People love the idea of a fresh start. A clean slate. A chance to cleanse past mistakes, to right old wrongs, to move forward in life without the burden of bad memories or unhealthy habits. It’s why we’re drawn to significant dates such as the first day of a new week or new month, our birthday, or the New Year. We use that time, that “stroke of midnight” click of the second-hand, to hit the reset button on our lives. It’s a little bit of magic.
For many people, the reset button ushers in lifestyle changes like diet and exercise that we hope will improve our bodily health. How many of us have said, “Okay, I’m going to watch what I eat – starting Monday.”
But what about our spirit? How many of us dig a little deeper to discover that our spiritual and emotional well-being need to be renewed as well?
As a fire-based spirituality, Vesta is particularly suited to “fresh starts.” Why? Because fire is strongly associated with purification and renewal. In fact, some forms of growth – vegetation, trees – cannot even occur until the cleansing, searing heat of fire has swept through. It’s a painful process and our instinct is to try to stop it, but sometimes it’s for the best. Sometimes it’s even necessary. And that kind of letting go, of letting nature takes its course for the greater good, can be a symbolic way to look at life and the things we want to change about it.
Those who identify as “spiritual but not religious” often struggle to find spiritual expression or rituals that complement their humanist values and reason. If you’re nodding your head right now, check out these ancient traditions practiced by Vesta’s faithful to see whether they can help you renew your spirit while simultaneously strengthening your home life.
1. Create a lararium. A lararium is a household family shrine that is located near the entrance of the home to bless the comings and goings of family members and to serve as a visual reminder that home really is where the heart is. It can be classical or modern, and can stand out from the home’s décor or blend into it. A lararium should hold family mementoes and sentimental items, whether a child’s art project or a vacation souvenir. Because the ancient Temple of Vesta was dressed in laurel leaves, many people like to place greenery, fresh flowers or even a small herb garden that contains a bay plant on their lararium. The important thing is that a lararium reflects your style and personality, and that its presence reminds you of the things that are most important to you.
2. Meal-time offerings. As the goddess of the home and hearth, Vesta is symbolized by a flame. At each meal, Vestal adherents sprinkle offerings of salted flour or libatations of olive oil or wine into the flame of a candle. As the flame is nourished, so too is family devotion. In fact, this sweet, simple meal-time ritual is the basis of meal-time prayers/grace as practiced by Christians. (This Vestal ritual is particularly fun for children – what kid doesn’t like to see something go whoosh in a flame?)
3. Light reflection. At its simplest, this is a meditation-type practice that involves burning a Vestal candle in a dark, silent room and focusing only on the light of the flame and the crackling sound of the wooden wick (the ancients believed that the crackling of a fire was Vesta speaking to them). Among other things, the purpose of this ritual is to enhance clarity and tranquility, while focusing – every day – on being grateful for what and who we have in our lives.
4. Ancestor worship. In antiquity, a family’s history and “roots” were held sacred. Children respected their ancestors and had a strong sense of family identity. People were pround to be part of a long lineage. Many who honor Vesta have renewed this practice by giving grandparents, great-parents and so on a presence on the lararium and embarking on “family tree” discovery projects with their kids. In a world where divorce is rampant and many kids don’t even know the first name of their grandparents, this is an important practice to reclaim.
5. Active compassion. Even in antiquity, Vesta was a bloodless religion that did not require a living sacrifice. Today, New Vesta encourages its followers to make humane food and consumer choices and to practice active compassion by supporting animal welfare causes. This doesn’t have to be anything big or costly. Small acts of kindness – feeding a stray cat, fostering a special-needs animal, walking dogs at a local shelter – can fill the human spirit with happiness and a sense of purpose in life. And as a parenting strategy, it teaches instead of preaches.
6. Stargazing. Embracing a wonder for the natural world is a powerful way to rejuvenate one’s spirit and reverence for life. There is something particularly “sacred” about a dark, starry night…especially when one is holding a cup of warm wine or hot chocolate to keep cozy.
7. Storytime. If your kids are bored of fairy tales and you’ve grown weary of second-rate thrillers, read up on the legendary heroes, gods and goddesses, and stories that the ancients loved, from Perseus and Medusa to the Odyssey. Some are just for fun, but others – like the story of Narcissus – have a lesson to teach. And that in itself can recharge the spirit.
8. Wearing a personal symbol of faith. Many people who honor Vesta wear a flame or “V” pendant, while others wear real or reproduction antique Roman jewelry from women’s bracelets to men’s seal rings. There is no standard symbol of faith. Rather, followers express their spirituality in a way that has meaning to them on a personal level. Discovering what this symbol is – What represents my life, my loves, my happiness? – can reignite one’s personal spirituality. It can can also help us realize what is truly important in our lives. That realization doesn’t just renew the spirit. It also renews the love and devotion we feel for our spouse/partner and family which in turn can renew the love and devotion they feel for us. As far as fresh starts go, that’s a pretty good one, isn’t it?
Visit NewVesta.com for more information on this ancient tradition.
The Author: Debra Macleod
Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B. is a couples and family mediator, a top-selling marriage author-expert and a popular resource for major media in North America. She is the leading proponent of the New Vesta tradition and order. Her New Vesta book series and Add a Spark women’s seminars “spread the flame” into modern lives and homes. You can visit Debra’s private practice at DebraMacleod.com or her Vesta website at NewVesta.com.