I am a hearth witch. Though there are many paths to magic, this is the term I invented some years ago to describe my own. I consider my house to be a sacred place, a temple of the Gods where I live, work and worship.
It is in our homes that the first resonance of the sacred lies and where we create a reflection of hallowed space. The business of the home rotates around the hearth – it is the place where people meet to cook, eat and talk together. It is the traditional place to house the shrine of the goddess of fire and the guardian genius of the dwelling, tended by the woman of the house as domestic priestess. The hearth has been the centre of human life for at least 400,000 years. In Celtic tradition the ty teallach or ‘hearth’ was the heart of the home, and fire was often literally placed centrally in ancient dwelling places such as Bronze and Iron Age roundhouses. Imagine frozen, blustery winter days, when there was little work that could be done on the land, and when the hours of daylight were short and the nights long. Fire meant the difference between survival and death, between comfort and cold pain. It was the centre of activity, where everyone gathered to eat and cook, to sit and warm themselves, and listen to the stories of the bards. The Latin word for it was focus, since it is the focus of the home. We call our coven a hearth, because it is the spiritual nourishing place of its family of members.
The goddess of hearth and fire dwells within every hearth and every flame, whether large or small, and she is known in every culture and always served by women, whether in state cults or as domestic priestesses. In Greek myth the hearth goddess was Hestia who refused a throne on Olympus to look after the hearth, and never took part in the wars and arguments of the gods. Instead she is the calm centre, the safe haven of the home, where people can seek refuge and shelter. She is the gentlest and most principled of all the gods, representing security and the solemn duty of hospitality presiding over all hearth and altar fires. In Rome she was called Vesta, the virgin fire goddess worshipped in a state cult and in private households every day. In Celtic lore she was Brighid, a pan-Celtic goddess, appearing as Brighid or Brigit in Ireland, Brigantia in Northern England, Bride in Scotland and Brigandu in Brittany. She was converted into a Christian saint, and within living memory in Ireland, the fire was kindled with invocations to Brighid by the woman of the house. In Lithuanian the hearth goddess is Gabija, whose name means ‘to cover up’ and refers to the practice of the mistress of the house banking the fire at night so that it will neither go out, nor spread from the hearth. She was invoked at all family rituals and occasions, since without her they would not be possible.
Nowadays, most people do not have a big open fire where they cook and sit in the evenings. Many simply have an electric hob in the kitchen and central heating in the living room. This doesn’t matter; remember that the hearth is a symbol for the hospitality and living spirit of the home and can be represented by any flame in any room. My own hearth shrine is my wood burner in my living room, since this is where we gather, and on the mantelpiece above it are candles, seasonal decorations and images of the Gods.
By connecting with the energies of the hearth, you can invite ancient magic into your life and learn to make your home a happier, more attractive place. Your home is your personal temple and this should not be overlooked; it is here that the magic begins. It doesn’t matter whether you are living in a bed-sit in the middle of the city, or a pretty cottage in the countryside. The principle is the same. It is a refuge, a place of worship, the shrine of the sacred flame, and a celebration of life. You can use candles and oil lamps instead of a fire to symbolise the living flame and embody the light of spirit and the presence of Deity.
When I light a fire or a candle, I do it with an invocation to the Hearth Goddess. She is represented by all flames, so it doesn’t matter which room they are in, the flame itself embodies the light of spirit and the presence of the Hearth Goddess. By connecting with the energies of the hearth, you can invite ancient magic into your life and learn to make your home a happier, more attractive place. It is a refuge, a place of worship, the shrine of the sacred flame, and a celebration of life.
As I make a fire in the hearth or light a candle, I honour the living goddess of the hearth fire;
Hearth Goddess, I honour you,
Bring your presence in the living flame into my home
And bless me with your gifts of light and warmth.
© Anna Franklin, Hearth Witch (Lear 2004), The Hearth Witch’s Compendium (Llewellyn 2017), The Hearth Witch’s Kitchen Herbal (Llewellyn 2019), The Hearth Witch’s Year (Llewellyn 2021)