Houstory Herd: Hestia, Goddess of Hearth and Home

In honor of Women’s History Month, we remember Hestia, the Goddess of Hearth and Home.

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Founder

This is a reprint of an article first published on the Houstory Hearth on December 12, 2012, and has become one of the most requested on our site. 

Before there was Houstory, there was Hestia. Literally.

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An early prototype of company logo — before we became Houstory.

An early prototype of company logo — before we became Houstory.

After the muse struck and we had shopped around the idea of the Home History Book with positive results, we figured the next logical step would be to give our dream company a real-life name.

In inspired fashion, Hestia came to mind.

I knew almost nothing about her at the time, but I learned that Hestia is the Greek goddess of Hearth and Home, charged with the important task of keeping the home fire stoked. Sounded like a pretty good fit for our company.

While I won’t go into the details of her birth (which like many God/Goddesses involves considerable oddness — in Hestia’s case being swallowed at birth and later regurgitated by her dear old dad), she is regarded as one of the 12 great gods of Greek mythology.

Specifically, she is goddess of domestic life. Of motherhood and child-rearing. She is the “mom goddess” – even though she never married. Curious that.

An early depiction of Hestia, Goddess of Hearth and Home

According to Wikipedia and other sources, she blesses one with domestic happiness. (Or withholds her blessing if not asked for it.) She is often thought of as the nicest goddess. As the goddess of the sacred fire of the altar, she feels comfortable in the kitchen and has a special affinity for cooks and bakers. Hestia has a keenly developed spiritual side and plays a special role in the rituals of the various gods and goddesses, always making sure that their temples are prepared and everyone is comfortable. She is a wonderful hostess.

While I’ve not seen it written down officially, I feel Hestia actually would have been very comfortable being the Goddess of the Heart. But that, of course, was a position firmly occupied by Aphrodite. So the next closest thing to the heart, she felt, was the hearth. While today we generally think of the hearth as simply part of a nicely designed fireplace, in historic times the hearth was essential. It was used for heating, cooking and cleaning. It was also the focal point for religious rituals. Both literally and symbolically, it was heart of the home.

Hestia and Aphrodite actually have an interesting relationship. Hestia rejected the marriage proposals by both Poseidon and Apollo, both much admired – and desired — “studs” at the time. She thereby rejected Aphrodite’s values and became, to some extent her Wikipedia article says, Aphrodite’s “chaste, domestic complementary, or antithesis.”

While the Goddess of the Heart and Goddess of the Hearth are both deeply loving beings, there often does seem to be some sort of inner war going on between them. Certainly their paths have been quite different.

One wonders if Hestia might not have been caught off guard at how much work it was going to be. Instead of passionately pursuing romance, lovers and adventures of the heart like Aphrodite, Hestia shouldered the heavier, more demanding job of making sure dinner was on the table, the home cleaned, the laundry done and the family and home operating smoothly. It was her energy that kept the family looking and feeling like a family.

Sandro Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus (aka Aphrodite) from the mid-1480s shows the goddess rising from a seashell.

While the work could be incredibly rewarding – phew! – it can also wear you out. As any modern day Hestia/Mom will tell you, the other heart — the fun loving, party-going, libidinous heart — often ends up taking a back seat due to physical exhaustion. (You hear about the same even happening with some stay-at-home dads (Baby Daddies), though most of them I know still seem to make time for Aphrodite!)

In her book Love Magic, Laurie Cabot describes the various personality archetypes and says that Hearth Goddesses, which in addition to the Grecian Hestia also includes Brigit, Cerridwen, Vesta, Hera, Isis, Hathor, Frigg, Arianrod, Nanna and Juno, are “very centered, inner-oriented women who develop great wisdom concerning the importance and meaning of everyday things.” While they can enjoy an active, rewarding love life, Cabot says for some Hearth Goddesses it’s often with more of a “take it or leave it” approach.

In the end, in naming our company, we found that Hestia had already found a couple suitors in the all-important world of Internet domains so we moved on and soon landed on Houstory, which also felt good at the time – and is feeling better and better and better every day.

Still, it was Hestia who called to us first. And we thank her. She’s done a wonderful job keeping the home fire stoked and helping us at Houstory establish a strong foundation for our young company. But the time has come to take off the permanent apron and put on your party shoes, girl! Because, just like here at Houstory, it’s starting to feel more and more these days like you actually can have it all.

I recently read a fun lesson plan that asked students to identify real-life modern day persons that possess the same traits as traditional heroes or figures from Greek mythology. Beyonce and Marilyn Monroe, for example, were mentioned as possible Aphrodites. Alas, Hestia, who never went in too much for the fame stuff, went  unclaimed. Any suggestions? Who do you think would make a good model for a modern-day Hestia? Leave your thoughts in the comment suggestion, below.

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

What is “The Hearth Herd.” It’s simply a roundup (or “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will generally focus on three things: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Environmental sustainability. If you see something that you think belongs in The Herd, we’d love to hear from you!

 

Family Heirlooms

Author: ABC News

Title: Woman reunited with heirloom wedding dress lost after tornadoes destroyed her home

Herd-Worthy Because: A feel-good story about the return of a family wedding dress after a tornado ripped through its owner’s home in Iowa. 

 

house history

Author: Washington Post

Title: Who died in your house? Here’s how to find out

Herd-Worthy Because: What can we say, it’s a popular question amongst many home history enthusiasts. We came across this article while trying to research a Web site called DiedInHouse.com — that for a modest fee — says it will search public records to find out if anyone has died at any valid U.S. address. As a bonus, the site says its search will also turn up any information about any fires or drug activity (i.e., was my beautiful old historic home — or the one I’m thinking of buying — ever a meth lab?) that took place on the property.

 

Author: The Daily Nonpareil, Council Bluffs, Iowa

Title: The History We Live In” series

Herd-Worthy Because: What a great idea! (If we do say so ourselves….) This Iowa newspaper picks out homes in the local area and digs into their past — and the stories of those who lived in them — as part of an occasional series it publishes.

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Houstory Herd: Louisiana Plantation Rich with Black History

black history, houstory, house history

A “slave cabin” at the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, LA  [Photo by Michael McCarthy, https://www.flickr.com/photos/msmccarthyphotography]

In honor of Black History Month, we seek lessons learned from a plantation with a dark history.

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Founder

Every home, as we like to say at Houstory, has a story.

And while much of our marketing material shows families happily living their stories and enjoying their homes, the truth, of course, is that not all home stories are rosy. Some stories can be hard to hear. But such stories are often those most worth preserving and sharing.

In honor of Black History Month and the idea that these difficult but important stories are worth sharing, we turn our attention to the Whitney Plantation on Louisiana’s River Road, 35 miles outside of New Orleans. The location opened its doors to the public in 2014.

Records show that an immigrant family from Germany bought the land for the plantation in 1752. Its second owner named it Whitney, after his grandson.

While there are a number of historic plantations on River Road, most focus on what one writer called the “hoop-skirt version of Southern history,” where visitors can tour grand, restored antebellum southern mansions and have picnics under trees or host weddings under big tents.

Whitney is the first plantation museum in the country dedicated to telling the unvarnished story of slavery. And much of that story is told by houses on the property.

A society’s architecture, and particularly the way those who make up that society choose (or have chosen for them) to put a roof over their heads gives unique insight into what life was like at a given time and place. It does so in a way that historical facts and statistics cannot.

At its peak — statistically — Whitney Plantation included 1,700 acres, most of it planted in sugarcane. According to historians, the original owners became one of the largest slaveholders in Louisiana. In 1860, a household inventory showed they owned 101 black slaves.

Over the years, many more people were enslaved on the Whitney Plantation; the names of 356 of them are etched in granite slabs on the museum’s Wall of Honor.

The biggest building on the property — simply known as the “Big House” — had seven rooms on each level and was completed sometime prior to 1815.

 

black history, houstory, house history

The “Big House” at the Whitney Plantation in 1926 [Photo by Robert Tebbs, The Collections of the Louisiana State Museum]

black history, houstory, house history

The “Big House” in 2015. [Photo by Michael McCarthy https://www.flickr.com/photos/msmccarthyphotography]

The Big House’s residents included the house slaves, who were — euphemistically — “on call” 24/7. Unlike their owners, slaves in the Big House slept on pallets on the floor.

The majority of Whitney’s slaves lived in cabins on the property. Before the Civil War there were 22 cabins. In the 1970s, 20 of the cabins were torn down to make it easier for tractor-trailer trucks picking up sugarcane to enter and exit the property. Since then, a few slave cabins from nearby properties were moved to the site and today visitors to the Whitney Plantation can tour seven cabins that housed slaves.

black history, house history

A “slave cabin” at the Whitney Plantation [Photo by Michael McCarthy, https://www.flickr.com/photos/msmccarthyphotography]

Made from cypress wood, the cabins look to have held up remarkably well over the past century-plus, bearing witness to our past in a visceral way that sticks.

As New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu said, “Go on in. You have to go inside. When you walk in that space you can’t deny what happened to these people. You can feel it, touch it, smell it.”

That’s the power of architecture. And particularly the power of a house. A house tells a story in a way that history books never can. As you see where slaves cooked their meals day after day, where they slept, where they washed and how they lived their lives as humans, the story of slavery in America changes from something we’ve all read about to something you feel, something that touches the core.

Interior of slave cabin on Whitney Plantation. [Photo Courtesy of Whitney Plantation]

Interior of slave cabin on Whitney Plantation. [Photo Courtesy of Whitney Plantation]

Interior of slave cabin on Whitney Plantation. [Photo Courtesy of Whitney Plantation]

Interior of slave cabin on Whitney Plantation. [Photo Courtesy of Whitney Plantation]

As one visitor remarked:

“When we can get visitors to actually think about who these folks were and what their lives were like? That’s when you’ve made a difference.”

While the story of the Whitney Plantation is powerful, the story of the storyteller — and how the museum came to be — is also fascinating. The short version is that John Cummings, a white New Orleans trial lawyer now in his late 70s, purchased the plantation from a petrochemical firm in the 1990s and has spent millions of dollars on research, restoration and artifacts.

In an interview last year with National Public Radio, Cummings said he was inspired to turn the Whitney into a slavery museum after reading the slave narratives collected from 1936-1938 by the Works Progress Administration.

Americans, he said, have a hard time talking honestly about the legacy of slavery.

“If we can demonstrate that there is a hangover from slavery, they will then understand exactly what happened, and what obligation we [have] as a nation,” he says. “Maybe not as individuals — we didn’t own slaves. But as a nation, what is it that we can do to right some of the wrongs?”

 

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

What is “The Hearth Herd.” It’s simply a roundup (or “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will generally focus on three things: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Environmental sustainability. If you see something that you think belongs in The Herd, we’d love to hear from you!

 

Family History

Author: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Title: Jesse Owens and me: My family has some ties to the 1936 Olympic Games

Herd-Worthy Because: The author remembers her great grandfather and the issues he faced regarding race and culture—as well as his connection to Olympian Jesse Owens. “Recently, I inherited a precious family heirloom, a signed souvenir book from the 1936 Berlin Olympics.”

 

Family Heirlooms

Author: PRI (Public Radio International)

Title: Heroes’ journeys end far differently, depending on their country of origin

Herd-Worthy Because: Author Marie Mitsuki Mockett explores how the Japanese often tell stories through their family heirlooms and precious belongings. “I have this theory that one of the reasons why the Japanese are so good at design, is because they see objects as alive,” she says. “It’s not just a thing. Like when you pick up a cup you want to feel good about the cup and feel it’s an object that has a soul.”

 

house history

Author: Yankee

Title: How Does the National Register of Historic Places Work? | Ask the Expert

Herd-Worthy Because: Do you think your home belongs on the National Register? Read this article and find out if you make the grade.

 

Author: Charlotte Observer

Title: Black History Month: Charlotte’s vanishing historic sites

Herd-Worthy Because: Old vs new. Gentrification vs recognition. Historically black neighborhoods in Charlotte face a lot of challenges. “It has taken a while for buildings to get enough mileage on them for people to look back and say: ‘That’s history.’ Many buildings have been torn down here before that magic moment arrived.”

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