On the Hearth and the Un-Hearthed

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
–T.S. Eliot, “East Coker”

The Hearth as Place

I’ve had many homes, and have also been homeless for short periods of time.  I’ve lived in crowded houses with up to eight others (I know some people are able to tell their homeless friends they can’t stay with them, but I’ll never be one of those folks), a tiny top-floor apartment in an ancient brick building.  I’ve lived for times with friends, with lovers, with family and even for short periods of time with strangers (it’s hard to stay strangers when someone invites you to stay with them).

And for several years I worked with the homeless in Seattle, and those who’d just gotten homes through one of those really lefty programs where they house homeless people without demanding they get “clean” first.  Have you seen the joy of the face of someone who is no longer homeless?  There’s some awe, and also sometimes terror–for those also suffering from mental illness, the silence of a studio apartment can be deafening.

I’ve also been in incredibly unwelcoming homes, the ones where you have to take your boots off before entering the door because of pristine white carpets and a sense that the “outside” must never be allowed to come inside.

The homes of others which I remember most are of those who have a profound sense of the enchantment of home.  Entering the home of another pagan who honors hearth-spirits or a hearth-goddess is always a wonderful experience, like there is something else in the home which welcomes you besides the living inhabitants. Even if they aren’t Pagan, you can sometimes feel the well-tended spirits of the hearth.

I’ve tried to do this, too.  In Seattle, the home I lived in for most of 13 years had a perpetually-unlocked front door (and often enough ajar, even in winter).  And people wandered in–often.  Strangers looking for someone else or just merely curious about who lived inside the house with the pirate flag and garden and disco ball.

The hearth, the home is where we start from.

The Hearth as Commodity

An interesting aspect of America is the notion of home ownership being “a dream.”  Several historians and philosophers have pointed out that this is quite new to the consciousness of the country many of us live–only since the late 1930’s, actually, and part of a political agenda to avert increasing labor unrest.  The reasoning, it appears, is that heavily indebted workers are less likely to strike: risking a job means risking immense amounts of money put into a home.

The “financial crisis” 6 years was also tied to homes, a sudden flooding of easy credit to create a new market in houses which would enrich those who lent the money for the whole scenario.  A sudden market in land is one of the things which birthed Capitalism in the first place, and I’ve reasoned previously, a significant contributor to our modern divorce from the land–it’s thus unsurprising it would be tried again.

In many cities, it’s become fashionable to tear down low-rent apartment buildings to make room for expensive condominiums.  In Seattle, before I left, developers had succeeded in persuading the city to tear down a warren of single-family dwellings which allowed very poor families a tiny bit of yard to be replaced with sprawling high-rent buildings with scant allowance low-income families (without yards, far away from the views their small plots had afforded them). Highly-paid people who sit down all day have made it increasingly difficult for those without such luxury or compensation to afford places to live in more and more cities, like San Francisco.

Homeless encampments have sprung up everywhere in this country, and just as quickly, many of them are evicted, so that having no home is itself a criminal offense.

Some people start from no home at all.

The Hearth as Sacred

Whoville, Eugene, Oregon (photo by Alley Valkyrie)

It saddens–no, enrages me–that so many people do not have homes.  From what I’ve learned of goddesses of the hearth, it appears to displease them, too.

It’s Imbolc soon, and I’ll present a re-forged candle to one of the gods to whom I’m devoted, Brigid.  She is a goddess of many things, of springs and light, of poetry and the forge, and particularly the hearth.

Because of her, I see home as something even more sacred than I’d held it to be before I’d met her.  And because of her, my disgust at our petty reasons for maintaining an economic system which rewards some with wealth and its spoils and justifies the homelessness of others has grown from mere personal and political work to one of duty to the gods.

Think on them, if you would.  I will, when I honor her, when I thank her for the hearth she’s given me and the love, safety, and poetry therein.  And consider the lesson of inter-dependence, how the excesses of one means the poverty of another.

And consider–if I’m even partially right about some of the causes of the disenchantment of our world, then the work of worlding the gods and spirits back into our lives is also the work of dismantling Capitalism, a system that, by making land and homes something for those with wealth, forces others to live without.

Hearths are sacred.  Everyone should have one.

(I’ll be on Wyrd Ways radio the 5th of February.  Check my site for details. I’ll be talking a bit about my pilgrimage, disenchantment and probably lots about Capitalism.

Also, a reader wrote a beautiful poem about Ned Ludd, inspired by a previous post.  Consider reading it–it’s exhilarating.)

Addendum–please check out Alley Valkyrie’s brilliant article about the homeless of Eugene, Oregon

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About Rhyd Wildermuth

An intractable tea-swilling leftist-punk bard, Rhyd Wildermuth has left bits of his heart(h) everywhere—in a satyr’s den in Berlin, hanging from an elder tree over a holy well in Bretagne, scattered in back alleys of Seattle, and lost somewhere in the bottom of his rucksack. He’s devoted to Welsh gods, breathes words, makes candles, plays recorder, fumbles with tech, and refuses ever to learn to drive. He also writes at paganarch.com.