A few weeks ago, at the Center for Symbolic Studies in New York, I was part of a conversation about technology and myth. We were discussing James Hillman’s concept of “Hermetic Intoxication”, which is another term for internet addiction; being too caught up with technology to the detriment of everything else in your life. Hermes and Hestia are the opposite poles from each other among the Greek pantheon; they are each other’s opposite. Hestia is the goddess of the hearth and home, of the full larder and the warmth and coziness of being in the family home surrounded by loved ones. During our conversation, I suggested that there might be an opposite of hermetic intoxication, that is, hestian intoxication. What does that look like? If it’s the opposite of hermetic intoxication, what does that mean, exactly?
I would argue that Hestian Intoxication manifests in both a positive and negative aspect. In the negative aspect it relates to an extreme focus on the tasks related to tending the home. Those whose homes must always look perfectly clean and organized may be suffering from Hestian Intoxication. This can also manifest itself in the lives of stay-at-home parents. Although Hestian Intoxication can happen to anyone, we can see it when a parent puts aside their work outside of the home to care for a child. The energy that moms and dads had previously spent in the development of a career can become sublimated into care for the home. The care of a child, while demanding, also requires a very different skill set than many parents are used to using in their careers, and often there can be a surfeit of energy left over that can build up when it’s not being used. This can be redirected into obsessive care of the home. There is a joke among stay-at-home parents about “keeping the lines” in the carpet, from having been freshly vacuumed. Sometimes parents are judged by others this way-“is her house clean enough”?
Hestian Intoxication in it’s negative aspect can be seen as a sublimation of the excess energy of anyone who finds themselves at home without a work outlet, but it can also have a positive aspect.
My friend and fellow mythologist Elizabeth Burr-Brandstadt points out that, before Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was published in 1961, many housewives in the United States just threw meals together for dinner every night, just another task in a day filled with them. Mrs. Child’s work was a transformative event in the lives of many women of that era precisely because it demanded something of them in the kitchen. It takes no creative energy to throw a meal together, but fine cooking requires skill. Creating complicated French meals provides an outlet for creative energy, and this demand of creative energy is a positive outlet for Hestian Intoxication.