Driven Towards the Sacred: Vesta (Part One)

Close up of fireIt’s a funny thing about what we find sexy, as subject matter, and what we don’t. The other day I was complaining that not enough people give much weight to the Sun and the Moon anymore, particularly in transit; I was told point blank that neither of the lights is particularly sexy these days, not the way Chiron or the asteroids are. I bit my tongue. We will get to that another day. (The threshold of life and death, the schism between the past and the future, what has been and what will be, what I have been in my all and what I may be in the future; we throw ourselves at the mercy of the lights every living day–that isn’t sexy?) And yet, I find myself drawn away, as well, if I’m honest.  There is an odd thing that happens in astrology (no doubt it happens in other fields) that when a thing is meant to be understood, when its time is coming, it makes itself known in a number of  ways, both consciously and subconsciously.  Mostly, it whispers, in a sexy way.  And this brings me to Vesta, because Vesta has been whispering to me lately. And when Vesta whispers, even the softest whisper, you have to listen, because she will haunt you until you do.

Lately, I have been inundated with charts where Vesta is prominent, on an angle, or conjunct the Sun or Moon, an important planet, or the Nodes. Vesta has been sneaking up on me in progressions charts where she was least expected, and adding eye opening detail to ordinary transits. Perhaps Vesta has been whispering all along, but I, distracted by ‘sexier’ bodies and positions, was not ready to hear her.  I’m listening now.

Mostly when we think of Vesta, two keywords come to mind. We think of her virgins and we think of the hearth. Again, not sexy. Our initial introduction to Vesta is as a prissy miss who grows into a “Leave It To Beaver” mother. Someone who knows how to keep the floors free of waxy build-up and who can throw together a batch of cookies at a moment’s notice. Ho hum. “House proud” is a phrase I learned living in England, describing people who set great store by their home.  Poor Vesta. She is none of these things.

Vesta is not so much the goddess in charge of the hearth as she is the fire itself. That central, sacred flame of life, self-perpetuating, never ending. Vesta is where our true passion lies, the place where we come to when we must choose life over death-in-life. And she is everything we do, every step we take, to keep that flame alive. She is our courage, and she is our sacrifice–the willing and joyful surrender that allows us to keep what we cherish. The things that make an individual life, dedicated to an individual purpose, worthwhile.

I’ve noticed, with students, that Vesta and Ceres are often confused.  I can understand this, given that food and feeding (emotional or otherwise–Ceres) are often connected with hearth and home.  But neither of these goddesses should be taken at face value.  Ceres has her dangerous side, her cyclical scythe, and I have seen her feast at the table of more deaths, divorces and catastrophes than I care to remember.  Vesta’s inclinations are not the stuff of Cancer–no homey complacency here.  She can gently tend a fire, but her true nature is quite different.  Vesta can turn a little dangerous on you because she has no gray areas.  When Vesta sets her focus, there are no alternatives, and she will fly in the face of anyone who tells her otherwise. Yet Vesta is not prone to extremes or fanaticism.  She knows what she loves. When she grabs hold in the psyche, Vesta will drive us towards what really matters, and not give a damn whether it’s practical to go there or not, because she infuses us with the heady certainty that what we are drawn towards is absolutely essential to our being.  It’s not surprising how many successful people in the arts have Vesta prominent.  Vesta is that urge to do something because you can’t possibly think of doing anything else with your life.  A friend of mine who is an actor, and who has known he wanted to be an actor before kindergarten, and who has never been out of acting work since age 15, has Vesta in the sixth conjunct a fifth house Moon and Mars.  Vesta’s innate ‘knowing’ can be a great gift. As the poet Rumi said, “Let yourself be silently drawn to the greater pull of what you really love.” Transits and progressions of Vesta, in particular, can mark the times when we have ‘a ha’ moments about where we need to be and what we need to do with our lives.

Vesta is famously self-contained. She has the supreme confidence of those who know that they would make the ultimate sacrifice for whatever or whomever they love, cherish and believe in, and will do it gladly, without questioning. Where Vesta is concerned, we don’t have to think about things.  Whatever house she falls in describes what we instinctively honour, and where we hope to be pure of heart and deed. We will gladly sacrifice where Vesta is concerned. Vesta in the third worships learning and communication.  Vesta in the sixth has a work ethic that would put any Virgo to shame.  Vesta in the eleventh reveres community, and connecting on a social level.  Vesta can be particularly single minded, once she is channeled.  She can add a white-hot form of concentration to any other aspect, planet or angle she touches in the chart.  The dealings of that planet or angle will take on a quality that is hard to describe–not quite driven, but infused with a touch of the absolute.

Sometimes this ‘absolute’ quality can get out of hand.  Not that we would notice, in the mad haze of our righteous certainty.  The dark side of Vesta can burn us from within without our knowing, and without us feeling a thing until it’s too late and we’re too far gone to see clearly.  Vesta isn’t trying to exhaust us–that’s our own doing, depending on the way we react to her whispers in our ear late at night, depending on our own psychic make up and other aspects in the chart.  Vesta simply knows what we must do, and will urge us towards those things in no uncertain terms.  The problem with Vesta is that when she is off balance, she forgets that we have another, less absolute, messier side of life to tend to.

We can turn away from Vesta, ignore her promptings, elude her.  We would be missing out on the very thing that ignites the center of our being, but we wouldn’t have the responsibilities of those who can hear her.   Many of us turn our backs on what matters most to us, because it’s too hard, or complicated, or requires too much time.  Vesta doesn’t acknowledge any of those things. Vesta knows that if we ignore our passion, if we don’t meet it halfway, we end up living an inauthentic life, lost in the shadows. If a Vestal virgin broke her vows, she was buried alive, because killing one outright was illegal in Roman law. We may end up feeling buried alive ourselves if we don’t give Vesta her voice.

When Vesta is working well in the chart, there is a focus on what matters to her, but that focus is a joyful one, where we are willing to make any adjustments to achieve our sacred goal. (The word focus is crucial to Vesta–it is derived from the Latin word for ‘hearth.’) Vesta’s energy is not the kind that leaves us ravaged and hollowed out from over-work.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to work towards a goal that left you tired, but joyful and satisfied and feeling right with yourself and the world, that’s Vesta.  If we go into overdrive, that’s usually Mars or Pluto or Saturn (sometimes Uranus) at work.  However, when Vesta is aligned with these planets, an already driven chart can get an extra boost of urgency and single-mindedness.  When misaligned with the outer planets, for example, Vesta’s urgings can become distorted.  With Uranus, we may passionately struggle for reform that may be well before its time, with Neptune, we are haunted by Utopian visions, or an ideal of perfection that is impossible to bear.  With Pluto, Vesta can be relentless in her struggle for a drive towards an absolute inner rightness that may go beyond the boundaries, beyond the rules of common sense and decency.  With all of these extremes, Vesta may be driven towards the ultimate sacrifice, of itself or others. As always, Vesta focuses and clarifies intent, enhancing any difficult positions that may arise in the natal chart. Marshall Applewhite, whose followers committed mass suicide on the coming of the comet Hale-Bopp, had Vesta in the 10th conjunct Saturn, opposite Jupiter/Pluto and square a first house Uranus. Ted Bundy, the charming serial killer, had Vesta in the eighth squaring a Uranus/Moon-Black Moon opposition.

Partnered with Vesta, Saturn can be a heavy internal taskmaster as well.  In hard aspect, whatever we do may not measure up.  Karen Carpenter, the seventies singer who was one of the earliest known victims of anorexia, had Vesta conjunct the Sun in the 10th, opposite Saturn and square Ceres.  Judy Garland had her Vesta conjunct Mercury in the 12th, opposite the Moon and square to a fourth house Saturn (and square her 4th/10th Nodes).  She struggled all her life with never feeling adequate enough in many areas of her life.  Betty Ford, first lady of the ‘clinic’ fame, had Vesta/Mercury square to a Saturn/Neptune conjunction, adding addiction to the mix. Sometimes, when Vesta is paired with harsh configurations in the chart, an escape of some kind must be found. With Vesta/Saturn, the inner urgings need physical results. If this is thwarted, the inner critic, coupled with the sense of losing time, of losing life itself, can be excruciating.

As with all of the major asteroids, the word ‘maturity’ is key here. As each day goes by, we are more and more aware of what we cherish. When we’re young, how easy it is to throw things away. As we mature, we realize that there are many things in life that never can or will be replaced. We hear Vesta more and more as the years go by, as we turn more inward, as we learn what brings us, and those we love, rest and peace. Those who honoured Vesta by becoming her Virgins maintained the role of priestess and became the sacred embodiment of Vesta on earth. She minded what was cherished, what was sacred, what was loved. After a Vestal reached her mid-thirties, she had the choice to marry, raise a family, or do anything else that a good Roman citizen would care to do. It was considered a special honour for a man to be the partner of a former Vestal. Yet she had to wait until her duty was done. No loopholes, no arguments. The penalty for violating this law was death.

The wisdom of Vesta has to do with keeping the world out, to a certain extent, until we’re wise enough to use our powers within it. We must keep close to the core fire until we become one with it. We may be late bloomers where Vesta is concerned, waiting and praying and learning, until the fire is lit within. Once it is, we are ready to light the world.

Part Two of Driven Towards the Sacred, Vesta in Relationships, will follow shortly .

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