman homes and temples the sacred fire was tended religiously. According to Plutarch:

“And in case by any accident it should happen that this fire became extinct, … then, afterwards, in kindling this fire again, it was esteemed an impiety to light it from common sparks or flame, or from anything but the pure and unpolluted rays of the sun, which they usually effect by concave mirrors…”

via http://www.hellenicgods.org/hestia

Flavia Publicia, statue to Vestal priestess

Flavia Publicia, statue to Vestal priestess

In this way, Hestia connects the fire of the centre of our solar system with the fire burning in the centre of the Earth. Dionysus of Halicarnassus wrote this of the Roman goddess Vesta:

“And they regard the fire as consecrated to Vesta because that goddess, being the earth and occupying the central place in the universe, kindles the celestial fires from herself.”

Via https://archive.org/stream/romanantiquities01dionuoft/romanantiquities01dionuoft_djvu.txt

Also Porphyry saw Hestia as a goddess of the earth, but he distinguished her from Rhea and Demeter in this way:

“The ruling principle of the power of earth is called Hestia, of whom a statue representing her as a virgin is usually set up on the hearth; but inasmuch as the power is productive, they symbolize her by the form of a woman with prominent breasts. The name Rhea they gave to the power of rocky and mountainous land, and Demeter to that of level and productive land. Demeter in other respects is the same as Rhea, but differs in the fact that she gives birth to Kore by Zeus, that is, she produces the shoot from the seeds of plants. And on this account her statue is crowned with ears of corn, and poppies are set round her as a symbol of productiveness.”

Porphyry,“On Images“ via http://classics.mit.edu/Porphyry/images.html

Hestia seems to symbolize the creative, enlivening spark in all nature, the undistinguishable spark of creativity in the very center of our soul, while Rhea and Demeter are connected with the manifest productivity of nature. Hestia presides over all ceremonies aiming at purification, centering on our soul with full devotion, reigniting the divine spark of creativity, preserving and creating the warmth of our personal sacred space, be it home, homeland, or the inner sanctuary of our soul. She calls us to center on our inner spark of divinity – the harmonious and unchanging part of our individual unique being. Tending to that fire brings us warmth, light, harmony and illumination.

Like every archetype, also this one has its darker aspect. It is connected with the ancient Rome and Vestal virgins, who may have enjoyed an elevated social status in comparison to average women, but who were cruelly punished for breaking the vows of chastity and also for letting the sacred fire be extinguished. The punishment consisted in the perpetrator being whipped and subsequently buried alive after a public ceremony (an echo of Vesta being the earth goddess). This is what may happen when archetypes are interpreted literally and not in symbolic terms. The virgin as an archetype is understood as a woman who is self-contained and one-in-herself, not chaste in sexual terms; the fire actually burning in the temple was just an external, profane representation of the archetypal sacred fire which can never be extinguished because it is tended by none other than Vesta, the guardian of the innermost things, as Cicero referred to her.

John Weguelin, "The Obsequies of an Egyptian Cat"

John Weguelin, “The Obsequies of an Egyptian Cat”

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39 Responses to Vesta: Devoted Guardian of the Sacred Flame

  1. litebeing says:

    Funny that you chose to post on Vesta today. Just finished an astrological consultation with someone who has a prominent Vesta placement. So Vesta is on my brain 🙂
    You did a great job describing this Goddess that I find to be elusive and enigmatic.

    peace,
    Linda

    • Lucky coincidence and thank you for saying that. I think Demetra George described her astrological meaning brilliantly. I was moved by Vesta moving into Pisces because I actually have my Vesta in Pisces.
      Love,
      Monika

      • litebeing says:

        in the 8th house? Is she prominent?

        Vesta is not that active in my chart as I cannot even recall her placement off hand.
        But whenever an asteroid is prominent in a client’s chart, i go to town. I am a big fan of Gauquelin and what I like to call the 4 power points within a 10 degree or so orb. And I am a fan of George’s work as well. love, Linda

      • Yes in the 8th house with Lilith and both squaring my Sun and Mercury, but also making some nice trines to soften that. I think Vesta is very important in every chart and only now we are waking up to the fact that size does not matter in astrology and symbolism. I know so little about Gauquelin. Forgive me for divulging this but I see that your Vesta is on top of the 12th house in Capricorn. I have a vague recollection that Gauquelin made a big deal of 12 house placements.

      • litebeing says:

        Cool!
        I was too lazy to look at either one of our charts , but figured you might do that for me! 😉 I think he does consider the 12th house important when any placement is about 10 degrees away from the ascendant( ie, the power points ASC, DESC, MH, and IC). I will revisit my Vesta placement as I could have overlooked some significance. Gray was instrumental ( you were also) in helping my appreciate the significance of my finely placed Ceres. Timing is everything and when the student is ready the teacher appears. And of course so much is hidden from view in one’s 12th house,

  2. Alethea Eason says:

    Awful things happen when people take what is symbolic and try to make it literal.

  3. According to Demetra George chastity was imposed upon the Vestal Virgins with the onset of Patriarchy. Indeed, the performed a task sorely missing from our culture. The Roman culture mirrored our own in its militarized stance. Warriors spent time with the Vestals in order to cleanse them of their PTSD and enable their re-entry into society. https://books.google.com/books?id=LGThprOnsR0C&pg=PT141&lpg=PT141&dq=demetra+george+on+the+vestal+virgins&source=bl&ots=I8JlfUAmFK&sig=FmYbvPkg6ypQa0R128gn1vT71Xk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=8JAYVfutLYfwoATXloHwDg&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=demetra%20george%20on%20the%20vestal%20virgins&f=false

    • Thank you very much for pointing that out and you are absolutely right of course. I have got Asteroid Goddesses and think it is such a wonderful book. I wish I had included the information you added because it really is crucial.
      Best,
      Monika

  4. Maria F. says:

    Very interesting Monika, I see her as the goddess of fire, aware of her strength as long as she kept the fire burning pure (chastity), in harmony with the celestial sun, which also ruled over the night. These are intriguing symbols as to why fire (the star, the sun) became the ‘torch’ of the night, to be revered as God.

    • Maria F. says:

      As to interpreting “Mary Magdalene with a Night Light” by Georges de la Tour, I would say there is that fear again of the darkness (=sin), yet the flame illuminates her “pure”, as long as it keeps on burning…

    • Yes, very intriguing.
      Thank you for saying that about Mary Magdalene. I think she was such a beautiful and pure being both in darkness and in light. I think she embodied Vesta in many ways.
      Thank you very much for commenting.

      • Maria F. says:

        You’re welcome, Mary Magdalene was pure at heart, so I now understand that not all Vestas were virgins. The painting is intriguing, however, her holding a skull, I was thinking of how could that be interpreted.

      • I do not have any ready made answers but I have always loved that painting. in fact ever since I was a girl. I know it has been interpreted along Christian lines as her repenting her sins and such or as the skull being symbolic of Christ’s death. I was struck that this particular painting willed itself to be included in the post on Vesta. I thought of the suffering of Vestal virgins who broke the rules and were whipped (there is a scourge on the table covered in blood) and sentenced to death (the skull).

      • Dewin Nefol says:

        Hey Monika,

        An artful post as always, and very much enjoyed thank you.

        I think your response to Maria’s comment is quite accurate, and if I may also add a line or two (straight from Wiki) to reinforce your point…the Skull is a ‘memento mori’ – “remember (that you have) to die” – taken from the medieval Latin theory and practice of reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. It is related to the ‘ars moriendi’ (“The Art of Dying”) and related literature. Memento mori has been an important part of ascetic disciplines as a means of perfecting the character, by cultivating detachment and other virtues, and turning the attention towards the immortality of the soul and the afterlife.

        In art, ‘memento mori’ are artistic or symbolic reminders of mortality. In the European Christian art context, “the expression… developed with the growth of Christianity, which emphasized Heaven, Hell, and salvation of the soul in the afterlife.” Or to put it quite simply…’Death becomes us’.

        And a last thought…following The Annunciation, one wonders if Mary knew of Christ’s fate? If so, then perhaps one is without words to describe her sense of unbounded courage, pure faith and unfathomable grace.

        Namaste

        DN – 31/03/2015

      • Thank you for the addition – I appreciate it very much. I thought of Hamlet and “Alas, poor Yorick!”
        I am not sure whether Annunciation is relevant with Mary Magdalene?
        Best
        Monika

      • Dewin Nefol says:

        Yes indeed…thanks for the correction 🙂

        ‘Alas poor Yorick!’ A great line.

        DN – 01/04/2015

      • Maria F. says:

        I see the scourge. Thanks for adding this information as I now understand the painting better and what she went through!

      • Maria F. says:

        I love the “Memento mori” phrase, and also thank Dewin for this phrase. I was listening to a Buddhist podcast last night about “Dependent Origination”, and their way of explaining immortality is by describing “enlightenment”. Those who don’t attain it, continue in the “wheel of life” (birth and rebirth) which they consider “dukkha”. So they get away from Christianity in the sense that one does not repent from sins, but rather “transcend” their actions to become “enlightened.” Maybe it’s similar.

      • Dewin Nefol says:

        A beautifully placed and discerning sentiment, thank you Maria F.

        DN – 31/03/2015

      • Maria F. says:

        You’re welcome Dewin.

  5. Pingback: Vesta: Devoted Guardian of the Sacred Flame | lampmagician

  6. lampmagician says:

    Excellent ♥♥♥

  7. Great post, Monika. One of these days, I will read Isis Unveiled 😉

  8. Beautiful reflection and musing on Hestia/Vesta, and whose hearth and heart fires require such devoted tending once again. So lovely to visit with her again today through your wonderful post! Blessings, Jamie

  9. Pingback: Tending the Heart-Fire, and The Space (and Place) You’re In | Sophia's Children

  10. Amy Campion says:

    Thanks so much for this. I have often felt Hestia such an overlooked and misunderstood goddess. While others were adorning themselves, partaking in exciting adventures, falling in love, betraying and being betrayed, Hestia stayed apart from such things, and tended the hearth… in some tellings she seems almost meek, dull by comparison. These versions have frustrated me, being examples (I feel) of exactly what happens when we neglect the central fire and allow the warm center of our community, family and spirituality to be extinguished. The forgetting and mis-remembering of Hestia and her hearth fire represent to me our over-all neglect of the sacred feminine, our societal devaluing of family, home and the role of women. As we journey out into the world, we must ensure some part of us always tends the inner fires. Maybe it takes time in the dark and cold of the wilderness to appreciate the safe warmth of home…

    • Thank you very much for saying this! She did keep herself apart only because she had such a crucial task to perform. Perhaps other gods or goddesses were more conspicuous but it was her who shone with the real spiritual light right in the spiritual centre.

  11. Spiral Light says:

    Reblogged this on Weaving Among The Stars.

  12. As always, things I haven’t considered. Beautiful collection of images and words. Very much enjoy reading the comments. And this: III. A Philosophical Hymn to Hestia.

  13. hocuspocus13 says:

    Reblogged this on hocuspocus13 and commented:
    jinxx ♣ xoxo

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