Hearth and Home (Continued)

by Terri Windling

In both Jungian psychology and dream analysis, a house is much more that just a dwelling or shelter — it is a symbol in the ancient, pictorial language of mythic archetypes. Dream analysts say that a house represents the levels of the dreamer’s own mind, and some give each different part of the house a specific significance: The front porch is our social or public mask; the living room, our interior consciousness; the kitchen represents our potential — the place where ideas are stirred, cooked up,and brought into conscious form. Cabinets and drawers hold experiences; closets hold hidden aspects and talents; stairs represent growth and moving up to (or down from) higher levels of consciousness. A bedroom dream reveals the things that the subconscious mind is pre–occupied with; a hallway leads to memories and the past, or to possibilities and the future. Rearranging the furniture indicates a sorting of priorities, ideals, or beliefs. A house demolition is a major life change, or the deterioration of physical health, and moving represents a change of consciousness or a psychic upheaval.

Carl Jung himself had recurring dreams in which houses featured prominently. He often dreamed he was building a house, or had stumbled upon a new room in his home — representing, he said, the building of the self and the discovery of new ideas. In his forties, Jung bought a parcel of land and turned dream into reality by building Bollingen, his spiritual retreat on the banks of Lake Zurich. He started off with a low stone tower, built largely with his own two hands, its round shape representing the maternal archetype (and his own mother’s recent death).Slowly, over thirty years, the house sprouted another tower, a courtyard, an annex, and a second floor, each addition marking a life change and the evolution of his theories of the psyche. Bollingen was Jung’s attempt to achieve a "representation in stone of my innermost thoughts and the knowledge I had acquired. . . . From the very beginning, I felt the Tower as in some way a place of maturation — a maternal womb or maternal figure in which I would become what I was, what I am, and will be."

Jung’s vision of a house, built in the round, as the embodiment of the "eternal feminine" had its roots in the mythology and building practices of ancient Greece, where the home was sacred to Hestia, goddess of the hearth and perpetual flame. Sometimes called "the forgotten goddess," Hestia rarely appears in the tales of the gods, and seems to have had few temples or acolytes; and yet she was actually the first of the goddesses, sitting higher in the Olympian pantheon than even Hera (wife of Zeus, goddess of love and marriage) or Demeter (goddess of fertility and the harvest). Although avidly courted by both Poseidon and Apollo, Hestiavowed she would never marry, dedicating herself instead to the management of Mount Olympus, home of the gods. For this, she received the first portion of tribute in the temple rites of all the other gods, and was worshipped at the hearth in the center of all houses and buildings. Each morning began with Hestian prayers as the family fire was stoked for cooking and heating; each day ended with prayers to the goddess as the fire was banked for the night. Unlike the rest of the Greek pantheon, well known for their tempers, jealousies, and quarrels, Hestia was an unusually stable goddess, revered for her gentle, calm, and forgiving nature. But lest we think of her as the Olympian equivalentof a 1950s housewife, limited to home and the service of others, she was also the first builder, the inventor of architecture, and the patron of these arts. Her symbols were the circle and perpetual flame (including the undying flame of the Olympics), and her sphere of influence reached beyond the home to the undying flame at the heart of the Senate.

Her counterpart in Roman myth was Vesta, although the two are not completely interchangeable. Vesta, too, was venerated at the hearth and thus played a central role in family life — but she also had public temples, including her famous circular temple in Rome where priestesses tended the perpetual flame that was the city’s source of spiritual strength. Called Vestal Virgins (having pledged themselves to thirty years of celibacy), Vesta’s priestesses enjoyed an unusual degree of freedom and political power in a society that was not known for enlightened attitudes towards women. At the end of thirty years, the Vestal Virgins were free to end their vows and marry, but few cared to tradethe privileges of their profession for the restricted life of the average Roman matron.

In addition to a central shrine to Vesta, most Roman families maintained shrines for a panoply of small domestic gods: the Lares, protectors of the household, and the Penates, gods of pantry and larder. Shrines to the Lares and Penates of the house were located conveniently close to the door so that offerings could be made frequently — for, like the fairies of English lore, they were troublesome if neglected. The door itself was watched over by Janus, the two–faced god of doors and gates, associated with endings and beginnings, joined in his duties by Cardea, the goddess of door handles and hinges. Ovid tells us that Cardea’s power is "to open what is shut, and to shutwhat is open." As a result, she was also the goddess of midwives, called upon during difficult childbirths. The threshold, and the act of crossing over it, belonged to the trickster god Mercury (Hermes in Greek), whose sign, a phallic–shaped stone or statue, often stood guard at the front of the dwelling. It was customary to stroke the stone for luck when leaving or returning home.

While Greco–Roman myth divided the roles of the goddess of the home and the goddess of marriage (Hestia/Vesta on one hand, Hera/Juno on the other), Norse mythology combined them into a single powerful figure, the goddess Frigg. The wife of Odin and the queen of the Aesir, Frigg’s province covered hearth, home, love, marriage, and child–bearing (among many other things), all of which were accorded high status. Only she, among all the gods, was permitted to share Odin’s high seat and look out over the universe. In Celtic myth, Brigidh was the goddess of the hearth and the keeper of the sacred flame, although,like Frigg, her influence extended much beyond the domestic sphere; she was also the goddess of poetic eloquence and of skill in the planning of warfare. Brigidh’s legends overlapped with those of Habondia, an Anglo–Saxon goddess of hearth and home. Household shrines to Brigidh or Habondia insured the fertility of the marriage bed, tranquility among family members, and the blessing of domestic chores — especially the "magical arts" of cooking, bread baking, and brewing.