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Home Fire

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Home. We don't really know how we feel about it. We may reject the place that raised us and seek to escape its troubling pull. Or we may long for an idealized home and set out to find it. But home is something you can neither escape nor find in its perfection. Rather, “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” (Robert Frost) We can't avoid the imperfection inherent in living with those we haven't chosen. And even those we choose can disappoint us, and we them.

 

In ancient Greece, home and family of origin were highly valued, whether or not they answered all one’s needs. Hestia, goddess of hearth and home, stood for “family values”: sticking together despite differences, the better to obtain safety and abundance. Hestia herself sat silent by the hearth, without a story or an image to her name, as anonymous and faithful as Greek wives were meant to be.

 

In an earlier piece I urged my readers to accept our ultimately homeless state. I said there was no place of certainty and belonging to be had, no resting place for the part of us that seeks perfect security and reassurance. And it’s true that  homes of all types fail to meet the high bar we set for them, hungry as we are to be loved completely, sheltered by both human connection and spiritual conviction. 

 

And yet, and yet...we don’t cease to long, and I am a respecter of longing. As much as we roam like Hermes, eager to be free of bounds and boundaries, keeping company with those who don’t play by the rules (for Hermes was the god of thieves and liars), there is always that thread that ties us to an imagined or remembered version of home. There is always that tug on the heart that asks us to make home, come home, find home.

 

So what are we to do with that?

 

Turn home again of course, and take another look. As T.S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Hermes crosses boundaries, cheats and lies, but he also protects both traveller and homebody, guarding the crossroads and the threshold. It is he who guides the dead, leads the traveller home, and then stands to guard the door. For he too feels the call to return.

 

In Greek thought, Hestia has no image, no story, only her steadfast, silent presence. She cannot be defined, but rests at the centre of every home, every community, honoured in the fire that transforms the raw into the cooked, the cold into the warm, the dangerous darkness into the safe space where the wanderer must be invited to rest. Hers is the first morsel of every meal, the first libation of every public sacrifice. She is the basis, the center, but she is also undefined, mysterious. She is flame, which is not a thing but a process—the process of transformation and ceaseless change inherent in all things, the burning emptiness at the core of our experience. She is the silence that listens to all the thoughts and the space that holds all the memories, our witness and anchor. To come home to her, all we have to do is give in to what we are: formless, shifting, flame in the wind. Alone, unique—the same as everyone else.

 

How ironic that it is our willingness to wander and to burn, to die and be reborn, that leads us to the safety and support we so crave. How strange that it is our fellowship in suffering and impermanence that forges our connection with others. We are all drawn to circle round the flame, brothers and sisters coming home to the enigma of our true nature. We may wander, we may roam, but we never leave behind the longing that unites us all. And that is home.

 

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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.
 
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Comments

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Friday, 23 January 2015

    Really nice, as usual. How did you get to be such "a repository of (not so) useless bits of information on ancient religion"? Did you write a Masters or Doctoral Thesis on the subject?

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Friday, 23 January 2015

    So, tell us - HOW did you get to be such "a repository of (not so) useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar?" Are there Masters or Doctoral theses in your back story?

  • Archer
    Archer Friday, 23 January 2015

    I do have a rather futile Masters in English from a very long time ago, but anything I know about the rest is a result of being fascinated and reading whatever I could get my hands on, then subsequently explaining it to my husband when he needed help falling asleep.

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Saturday, 24 January 2015

    ;) Now that is funny! And I know exactly what you mean.

    Sorry about the double entry before; it looked like the first one hadn't "taken."

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