Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sixth Night Festival

I've mentioned in the past that I hold a somewhat informal ritual on the 6th night of the lunar cycle in honor of Artemis. However, like Hekate's Deipnon, for a few reasons it's been a few months since I last celebrated it.

A few weeks back I suddenly felt compelled to make an offering to Artemis and spend some time mediating in a small meadow which I associate with her. During that time I promised that I would make a special offering to her at least once a lunar cycle until the end of the year (after that is to be determined), as that really is the very minimum I can do, and I should do more than that when I can of course, but if health issues prevent it, then at least that much I can do.

Last night was the sixth night of this lunar cycle, so I tried out a new recipe for little honey sesame cakes. They weren't bad, but I think I'd make them slightly different next time. I made an offering of the cakes and some sweet wine at the edge of the woods.

This morning I woke up to find that a bear had been in the backyard during the night. Now this isn't too odd, bears do live in the area, and I imagine they probably like honey cakes, but the bear is also one of Artemis' sacred animals. I try not to read too much into these things, as again it's not uncommon for bears to be in the area, but perhaps it's a sign that I'm getting back onto the right track with my practice.

Pagan Communities

I'm a solitary by choice, as I vastly prefer to practice on my own, but I do enjoy discussion and debate with other pagans online. Online discussion communities have been a real support for me since almost the beginning of my practice, well over ten years ago now.

I've seen a lot of communities come and go. Some I drifted away from before they fell apart, but others fell apart right before my eyes. I've seen this a few times because of admins on power trips, but most recently because an admin didn't have enough time for their forum duties (which includes approving new members), but also refused to work out something where others could help out. A few of us still hang around and chat a bit, but most of the community has left. It's unfortunate, as it was a really good group of people, and a nice mix of different beliefs and views. It's hard to lose a community you really cared for.

The last few months I've been exploring other communities. I haven't found any which I seem to fit in very well... One I'm a long time member of, but the conversation tends to focus more on 'mundane' things, which isn't bad in itself, but not usually what I'm looking for. Another is very love and light and nothing else ever allowed,which doesn't really work for me... the idea that using animal parts*, a drop of your own blood, working with spirits, or whatever else makes you the "wrong sort?" I dunno, I guess that's sort of why I've tended to avoid a lot of the more "neo-Wiccan" sorts of communities. On the other hand, some communities take it the other way, where only the strictest forms of reconstructionism are seen as "right." Heaven forbid you're a soft polytheist, because that's Wiccan nonsense... despite the fact that this view of deity has existed for thousands of years now.

(*This might become a separate post at some point, but this seems like such a hypocritical attitude unless the person is a strict vegan. Why's it alright for you to eat meat and wear leather, but I'm "too dark" and misguided for using a rabbit fur from a familiar source in ritual?)

It's not that I mind being in a community with people who have very different views than I have, but it's a bit tiring to always see your beliefs painted as wrong, bad, misguided, or whatever else.

I don't know. I'll probably stick around some of the communities I've joined, but I'm still on the search for some better fits.

On a similar note, I've noticed that almost all of the pagan blogs I follow are no longer being updated, some for a few years now. I guess it's also time to start looking for some new blogs to follow.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hestia, Day Twelve

12. Places associated with this deity and their worship.

The hearth itself was of course the primary place of Hestia's worship, as she was the hearth personified. The hearth would have been the center of her household worship, her offerings would have been made here, and if offerings to other gods were made at a household hearth she received a part of it. She also would have had an altar at the central hearth of a town-hall. In both the private and public hearths, it was seen as very important that the hearth fire remained burning at all times, except for particular times where it would be ceremonially extinguished and relit.

Hestia didn't have very many temples dedicated to her. There was said to be a temple of Hestia at Hermione, although it didn't contain a cult statue, only an altar. She also had altars in temples with/of other gods, such as the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Beyond that, Hestia was not just seen as the personification of the household or city hearth, but she was also seen in the holy fire that burned on any altar.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hestia, Day Eleven

11. Festivals, days, and times sacred to this deity.

It seems as if Hestia did not have any special yearly festival that was particular to her, although as has been previously noted, she probably received the first offering from a sacrifice done during any festival.

Hestia did receive some special attention during the Noumenia, a festival celebrated on the first day of the visible new moon, which was the first day of the month in ancient Greece. Hestia was honored on this day along with Apollon Noumenious, Selene, and the other gods of the household (which could vary from house to house, or from city to city, although in Athens this often included Zeus, Hermes, and Hekate). 

The Noumenia celebrated the beginning of a new month, and offerings were made in hopes that the household would be blessed for the month. Traditional offerings included honey cakes, barley cakes, fruit, wine, and garlands of fresh flowers.

In Athens no other festivals were allowed to take place on the Noumenia, because it was considered such a sacred day. It was meant to be a time to celebrate, feast with family, relax, and enjoy a fresh beginning.

Now I'm not a Hellenic reconstructionist, but in my personal practice I do honor Hestia on the new moon in a way that is inspired by the Noumenia - but that's a topic deserving of it's own post, at some point. 

Additionally, I've come to associate Hestia with both Imbolc and Lammas. Imbolc is celebrated during the dead of winter here. Most years there's still tons of snow on the ground, snow and ice storms are common, the wind is breaking branches off trees, and although you can see the days begin to get longer, spring won't truly be felt for at least another two months. It also tends to be a quiet and reflective time of year. All of that makes it a perfect time to honor the warmth and blessings of Hestia.

For many Lammas is a time of grain harvest, bread baking, and first fruits, all of which are associated with Hestia in some way, particularly bread baking. It's an interesting time to explore that aspect of her.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hestia, Day Ten

10. Offerings – historical and UPG.

Historical sacrifices to Hestia include cows that were a year old, as well as fruit (such as apples, figs, pears, and plums), particularly the first fruits, olive oil, sweet wine, and fresh water. It is possible that pigs were also sacrificed to Hestia. Hestia is said to have received a small first portion of any sacrifice made to any deity, often a bit of fat.

Hestia was honored at the household hearth, and this was said to be done by offering a bit of the family meal each day. Some say this was done for every meal, while other sources seem to imply that this offering would likely be part of the main meal of the day, supper. For many Greeks supper would have consisted of things like bread, vegetables, legumes, fruit, and fish. Meats like beef and pork were often special treats during festivals when a sacrifice had been made, but some were able to afford meat more frequently, or lived in an area where meat would be a bit more common.

The Orphic hymns suggest burning aromatic herbs as an incense for Hestia, which may have included things like bay leaves, lavender, chamomile, mint, coriander, and thyme. Frankincense was also likely a common incense offering.

My daily offering to Hestia tends to stick with the idea of giving a bit of dinner. The food itself is rarely traditional (the ancient Greeks probably didn't eat a lot of tacos, but I sure do), but the idea is the same, to offer a small portion of the meal (usually about a spoonful) before sitting down to eat.

For a larger celebration, I tend to stick to the more "traditional" things, like bread, fruit, cheese, olives, honey, salt, sweet cakes, fresh flowers, and so on. However, I have also found that offerings of rice, Japanese plum wine, myrrh, and sandalwood are also all appreciated - although I suppose none of those are really strange, they're all quite similar to the more traditional offerings of grains, sweet wine, and aromatics.

I have also found there's not much demand for non-perishable goods. Where I might put keys on Hekate's shrine, or waterfowl feathers on Artemis's shrine, the hearth shrine tends to remain simple and uncluttered.

Offerings don't always have to be of physical goods, of course. Mindfully keeping your kitchen tidy/home in order, or volunteering at (or donating to) a food bank are two ways one might offer their time to Hestia.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hestia, Day Nine

9. Common mistakes about this deity.

There's a myth I see commonly attributed to Hestia - that she gave up her throne on Olympus to Dionysos, that she did this to remove herself from the "drama" of the gods, or so she could focus on tending the hearth. It's a nice enough story, perhaps something Hestia might do, but as far as I can tell, this myth has no historical basis. I've dug through myths, hymns, and so on, and I have seen no reference to this in any classical work. (If someone knows of an actual historical source for this myth, please let me know about it).

However, in my digging I found a blog post about this very subject. It turns out that Robert Graves is likely the source of this myth, and I'm fairly sure I've written about him before, and the bad history that's come about due to some of his works. I've known for a while now that many of his stories are often passed around as historical fact, but I was still surprised to see that this myth was one of them.

Which is not to say that one shouldn't find meaning in the myth, or even include it in their personal path if they want to, but it's always good to know the origin of things.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Barking Dogs

Tonight is the first night in a very long while that I've celebrated Hekate's Deipnon. It is the first time since creating a permanent shrine for her in my home. It wasn't perfect. I forgot to offer any of the eggs I bought. I stumbled a bit during prayer. I couldn't leave the offerings where I wanted to, because the apartment complex was strangely busy for 11:30 at night. Couldn't burn the incense with the offerings.

But I left the offerings in a patch of mugwort by a small swampy area. I walked away and circled back around from the area, and suddenly there was a dog barking from the area where I'd left the offerings, despite the fact that there had certainly been no dog there just a minute ago. A baking dog (or dogs) is a traditional sign of Hekate's presence. As soon as I heard the baking a very strange feeling washed over me - some mix of reverence, joy, and a bit of fear.

Maybe it was just a coincidence, it's certainly possible, but perhaps it was also a sign that imperfect worship is still better than no worship.

Hestia, Days Seven and Eight

7. Names and epithets.
8. Variations on this deity (aspects, regional forms, etc.).

(Once again, I'm going to take two days at once to avoid making two very short posts...)

Hestia doesn't have many surviving epithets, the few I've been able to find are:
Boulaia - of the Council
Presveira - the Oldest
Pryeaneia - of the Prytaneis
and perhaps "first and last," which I have not personally seen appear truly as an epithet, but it is used to describe her in a hymn, and could be used as such.

Hestia does not have any particular aspects or regional forms that I'm aware of. I suppose Vesta might be considered by some to be a regional form, but I personally tend to consider them two different goddesses... Either way you wish to look at the relationship between the two, Vesta was part of day six, so you can read about her connection with Hestia there.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hestia, Day Six

6. Other related deities and entities associated with this deity.

Hestia has minor ties to two other Greek deities. First in some areas she had links to Athene, due to both goddesses being virgin goddesses, and sometimes sharing a few similar (although not often actually overlapping) domains. Hestia also has ties to Demeter, as both are goddesses of baking bread. 

Herodotus, a Greek historian, equated the Scythian goddess Tabiti with Hestia, perhaps because of Tabiti's link to fire. Tabiti was apparently the chief deity of the Scythian pantheon, was a goddess of fire and the sun, and perhaps had links to the dawn, as well as being a goddess of animals.

Hestia is also equated with the Roman Vesta. Both were goddesses of the hearth and hearth fire, and both played roles in household religion because of this. However, while Hestia did have ties to the hearth of the city, and perpetual fires were kept in her honor, the Romans took this further with their dedicated priesthood of Vestal Virgins, who watched over Vesta's eternal flame in her temple, and tended to her formal rites. The Vestal Virgins had many duties in the state religion, as well.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hestia, Days Four and Five

4. A favorite myth or myths of this deity.
5. Members of the family – genealogical connections

There aren't many surviving myths about Hestia. I have briefly mentioned two of them on previous days, so the only myth really left to explore is that of her birth. Since that also gets into her family connections, I'm including that as well.

Before the birth of the Olympian Gods, the generation of which Hestia is a part of, there were the Titans. There were twelve Titans in the first generation, and Kronos ruled them. Kronos was told that he would eventually be overthrown by one of his own children (in most versions of this myth, Kronos overthrew his own father, Uranus, to gain his power). To make sure his rule wouldn't come to an end, he swallowed each of his children as his wife, Rhea, gave birth to them.

Hestia was the first born, and so the first to be swallowed by Kronos. Rhea also gave birth to Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon, and they met the same fate as Hestia. However, when Rhea gave birth to Zeus she hid him away, and tricked Kronos into eating a stone instead. Zeus grew up, and forced Kronos to throw up his siblings, who came out in reverse order they were swallowed. This is why Hestia is both the oldest and youngest, and why she is sometimes called "first and last," and why she was frequently given the first and last offerings at banquets and some other events.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Hestia was a virgin Goddess who never married, and did not have children of her own, although her siblings had quite a few children, and so she is related to quite a few other gods in that way.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hestia, Day Three

3. Symbols and icons of this deity.

Unlike many deities, Hestia is not associated with many animals, plants, or other symbols. The primary symbol of Hestia is the hearth, as Hestia is a personification of the hearth and hearth fire. The actual hearth fire is probably her strongest symbol, as she was thought to actually reside within it.

In art Hestia is often shown holding a flowering branch of an unknown plant. Some suggest it's the branch of a chaste tree, but there seems to be no real evidence one way or another. Hestia is also sometimes shown with a kettle (cauldron), which was of course used in cooking over the hearth.

Some sources state that the pig is Hestia's sacred animal. There is also a myth where Hestia is sleeping at a party, and another deities attempts to sneak up on her in an to attempt to rape her, but as he got close to Hestia a donkey started braying which woke her up. Due to this myth, some also see the donkey as an important animal to Hestia.

Hestia is shown in classical art as wearing long, flowing robes, and often wearing a head covering. The head covering has become an important symbol to some of her modern devotees, and some have felt called to wear a head covering during some, or all, or her worship, while cooking, cleaning, or doing other domestic chores, and there are some who have even taken to wearing it during most of their day. This is of course a personal decision, and not everyone who worships Hestia chooses to do this, or finds the same meaning in it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hestia, Day Two

2. How did you become first aware of this deity?

I suspect I picked up a bit of knowledge about who Hestia was from when we studied Greek mythology sometime in middle school. Hestia also frequently makes those deity lists you see in a lot of 101 books or on 101 websites, "Hestia: Greek goddess of the hearth and family."

I suppose I started to learn more about her when I moved into my first apartment and had the freedom of my own kitchen to begin exploring kitchen witchcraft more fully - particularly once I left Kemetic reconstructinism in 2007, and no longer had that tradition as the focus of most of my time. Hestia is mentioned in many kitchen witch resources, although rarely in great detail. I did not actively worship her at this point in time, however.

It wasn't until earlier this year that I actually began to become aware of her in more than an academic sense. I can't pinpoint exactly when it was. It is very hard to explain, but it's like when I knew Westya (a proto-Indo-European reconstructed hearth goddess) it was like knowing a part of Hestia, as well. Then when I was struggling to figure out which direction I should go, there was Hestia to make it clear. That is when I very clearly became aware of her.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

30 Days of Deity Devotion - Hestia, Day One

1. A basic introduction of the deity.

Hestia is a Greek goddess of the hearth and home. (Her name means hearth.) The hearth or hearth fire was not just a symbol of Hestia, it was thought she was actually present in the flame. Due to her associations with the hearth, she was a goddess who ruled over the cooking and baking done for family meals, as well as for larger banquets. As the hearth was considered the center of the home, Hestia was thought to be the center of every home, the heart of the home, and so also ruled over domestic life, and brought peace, happiness, and blessings to families. She was also believed to be the one who taught humanity how to build homes.

Hestia was also seen as the goddess of the sacred altar fire, and so part of every sacrifice was first offered to her. This is also true of household offerings, where the hearth would often also serve as altar for sacrifices to household spirits and other gods.

Hestia also oversaw the right order of the state. Each town or city usually had it's own central hearth with a sacred fire that was always kept lit. The city or town was seen as an extended family of sorts, and the central hearth ensured blessings to the community as a whole, so that the town would be unified and prosperous.

Hestia is considered to be one of the virgin goddesses. Both Poseidon and Apollon wished to marry her, but she swore to remain unmarried for eternity.

Taking on the 30 Days of Deity Devotion challenge, again.

So, over a year ago now (wow) I came across this project called 30 Days of Deity Devotion, which is basically a list of 30 blog prompts to answer on the deity of your choice. I started the list with Artemis, but never got around to finishing it for a number of reasons. I originally planned to pick up the project again with Artemis when I started blogging again, but I think with what's going on in my life right now it might make more sense to re-start the project and begin with Hestia. I do plan to get back to Artemis at some point in the net couple of months, I'm just working on a few things now relating to Artemis that I want to finish up before that.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Demeter and Corn

So there's a bit of confusion I see pop up now and again, and that's when corn doesn't mean corn. What is mean is, say you read that the Greek goddess Demeter is a corn goddess. If you live in America or Canada (or a few other places), you're probably thinking of this stuff here:
Image from the Wikipedia article on corn, "Cornheap" by en:User:Pratheepps
The problem is, corn (which for clarity's sake I'm going to refer to as maize), is native to the Americas, the ancient Greeks did not known it. So why is Demeter so frequently called a goddess of corn?

This is where we get into the second definition of corn, that is as a word for any cereal grain, or more specifically, it's sometimes used as a word to describe whatever the local cereal is. So corn can mean barley, oats, wheat, rice, rye, and yep, corn can mean maize as well in that context, since maize is a cereal.

So speaking broadly, yes, Demeter can be associated with maize, because she is a corn goddess, but in the context of ancient Greece corn refers to the local cereal grains, which would have primarily consisted of barley, but also included wheat.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


I should probably write a bit about my Lammas celebration, before it's all gone out of my head.

I wanted to make bread for Lammas, so I dug out an old recipe that I'd used successfully before. Unfortunately, it didn't really turn out this time, and I'm not a hundred percent sure why. I'm guessing either because the yeast was old, or because I didn't get the water temperature in the right range.

I ended up making some barley biscuits instead, and they came out better - although I'm still tweaking that recipe a bit.

After making the biscuits, I went out to try to make a fire. Everything was wet from all the rain we'd been having, so even though I had some dry logs from under the porch, there wasn't a lot of tinder left under there, and anything else was soaked. The fire pit bricks were also soaked. I managed to get a small fire going for a little while, and I offered two of the biscuits into the fire for Demeter and Hestia (both of whom have ties to bread making, and of course Demeter is also a goddess of grain and the harvest). During the ritual I promised both that they would receive a proper loaf of bread (that I would bake) before the next Lammas.

A year might seem like a long time to make a simple loaf of bread, but I don't want to just rush something out, or do it just because the deadline is coming up, you know? It's something I want to take my time with, and do when I actually have the time and can get into the right frame of mind to actually do it properly. Right now I'm thinking sometime in November I can set aside a day for this... The rest of August has it's own obligations, I'll be out of town for September and part of October, and then the end of October brings Samhain which has it's own activities.

Anyway, after the ritual I made a nice dinner with lots of fresh, seasonal foods... breaded fried fish, baby potatoes roasted in olive oil and herbs, roasted zucchini and summer squash, and beet greens cooked with a bit of salt pork.

Later that night after everyone had gone to sleep, I took some blessed water and sprinkled it around the house to purify it. This is not a normal part of my Lammas workings, but it felt like it was necessary to include this time around.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Animal Sacrifice

The topic of animal sacrifice is one that a lot of modern pagans tend to avoid, to the extent that at least one of the pagan message boards I've been a member of over the years has actually banned the topic. Even a hypothetical or historical discussion is against the rules.

I think part of this is a misunderstanding of what animal sacrifice entails. Common objections are that it's cruel to the animal, or a waste of food. Now to be fair, there have been many different cultures which practiced animal sacrifice, and they didn't all do it in the same way. Many cultures, however, brought the animal to the altar where it would be quickly killed, and then a part of the animal would be offered to a deity, or deities, and the rest would be shared among those present in a communal meal. In some cases, the part offered to the deities wouldn't even be a great part of the meat - in ancient Greece the more inedible parts of the animal were commonly the offering.

When I was younger one of my uncles raised pigs, and the whole family looked forward to the pig roast. He raised these animals with care, he knew what they ate, how they lived, and when the time came they were killed quickly. Family came from all around for this giant meal. I didn't even eat meat at the time, this was during my vegetarian years, but I still enjoyed getting to see all of my cousins, my extended family, getting to run around the fields, and of course who doesn't like side dishes? Now, no part of the pig was given as any sort of offering, but to me, that's really part of the spirit of an animal sacrifice. It's a family meal, where the Gods are honored as part of the family, as honored guests that we appreciate. The animals were killed anyway for the meat, does it really change much of part of the animal is given to the Gods?

Of course, most of us don't raise our own animals, myself included. (Although perhaps we fish, or even hunt? But that is a topic for another time.) While we can still certainly make offerings and have family meals, we no longer have that context where it would make sense to preform animal sacrifice. Still, when we do look at it in context, is it really that strange? Unless we're a vegetarian or vegan, we eat meat, and to eat that meat someone raised and killed that animal - and if someone chooses to raise their own meat, and they want to offer some of it... well, I just don't see why that's such a big deal. This shouldn't be the forbidden topic that it's often made out to be.