Keepers of the Eternal Fire

The Romans attributed many of their religious institutions to an early king of the city named Numa.

Numa set up a cult of the goddess Vesta, the goddess of hearth and household.  Her temple was in a prominent place, and in it was an ever-burning flame.  The keepers of that flame were a group of women called the Vestal Virgins.

These ladies were daughters of the nobility who took a 30 year vow of chastity, as their name implies.

Since they were deemed worthy of keeping the flame burning, the Vestals had certain qualities nobody else enjoyed.  They went around freely in public, too.

If a criminal was on his way to execution, and a Vestal *accidentally* encountered him, the man received a full pardon. (She had to swear it was an accident).

If a Vestal was being carried in a litter, and someone walked under it, that person was put to death.  You didn’t know? No excuse.

Numa wanted people to realize that meeting a Vestal meant coming into contact with a supernatural force.  It could miraculously grant life in some circumstances, but was also terrifying and could just as easily take life away – if it were disrespected.

Correspondingly, the Vestals’ punishments, if they disrespected their own office, were terrifying.  If you were unchaste while in office, you were sentenced to be buried alive.

What did the Vestals’ flame signify?  Continuity with the past incarnation of one’s community?  The stability of the household? Civilization itself?

We too are keepers of traditions.  Especially Ancient Life Coach subscribers… but every civilized person, in some sense.  (Most of us cook our food, frown on theft, and so on)

What flame in your house will you make eternal?

Do you think it will keep burning if you don’t make it sacred, somehow? 

Numa obviously didn’t.