The Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies
Conference 2003 Highlights
The Goddess Hestia: An Archetype of Personal and Social Ecology
Carl Jung believed that building a link to the center of the human personality was one of the great needs of the modern age. In classical times, the goddess Hestia was the goddess of the hearth, and the sacred fire in the center of each home. Her presence was felt wherever her fire was lit, and she consecrated rituals such as moving to a new home, marriage, and childbirth, etc. The Grecian geocentric view reflected a basic psychological condition: people experience the world as revolving around themselves. Often psychologically beneficial, this perception places oneself at the center of one's life drama and provides a greater feeling of being "at home" in one's skin; such a centered life feeling is reflected in people's social behavior. The exile of Hestia from Olympus, and the later movement from a geocentric view to a heliocentric view, was psychic disasters for human psychology.
In Greek thought, Hestia was generally paired with the god Hermes. A sort of marriage existed between them, though Hermes never crossed her threshold. Psychologically, this union allowed for both the connection with the hearth as center, the protection and defense of it by a powerful male force (both in women and men); it provided an archetypal representation of living in and exploring the world creatively, yet always returning to the role of protecting the hearth.
The Hestian concern for the hearth was largely replaced by the Apollonian spirit of moving outward. This change allowed a tremendous horizontal expansion in human culture and thinking, but the inward dimension of connection with the deep center was lost. Feeling this connection is a necessity for a lasting commitment to an ecological life approach. A tie to the center is a tie to the earth, one's home. Hestia's absence has left a void at the center, which people try to fill from outside themselves, often damaging both individuals and the earth in the process.
II Myth and Geocentrism
The mythic landscape that one grows up in, whether understood as myth, religion, commonsense, or scientific fact, informs a person's inner world of imagistic representation and the typical forms that one's thoughts take. As Joseph Campbell says, our first twelve years are spent in an outer psychic womb grown and maintained by our society and our personal environment. Each day, the child's quickly growing psyche is fed in this womb by the stories, images and events that swirl around it. A society's laws, institutions, leisure activities, work, and its style of education, etc., all present a child with a life orientation that daily shapes her psychology. No images affect the youthful psyche so much as those images that have holy or cosmic associations with them. In these images a community projects its highest values and greatest energies, so they most captivate the enthusiastically growing psyche.
In ancient Greece, as generally in European countries until Copernicus, the dominant view of the cosmos was a geocentric view of the heavens – the view that the heavens revolved around the earth. This view of the cosmos was naturally introjected into peoples' psyches (By "introject," I mean the psychological process of bringing outer experiences, values, ideas or images into one's psyche and creating inner representations of them. It's a necessary part of psychological growth though it can also cause psychological difficulties). People saw the dominant city in their country as the center of the world – Delphi in Greece – and saw themselves as the center of that city. An ancient saying says, "As above, so below." When one places one's planet at the center of existence, one places oneself at the center of that existence. The geocentric view is factually wrong, but it aids psychological health.
The dominant views of a society always have a partly religious aspect. In classical Greece, the philosopher Aristarchus first articulated a heliocentric theory about the cosmos, asserting that the earth rotated around the sun. He was brought to court and charged with religious impiety. The religious implications of such a view of the cosmos were quickly felt. Where a society's myths go, its psychology follows. In European history, Galileo, fearing the Inquisition, recanted his heliocentric view, and when Copernicus articulated his heliocentric theory, he was also charged with impiety. The personal psychological corollary of a heliocentric view is a personal introjection of oneself moving around a center outside oneself. This can be a psychological disaster: one can lose the connection with one's inner center when the representations of being the center are removed.
In Classical times, Apollo gradually ascended in importance, bringing an interest in linear horizontal and vertical movement. Additionally, in the Greek Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses upon Mount Olympus, Hestia ceded her place to Dionysus, the god that is torn apart, at the end of the 5th century B.C. The removal of Hestia from daily consciousness and the removal of the earth from the center of the cosmos damaged people's mythological and psychological ability to envision and connect with their own psychic center. In a sense, as Hestia's influence faded, the archetype of the center, as experienced by individuals, was torn apart.
III. Hestia, Hearth, and the Center
The Greek word "Hestia" is translated "hearth." She didn't represent the hearth. She was the hearth—the ever-burning fire in the center of each home, and the central gathering spot in the house for all familial and communal activities. Likewise, at the center of the city, burned a fire sacred to Hestia, providing a communal focal spot. In all important temples, a fire consecrated to Hestia burnt, honoring the only god or goddess who had a personal relationship with all the other major deities. When a city launched a colony, a fire was brought from the host city's sacred central fire, to the newly established colony's central fire. Whenever a woman married, her family lit a torch from her mother's hearth and brought the fire to the Hestia of the newlywed's house, lighting it. The contemporary passing of the Olympic torch is a remnant of the passing of the Hestian torch.
This concern with the hearth emphasizes the psychological importance of the center. When there are outer images of the center worshipped by one's community, they are introjected into a person's psyche and imbued with a religious importance. When such images are lacking in a culture or not inspired by projections of power and importance, the individual is not culturally provided a bridge to his own center. Unless some outer or inner event necessitates the creation of an inner path, the individual lives unconcerned with connecting to his own center, its importance not felt. The opposing tendency of linear movement outward and upward then presents itself as the normal course of action, risking fragmentation of the psyche. We see the results all around us.
Jean Bolen describes Hestia as ". . . an archetype of inner centeredness. She is the still point." As one connects to the center, one connects with this still point. The center of any system is an energetic, attractive force for the other contents of that system. When sufficiently strong, it draws outlying objects towards it. This dynamic presents itself in the psyche as well as in the physical world. Jung says the Self serves as the organizing center of the personality. Disparate complexes, archetypes and memories are drawn to the service of the Self when it shows sufficient strength. Having an archetype of the center powerfully active in one's life makes the establishment of a vibrant healthy psyche much easier. When the psychic center is weak, the inner complexes and archetypal figures become increasingly autonomous, resulting in inner conflict and fragmentation of the ego's power.
In the physical world, we see examples of the attractive force of the center in the behavior of the atom; in the political realm in which large states conquer and/or dominate smaller, weaker states; and in the economic realm where large corporations swallow up smaller corporations on a seemingly hourly basis, drawing forth to themselves the influence and control that such wealth brings. These are just a few of many possible examples.
It is often an inner lack of a psychic connection to one's center that necessitates this outer push towards material, political and economic accumulation by individuals. Missing a feeling of a center, a person tries to project himself as an attractive force in the material world, drawing objects and people towards himself. Sometimes, the only psychologically experienceable demonstration of a person as a center of existence is through continued accumulation. Children generally begin life with a certain feeling of inner unity. If a culture's myths do not provide and support the image of a center, this unity can be lost. Jung says that once inner unity is lost, it becomes the goal of the psyche to regain it. If a person has not the understanding, or opportunity to achieve this reunification on the level of the psyche, it will be projected onto, and lived through, the material realm via an ethic of acquisition. Without help, people often seek to create this center on their own: motivated by a feeling of inner necessity, they put together some practice that connects them with a psychic center. The creation of the center is a fundamental task of Jung's individuation process. In Jung's psychology, a person re-creates sacred images of this lost center through studying his dreams, through active imagination, and through other creative work.
In Greece, however, the goddess Hestia was the cultural image of the center that any individual had ready access to. The hearth has been described as the symbol "of community, of home, of marriage between man and woman, and of love . . . "(Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, p. 483). Such a symbol, while alive and culturally important is a cultural achievement available to all community members. The Greek city of Delphi was called the Omphalos--the naval of the earth. It was thought that all parts of the earth rotated around this navel. At Delphi, the largest temple was dedicated to Hestia. Throughout Greece, both the temples and individual homes were held to be unholy until sanctified by a visit from Hestia. Before all meals in Rome, the salutation "to Vesta (the Roman counterpart to Hestia)" was uttered. This goddess of the hearth was a daily presence in the Classical world.
"Vesta" means, in Latin, "focus." Focus and concentration are essential aspects of Hestian mythology, of having a connection to one's center. Another important aspect of Hestia is her virginity, which can be re-stated as her personal unity, her intactness, and her unwillingness to have any center but her own. Hestia had to make a special bargain with Zeus in order to insure that virginity. Three gods tried unsuccessfully to rape her: Apollo, Poseidon, and Priapus. Apollo's attack may be restated as the attempt of cold, detached rationalism to overtake the personality. Poseidon's attack could be said to be an invasion of watery emotionality and unbalanced unconscious material. Finally, the well-endowed and eternally ready Priapus, poster boy for Viagra, can obviously be connected with sexual lust and desirousness. All three of these particularly strong psychic and physical forces unsuccessfully tried to disrupt Hestia's focused life in connection with the center. How many of us would give much to be able to maintain such balance, concentration, and centeredness amidst all the disruptive powers of life and experience?
IV. Hestia and Hermes
Essential to the mythology of Hestia, particularly when looked at through psychological and ecological lenses is her connection to the Greek God Hermes. Hermes is a strong masculine force, but one very different from the detailed, rationalistic Apollo. Hermes tends to have a circularity, or a there and back aspect, to his adventures. He is connected with many activities, including travel, communication, transformation, healing, music, commerce and the power of the working creative mind. His wit and adventurousness are central to his myth, likewise with accomplishing what he risks. In compensatory fashion, she was sometimes called the oldest God and Hermes the youngest, and they were often represented together. Hermes, however, always stood at the threshold, enforcing her boundaries, and never crossed into the hearth. There were neither conjugal relations between the two, nor any attempt at any. Bolen says that Hermes brought fertility into Hestia's realm while keeping evil out
In a psychological sense, a potential risk of a well-centered life might be stasis. Should one achieve a feeling of inner unity, one's personal center and hearth can become an exclusive focus, so that one ignores the outer environment. Pairing such an existence with Hermes mythological love of travel is a psychological stroke of genius. Ginette Paris says that Hermes is present everywhere that contact is established with others. Hermes thrives on the worlds of novelty, adventure, and change. The Hestia-Hermes pairing presents an image of the inner and outer realms dynamically in balance. Neither discounts the world of the other. Of the two deities, despite the patriarchal bent of the Greeks, Hestia was considered the more important. This Hermes-Hestia connection is central to correcting the sometime contemporary view of Hestia as an uninspiring homebody or "just a housewife." The well-centered life is anything but ordinary.
As an archetypal image, Hestia is as important to men as to women. In Jung's elaboration of the anima, he details the power that the feminine half of existence holds for men. In our culture, we continue to discount the importance of the Feminine Principle, and seem to particularly loathe the whole notion of a related principal of centeredness and focus. This lack is, if anything, more apparent in men than women. Our culture also seems to confuse the archetypal feminine with human women. In Jung's framework, which can be verified by daily observation, both human men and women have masculine and feminine traits. An archetypal model of male and female powers in dynamic and compensating balance, so well exhibited by the Hestia-Hermes pairing, is terrifically needed in our culture.
V. Ecological Aspects
It's a present-day ecological axiom that in order to truly treat the earth well we must conceive of her as our mother, as many primitive tribes seemed to. The reasoning behind the axiom is that most people would not befoul their environment if they've formed an intimate familial relationship with it. According to Paris, Classical Greece had three goddesses specifically worshipped as both mother and the earth: Gaia, Demeter, and Hestia. Gaia was the earth as primitive, non-human geological principle; Demeter was the fertile earth as giver of food and sustenance; and Hestia was the Earth mother in specific relationship to human society. Hestia symbolized humans working in sympathy with each other and with the earth. She represented the translation of the ecological system of the earth into human society. This value of respecting and imitating the natural systems of the earth, even amidst the needs of civilized society, is a value surely lacking in modern culture.
Hestia represented the center of the home, the center of the city, and the center of the earth. In connection with this Mother as center of life, people naturally felt at home in their place, in their lives. One must feel at home in oneself and in the earth to feel the urge to protect it, for any length of time. In the glimmering of the Hestian fire, the city's central gathering place was found. She provided a warm and protective communal spot where people bonded. Jean Bolen says that Hestia symbolized ". . . continuity and relatedness, shared consciousness and common identity." This was a communal identity connected with thoughts of mother earth. In the realm of Hestia, people found a place of intimacy not available elsewhere. In this intimate relation to a community fire, a feeling of kairos time (which can be considered "archetypal time") was experienced that psychologically nourished and renewed the individual. Hestia's first priority was to bring people together. The communal fire at the center of the city would be introjected into the individual psyche as a style of social relations, orienting her later behavior. In Greek stories, Hestia balanced the excesses of the other deities and so was invited into all other temples. The Hestian embrace seeks an amelioration of the archetypal excesses that occur in the living of life.
Despite the thrills of society, we are prisoners of the organic systems of the planet. Hestia provided a wisdom and a knowing geared towards balancing the needs of society and environment. We must accept that we are bound to our home, the earth, in order to feel connected to it. Jung says that being bound to the earth is the basic requirement for growth. As above, so below. The connection to a household hearth sacred to a mother goddess would naturally be introjected into an individual. Once inside the individual, this inner hearth/fire representation will be projected onto the environment wherever the person is, as its absence will be. An absent inner flame is sought for elsewhere, beyond the boundary of the skin, by the longing individual. Seeking for the absent inner flame brings us back to the god Apollo, so strong in Western cultures. Paris says that Apollo never extends high or far enough to be satisfied. As Apollo's children, we seek to go ever higher, ever faster, have ever more power and ever more possessions. There's a widespread feeling that one will eventually get to somewhere that feels more like home, or provide the comforts that the archetypes of home and hearth promise to provide. The hungry look on the restless American face, ever seeking the lost center outside oneself is truly a yearning for the lost Hestia.
We can not bring back ancient religions or dead gods. This doesn't lessen the value that such divinities provided to the inner ecology for human life during previous ages. The daily experience of divinity, imaged as the central fire or hearth, seems an experience particularly lacking for many in American culture. Our dominant cultural institutions and images proclaim that this lack is utterly unimportant. The behavior of Americans and American institutions in many areas suggests this lack is daily felt: Crime; violence; the exceptional emphasis on consumerism; the ever-expanding trans-national corporations; resource exploitation of every part of the land, sea and air; the frenzied attempts at creating new technologies; and new virtual communities ever popping up --all suggest to me the psychological desire for the lost connection to the inner center.
We cannot bring back Hestia, but we can create images, rituals, prayers and new behaviors that daily address the powerful archetypal experiences that she symbolized. Doing so, it seems to me, has become a psychological necessity.