I have no great envy for the hearth witches and other hearth-focused Pagans out there. I never wanted to be the housewife at the hearth, knitting, cooking, baking bread. I may lean towards Celtic reconstructionism, but I wouldn’t want to be an iron age Gaelic woman. Oh, the boredom! When I was younger, I was always going to be the career woman – no interest in children or really in getting married, and certainly not in running a home. In my twenties I lived on pasta and frozen chicken kiev, sharing a messy flat with other busy people, while working a 60+ hour week in a job that I adored, where I was moving up and good things were happening. I loved London and I loved getting out of the house and doing things – going to gigs, meeting friends, reading interesting books in trendy cafes. My religion was focused in buildings that were not my home, and I only really came home to sleep.
And then I became disabled, and my physical health started messing with my mental health/neurodiversity, and everything changed. When I was first ill, I sat in one room for about a year. It made me anxious, bored, and depressed about where my life was going. As soon as I was well enough, I jumped ship and went back to university, where I rented a room in a house. I spent a lot of time in that room, studying and seeing friends who were kind enough to visit me when I couldn’t get out. Home was still a single room, but it started to feel a bit less like a prison.
Not long afterwards, we bought our own house. We’re both blessed enough to have had some inheritance, and moving to Nottingham meant that home ownership, which was far out of our reach in London, was now possible. We have a little ex-council place, with a nice garden where I can grow things and compost. And, because life is what it is, I still spend a lot of time essentially housebound. This is tough, for a Druid-in-Training. All I want is to be out in the wild, meditating under trees and gazing out at the land. But it’s not always possible. I’m trying to learn how to be, and feel, spiritual and magical on those ‘hearth days’, too.
Having a hearth-focused practice is very tricky for me to achieve. Someone else does my cleaning, which I’m incredibly grateful for, but does mean that sweeping out negative energy and using floor-washes does not happen often, if ever. I’m not allowed to cook (one too many accidents in the past). Making bread is hard work because my fingers dislocate, and I have to have help with baking (although SJ is always willing to do the mixing and the taking-out-of-the-oven, while I do the intellectual stuff like measuring out flour). I don’t have the fine motor skills to do most practical crafting, like knitting.
With all that said… things have changed a bit since I started doing the Pagan thing, and since we’ve had our own place. It started with Brighid. I know that people experience her in many ways – as a healer, as a poet and poetic inspiration, as the Lady of the Stars, as a midwife to the soul, as a spring goddess. I only experience her as a hearth goddess (and sometimes as a goddess of social justice, related to that). Which isn’t to say that she isn’t important – she is. But she’s the beginning, the place of safety and security from which I move out to engage with the world. Everything starts at the hearth. And I make do. Gardening (with help), bits of painting, offerings to the local spirits (even if I didn’t make them myself), and spiritual/magical work done at my hearth shrine are all things that connect me back to home energy again.
I have a picture that I took in Ireland over the summer. It’s of candles in a window – I had set up a makeshift shrine on a windowsill that overlooked the sea. In the picture, it’s dusk, and the hearth light is replacing the daylight as it fades. It’s the switch-over between one and another, and it won’t be long before the balance needs to swing the other way again, back to community, social justice, and the work that needs to be done out in the world. But the cycle between the two is important for keeping me healthy, engaged with the world, and moving forward. Brighid is keen on encouraging me to keep the balance, especially at times when all I want is to retreat into the safety of the hearth and never engage with the world outside. It feels like she’s linked to the ‘gap’ between – she’s the link between the inner domain of the hearth and the outer domain of the community. I’ve retreated from social justice work recently, while I’ve been attempting to recuperate. I’ll go back to it soon, when I’m ready. In the meantime, she enfolds me here. But not for too long. The sun will be up outside the window again soon.
In August we’ll have been in this house for three years. We’re currently in the middle of a major spring clean – we realised that, whereas in the past we cleaned and threw things out when we moved (every six months or so), we’re now here for the long run, and the hoarding is getting ridiculous. So off to charity shops went several boxes of books and trinkets, and off to the community (via Freecycle) went appliances that have been sitting unused in cupboards for nearly three years. My office is almost in a state where I can work in it, when I get back to that irritating PhD thing I’m supposed to be doing, and the lounge doesn’t look like a storage locker anymore. Admittedly, SJ has done the vast majority of the work, while I sat on the sofa and directed, but that’s an important role (I say, to console myself). I am going to save up my energy until I can bear the thought of using a mop, and then I’m going to burn juniper and birch for glanadh while mopping with something like salt and rosemary in the water. And then I might finally put up the Brighid’s cross I got in Kildare last summer. It’s time I acknowledged that this house is hers.