A Call to Hestia
By: Stephanie Zajchowski, PhD
We each have a story, and the COVID-19 pandemic is writing new chapters for all of us. My children are now home, learning from teachers through the technology we used to feel obligated to limit. My partner works for the airline industry, a field that does not have the option to work from home, and faces job uncertainty. And my own work is squeezed in between meal preparation, child management, and caring for surrounding family. It is from this space that I find myself attempting to contemplate a mythic perspective on the chaos that surrounds me.
In Greek mythology, Hestia is the fire in the hearth of the physical home with its shelter, food, and familial bonds. Certainly, the patterning of the day resonates with this idea of shelter — we eat, we try to sleep, we stay in place in order to protect. But the energy of Hestia goes deeper.
Hestia is the fire that enlivens our idea of home. This archetype is the heart that pulses in our own inner sanctuary. The silent, steady, constant center that grounds each of us when we are quiet enough to sense its presence. Even as all our worldly goods fade away, this home is the heart that remains. Hestia holds and protects this center even as the world falls apart.
In the Homeric Hymns, Hestia is invoked with Hermes. These archetypes are in relationship, both are necessary for human life. Hermes is travel, commerce, and communication, all of which have been constrained in our current situation. Travel has been limited if not restricted completely, job and economic loss have restrained commerce, and communication has become hyper-focused on warnings and statistics about COVID-19.
The pandemic has shackled Hermes, and forced us to adapt the archetype to a Hestian value system. Modern lifestyles have been Hermetic: never-ending movement, an addiction to being busy, and a constant saturation of information with a trickiness that hardly makes it actual communication. But when it comes to the home, physical or imaginal, Hermes remains at the threshold of Hestia’s domain. In the home, Hermetic communication and travel is bound to that which is required for the home. Travel is limited to attaining supplies. Communication is used to work, teach, convey information, and offer connection. Hermes is aligned with the values of Hestia.
I find Hestia’s connection to the darkness of not-knowing especially significant to this current moment. Hestia, like her siblings, is devoured by her father, Kronos. As the firstborn, Hestia lives in this internal darkness the longest, until Zeus tricks his father causing him to regurgitate his siblings. Hestia is the last to leave Kronos’ cavernous body. She sits in this space of nothingness and becomes the goddess of the center of life, the home.
Mythically, Hestia, with her heart fire that pulses in the daily life of “home” simultaneously holds space for not-knowing, for uncertainty. And it is in this way that I feel the most difficult and profound call to Hestia. The pandemic has created uncertainty, a negative space. Amidst the everyday acts of caring for my family, I am compelled to embrace this uncertainty, sit in an active unknowing, an apophatic prayer, or as John Keats named it, a “negative capability.” As I stare out into this abyss, I await possibility.
This virus has blurred all our boundaries—national, racial, gender, political, socio-economic—it equally connects us all. The world feels fluid, it is shifting, I sense it, even in my fear and uncertainty, even when I can’t see.