The first book that I have ever edited has now been published: First and Last: a Devotional to Hestia. I am proud of this work, as should every be every single contributor. Its completion also fulfills a rare vow that I made, to see this project through. However, Hestia has made her presence known in other ways this week, and it’s worth reflecting on it all in writing.
Writing is a lot of what I do professionally and spiritually, and occasionally both at the same time. One way that I blend the two is by keeping an account of offerings I make to the gods, which became a useful resource in writing a litany to my many gods. (Even if you don’t write ’em all down, you can write a litany too!) Other than getting two or three entries every day, Hestia’s presence this week in particular was profound: I ran out of room in my first book, and started the next. The last offering in the old is a portion of dinner to Hestia, and the first in the new went to Hestia Caffeina. Without planning to, the new book was started on a Sunday morning, which is a neat nod to the beginning of the modern week.
If you aren’t yet sure why I chose to name the Hestia anthology First and Last, it’s possible you haven’t been paying attention. I am not her priest, but I give Hestia first and last offerings like many of my co-religionists. For me, at least, she tends to manifest at times of beginning and end.
This week marked another last and first in my relationship with Hestia: her statue. Working with an incredibly talented sculptor, Joe Laudati, I commissioned a statue of this gentle goddess together with some partners. I now own the first one cast, which was the last step in the process of creation. Once I write an appropriate description this incredible figure will be available for sale, the first step in this statue’s transition from private to public life. She stands now upon my mantle, and her spirit is strong.
Fitting on the mantle was one of the criteria I wanted for this statue: there’s no need for a representation of Hestia if one has a physical hearth, but now that she is in that place of honor I feel like the room would be empty without her. Keeping that in mind, I believe, helped convey her role as hearth goddess into the final form of this figure.
It’s tempting to include flame in a statue of Hestia, and we wrestled with that idea. There are plenty of examples of sculptors doing just that, and I don’t think it quite works. If one puts a watermelon in a sculpture, the viewer thinks, “That’s a watermelon.” If one includes a flame, however, the viewer’s thought instead is, “That’s a representation of flame.” That difference didn’t work for me. A lamp might have also worked, but ancient Greek oil lamps still have a flame visible.
To convey her association with the hearth, the more subtle image of bread is used; she carries two loaves in one arm. At her waist is a set of keys, reinforcing that she is preeminent goddess of the home. Aloft she holds a bunch of grapes, which to some might seem an unusual choice. Flowers, to which she is clearly linked, also can fall short in sculpture. Grapes were selected to convey a full larder.
Hestia is veiled, this representing her choice to be a virgin goddess.
What makes this piece special to me is the fact that the bowl is separate. Hestia is the receiver of all offerings, and this ceramic bowl allows the user to actually give some offerings right there. Portions of one’s meal, as well as modest libations of wine and oil, “offerings least and greatest,” can be put in this offering bowl. It could even be used to burn incense on charcoal, but I would not recommend placing a candle there. While the bowl wouldn’t get damaged by a candle, other parts of this cast resin statue might. Otherwise, utilize common sense and wash the bowl when needed.