Celebrating Women’s History Month!
The hearth was the center of the home.
A couple of years ago (pre-pandemic, when one still casually opened the front door to an unanticipated knock or ring of the doorbell by a stranger), I was accosted by a salesperson attempting to convince me to sign up for home insect control. Now, I’m not the sort of woman to simply slam the door in the face of some hapless huckster. I know that door-to-door sales work is a thankless job. So I usually allow them to get in a few (very few) words first before saying the obligatory, “I’m really not interested” and firmly shutting my front door.
But I did have a bit of trouble controlling my mirth when this young man gestured to the porch overhang, talking about all the spiderwebs that gathered at rarely-used front doors as family came and went through their attached garages. He pointed directly to the corners where such webs would be expected to lurk.
There were none. I mean NONE. Nope, those corners were free of spiderwebs, wasps nests, cobwebs, or cottonwood drifts from the blooming trees. It sort of put paid to his little demonstration. I grinned only a little as I told him I wasn’t interested and closed my front door on his bewildered face.
The only time I’d had greater enjoyment from a front porch peddler was the spring afternoon near Easter, when I’d opened the door to a proselytizer trying to drum up customers for a local church. He invited me to join with them on Easter Sunday to “celebrate Jesus’ death”. (Yes, he actually said that! I could not make this stuff up.) Now, it’s been a long while since I practiced organized religion, but even in my dim and distant memories of such Easter services lay the notion that we were joining to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. For this particular porch peddler occasion, I did not even attempt to stifle my astounded chuckles. But I digress….
You see, there were no webs or cottonwood or nests, or indeed, any detritus of any sort on my tiny front porch or its rafters because I regularly practice blessing the entryway to my home. Stepping out armed with a broom, I sweep away anything on or above or around my porch and walkway while repeating the words, “Bless this home and all who dwell therein. This home is surrounded, enfolded, protected, and watched over by the Divine. Bless this home and all who enter here.”
Performing this personal ceremony, I feel empowered. With each stroke of the bristles, I claim the protection of the Divinity in which I believe. The exterior of my house is both cleansed and wrapped in a mantle of security; warded and protected; cocooned within a shelter of psychic defense that I create as I move from my front porch to my back patio, sweeping and safeguarding both entryways.
There was a time when such household protection rituals were common, especially when every home was both lit and warmed by a fire. The hearth was the center of the home; the place where family gathered for warmth, and where women worked to cook the meals or to sit nearest the light to sew and weave. To bless the hearth was to bless the home, and was the exclusive province of women. For centuries women, denied the right to be priests or ministers, or to even participate in any meaningful way in many, most, religions–those women were, nonetheless, the hearthkeepers; the ones who genuinely “kept the home fires burning”. Women swept away the ashes and laid the fresh fires upon their hearths and kindled the logs. Women spoke their blessings over the flames, weaving a circle of protection about their homes and loved ones; blessings woven of love and belief, and as sturdy as any cloth upon their looms. They swept their front steps and dooryards, presenting a clear path for all who came and went. They polished the brass of door handles to a shining surface, reflecting the faces of those who visited.
And so, sweeping my own path and entryway and porch roof beams, clearing the ashes from my wood-burning fireplace before laying a fresh fire to be kindled on another cold night, I feel the shades and spirits of those centuries of women who came before me. I am following, not in their footsteps, but in the path of their work worn hands, as I perform the same rituals they once did. Performing these homely rituals, I am translated, shifting from my merely human form to become the daughter of all those who went before me, themselves Daughters of Demeter, goddess of hearth and home; tenderly weaving words of beneficent protection about my dwelling, while envisioning all those I love cocooned within the warmth and undying fire of my love.