“Do not think of Vesta as anything other than fire, the living flame which gives gives birth to nothing but itself again. Thus we call her virgin for she is never seeded nor does she bear fruit. And oh! she loves her maidens, companions in virginity.” ~ Ovid, Fasti
Vesta is a fire Goddess, a Temple Goddess, the living embodiment of the sacred flame who was rarely depicted in human form. In Rome, the Temple of Vesta was a fundamental ritual center that housed the Vestal Virgins who had the most important duty of tending the sacred flame, Vesta herself.
The Roman Goddess Vesta is derived from her Greek sister, Hestia. Most of the myth that comes to us from ancient times is from the Greek Hestia since Vesta was considered the flame, the fire itself.
Although Vesta and her attendant Vestal virgins became connected with the protection of the Roman State in later times, her original function was that of goddess of childbirth. While this remains an area largely ignored in the study of her worship, virtually every aspect of her service points to this as her primary role. Her etymology, which is nearly as obscure as the acknowledgement of her guardianship over birth, offers a few subtle indications of this aspect of the fire deity. Some scholars have related Vesta’s name to the Indo-Germanic root, vas, variously interpreted as ‘to dwell’, (22) ‘to inhabit’, (23)or ‘to shine’. (24)Vesta is distantly related by name and by deed to two other goddesses, namely the Assyrian Ishtar, and the Hebrew Esther, (25) but she is quite clearly identified with Hestia, the Greek hearth goddess. (26) ~ Sacred Threads
For our June Summer Solstice call, we will be celebrating the Goddess Vesta with a free online ritual meditation circle on June 20, 2019 at 8pm eastern. Register for free here
ABOUT THE VESTAL VIRGINS
At the present day, too, it is a general belief, that our Vestal virgins have the power, by uttering a certain prayer, to arrest the flight of runaway slaves, and to rivet them to the spot, provided they have not gone beyond the precincts of the City. If then these opinions be once received as truth, and if it be admitted that the gods do listen to certain prayers, or are influenced by set forms of words, we are bound to conclude in the affirmative upon the whole question. ~ Pliny the Elder (AD 23 – AD 79).
Vesta was an unique Goddess in ancient Rome in that she had her own order of Priestesses called the Vestal Virgins. They were dedicated to the Goddess Vesta and the officiants in all Roman religious and state ceremonies. The Vestal Virgins were the only full-time clergy of a Roman deity that were paid out of the public treasury. The College of the Vestals was created by king Numa Pompilius, who reigned circa 717–673 BC.
The Vesta Temple employed anywhere from four to six Priestesses at a time, although there is reference at one point to a seventh. They took a vow of chastity and served for thirty years, many of them being chosen at the ages of six to ten. There were two Head Vestal Virgins that served for 57 years and 64 years.
After their temple service, Vestals were given a pension and allowed to marry, but many did not, still considering themselves consecrated to Goddess. If the vow of chastity was broken during their service, the offending Vestal was buried alive or had molten lead poured down their throat. These extreme methods were used since it was illegal to spill the blood of a Vestal Virgin.
Duties of the Vestals included:
- Tending the sacred fire in the shrine of Vesta in the Roman Forum
- Maintaining a holy spring
- Caring for the temple and the statues and objects within the temple and inner sanctuary
- Preparing ritual food
- Attendance and officiating at state events, especially during the yearly Vestalia, Vesta’s feast days (June 7-15)
- Ritual preparation of the herbs sprinkled on sacrifices
- Baked the bread (pane) which was offered on feast days such as March 1st, the Roman New Year
The Vestal Virgins were disbanded in 394 AD by order of the Christian emperor Theodosius I. Zosimus.
TEMPLE PRIESTESSES TODAY
There are not many fully functioning Goddess temples in the Western world today (sadly!). Temples are still maintained throughout Asia for Goddesses, but most are served by Priests and not Priestesses. Those who are still called to “temple” service have moved into community Priestessing, creating groups, leading ritual, and officiating Rites of Passage.
Ahhhhh for the good old days of Temple life 🙂 …
One example of a modern day temple with resident Priestesses is Sekhmet Temple in Nevada. One of our Mystery School instructors, Anne Key from Goddess Ink, served as a resident Priestess and shares her amazing modern day experiences in Desert Priestess. The picture above is Anne at Sekhmet Temple.
Another beautiful example is Priestess Yeshe Matthews and Mt. Shasta Goddess Temple.
How do you define Priestess?
Do you have past life memories of temple service?
What is attractive to you in serving a temple? or not?
For those interested, I offer Priestess Training and one on one Priestess Mentoring.
PRIESTESS RECOMMENDED BOOKS
Stepping into Ourselves: An Anthology of Writings on Priestesses edited by Anne Key and Candace Kant
Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality by Judith Plaskow & Carol Christ
The Politics of Women’s Spirituality edited by Charlene Spretnak
Priestesses Pythonesses Sibyls – The Sacred Voices of Women who speak with and for the Gods edited by Sorita D’Este
Voices of the Goddess: A Chorus of Sibyls edited by Caitlin Matthews