Wednesday 17 October 2012


A hearth is a part of the household.  Hearths play an important role in a variety of cultures and religions in the Near East and Mediterranean world, seeing as many cultures revere fire as a source of light, warmth, and protection.  Among the Minoans and Greeks, it plays an important role being sacred to the goddess Hestia.  In Egypt, the hearth is used to prepare food, but for the most part isn't typically seen as a source of warmth, unlike other cultures.  In Hittite religion, the hearth is used for offerings to ancestors and various underworld gods.  For the Persians, the sacred fire- Atar- must be attended to at all times and kept burning within the home to make offerings through.  Defiling fire is a major sin, and fire in fire-temples must be kept burning forever.

Now let's examine the significance of the hearth for us in our community.  Though chimneys were known in Canaan, typically most houses didn't have one, and so the hearths were simply a pit dug into the earthen floor of the house where a fire would be kindled.  The king's winter palace would be heated by a brazier of burning coals, or by a pan of fire which was otherwise used for cooking or as a wash basin.  Another type of hearth is the 'altar-hearth', where sacrifices are offered.  Even tents could have a hearth, which was simply a pit dug into the floor and filled with burning coals, over which dough would be baked in a metal dish.

Preserving a fire is important, and so it is typically moved from one hearth to another by means of pottery.  Fire is seen as a source of warmth and heat, of cooking and cleaning.  It can also be seen as a destroyer, and so a powerful king might be compared to the raging fire.  Preserving and tending to a hearth is traditionally seen as a woman's duty, being a part of the household.

Hearths can also be used for metalworking, and for rituals invoking the household goddess.  Near the fires and cooking-pits, it is custom for women working near the fire to keep protective amulets and burning incense to welcome the household goddess and perform religious rituals to ward off evil spirits and demonic forces.  The god of fire is also known for warding away evil spirits.

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