Kitchen Gods and Goddesses: List and Descriptions
Gods of the Hearth
Because at some point in history all of our ancestors were animistic, they believed spirits and gods resided in their homes. This belief was particularly strong when it came to the homes' hearths (in modern times we call this the kitchen or place where we make food). In the more recent past, these gods were deduced to common household spirits like the Scottish brownie or the Slavic domovoi. But before elves and the like were thought to inhabit households, our ancestors called upon, worshiped and honored the gods of the hearth on a daily basis.
This is a list and descriptions of some of the more well-known gods of the hearth by region and/or culture. This is by no means an all-inclusive list, keep in mind.
Greek and Roman Kitchen Gods
We will start with the ancient Greek and Roman pantheons.
She was an ancient greek goddess of the hearth, family and state. Virgin daughter of Cronos and Rhea. Her name translates to mean hearth/fireplace or altar, and therefore she was the goddess who presided over the hearth in every ancient greek household. There were temples dedicated to Hestia, all with an inner hearth that was constantly tended. The Roman equivalent to Hestia is Vesta. Hestia isn't mentioned a lot in Greek mythology, but when she is mentioned they speak of her power and her will to never bow down to man's will.
While many might not have thought of Juno as a Roman hearth goddess, she was considered to be a guardian of the home, marriage and family. Therefore she can also be considered a hearth goddess. She was a protector of women and had many different names throughout Roman history. But in each name, she is associated with women and children and therefore is thought to be a hearth goddess in this aspect.
The Lares are guardian spirits of the home in Roman mythology. They were also called the Night Watchmen, and some believe they were once ancestral spirits who protected their loved ones. The actual origins of the Lares are unknown, but they were thought to be benevolent spirits of the home and hearth. They dwelled by the hearth or by the chimney in their family's household and sometimes were depicted in snake or lizard form. Roman families kept altars for the Lares in their homes to honor them.
Celtic Kitchen Gods
Perhaps the most well-known of the Irish Celtic pantheon, Brigid was once worshiped as a triple-goddess of fire, healing and poetry. Some say she was three sisters in one form, while others say she was one goddess who had three personalities or took on three forms. Brigid's cult was so widespread that she can still be seen in Ireland and Scotland today (and elsewhere) in Saint form - Saint Brigid. Because she was the goddess of the sacred flame, she is therefore associated with the hearth-fire. Where there is fire, there is Brigid (the Exalted One).
The Cailleach was a goddess in Scotland in ancient times. She was thought to bring Winter to the land and was depicted as a wise old woman. The reason she can be viewed as a kitchen goddess today is because she watches over the dormant seeds throughout the winter months, therefore ensuring a bountiful harvest next growing season. What do we do with the harvest? We use it in our kitchens to nourish our bodies and souls. The Cailleach is typically depicted as a wise old woman, but sometimes she shows up as a hideous hag with a blue/green face and an apron. Often you will see kitchen spirits in this form.
She is the Welsh Keeper of the Cauldron. The cauldron used to be at the center of the house in the hearth, and when Cerridwen is shown with it this is a symbol of knowledge and transformation. One of the key elements of working at the hearth (kitchen) is transformation, because we take food and transform it into something completely different in order to feed ourselves and our families. In this way, we are very much like Cerridwen.
Asian Kitchen Gods
Also known as Zao Shen, Zhang Lang, or the Chinese Kitchen God. He watches over the hearth of the home and is also honored in Vietnam. He is one of many hearth deities/spirits in Chinese folk culture and Taoism. His job was to watch over the goings-on of a home and report back to the Jade Emperor in Heaven. A family would be either rewarded or punished based on what Zao Jun had said about them the previous lunar year. Today many Chinese families still hang pictures of Zao Jun above their stoves in their kitchens and offer various offerings to him throughout the year. Some people even light firecrackers in his name.
Not only do the Chinese honor the Kitchen God, they also honor their ancestors. In fact, ancestral piety is more prevalent in Chinese culture. It is believed that the children are to honor their parents, even after their parents have died. Ancestors are built an altar in the household, and this acts as a bridge between the ancestors and the living families. Offerings are given here, including incense and food.
More Kitchen and Hearth Gods
While a large amount of deities from past cultures aren't directly associated with the hearth or the kitchen, they may still be considered kitchen gods for various purposes (as seen above). Almost any deity or spirit that watches over the family or home or is associated with the harvest can also be connected to the hearth fire. Also, deities that protect women in childbirth as well as children can be considered kitchen gods...why? Because often times the woman's most powerful and influential spot in the home is in the kitchen, at the hearth-side.
Some other kitchen and hearth gods from various cultures might include: the Corn Maiden from Native mythology, Demeter a Harvest Goddess from the Greek pantheon, Bes the Egpytian god of the home and hearth, Hathor the Egyptian goddess of love and marriage, and Baba Yaga the Old Crone from Slavic mythology.
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© 2015 Nicole Canfield
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