Monday, April 23, 2012
Hearthfire, Heartfire, and the Goddess
Our ancestors knew what we've forgotten: that the Hearthfire Goddess—she who guards and protects the humble fires of our hearth—is truly the Guardian of all the Fires, from Sun's fires to Earth's heartfires and all those between, including our own inner fires. In one sense, She IS Fire and all other fires are manifestations of her. In fact, the awesome, transformative power of fire to bless, purify and change energy from one form to another is the power of the Goddess.
For thousands of years people were so well acquainted with this Goddess within the Hearthfire as the Center Point that they had temples to the Hearth Fire Goddess of the State, and Priestesses whose sacred duty it was to tend these State Hearthfires, which were the central fire, the focus, the hearth of the nation, representing its heart. The Vestal Priestesses of Rome served the Goddess Vesta in this way. In Ireland, priestesses tended Brigid's sacred fire that burned for at least 1000 yrs before it was extinguished by Protestant reformers. Tending the Sacred Hearthfires of the Goddess was everyday reality in both Temple and home.
The Hearthfire is the Heart fire, be it of nation or of our humble homes. But these hearthfires of home, of temple, of nations are but the sparks of a larger hearthfire, what I call the Cosmic Hearthfire: the Fire that is at the very heart of life. This Inner, Cosmic Hearth Fire is that from which all other fires spring and come into manifestation. It is this Fire, ultimately, that we serve, we who serve fire. It is the fire of Life itself.
Fire needs to burn. The Fire that is the Cosmic Hearth Fire manifests itself on this plane as Life—and it requires our service, our tending, to keep it going. To be alive is to burn with this power of fire. As Beings who are part of this Life Stream and not separate from it, this fires requires our interaction with it. Untended by us, this Cosmic Hearth Fire's manifestation on this realm will go out, or burn out of control in some way. It requires the service of priests and priestesses—dedicated to the Hearth—to tend and serve it. And by that wonderful principle of resonance, we serve this Cosmic Hearth Fire by serving our smaller fires, and our smaller fires by serving the Cosmic Hearth Fire. Every home hearthfire is a hearth of the Goddess. And what the service of fire entails is paradoxically a very big subject, yet simple at the same time.
(c) Margie McArthur, 1995
Hearts and Hearths
Our vital organs of digestion, respiration, and circulation are located in the warm center of the body, and work interdependently to sustain life. Heart is the center of all: its steady beating keeps oxygen/nutrient rich blood flowing throughout. Heart is Center. Energetically, heart has to do with giving and receiving love - lifeblood & nourishment of another sort. Heart is center. Heart is Fire. Heart is the center of the body just as hearth is the center of the home. Hearth is the heart of the home.
What has happened to our hearths? Do we have them at all anymore? I’m not referring here to simply the physical fireplaces and stoves. What is it that brings light, warmth and nourishment to us? What is it that unifies us as families, brings us together? Have our hearths turned into TV sets - one for each room? Video games? Our individual computer screens? Have our homes become houses—just places where we sleep, grab a bite, do laundry? Have they lost their "souls" or are they in danger of it?
And if this is how life has become for us individually to one extent or another, what does this say about the collective experience of hearth and home? What does this say about our culture and the soul of our culture - the fact that we no longer have hearths or consider them necessary? And if hearths—the soul of home, source of nourishment, light, and warmth—are dispensable, victims of the modern age, so then are hearthkeepers also dispensable. And those who kept the hearth and would keep it still, find their value to society has become economic, measured in dollars, cents and person-hours.
Think for a moment about the nature of fire. Fire consumes what is put into it. More than that, it transforms and transmutes what is put into it into other forms of energy. Things change form in a fire, never the same as when they go into it. Wood becomes ash and smoke, light and heat. Fire is the great ultimate purifier and transformer. Our ancestors knew and respected these qualities of fire. They made offerings to it, burnt incense, used it for blessing, purification, healing and magic. Because fire was important to their lives they knew it must be cared for, tended, lest the precious sparks be extinguished. Life depended on fire. Our lives today still depend of fire no less than theirs, though the forms may be different.
(c) Margie McArthur, 1995
The first fire is that of the Sun. The Sun shines down on us, providing warmth, light, sustaining life. Our Sun is the Center of our Solar system around which all else revolves. Some Native American traditions say that there's a piece of Grandfather Sun's fire inside Mother Earth in the form of Earth's molten, hot core.
Fire is central to our lives - even in this modern era. Fire provides light and heat. Thanks to modern invention most of us no longer huddle by our central hearthplaces or campfires for warmth in winter's chill as did our ancestors; still, fire is central to our lives. We have woodstoves & forced air heating, but the elemental power of fire is still there—behind the warmth provided. We have replaced torches and candles with electric lighting; still the power of fire is behind the light provided. And the power of fire operates within our bodies. We all know that our body temperature must stay within a narrow range of degrees for health to be maintained: too high or low indicates a problem of some sort. We use the power of fire to cook our food, and it is the power of fire that enables us to digest our food and thus maintain life. Fire brings illumination to our lives, keeps us warm, enables nourishment and thus life.
"Domesticated" Fire lives in the hearth; that is it's natural home. A hearth is a place that not only generates heat and light, but also is a place where we receive nourishment for body & soul. Indeed, ideas of nourishment, warmth, love and comfort are inextricably wound together around the symbol of the hearth. In the small homes of our ancestors, families gathered around the hearth for light, warmth and companionship. It is a natural and pleasant thing to gather around the source of warmth and nourishment—comfort. My family still does it, especially on winter nights.
This is all quite obvious, I realize, and not only that, but also basic—as in the sense of “basis of,” and "foundational." It has always been so. So basic in fact that we should not be surprised to find that throughout history our ancestors have honored the Goddess in the form of the Hearthfire Goddess. In Ireland it was Brigid, whose flame was kept by her priestesses in Kildare for unknown centuries. Hestia was the central flame and hearth of the ancient Greeks; Hestia’s Roman counterpart was Vesta, in whose temple young virgins served for 30 years, tending her flame, which was the Hearth of the Nation. In the Teutonic areas it was Mother Holle, the underworld goddess whose oven baked loaves of life-sustaining bread and who shook her featherbed to make the snow fly upon the earth. In Russia it was the fierce wildwoman Baba Yaga, whose whirling house contained her very important pech, or oven, in (or on) which she slept.
(c) Margie McArthur, 1995
Kindling the HearthFire
--from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica, 1911.
I will raise the hearthfire
As Mary would.
The encirclement of Bride and of Mary
On the fire, and on the floor,
And on the household all.
I will kindle my fire this morning
In the presence of the holy angels of heaven.
In the presence of Ariel of the loveliest form,
In the presence of Uriel of the myriad charms,
Without malice, without jealousy, without envy;
Without fear, without terror of aught under the Sun,
But the Holy Son of God to shield me.
Kindle in my heart within
A flame of love to my neighbor,
To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,
To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall.
O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth,
To the Name that is highest of all.
In 1994 my first book, WiccaCraft for Families: The Path of the Hearthfire, was published. Its original title was simply The Path of the Hearthfire.
As a mother, homemaker, and priestess, the Hearthfire and all it represents has always been very important to me. I wrote more about it in my second book, Wisdom of the Elements: The Sacred Wheel of Earth, Water, Fire, and Air (1998). The purpose of this blog is to share my thoughts about home and hearth, as well as the importance and significance of fire—terrestrial and celestial. I will be quoting from my books as well as my more recent writings on these subjects.