"Hestia, You who tend to the house of the holy lord, Apollo, the far-shooter at goodly Pytho, with soft oil dripping ever from your locks, come now into this house, come now having one mind with Zeus the all-wise --- Draw near, and withal bestow grace upon my song."
(Homeric Hymns 24.1)
Hestia, (Roman: Vesta) [in English pronounced "hess-tee-ah" and in Greek "ess-TEE-ah"], is the goddess of fire, the hearth, home, altar, and architecture in Greek Mythology. Hestia is a member of the 12 Olympians and is the oldest child and daughter of the Titans, Cronus and Rhea. Even though Hestia was the oldest child of her parents, she was also the last child to be vomited forth from her father Cronus after being swallowed and then rescued by Zeus. As such, Hestia is referred to as both the eldest and the youngest among her siblings.
In art, Hestia is portrayed as a beautiful, mature woman, in her 30s-40s, who is usually shown robed and with her head covered. She is often portrayed sitting while holding a flowering branch of the Chaste Tree in her hand.
Hestia is the perfect example of why the myths can not be viewed as being the ultimate authority on ancient Greek religion. The reason being is that Hestia has little to no presence in Greek myths yet we know that she was perhaps the most important goddess in the day-to-day lives of people.
In modern times, people have little concept of just how important the hearth once was. The hearth was a combination kitchen/fireplace/altar, where food was cooked and which the fire served to heat and light the home. It was also the place that daily household worship took place. This aspect was extended to the temple where Hestia was the personification of both private and public hearths and altars used for worship. As such, Hestia was mentioned first in prayer and received the first and last libation, offering and sacrifice in worship. Additionally, Hestia was also given a libation before and after meals.
As a virgin goddess, Hestia was one of three goddesses who were immune to Aphrodite's power. The other two virgin goddesses were Artemis and Athena. Despite her vows of chastity, Hestia attracted the attention of Apollo and Poseidon who both wanted to marry her. She turned them both down and asked Zeus to be allowed to remain a virgin for all eternity. He consented.
The fertility god Priapus, who was portrayed as having a huge and permanent erect penis, once attempted to rape Hestia as she slept. However, a nearby donkey became frightened when Priapus tried to approach the sleeping goddess and it brayed and woke Hestia up. Hestia was able to flee and in gratitude made the donkey one of her sacred animals.
As a goddess of the home, Hestia was naturally viewed as having sway over it's construction, and thus, was considered to be the patron deity of architects.
Although Hestia is normally portrayed as being one of the Twelve Olympians, there was no real consensus on just who the twelve gods were. As a result, various cities had different lists of deities for the Twelve Olympians. In some lists, Hestia has been replaced with Dionysus.
The poet/author, Robert Graves, invented a story by which Hestia willingly gave up her throne to Dionysus because she preferred to sit by the hearth fire instead. This story has become so popular that many people have failed to realize that it was an invention of Robert Graves and was not part off actual Greek myth.
In Greece, Hestia's priestesses were widows who were perceived to be beyond the marriageable age and who were tasked with watching over Hestia's sacred hearth fire. If by chance the fire was extinguished it could only be relit by using friction or with mirrors to concentrate sunlight. The tending of the hearth fire seems like a trivial job but the sacred flame was symbolic of basic human existence as well as civilization. The hearth fires of all homes were lit from Hestia's hearth fire. Additionally, the fire had to be transported to a new colony when such was founded.
The Romans called Hestia by the name Vesta and she was served by priestesses called Vestal Virgins who had to take vows of celibacy. If a priestess was caught breaking her vow the punishment was severe. The man would immediately be put to death and the priestess would be buried alive.
The Vestal Virgins' main job was to tend to Vesta's sacred fire which was believed should never be extinguished. The Vestal Virgins were chosen as prepubescent girls and were tasked to serve the goddess for 30 years, after which they retired, were allowed to marry and received a pension. The Vestal Virgins received benefits not granted to other Roman women, and had the right to own property and vote. The Vestal Virgins were viewed as celebrities and were considered to be extremely important to the safety, security, and continued existence of Rome.
Since most homes normally do not have a hearth, practitioners of Hellenismos and other modern day worshipers of Hestia, substitute a candle that has been ritually dedicated to the goddess. Unlike in the past, and due to safety concerns, the candle is normally not kept perpetually lit but is instead lit with accompanying prayer and then extinguished at the end of the ritual. Additionally, an oil lamp may be used. If a home has a fireplace then it too can serve as Hestia's sacred hearth fire. When worship takes place out doors an hibachi, fire pit or bonfire may be used.
Parents: The Titans Cronus and Rhea
Sacred Epithets/Aspects: Aidios (Eternal), Basileia/Vasileia (Queen), Bulaea/Vulaea, Chloomorphus (Green, Lush), Plymorphus (Many Formed), Polyolvos (Many Blessings), Potheinotati (Beloved), Prytaneia (Of The Public Hearth), and Voulaia
Sacred Color: (Orphic Mysteries: Red)
Zodiac Sign: (Orphic Mysteries: Libra)
Sacred Symbols: Fire, Altar, Hearth, Pot or Kettle
Sacred Incense: Frankincense
Sacred Offerings: Aromatic Herbs, Fruit, Libations of Water, Wine and Olive Oil
Sacrificial Animals: Pigs, Calves younger than 1 year old
Sacred Plant: Chaste Tree (The Chaste Tree in folklore has the reputation of subduing sexual desire.)
Sacred Bird: Crane
Sacred Animal: Donkey
Festival: (Roman: Vestalia June 7-15)