(Author’s note: This post kind of got away from me length-wise, so we’re going to go ahead and make it a two-parter! This first part will cover how I connected with Hestia and began my work with her, and then part two will break down my daily practice as it pertains to Hestia. Also, this post contains mentions of church and sin–nothing too intense or detailed, but if you have any sort of religious trauma I encourage you to take care of yourself and only engage when and how you feel ready. That said, let’s dive in!)
To say that my relationship with the whole idea of deity has been fraught is a bit of an overstatement, but it’s certainly been tentative at best. As the kids of a lapsed Lutheran and a lapsed Jew, my brother and I were raised fairly agnostic. We celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, and Passover in the same secular, tradition-with-no-belief-required way.
My first experiences with true capital-b Belief (other people’s, not my own) happened at my maternal grandparents’ Lutheran church. My grandmother especially loved to dress me up and take us to church with her, mostly because I think she enjoyed showing off her grandkids to her church friends. But I think at least a tiny part of her was hoping that her religion would stick to us more successfully than it had stuck to her kids. (My mom even suspects that she had me secretly baptized against my Mom’s will, which…I mostly just find hilarious now. I grew up to be a queer, polyamorous, witchy Unitarian Universalist…how’d that baptism work out for you, Grandmama?) I was a pretty impressionable kid, and when I accidentally knocked over a glass of milk and burst into tears because I thought I’d “sinned,” my mom decided that Lutheran church was Done until my brother and I were old enough to have a more nuanced understanding of the whole affair.
My parents, brother, and I started going to a Unitarian Universalist (UU) church nearby, largely so that my mom could shrug apologetically when my grandmother wanted us to stay over on Saturday night. “Sorry, we have church that morning, too.” Here was almost the exact opposite of my experiences at my grandparents’ church. The UU church created space for any and all beliefs. You could believe in many deities, one deity, no deity at all. You could even, as one of the reverends said about the afterlife, be “comfortable with the mystery.” On one hand, after the doctrine of my grandparents’ church, I appreciated not being told exactly what I had to believe and feel. On the other hand, it was right around this age when I developed a crippling fear of death. (I have no idea why–there wasn’t even a recent death in the family, I just got inexplicably morbid.) And because of that fear, I found myself desperate for a specific set of Beliefs that would comfort me. I was NOT, in fact, comfortable with the mystery.
I started to research different religions…well, religiously. (Sorry.) None of them felt right. As much as I wanted to believe in something, I kept getting tripped up on the belief part. Even when I started interrogating my Wiccan aunt about her faith (my first introduction to witchy stuff), my delight at the idea of magic and spells felt overshadowed by my uncertainty about the whole God/Goddess thing. I just didn’t feel any presence out there, and doing spells or saying prayers or any variation thereof felt…empty.
Time passed. We moved to a place that didn’t have an accessible UU church. I found non-spiritual coping mechanisms for my fear of death. And my need for any particular Belief System (deity or no deity) loosened in the face of more earthly matters, like college and romantic relationships.
Then my dad died.
This blog post is meant to cover my Hestia origin story, so I don’t have the space here to fully describe how losing Dad led me to explore and embrace my own unique spirituality. (Maybe I’ll do a full post about that at some point.) Suffice it to say, after I lost a beloved parent, I discovered tarot, which facilitated my entry into ancestor work. I had experiences with not only my dad, but great- and great-great-grandparents. For the first time in my life, I truly felt Presences out there talking to me. And that got me thinking about deity work again. I still wasn’t sure I believed that Persephone or Isis were tangibly running around in the cosmos, exactly. But I started to envision deities as characters that humans had created to encapsulate different forces of nature and the universe. It struck me that deity work could be similar to tarot, in a way. Tarot takes situations and feelings that every human being experiences and puts illustrations and (sometimes) characters around them. I don’t need to believe that there’s a flesh-and-blood High Priestess out there to connect with what she represents. Maybe deities could be similar.
So with a new angle on deity work, I began to feel out a relationship with Hermes. In retrospect, there’s no spiritual reason why Hermes and I would have made a good fit. But Hermes has long been my favorite mythological character by far. (Plus he gives me a nonbinary vibe. I have no justification for that, and I don’t need one. He feels enby to me.) There were some cool and meaningful moments, but overall, I never felt that bone-deep-Rightness that I did with tarot and ancestor work. After a few months, I decided it wasn’t fair to me or Hermes to try and force the relationship, and I let my experiment with deity work go for another few years.
Hestia entered my world in the most sideways and nerdy manner: Dungeons and Dragons. I was playing as a cleric, and since my character was a brownie (AKA a helpful house spirit), I decided that her patron deity would be Hestia, goddess of the hearth and home. And as I took my character through triumphs and tragedies, I began to realize what a perfect fit Hestia might be for me. I straight up believed I was a hobbit as a kid because I “preferred the comforts of home” the way hobbits do. Some of my favorite times are cozy visits with loved ones at my home or theirs. Bonus points if tea is involved, and I love finding the perfect tea for each of my people. Plus even though I’m an extrovert, I spend a lot of time at home because of my pain/fatigue limitations. What deity could more perfectly speak to those preferences and needs than Hestia?
One disadvantage that I encountered early on was how little there is out there for Hestia. Among all my witchy friends, I know people who work with Loki and Persephone, Bastet and Artemis. Although I know they’re out there, witches who primarily work with Hestia seem to be a rarity. And maybe that’s partly because of the mythology itself–there are only a handful of stories about her to begin with.
I can’t speak comprehensively about how she was worshiped in ancient Greece, but I wonder if Hestia overlooked by many modern witches for some of the same reasons the disabled community is overlooked. She isn’t out on the streets making big dramatic things happen. She isn’t calling down the thunder like Zeus or governing the underworld like Osiris. The work she does is quieter, more foundational, and easier to miss. In one of my absolute favorite books on disability justice, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, author Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha points out how many coping skills and accessibility resources we as disabled folks have to develop to survive. How much the abled world could benefit from looking to us for knowledge and skill sharing, despite how often it dismisses us out of hand. Think of how long disabled people were asking for work-from-home options, and how much the abled workforce protested that productivity would plummet…until the pandemic happened, and suddenly OF COURSE everyone was going to be working remotely, we’ll figure it out. Like the disabled community, Hestia’s value and power are easy to write off or dismiss, but they are incredibly important all the same.
My point in all this rambling is that there’s several reasons why I felt an initial tug towards Hestia, that sense of affinity with her. And although I’m only about six months into my journey with her, I can tell you that for the first time, deity work feels aligned and nourishing and Right for me. Do I capital-B Believe that she’s a tangible person looking down on me from somewhere? I’m not sure. And maybe I won’t ever be. But I don’t have to be sure to feel warmth and connection when I offer her the first spoonful of my morning tea. Whether she’s a literal being or a story to wrap around the energy of my home, she is a source of energy in my spellwork, and that’s plenty for me.
Now that we’re up to present day, I’m going to break the post here. The second part, coming in the next few weeks or so, will detail the ways I incorporate Hestia worship into my daily life. Don’t miss it!
Is deity work a part of your witchy practice? If so, what deities do you work with? And how did you come to connect with them? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!