Saturday, July 21, 2012

PBP: Oikos, Kurios, and Hestia/the hearth

I had to look it up but it was Dionne Warwick who sang 'a house is not a home'. The difference between a house and a home is a matter of the heart. A house can be inhabited for years and not feel like a home. It's my opinion that what makes a house, a home, is for the house to become part of the family that inhabits it.

Oikos (οἶκος) is a fascinating Hellenic word meaning (or is the basis of) a multitude of things. Amongst others, Oikos means:
  • a house, the material building
  • a household
  • family
  • lineage/descendants 
  • palace
  • temple
  • nation
It goes to show, once more, how interwoven family life, lineage, country and religion were in ancient Hellas. The basis of the oikos were the husband and wife, living in a house. Others that were counted amongst the oikos were the children, possible parents and female family members who lived at the house, as well as any long-term guests and concubines of the male head of the family.

Ancient Hellas wasn't a good place to be if you were a woman; you simply had no rights and were property to the male head of household, who was called 'Kurios' (κύριος). As a result, the whole of the oikos, including any property and land owned, were seen as possessions of the Kurios. This included female members of the family and, of course, the children and concubines the male head of household was entitled to.

Oikos has a clear relation to possession, yet there is also a religious component to it. It's linked to temples and, because it's also linked to the physical structure of the house, to the hearth and Hestia. Religion in ancient Hellas was so ingrained in life that it was hardly seen as religion at all. The Gods were included in nearly every aspect of life and regular offerings to Hestia were a large part of that daily worship. In a modern sense, this makes a home a temple. Of course, every city had a sacred fire dedicated to Hestia as well.

Hestia is the Goddess of the hearth, family and the home. She's the Goddess closest to the people and was a very beloved Goddess in ancient Hellas. Hestia keeps the home fires burning and allows any Kurios to act as a charitable host by offering any guest a place near the fire.

Now, I need to address the obvious patriarchal nature of this topic. Men ruling over women, women as possession, men ruling over a household--implying there is no household without a man, etc. Well, yes, that's how it was way back when. This was the case in many ancient cultures and it's not something that modern Hellenics strive to re-create--simply because it was part of the culture, not of the religion. I do not have children and I'm a gay woman, living with my girlfriend of seven years. As I do the majority of religious practice in our household, traditionally, that would make me Kurios. Yet, I also do most of the housekeeping while my girlfriend brings in most of the money, so does that make her Kurios?

We're not living in ancient Hellas anymore. It's easy enough to view a culture within its historical timeframe and see how it does, or does not, apply to modern day practice and culture. Neither me or my girlfriend is Kurious but we both work hard to bring Oikos into our home and we both do it in a different way. In the end, all that matters is that we both feel like our house is a home and I feel confidant Hestia has no problem with how my Oikos functions.

6 comments:

Hearth Moon Rising said...

Thank you. I like learning about Hestia and hearth goddesses.

Elani Temperance said...

Very welcome! Thank you for reading :-)

Jen said...

A lovely post. I'm also a big fan of Hestia.

Elani Temperance said...

Thank you :)

Bellatrix S said...

Thanks for this post! I really love your breakdown of the old traditions. Sometimes I wonder if we moderns must change some of the definitions our ancestors used. For instance, could not oikos now mean "the household petitioner" or something the like?
I think this is the kind of reconstruction that works best for many moderns. It keeps the framework and intentions of the original magik, but calls in new approaches and new active roles for people

Elani Temperance said...

I think a chance of terminology might be a wonderful addition to modern reconstruction of culture and religion. That having been said, I'm unsure of the way these words are currently used by native speakers.

The important thing about Reconstruction Traditions is to keep the religious parts in tact, but adapt them to current society--within the ethical framework of the religion, of course. There is nothing in mythology and strictly religious practice that forbids women from taking an active part in religious practice so, now we live in a society that (sort of) gives equal rights to women; it's fine if a woman pulls the proverbial religious wagon in the home.

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment!