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  • Writer's pictureSusan Rowland, Author

The Detective as Home-maker!

Hestia, goddess of hearth and home, might appear an unlikely divinity for the mystery’s quest for truth. In the Greek pantheon, Hestia is paired with the enquiring, mercurial Hermes, in the sense that Hestia inhabits the hearth, stays at home, while Hermes is darting about delivering messages.1 It is he who uses language trickily in ways familiar to criminals and detectives. On the other hand, as James Hillman says, at the end of each day of legal cases the judge would leave a written account of the proceedings on the altar of Hestia.2 If Hermes is the unreliable patron of trickiness in words, and father of hermeneutics, Hestia conversely guards contracts. Hestia’s relationship to the word is one of fidelity to meaning that makes writing a core ingredient of a centered sense of home, in the city, amongst family and for the self.3

Hence, Hestia is found in the sacred commitment between sleuth and those for whom the investigation is undertaken. Such a bond occurs whether the witnessing of truth takes the literal form of a written contract or not. So, “centering” and stabilizing being via the quest for the right story is a clue to Hestia’s role in detecting to re-make home. In some of the mysteries discussed below the amateur sleuth is forced to solve a situation that is blighting her own hearth. Hestia is here the object of the detective’s quest, while providing a crucial dimension to knowing. By finding out what really happened, hearth fires are both (re)discovered and re-ignited.

However, Hestia also resides in detective fiction by women in negative forms. Some detectives are spurred on by the mystery of Hestia’s absence in a family or in a workplace that is cold and uncentered. Detecting the ways in which Hestia is absent draws upon a mode of knowing based on familial warmth and trust, in order to solve by dis-solving the uncanny disappearance of these qualities. Yet also, Hestia can be too much present in ways that foster dangerous desires for the purity of home and homeland.4 Without the ameliorating factor of Hermes’s opposite energies of ambiguity, communicativeness and movement, Hestia is the hearth become a purifying inferno, “She” may demand the sacrifice of anything that would pollute the home of its historic or ancestral identity.

Therefore, Hestia reveals herself as a true inhabitant of a polytheistic cosmos; these gods do not come alone. If adhered to singly they spell possession and disaster. With the implied presence of Hermes, Hestia offers a unique gift to the sleuth: a focused centering consciousness that is often crucial to success in the quest for truth. Indeed, James Hillman argues that Hestia is the quality of “in-ness,” the structuring of psychic interiority that has been so central to the modern age.5

It is she who cultivates a sense of an inner self. Fortunately, she is also more than the impoverished inner being of the modern person who sees him- or herself as separate from the world. Hestia is “soul essence” that gives a quality of being at home in a body, household, city, or even the planet.6 She gives hearth-life to all the ways we might find “home.” Hestia’s sense of being “in” therefore includes the hometown, the wilderness; also the sense of Earth as a planet with a core of fire as our home’s hearth. In fact, Hestia converts the abysmal homelessness of space and time to the embodied, psychic sculpting of “place;” the place where the hearth makes a home.

Consequently, although Hestia mistakenly erected as a monotheism, a goddess ruling alone, may persecute those who do not belong, she is also the protector of the stranger at the hearth. She constellates in many detectives who take on cases of those outside their usual definition of home. Finally, the cozy genre, with its ubiquitous turning to the Grail Quest as a myth for meaning, has summoned Hestia to sustain the development of food-oriented mysteries.

As we will see, these catering businesses work as a mediation of Hestian powers, from the home place in the domestic household to constituting it in the home town. In doing so, Hestia is threatened by that most unhomely of crimes, murder; and so the cook becomes sleuth, in order to live fully up to her Hestian skills. Because cooking becomes a way to detect the truth inextricable from comfort and hearth-making, the food itself becomes a materialization of the Grail. Therefore, the sleuth in her quest manifests the Grail as fertility cup, sacred for bringing the goddess and her fertility as food to heal the wasteland.

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