14 January 2011

Hearth and Heart

The word “hearth” never fails to conjure up images of large stone fireplaces smelling of ashes, fresh wood and peat. In my travels, I was lucky to stay in homes that were built around a central fireplace that was very literally the beating heart of the home. Often times it was where we made weekly breads and treats, and on our very cold evenings I could often be found curled up on the seat formed from the hearth materials, enjoying the heat and a book. It was the focal point of parties and laughter as well as being the practical source of our hot bath water. It was both creature comfort and necessity.

It’s only recently that I started to understand that Hearth and Home are not transient things. I was never particularly fond of the saying that home is where one lays their head, but the reasons why that saying never set well eluded me. In much the same way that the physical hearth has defining characteristics, the spiritual hearth has the same. In essence, Hearth is the combination of Memory, Stability, and Trust.

The memories we create in the space that is Home are often the memories we return to throughout our lives, measuring the space between where (and who) we were then to where (and who) we are now. The brightest and the darkest of those memories are part of the homes we make later. And just as we have memories that we create and carry, the space we inhabit also has memory. The way a space is treated physically is an obvious indication of the memory of place, but the memory is deeper than that and one of the many reasons people moving to a new home will have their own rituals to make the space their own.

A hearth is not transient. Our ancestors didn’t move their fireplace from room to room – the house was built around the hearth. The stability of the hearth was the stability of the home which was in turn the stability of the family, and so on. I try not to get too wistful for the “good ol’ days” but I do think that there is some immeasurable loss by our modern ability to dispose of everything and move. For better or worse, the stability that one had in knowing that the home had been in the family for several generations is mostly gone from our culture. Stability is in one part the physical manifestation of Memory.

Trust involves the patterns and Wyrd of the people who live in that environment. It is both acceptance of the people who live there as they are and acceptance of self. This is key: you cannot have trust in a hearth if you wish desperately so-and-so would change. This particular element is perhaps the most difficult of the three to measure because it relies so heavily on the personalities of the people involved.

As I mentioned in my first post, there is a sacredness that comes from the mundane caring of one’s own – our parents, our children, our partners in life – and to that end, caring for the space that nurtures those who nurture us becomes a natural extension. A stove is only a stove until we put our attention and foods together, and then it becomes a way of feeding and sustaining those hearts – physically and emotionally.

So if stability, trust, and memory make a Hearth, how does that relate to Hearth magic? Hearth magic is folkish in that it is often passed down generation to generation, sometimes without the understanding of why things are done a certain way, but it is also intuitive in that it relies heavily on the person doing the work to feel the presence of the space use their instincts accordingly. It is protective and defensive magic, it is magics for fertility of body and environment, it is the magics for dreams and prosperity and good health, but it is also the preparation of a simple meal, the mending of wares, and the listening done around the table. Hearth magic takes the mundane and, through practice and patience, makes the common sacred through love and compassion. 

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