In times of old, the ancient Greeks thought so highly of fire that they provided us with a marvelous myth about how people got hold of this precious stuff, which was originally reserved only for the gods' use.
You may have heard the story of Prometheus, the Greek titan (titans were lesser divinities than the gods of Olympus such as Zeus) who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. It's a wonderful rendition of the wonder and power of fire, and every little candle is a repetition of that wonder and power in its own small way, just as the tiniest ray of sunlight is part of the great ball of intense burning fire in the sky we call the sun, without which there would be no life on earth.
According to the Promethean myth, Prometheus was fond of humans and had argued their case when one of the gods wanted to destroy them for being too clever and talented. To help the humans, Prometheus sneaked up the backstairs of Olympus, so to speak (with the help of the goddess Athena), and lighted a torch at the fiery chariot of the Sun. He then carried the fire down to humanity, protected in the pithy hollow of a giant fennel stalk. Extinguishing the original torch, he departed quietly, unseen and undiscovered, leaving the glowing coal behind and thus giving fire to humankind.
It is thought that the legend of Prometheus's enchainment may have been the result of a giant snowman-shaped frost protrusion recumbent on Mount Caucasus, over which many vultures flew. Prometheus is also related to another fire god, Hephaestus, a lame blacksmith who fashioned the thunderbolts of lightening Zeus threw around when he was annoyed or angry. And to this day Greek islanders still carry fire from one place to another in the pith of a giant fennel plant.
So angry were the Olympic gods when they discovered that Prometheus had pulled off this trick that Zeus decided to punish him. Prometheus was chained naked to a rock in the Caucasian mountains. All day, a hungry vulture tore at his liver, causing excruciating pain, to which there was no end because every night (when Prometheus was exposed to cruel frost and cold) his liver regenerated itself. And so the next day the process began all over again.
Fortunately, eventually Prometheus was rescued by the centaur, Chiron, the teacher of Apollo (who drove the chariot of the Sun across the sky on its daily rounds). Known as “the wounded healer,” Chiron was half horse and half man (the bottom half was the horse). He sustained a wound in his thigh that would not heal, giving him horrible pain. And since he was immortal (a demi-god) he could not die from his wound. So he arranged with Zeus to give up his immortality — a great sacrifice — and take Prometheus's place. Prometheus was released, and Chiron was able to die and feel no more pain. According to another myth, however, Prometheus was rescued by Hercules.
Not only did Prometheus steal the gods' fire and give it to us humans, he also taught us architecture, astronomy, mathematics, navigation, medicine, metallurgy, and other useful arts. The Promethean myth is the theme of the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus's
The Greeks honored fire with the goddess Hestia, who was known as the goddess of the hearth and temple. She was also known as a wise woman and a maiden aunt.
One of the three great Virgin Goddesses, along with Artemis and Athena, Hestia was in charge of the fire that burned on a round hearth at Olympus. Hestia was thought to be presented in the living flame at the center of every home, temple, and city. As Roman hearths were round, Hestia's symbol was a circle, which is also the symbol for our Sun (astrologically speaking). Therefore, temples dedicated to her were circular in shape.
No home or temple was considered to be properly sanctified until Hestia had officially entered it — by way of fire ceremonies specifically for that purpose. Once Hestia was installed, both homes and temples were considered to be holy places. Her presence insured the sacred fire that provided not only illumination, warmth, and heat for cooking food, but also the feeling of a living spiritual presence.
Unlike the other two virgin goddesses, Athena (the goddess of wisdom and a protectress of cities) and Artemis (also known as “Lady of the Beasts,” and whose turf was the wilderness), Hestia never strayed from the hearthside. She always remained inside homes and temples dedicated to her, protecting the sacred fire of the hearth. In this respect, she is related to the astrological sign of Virgo, which deals with the details of daily life. Represented by the Virgin Goddess with a sheaf of grain, Virgo relates to daily work and service, such as keeping the hearth going, cooking food, and housekeeping. Tending to the details of keeping house can be a meditative experience for those inclined to relish it as a meaningful activity vital to life rather than a meaningless, repetitive chore that has to be done — usually by women! With Hestia, the details of keeping a home are equivalent to a spiritual meditation.The Vestal Tradition
The Romans called Hestia
Tradition had it that if a girl could blow on a dying flame and make it rekindle, she was a proper “virgin,” which meant that she was of an independent spirit and able to get along quite well by herself without a man to lean on, rather than sexual abstinence. Her suitability to serve the sacred flame was symbolized by her ability to blow on the holy fire without its being extinguished, for symbolically, breath was equivalent to spirit.