Vesta: Goddess of the Eternal Flame by Estha K. V. McNevin
The Roman goddess Vesta is a magical Latin namesake of mine. Hers were among the first ceremonial fires that I lit as a priestess. As the patroness of all bakers, she is conjured into every loaf of bread, each cake, cookie, bonbon, and laddu that our temple handcrafts. Her sacred animal is the stubborn and hardworking donkey. Full of passion and purpose, the ass is agriculturally linked to wheat cultivation and millstone grinding throughout the Mediterranean.
From astrology and from the natural elements, ancient Romans derived a primitive domestic order to paganism. By using deities like Vesta to align domestic and civil routines to the seasons, months, and the days of the week, they structured society around the rulership of the planetary gods. Learning this extraordinary method of Old World magic, which is still inherent in modern ceremonialism, has led me to keep a light in prayer for the ageless, living goddess of fire in her innumerable forms. As Vesta, the matron of hearth and home, she is the keeper of the sacred temple fires. To her mighty rhythm of the earth, the radiant heart of Rome synchronized its beat.
A Roman by Any Other Genetic Marker
The patroness of fire is central to the temple, hearth, and home. Vesta is a Latin reflection of an even older Greek goddess, Hestia. Her cults were first established alongside our Stone Age mastery of domestic fire, somewhere in the Levant region: the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia. The Levant region is from where she also imports her sacred flower Vitex agnus-castus, or chasteberry, a medicinal treatment for menstruation cramps and labor pains. Along with her cut blossoms, the antediluvian custom of veiling was adopted as a mark of chaste modesty and devout civil service.
Vesta’s eternal flame politically picks up right where Homer tells us that cultural clashes of Greek civilization left off. Along with Etruscan and Minoan myths, the Gods of antiquity legitimized the political ambitions of fledgling Roman nationalism. In linking Vesta to Rome, the allegory of orphaned children served as a metaphor for natural survivalism, relating our reliance on a populous society to our need for civic duty to understand justice and urban subsistence. According to Roman historian Titus Livius (59 BCE—17 CE), it was from within the cave of Lupercal on Palatine Hill that the orphaned Romulus and Remus suckled from Lupa, the wild she-wolf who adopted the two as her little lost-and-foundlings.
According to the legend, Romulus and Remus’s birth mother, Reha Silva, was a victim of circumstance who was forced to serve as a priestess and virgin amongst the vestals of Laurentes Lavinates. She broke her vows for the amorous advances of the god Mars, conceiving the brothers at grave risk to herself. When her uncle Amulius ordered the twins to be killed, a twist of fate led to their narrow escape down the Tiber River from Lavinium. For this reason, Vesta’s oldest temple in the area was consecrated as the “mother fire” of the Roman state hearth and was a site where high-ranking officials poured their libations into the fires of Vesta on behalf of Rome.
Feed the Fire to Further the Future
The Latin word for “hearth” is focus, quite simply because fire played a key role in the lives of our ancient pagan ancestors. It was beneath the hearth that the first prehistoric European tribes buried their dead, giving the hearth an important role in European culture as the epicenter of community and family, both in this world and the next. Fire also made the hearth a type of magical altar with its otherworldly transmutation of wood into life-sustaining energy, transforming raw food into nourishing cuisine. Fire has long been a central focus of daily domestic routines. Ancient Romans also saw fire as a sacred life-giving and life-taking portal, leading to other worlds and alternate timelines.
Giving offerings of food, grains, wine, and other libations was a requirement of lighting a fire because it was seen as akin to evoking Vesta into the room. Offerings feed all the souls and spirits who are around a person working in their favor. The warm kettle and the patera (libation platter) were filled with water, wine, oil, or grains and were tipped to spill the offerings at the feet of a statue or on the base of the fire grate. Many devotees also made vows to Vesta annually. Veiling and chastity were required of both men and women in temple service for a duration of thirty years. More commonly, giving domestic offerings to seek Vesta’s blessings on March 1 was part of observing the return of the warmth and light of spring. Her feasting days on June 7 through 15 celebrated betrothals amid her warmth and seasonal generosity.
This ritual is a modern Eastern Hellenist invocation. It falls within the realm of Indo-European magic in that it is a fusion of many prayers to fire and Vesta. Here I have brazenly borrowed from Ovid’s call to Vesta and a Syrian divination prayer found in the Greek Magical Papyri. It is an attempt to restore, in English, a more complete concept of Latin Hellenistic magic as truly adaptive and an unabashedly universal system. Don’t be afraid, dear reader, to butcher the Latin with all the wild abandon of a modern barbarian. Google the correct brogue if you will, or simply stick to the English; it is your choice.
On a Tuesday, begin by bathing thoroughly in a saltwater bath to cleanse yourself before the ritual. Wear a long, red veil and appear skyclad before your home fireplace, gas range, electric fire, or central heating furnace.
In a large bowl, combine the following and wash down the mantle using this mixture:
12 bay leaves
1 cup distilled white vinegar
6 cups hot soapy water (using all-natural soap)
8 drops chasteberry oil
Install the family mantel by placing the following items on and around it with loving care:
3 small lamps fitted with tea lights
1 glass vase filled with fresh-cut flowers
3 family photos
7 springs of fresh thyme strung with red string and hung as a garland from the left to the right side of the mantel
On the floor just before the hearth, mix the following resins to create a seven sacred woods fire meze or offering. As you grind the resins into smaller, more uniform pieces and unite them, speak aloud the listed qualities that you would like to evoke in around your hearth:
1 tablespoon frankincense resin for protection, purification, and antidepression
1 tablespoon dragon’s blood resin for protection and clearing
1 tablespoon myrrh resin for dispersing hope, spiritual connection, and healing
1 tablespoon piñon resin for protection, healing, and nurturing new growth
1 tablespoon cedar resin for healing, spiritual strength, and nurturing courage
1 tablespoon benzoin resin (loban) for purification, blessing, and prosperity
1 tablespoon amber resin for prophecy, fortification, and antiseptic restoration
Light a charcoal patty (one designed for incense) inside a hanging brass censer and offer incense smoke to bless the hearth with the strengths, qualities, and wisdom of the great trees of the earth. Hang this from a hook in the wall or ceiling near to your hearth for regular use as needed.
When everything is in place, it’s time to invite Vesta. If you have a wood-buring fireplace then begin by placing a tablespoon of seven sacred woods resin onto your stack of kindling when lighting Vesta’s sacred fire. If your amenities are more modernized, begin by turning up the furnace or otherwise dialing up the heat on the gas range to reveal a steady flame or heat source for you to work magic with. Allow the warmth to wash over you until a cozy and fulfilling energy of security emerges from deep within.
Speak the following Latin and/or English prayer aloud seven times to draw Vesta forth.
O Domina Vesta, dare nobis fortuna!
Inflammet penates flamma foco.
Benedic omnia cum tua luce.
Dea Vesta, vivat en bonitas nostris fermentum receperint.
O Lady Vesta, give us a chance.
Kindle the flame of hearth and home here.
Bless us all with your light.
Goddess Vesta, live in the goodness of our warm welcome.
Asperge the edges of the hearth and any furniture nearby with rosewater to invite Vesta’s warm and loving blessing into the room.
Give the following call to Vesta with your palms facing the fire. Draw the warmth and light of the goddess as you ask her to fill your hearth and home with her auspices:
This spark is ignited in the present instant, in the name of Vesta, granddaughter of Gaia, daughter of Rhea and Kronos. I call upon the goddess of hearth and home. My lamps are lit in vestal reverence for the mysteries of fire, source of all color. I worship your immortality and grace, O lady of light.
Vesta, draw your eternal torch near, radiating your bright intelligence to warm and sustain this household. Appear veiled and glowing astride your donkey, attended by six dark-eyed Nymphae of the Levant, who devoutly foster your inferno. Stand your sisterhood of obscure vestal virgins along all of the corners and walls of my hearth. As they pour their corporal vapors from onyx urns, may they also decant a wholesome life into my fire.
By your Lares (fire spirits), guard and protect this portal of the underworld, permitting only good spirits to enter here. Entice the Panes (earth spirits) to bless our pantry and lead our beloved Lares (family spirits) to the familial cupboard shrine. May all good-natured Panes and watchful ancestors around this residence receive my affectionate offerings with all due respect.
With grace, daughter of the millstone, bake our bread in your precision, for it is sanctified by our labors and proven alone by your consent, sweet patroness of the banquet. Summon a sanctuary of knowledge and light in this place. Bright child of the earth, draw the vigor of wolves, bears, and lions to lay down in empathy for lamb, kid, and yearling. Becalm the restless spirits of the earth here and hallow our home as a place of peace. By my magic, fasten a sliver of your immortal life unto the confines of this hearth to consecrate our home.
O willful lady of fire, forever warm my kettle over your threshold of domestic harmony. By Saturn, bind fidelity and prosperity here. With an open heart I welcome collective family wisdom to warm my spirit and illuminate my mind by the cycles of the Moon. May all guests be made welcome to gather here, blessed by the light of the goddess Vesta, equal only to the Sun, in perfect love and perfect trust.
Vesta, keep our home fires burning; domum ignes custodiunt.
List the names of all who dwell in the home as well as any friends, coven members, or family members that you welcome frequently into your home in perfect love and perfect trust.
To activate the blessing, invite someone ’round for a long chat over tea or coffee; remember to serve bread and to place Vesta’s favorite offerings at her feet.
Use your mantel as a sacred altar for family magic and times of togetherness. Honor and observe it as a portal to other worlds by keeping it tidy. Choose to value your hearth as evocative of the mystery and wonder inherent in the powers of the goddess of hearth and home, and Vesta will live well with you and yours.
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