Every single person is like a temple, carrying a sacred fire within.
Do you have a purpose, something you strongly believe in, something you want with a burning desire? When you combine your passion with self-discipline, you can wield the power of your sacred fire.
This sacred fire is one of the secrets of the ancient Mediterranean.
A long time ago, a traveler named Aeneas carried the sacred fire of Vesta, as he crisscrossed the Mediterranean sea, looking for his final destiny.
Vesta became one of the most important gods of ancient Rome. Most of the Greek and Roman gods are depicted as people, but Vesta is more obscure.
A few rare statues and engravings show Vesta as a woman, usually veiled and with very little detail. Instead, she’s almost always represented as a fire.
Fire was often a violent, destructive force, but Vesta was the goddess of hearth and home. She was the benevolent side of fire, the energy that cooks our food, the source of light and warmth.
Vesta was also described as “the fire of Earth,” or “fire of life.” Vesta was the life force, the energy of life itself. Vesta was a symbol of power, energy, passion--but all of these things contained and controlled.
Aeneas carried Vesta’s sacred fire relics across the sea, seeking a place for them to take root. She was the fire that fueled his mission and destiny.
In fact, the whole story of Aeneas begins with fire. The city of Troy was burning.
You’ve heard the story of the wooden horse. It was the end of the Trojan War, but this was just the beginning of a new story for Aeneas.
Aeneas escaped from the fallen city, and led his family and a large group of survivors on a journey around the Mediterranean.
Eventually they made their way to central Italy. Aeneas married the princess of a local tribe, and their descendants were Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.
The Roman poet Virgil tells the story in the Aeneid. It’s similar to the Odyssey, covers a lot of the same ground, and takes place at roughly the same time. (It’s surprising that Aeneas and Ulysses never ran into each other. I’m a little disappointed about that.)
All through his journey, Aeneas carried the religious relics of Troy, especially the pieces belonging to Vesta.
There’s an important story in the Aeneid, which is related to Vesta and very relevant to the current state of the world.
At one point, Aeneas and his people were shipwrecked near Carthage, in modern day Tunisia. The travelers were fed and clothed by the generosity of Dido, the queen of Carthage.
Dido was an extraordinary woman, and there’s evidence that she wasn’t merely a mythological character. Carthage prospered for centuries thanks to Dido, and her life was filled with clever and heroic deeds.
But she was about to meet her doom.
The goddess Venus (or Aphrodite if you prefer) set Dido's heart on fire. She afflicted Dido with an insatiable love for Aeneas. For a while the feelings were reciprocated, but Aeneas eventually sailed off to find Italy.
When he left, Dido lit her own funeral pyre, stepped into the flames, and stabbed herself. The fire that consumed her body was the beginning of centuries of war.
Carthage would have her revenge. Many generations later, the Carthaginian general Hannibal would invade Italy and bring Rome to her knees for two decades.
Rome would return the favor by conquering Carthage, slaughtering her citizens, demolishing the city down to the last brick, and covering the land with salt so nothing would ever grow there again.
This story shows the violent, destructive side of passion. The internal fire that goes unchecked.
This fire has never stopped burning. The Mediterranean has been torn apart by centuries of violence.
Religious passion, the sacred flame that should make people love one another and perform deeds of kindness, has exploded into a conflagration. It goes back to biblical times, burns through the Crusades, and continues today in conflicts between Jews and Palestinians, Shi’i and Sunni, Bosnians and Serbs, Greeks and Turks…
I often think about what it would take for us to hold the sacred fire in our hearts again, and turn it away from destruction.
Justice would be the obvious answer, but we can never seem to agree on what that means.
Understanding, compassion, and forgiveness are harder to imagine, but they are easier to reach.
I’m writing this on a cold morning in February. My fingers are numb, but there’s a fire burning inside of me. I want to learn and have new adventures and experiences. I want to bring other people together to do the same.
Travel and learning are two bright lamps than can light a pathway out of the flames.
This is my sacred fire. What is yours?