1. the floor of a fireplace, usually of stone, brick, etc., often extending a short distance into a room.
2. home; fireside: the joys of family and hearth.
In the beginning, before mankind had hearths, we just had fires. A community fire offered protection from the elements, from darkness, from wild animals, from things that go bump in the night. A fire acted as a gathering place for the meal to be cooked, for generations of a community to come together to share their common bounty of food and story. When the community fire became the family hearth, it shifted the cohesion that shared protection, sustenance, and company offered directly into the home, and made it the province of those that tended the home. For many generations, in many cultures, the hearth tenders (and most deities of the hearth) have been female. This begins to change, but the stereotype of the Hearth as a “Woman thing” prevails (often even among women).
A lot of the historical context for honoring Hestia, and honoring the hearth (since this maxim can be taken to mean either…though, as all of the other maxims fail to mention any deities by name, I tend to prefer the latter as the meaning the Greeks were going for) is directed towards women, as a result of this stereotyping. I could talk about things like proper housekeeping, about nourishing food, about keeping a household shrine, about magic in the home…and all sorts of traditional and non-traditional, modern and historical ways to honor Hestia, and to honor the hearth as a physical place (and I do, among other things). But I think, as a kitchen witch (and a kitchen is just the modern hearth), honoring the hearth ultimately has very little to do with a physical place (even though most of what we do is centered there). The hearth is just a symbol, a tool, for the working of a certain type of magic…the type of magic that embodies honoring the hearth.
Honoring the hearth is really about honoring those you would share a fire with.