Mid-Summer Spiritual Purification with Vesta
“Daughter of Saturn, venerable dame,
Who dwell’st amid great fire’s eternal flame,
In thee the gods have fix’d their dwelling place,
Strong stable basis of the mortal race.”
Taylor’s Orphic Hymns: Hymn to Vesta
What’s in a name?
Vesta’s name means “torch” and was sometimes called the “Shining One” or the “The One of Light” and conversely some called her the “Lady of the Night”. She was the “Keeper of the Hearth”, the “Keeper of the Flame”, the “Lady of the Loving Light”, the “Goddess of Fire and Purity” and the “Guardian of the Hearth and Home”. Even though she was the “The Virgin Goddess of Rome” (“Alma Mater”, meaning the “Virgin Mother”), she was the mother of the world, known as the “Mother of Growth and Wisdom”. This “Queen of Heaven” was a “Lady of Peace and Loving Charm” who was originally known to the Greeks as Hestia, “The Dwelling Place”.
Vesta was one of the many Greek gods “adopted” by the Romans; she was a minor Greek goddess of the home and hearth-fire. Sometimes called Histie, her worship began no later than 800 BCE and lasted through Christianization in 400 CE. Daughter to Kronos and Rhea, Hestia’s name means both “a dwelling” as in a house, and “fire”; hence her worship at individual household shrines.
Hestia’s name came to mean a house or dwelling, but it started out as meaning “fire”. She was sometimes known as Ashta (“the woman”), “The Goddess of Fire”. Hestia took and oath to maintain her virginity and because fire is phallic, she was “married” to the sacred fire that she attended. So important was her job of tending the Sacred Flame that she missed an important Procession of the Gods. Another aspect of Ashta was “the Habitation of God” and it’s no wonder that later, as the virginal Roman mother-goddess Vesta, she was one of the goddesses that became the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
But, back to Hestia’s name. It is derived from “hes” or hese” which has two meanings; one is “to shelter” or “to cover” as in a house that shelters, and the other is “to protect” or “to show mercy” because Hestia is the “Protectress of the Supplicants”. Hestia was believed to dwell within the inner portion of every home and as such, she was the goddess of domestic life as well as the bestower of domestic happiness. It was even thought that is was her that invented house building. Like Hestia, maiden daughters of Greece tended to the household hearth and offerings of food and drink were made to her. This household devotion was not lost when the Romans “adopted” Hestia and renamed her as Vesta.
Like Hestia, the Roman Vesta was the virgin goddess of the hearth-fire and the home. The new additions were making her the goddess of the community and public fires as well as the sacred ritual fire. Another thing that Hestia and Vesta had in common was that they were not originally shown in human form. Virgil stated that it was easier to “feel” Vesta than it was to “explain” her. Ovid said that both Vesta and the Sacred Fire required no statues because Vesta and her fire were one. Later, when she was depicted on Roman coins, she was shown as a veiled figure. Other pictures of her show Vesta as a beautiful woman with a votive bowl and a lit torch in her hand. In time, Vesta had many statues throughout Italy, but her worship was focused mainly at the round temple in Rome. This was where the Sacred Flame of the gods was preserved by the Vestal Virgins.
Just like Hestia, Vesta was called the Shinning One and the One of Light which linked her not just to the fire, but to the sun and she was probably a Sun goddess. As both fire and Sun, she brought warmth to the Roman households, not only in temperature but also in emotion. Fire is a purifier, and as a fire goddess, Vesta was deity of purity and purification.
Hestia and her fire were worshipped in the home, but Vesta and the Sacred Flame was both a household guardian and a symbol for Rome itself. As the deity of ceremonial and domestic fires, the flame in her temple burned continually and no home was complete without her fire. Daily offerings were made to Vesta at the household hearth which was her non-public sacred place. At her public Vestalia festivals, however, she was worshipped with extensive celebration. Sometimes Vesta was called by the name of the goddess Venus because their rites were so similar.
Like Hestia, Vesta was worshiped as the mother. Hestia was wed to the flame, but Vesta also had a phallus-shaped statue in her temple. Vesta’s fires were kindled by rubbing wood, a symbol of male sexuality, together. Through this “consummation”, Vesta was goddess of regeneration as well as a symbol for the Roman state. Vesta and her Sacred Flame, the fire of the temple and the fire of the hearth, symbolized the renewal of the family and the Roman Empire.
Vesta’s flames, both in the home and in the temple, represented the intention of the people of Rome to regenerate just like their goddess; the continuum of the state. If the public fire in the temple were ever to go out, it was considered an ill omen because it was the safeguard of the Roman Empire; a possible end of civilization as they knew it.
Because of this, there were two main objects of worship for the Romans; the Eternal Sacred Flame that was kept burning in Vesta’s temple and the sacred Epidaurian Serpent, the Great Serpent of Fire. To the Pagans of Rome, fire-worship and serpent-worship were not necessarily separate, but they were both of great importance.
Because Vesta’s temple held this Sacred Flame, it was the most reverenced temple in all of Rome. Since so much depended on this flame remaining lit, the fire was heavily guarded. Like the Babylonian fire-worshippers, this flame was highly regarded by these Romans, until politics and a religious shift changed everything.
Emperor Theodosius, who reigned from 378CE-392CE in eastern Pagan Rome, had essentially abolished his own office by banning Paganism and the worship of Vesta in 380CE. Once Gratian, the Roman Emperor of the west from 375CE-383CE, abolished Paganism by decree throughout Rome, the “Great Fiery Serpent of Fire” was officially cast out of the temples. This also led to the extinguishment of Vesta’s fires and as of 376CE the Vestal Virgins no longer received state support. The statue and the altar of Victory were removed from the Senate House but the Emperor Theodosius spared all statues that were in public view. So strong was Paganism in Rome, although it was officially abolished, 424 temples were spared to satisfy the Roman populace even though it offended the Christians. Vesta’s worship began 400BCE (and earlier as Hestia, see above) and “officially” ended 400CE but her flame never really burned out; she and her flame survived by traveling to other lands and “becoming” other goddesses such as the Celtic Brigit. But before she had “nuns” in the north, she had Vestal Virgins in Rome.
There were six priestesses that kept the perpetual flame burning and these women were known as the Vestal Virgins. It was said that this Sacred Flame was brought to the Vestals to care for from Troy by Aeneas, a Greco-Roman hero, and it was given to him by the shade of Hector. It then lived in the only round temple in all of Rome and cared for the priestesses of the Sun, the Vestal Virgins.
Coming from good family backgrounds, they came to the service of Vesta when they were seven-ten years of age and held the office of the Guardian of the Sacred Flame for a minimum of 30 years. After leaving the family home, they called the convent their new home and they were cared for by the Mamaconas, the elderly matrons. If Rome was threatened by war, it was the Vestal Abbess who was the chosen person to negotiate peace. The Vestals wore white gowns with purple trim. They were highly honored, respected and trusted members of Roman society who enjoyed many privileges even though they were cut-off from the world that they once knew, including their family and friends. Besides maintaining the Sacred Flame, they also kept the wills of the Roman citizens and they were to ensure that the will was executed properly upon the maker’s death. Also, if a Vestal wished to set a condemned criminal free, she could do so without anyone questioning her decision. There was something that they could not do, and that was to break their vow of chastity and if it was proven that she had violated her oath, she would be buried alive.
The Vestal Virgins, as the priestesses of Vesta, offered no blood sacrifices but there was one day each year where blood did touch the altar of Vesta and this was during the horse festival. The October Horse, or Cut Horse (Equus curtis), was an annual horse sacrifice where the severed horsetail was taken to Vesta’s temple so it could drip blood on the altar. Vesta had holidays of her own and they include:
- January-February: Februalia, which ran from January 31st-February 2nd, was dedicated to Vesta. Notice that these are the exact same dates as the Celtic Brigit’s holiday Imbolc or Candlemas. It has been theorized that when Brigit was being explained to the Roman occupiers by the Brigantes, that they compared her to similar Greco-Roman deities like Vesta, Hecate, Minerva, Juno and Victory. Brigit had much in common with the Greek Hestia and the Roman Vesta, and once she was demoted from goddess-hood to sainthood and became Saint Brighid, she kept her eternal flame at her shrine, or convent which was tended by her priestesses, or nuns. It is also interesting to note that Minerva had a similar sacred flame kept alit at a sanctuary in Britain at Aquae Sulis.
- February: February had two more festivals; the Lupercalia which became our modern-day Saint Valentine’s Day, and the Parentalia and Feralia. The Parentalia and Feralia, which was held from the 13th to the 18th, was a festival of purification devoted to both Mania and Vesta. This was a time to honor the ancestors and a period of peace and love. All temples were closed and there was no feasting or weddings during this period of solemn rituals. Houses were thoroughly cleaned and offerings of food were left for the spirits of the dead. The Lupercalia, which falls on the 14th, tells the story of how Remus and Romulus, the founders of Rome came to be born. Their mother was a Vestal Virgin by the name of Rhea Silvis who was raped by the god Mars in her sleep. Knowing what would befall her is it was found out that her vow of chastity had been broken, she hid her pregnancy. Once the twin brothers were born, she placed the babies in a basket in the river. The basket found itself at the grotto of Lupercal and was discovered by a she-wolf. Taking in these children as if they were her own cubs, the wolf nursed and raised them until a human couple, a shepherd and his wife, found them. Lupercalia was a festival with themes of bond between mother and child. After this festival was Christianized, it was transformed into Saint Valentine’s Day and moved to February 14th.
- March: In ancient Pagan Rome, from March 1st to March 2nd, the Vestal Virgins doused and then relit the Sacred Flame.
- April: Because Vesta and her flame were the purifiers, during the Feast of Pales, the Palilia, which fell on the 21st, was the date for men and their herd to pass through the fire of purification.
- May: On the 15th, the Ides of May, the Vestal Virgins performed a ritual to regulate the summer’s water supply.
- June: June was a very busy month for both Vesta and her priestesses. They barely got any time-off. On the 7th was the Feast of Vesta, the Vestalia, her chief festival. The sanctuary of the temple was opened and the Vestal Virgins cleansed the sacred vessel (called a penus). Two days later, on the 9th, Vesta had another fest day, the Vestalia. The Vestal Virgins opened the sanctuary doors so the Roman wives that baked cakes of salted grain meal on their own hearth fires could walk barefoot to the temple to give them as offerings to Vesta. After eight days of such offerings, the temple was closed so it could be thoroughly cleansed. The refuse was deposited in the Tiber River and the Vestals reopened the temple for another year. During this time, on the 15th, donkeys were bedecked with wreaths. Finally, during the Mid-Summer Solstice, a time sacred to Vesta, the Festival of Vesta ran from the 21st to the 24th.
- December: As the protectress of fire, Vesta was said to rule the entire month of December.
The Asteroid Vesta
Discovered in 1807, the asteroid named Vesta has an energy pattern in line with Hestia and Vesta; the hearth and home. An asteroid is smaller than a planet, is usually found in belts, often consists of rock and frozen ice and is encompassed by the Sun’s orbit.
The asteroid of Vesta is connected to the Tarot card of the Temple Priestess. When working with this asteroid and this card, as Vesta to help you to better handle your commitments, to find meaningful work and ironically, how to integrate your spiritual and sexual energies.
There are many asteroids, but the ones that are the most commonly used by magickal practitioners are Pallas, Ceres, Juno and Vesta.
The Vesta Asteroid also has Angels associated with it and they can help you to develop your physical discipline, inspire you to create and to learn and share ideas. If you are the type of person who works hard just for the sake of what you are working on, they will be interested in working with you.
The Angels of Vesta
Like the Vestal Virgins, the Angels of Vesta are the guardians of the temple and like Vesta herself, they are protectors, in this case protecting the Shinning Ones. They light the lamps of knowledge and truth. They are also the Guardians of the Witches; guarding the secrets of the hidden children of the Gods, those who swore to serve and have dedicated themselves to positive undertakings. Like Muses, these are Angels of pure inspiration. Vesta Angels have three wings, athletic bodies with luminous skin, red hair and chestnut eyes. They wear crowns, anklets and bracelets of gold. Call upon Vesta Angels when aspiring to goals, to focus on the bigger picture, artistic endeavors or when working with the element of Fire. While obviously associates with Fire, Vesta Angels can work with other elements to help you work magick:
- Water; childbirth
- Water/Earth; to protect children
- As guardians of magickal women, all elements; to stop domestic violence
- All elements; pure power, magickal energy
- Earth; protection, money
- Water/Earth; protection, marriage, harmony
- As Temple Guardians; all elements, purification
- Air/Fire/Earth; guardians of knowledge, studying
Working Magick with Vesta
Here are some ways to work with Vesta during your magickal practices:
- Use Vesta Powder as a special effect in your cauldron flame. Vesta Powder gives you a small explosion, flames of various colors and “special effects” with the smoke. This is a great way to add some “oomph”!
- Vesta’s colors are red (symbolizing the life blood and courage of our ancestors), gold (symbolizing both “reaching high” and the qualities of the Sun), black (black is a protective color as it absorbs and it also represents the fertile soil of the earth) and white (symbolizing the pure energy of the Gods).
- Since Vesta is a goddess of fire, evoke her when making magickal talismans, ritual oils and candles.
- If you are making changes in your living situation, call upon Vesta to act as an overseer.
- Vesta and her fire are excellent purifiers, ask for her help with spiritual purification.
- Are you building or remodeling? In her aspect of Hestia, the builder of houses, Vesta can help with this project.
- Call upon her aid when meditating on a particular subject that would fall under her correspondence or when working on goals that will greatly transform your life.
- As a goddess of the hearth, hearth fire and home, evoke Vesta when performing magick concerning these themes.
- When facing major obstacle or completing big tasks, call upon Vesta for her wisdom and guidance.
- Is life feeling unstable or is prosperity on your mind? Call to Vesta for help with these issues.
- Vesta Angels are associated with the Priestess Tarot Card. To aid in your magick, use this card on your altar.
Ways to use Vesta’s Symbol:
- When setting goals you can embroider the Vesta astrological symbol onto the inside of your clothing or stencil it on your tools/equipment.
- Place it in your notebook when writing.
- Place the symbol in your sketchpad when drawing.
- Put it in a safe place in the office building.
- Place it on your front door or to the right side of the door (on the inside) to aid in the love and unity of the household.
- Paint her symbol on your altar stone to symbolize your service to mankind and the oath that you have taken.
To celebrate the Mid-Summer Solstice Litha, let’s tap into the energies of the ancient Festival of Vesta. Fire is major part of the Mid-Summer Solstice, so let’s focus on the purifying energies of the Fire element.
- Candles: red, gold, black or white. You may have some trouble finding gold candles this time of year as they don’t “come into season” for about six months and black candles are easier to find in the fall (for Samhain/Halloween). So, you may wish to choose either fire-red or an all-purpose white.
- Offering(s): the traditional offerings were food and drink. You can choose which kind of drink (you could chose fire-water or alcohol) and what kind of food. The traditional food items were hand-baked salted grain meal. In a pinch, you could use store-bought crackers and those are baked, are made of grains and have ether salt already in them or sprinkled on top.
- Priestess Tarot Card
- Vesta’s astrological symbol: you have a few options here, so don’t worry if you are not “artistic” (but Vesta is good at helping artists!). One option is to draw/paint the symbol on an object. Or, you could simply print the symbol out with your “sacred” printer.
- Fire-safe Cauldron or Thurible
- Pen and paper
Sacred Space or Circle Casting
Either create Sacred Space, or in the manner of your tradition, cast a Magick Circle.
Statement of Intent
To declare your intent for your magickal working, state:
“On the longest day of the year
I seek spiritual purification;
I enter into this without fear,
With fire I seek transformation.”
Call to the Vesta Angels
To aid you in your spiritual purification, at your altar, call upon the Angels of Vesta to guide you during your transformation. Place the Priestess Tarot Card on top of the Vesta symbol and say:
“Protectors of the Shining Ones,
Lighters of the Lamps of Truth;
Angels of the shinning Sun,
Shelter me underneath your roof.
Angels of the Vestal Fire,
Please aid me with my desire
To purify spiritually,
With harm to none, please help me.”
Call to Vesta
Light your candle and call to Vesta by saying:
“Guardian of the Hearth and Home,
Virgin Goddess of Greece and Rome,
Mother of Growth and Wisdom,
Lady of Peace and Loving Charm;
Lady of the Loving Light,
Shinning One burning bright,
Keeper of the Hearth and Flame,
I call to the venerable dame!
Queen of Heaven, the Dwelling Place,
I call you Vesta to this space.
Please aid me in this work I do,
Spiritually transformed, born anew!”
Place your offering upon the altar and say:
“Vesta, I give this offering to you,
Guardian of the Eternal Flame.
For purification, I give thanks to you,
Transformation without pain.”
Take up the pen and paper and make a list of those items in your life that you feel need transformation. Take as much time as you need. Take a moment to meditate on what you will do differently in your life to aid in these major changes. Ask Vesta and her Angels to be your guide through this part of your spiritual path.
When done, set the Cauldron/Thurible and place it next to the candle flame. Light the piece of paper and watch it burn in the Cauldron/Thurible while you chant:
“Vesta, goddess of purification,
Goddess of Fire and Purity,
Bring about this transformation;
As my will, so mote it be.”
In your own words and from your heart, thank Vesta and her Angels for their help.
Closing, clean-up and offering
If you created Sacred Space, feel free to commence with clean-up. If you cast a Circle, then in the manner of your tradition, close it down. Make sure to leave the offering outside overnight for the animals and the nature spirits.
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