The Goddess Archetypes: The Vesta Myth
by Milky Way Maid
Recently I posted some brief entries on the asteroid goddesses; one was on a historical note regarding responsibilities held by the Vestal Virgins. Today I want to go back to the original myths and try to tease out some themes pertaining to each of these goddesses. (For this series of articles I am using the excellent Goddesses in Every Woman, by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.)
Next up: Vesta, aka Hestia. Let’s go up close and personal with Vesta, as we trace her life from birth onwards.
Vesta was the oldest Olympian, just as Mercury was the youngest. She was the first to be swallowed up by her father, and the last to be disgorged when Zeus rescued them all (Bolen, p. 118). Therefore she spent the most time sequestered away from the world, and this became her preferred milieu you might say.
PEDIGREE: First child of Rhea and Cronos. Was oldest sister to first-generation Olympians, and maiden aunt to the second-generation (including Mercury). She had a claim to a home on Mount Olympus yet was never found there; her spot was eventually claimed by the upstart Dionysus, but she did not protest.
HABITAT: At home, always at home. Never shopping in the agora, I mean mall. Quite happy puttering around the house doing chores, or focusing on her own spiritual development. Lets the world go away, far away. As the spirit of the home, she represents home and family as a sanctuary from the cares and stresses of the world.
FASHION STATEMENT: Never depicted in in human form, at least, by painters or sculptors, so we have no portraits per se; she is more a spirit than a living goddess. Young girls’ heads were clipped when they first entered the temple, and all of them were dressed in the same simple robes. Sorry, no fashion plate here, no jewelry, no nothing. We could call it ashram chic, I suppose.
SYMBOLOGY: Her symbols are often found together with those for Mercury aka Hermes. Often her symbol, a circle, hearth or ring, became a symbol for the feminine principle itself, while the pillar (adorned with male genitalia, the pillar was called a herm) became the paired symbol for the masculine principle. (Hearths and her first temples were round.) A Hindu counterpart that expresses this yin-yang pairing is the yoni (ring) and lingam. Hestia is the soul, and Mercurius was the alchemical spirit envisioned as elemental fire; together the represent spirit setting the soul on fire. This mystical fire “was considered the source of mystical knowledge, symbolically located at the center of the earth” (Bolen, p. 115).
She might be thought of as a candle in the wind, lighting her little fire one at a time to bring warmth, order and light to every household. She is a spirit yet grounded in the reality of earth-bound life, grounded by her rituals that make what would be drudgery, into sacred duties.
Another symbol besides the circle is the mandala, an aid in meditation to take one further into one’s real, inner self.
Animals: Deer and donkey. Bird: Nightingale, ibis. Insect: Spider. Tree: Laurel and oak. Emblem: Tripod. Pictured as nun or monk. Chakra: Pineal gland. Color: Ruby or lilac/amethyst. Direction: North. Element: Fire. Number: 144. Ray: First ray of will to do good, or the seventh ray of ritual. Icon: five-pointed star (which also happens to be Venus’ symbol).
RULERSHIPS: Hestia-Vesta is the goddess of the hearth, or more specifically the sacred fire itself in the hearth. A house or temple was not consecrated until the sacred fire (Vesta) entered. A bride’s mother lit a torch from her hearth, which was carried to the bride’s new home to consecrate it as it lit the home’s first fires. Another ritual was conducted when infants were five days old, followed by a huge banquet.
In my earlier brief post, I related how the Vestal Virgins also had the duty of guarding the wills of citizens. Final testaments were stored all over their temple, with different sections for Romans, Italians, and those further afield. Furthermore, the VV’s guarded the absolute privacy of the contents of these documents; no one could get a sneak peak at who was getting what from rich old Uncle Ned. So rather than security being under the domain of Vesta, I prefer to think that privacy itself was held inviolate by her maidens.
What other duties did she have? Geez, you can only do so much sweeping; but then again she finds a Zen-like harmony in putting a house in order. She also meditated; she focused on the “inner subjective experience” to use the words of Dr. Bolen. Like nuns, she performs all her work in the service of God. But we need to be able to get in touch with our real, inner selves to keep from being swept away in the onslaught of stimuli, phone calls, emails, advertising, and everything else that assaults our senses and judgment. Tranquility and solitude are preferable to the hustle-bustle of our cities. As the spirit of the home, she represents home and family as a sanctuary from the cares and stresses of the world.
MARRIAGE: Well, here it gets sticky. A Vestal Virgin who had relations with a man was guilty of desecrating the goddess, and was buried alive. Yikes! Hestia was courted by both Poseidon and Apollo, both suitors having had spells cast on them (by Aphrodite) to find demure Hestia desirable. But Hestia said nay to both and vowed to forever stay celibate.
However, Vesta-Hestia and Mercury-Hermes had a very unusual partnership. His pillar stood at the doorway, just as nowadays an intercom or some kind of communication or alarm system marks the threshold of public and private space. In many homes the family dog is the furry alarm, barking to announce a visitor. Mercury-Hermes not only announced visitors but kept distraction away so she could focus on her duties.
Taking care of her house and family provides meaning for Vesta; she notices that children are calmer and do better in school when the house is run in an orderly fashion. She is not generally ambitious for herself or her husband, but is content with what they have. She is not a servant to her family, let me make that clear. She serves but is not a servant. She does not need a husband or children to be fulfilled, and yet family life is fulfilling for each member of the family.
Dr. Bolen notes that “many contented traditional marriages are unions of a Hermes husband, who is a businessman-traveler-communicator-entrepreneur agilely negotiating the outside world, and a Hestia wife, who keeps the home fires burning” (Bolen, p. 123). Each spouse is allowed to do what makes them happy and trusts that their partner is holding up their end of the deal.
PERSONALITY: A Vesta-like girl may be very good at not being noticed! She may seemingly disappear even when in the same room with you. These daughters may seem to be pliable and compliant; they will do their chores and homework and then amuse themselves in their rooms quite happily.
Parents would do well to allow her some solitude, but also coach her in manners and deportment. Tell her what to say to Uncle Joe when they go visit, and so forth. She is quite capable of learning to be comfortable in any social situation, with people of all ages. She just doesn’t get too worked up if someone appears to not like her. She appears to be detached, sometimes even apathetic, but what she is, is centered in herself.
Assuming she does not enter a convent or ashram, a modern Vesta-type woman needs to acquire other skills and personas, usually via another goddess archetype like Ceres, Juno, Athena, Aphrodite, etc. The goddess Hestia, as Dr. Bolen points out, did not compete for golden apples or choose sides in the Trojan War. Now it can be very useful to be the one person in the office who stays above the fray; the office politics will probably not target you, and you can gain the trust of all your coworkers.
No one person is a pure example of any one goddess archetype. We are all combinations of two or three major components and possibly some secondary modes. Vesta women do need to learn how to express those other aspects of themselves in a healthy way in order to feel at home in the world. Parents should given their children a variety of experiences, including outdoor sports, summer camps, hobby clubs, music, academics, and creative outlets.
But Vesta will ever be in the world, but not of the world. And there is nothing wrong with that.
How might Vesta, the asteroid, operate in the various houses? The question becomes, where does she sacrifice herself in service to others? First House: Insecure in her own ego, Vesta in the first is self-effacing and self-abnegating. May give all the credit to her staff or crew or assistants. Second House: May be better at managing other people’s money than her own, because it is a sacred trust. May be good at being club treasurer, accountant or banker for that reason. Third House: Often gives the impression of being very solemn as a child, or older than her years. Becomes a good scholar as she matures. May teach children with learning disabilities. Fourth House: This is where she prefers to be, where she can uphold the traditional values of home and family. May wind up taking care of a senior or invalid family member at some point. Fifth House: This position may deny one children or the pleasure of children. If she has children, is kept too busy with work or other commitments to spend much time with them. May lose the ability to have fun, becoming less interested in amusement parks, spectator sports, etc. as she gets older. Sixth House: These natives will serve and sacrifice for their work. May be involved in remedial education, public health, visiting nurse, etc. Is usually very dedicated to her students/patients/wards. Seventh House: May take on the responsibility for the success or failure of a relationship, rightly or wrongly. Quite willing to be the silent partner in marriage or business. Eighth House: Spiritual lessons in relying too much on pooled resources (insurance, estate bequests, lotteries, the partner’s money). Again, may be better at managing others’ money than one’s own. Ninth House: Less likely to travel for pleasure; this is the type who will give away her boarding pass to someone who has to go somewhere on an emergency. Has ability with philosophy, law, and higher education, generally turned toward civil rights and fighting for the poor and down trodden. Tenth House: More likely to go into public service rather than the private sector, and non-profit or service organizations rather than manufacturing, etc. Eleventh House: Is willing to sacrifice personal ambitions and pleasures for humanitarian goals, for a group or club or organization. Twelfth House: May be involved in hospice or hospital service corps. May visit prisoners or people in other kinds of confinement.
PLEASE ALSO SEE: Article on the Pallas Athena myth and archetype at https://milkywayastrology.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/the-goddess-archetypes-the-pallas-athena-myth/