Home Is Where The Hearth Is

In my focus on Brigidine worship, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the concept of the hearth and its centrality to ancient traditions.

In ancient times, the hearth was essential for survival. It provided a place for warmth and comfort, you cooked your food over it. You kept it going each night by smooring the glowing coals and ashes so that it would be able to be easily rekindled in the morning.

Though my apartment is 100 years old, it must have been an early one with central heating. There is no fireplace in the home. However, the many old buildings that do have fireplaces, often have them blocked off to make them unusable.

This also reminds me of the Danish concept of hygge which translates loosely to ‘cozy’ or hominess and refers to the supposed Danish tradition of having a warm fire, hot beverage, and enjoying the winters much like a hobbit might. Making a house a home.

It also reminds me of their Scandinavian cousins over in Norway, who have a cultural love for firewood. There are specific trees to use, ways to stack it, and strong cultural associations for something we in the West, don’t often think about at all. (If you want to get a taste of Norway’s love of firewood, I highly suggest watching the Slow TV programs on Netflix. There are a few that deal with firewood. It is six hours of people talking in subtitles about firewood. I love it!)

The Japanese have a deep cultural appreciation for charcoal. (Here is a YouTube video on Japanese culture and firewood).

Though rural areas in the US still appreciate a good bonfire, largely, we’ve lost the cultural attachment to having an actual fireplace in our homes. We still find the idea of the fireplace to be aesthetically appealing. Many hotels and restaurants have gas-powered fireplaces intending to connote the hominess of an actual fire but it’s not a fire you could warm yourself with unless you were directly next to it.

As a child in the 80s, I remember local TV station WPIX (Channel 11) out of NYC used to broadcast a Yule Log. It was simply a fireplace with burning wood and Christmas carols played over it. It would play for hours to celebrate Christmas.

We still have the cultural idea of the fireplace, of the hearth, but without the risk of burning or the smoke. Just the appearance. That seems to me to be an apt metaphor for our society as a whole.

Anyway, back to my house. As I said, there is no hearth. Now I’m worshipping Brigid, a hearth goddess. I’m a little stuck on how I can recreate a hearth in my tiny closet of a worship space.

I have candles, of course. I recently bought tiny squares of turf or peat. Turf is used throughout rural Ireland to heat homes. It’s cut from the earth, dried, and chopped into logs to be used in fireplaces. It has a distinctive odor as well.

So the tiny squares of peat are burned on my altar to get me into the headspace of being at an Irish hearth where Brigid was worshipped in ancient times as well as to welcome Brigid to my altar.

She is, no doubt, familiar with the warm distinctive smell of peat and perhaps the burning of it will bring Herself and Her blessings to my home.

May it be so.

~ by R.M. McGrath on 12/02/2016.

One Response to “Home Is Where The Hearth Is”

  1. I’ve always successfully connected with Brighid’s hearth goddess aspect at my stove, and keep both and icon and candle there for Her beside it, and a Brighid’s cross hanging above it woven by my son. I recite the Carmina Gadelica prayers there to do with raising and smooring the fire when I cook, and leave offerings for Her of our family meals. I have a shrine for Her also in my bedroom for meditation space, but I interact with her differently there, cultivating a more mystical than domestic relationship in that spot. Maybe setting up a space for Her beside your stove/oven might be helpful to you, too.

    Liked by 1 person

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