Goddesses in Buffy
Tara as Hestia
“The Centre Did Hold”
“Things fall apart…” So begins Tara’s plea to Willow to resume their relationship at the end of “Entropy” (6.18). The phrase is the first half of a line from W.B. Yeats’ oft-quoted and oft referenced poem, “The Second Coming”. The second half of that line is “…the centre cannot hold”.
But the center did hold-until a bullet from a misogynistic sociopath ripped through its heart.
Hestia, and her Roman counterpart Vesta, was the goddess of the hearth and home. She is the least known of the goddesses, although while she was in power, the most beloved. In fact, she very probably was one of the last of the matrifocal goddesses, if not the last. Matrifocal societies were “centered” or “focused” around the women in the community. In Latin, the word for hearth is focus.
Hestia was not represented in human form but by a flame. Her hearths, as well as her temples, were always round. No home or temple was truly sanctified until she was present and her presence provided spiritual illumination as well as physical warmth and heat.
In “Villians”, (6.20) before Willow exacts vengeance on Warren for Tara’s murder by flaying him alive, she says that the bullet that took the life from Tara took her light away from Willow and the rest of the world.
Because she was the Goddess of the hearth and home, the domestic environment was an element that was very important to Hestia. Tara’s room at college is a place that feels as enchanted as it does safe. Doug Petrie, in the Season Six overview, says that the relationship between Tara and Willow was meant to be a safe place that viewers could retreat to no matter how dark the rest of the series was. In “Restless” (4.22), Willow tells Tara that she never worries in Tara’s room. Designer Carey Meyer did an outstanding job in creating whatever environment Tara was a part of to be a balance of security and enchantment. After Buffy’s death, Tara and Willow move into Joyce’s old bedroom and it is transformed in to a magical and safe retreat as well.
To understand Hestia’s influence while she was in power, it may help to explore her relationship in the genealogy and hierarchy of the Greek gods and goddesses (I promise I’ll try to make this as fast and painless as possible).
Hestia was the first child of Cronus and Rhea (“Of course,” I can hear you saying. “I know who she is now.”) Cronus was the offspring of Gaia and her son Uranus (apparently if you are a Greek deity you get a get-out-of jail-free card when it comes to the taboo on incest. Or maybe the in-fighting that came from the in-breeding was the origin of the taboo.) Cronus and his sister Rhea (more in-breeding) were among the twelve Titans. Uranus grew resentful of his progeny and buried them in Gaia, (also known as the earth). Gaia appealed to her children and the youngest, Cronus, (Saturn in Rome) came to her aid by castrating his father. Cronus then became the most powerful deity and created the first generation of Olympians. They were Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus.
Some blabbermouth psychic told Cronus that his son would overthrow him so Cronus, determined not to let that happen, swallowed all but one of his children (are we seeing a pattern yet?). Rhea, still pregnant with Zeus, appealed to Gaia and Uranus. They told her to go to Crete. Rhea followed their advice, and when she gave birth to Zeus she tricked Cronus by giving him a stone in swaddling clothes (sometimes you have to wonder about the intelligence of some of these gods). Zeus eventually tricked Cronus into regurgitating all of his children.
Hestia was the last of the children to emerge from her father’s body. She was also the first swallowed and therefore spent the longest time in darkness and solitude. “I lived my life in shadow, never the sun on my face. It didn’t seem so sad though, I figured that was my place,” Tara sang to Willow in “Once More with Feeling”, (6.7).
Cronus was a tyrannical father who showed no regard for his children and Rhea was distant and ineffectual. Hestia was the child left the most on her own. Tara’s distant and disapproving father who appeared in “Family” (5.6) to take her home entirely embodies the Cronus archetype. Although Tara’s mother was apparently very powerful, she died early enough in Tara’s childhood to make very little impression on her. Tara’s father arrived to take her away on the pretext that when Tara reached her 20th birthday she would become a full-fledged demon like the rest of the women in her family. Spike ultimately and characteristically settles the question once and for all by punching Tara in the nose, consequently suffering intense neurological pain and proving that Tara is human.
Hestia was the oldest sister of the first generation of Olympians and maiden aunt to the second. Although she was eventually replaced by Dionysus, god of wine (you know, the archetypical party dude), she refused to participate in the love affairs and wars that other deities became embroiled in. As a result, she was given the highest place of honor in the center (there’s that word again) of every temple and given the best of the offerings from the mortals.
Hestia shares a focused consciousness with Athena and Artemis, but hers is an inward focus, toward herself. Hestia’s perception is fueled by her intuition. Time after time, in the fourth season, the very first in which she appears, Tara perceives much in her immediate environment that others miss. She was the one who sensed that Faith was in Buffy’s body in “Who Are You?” (4-16) and helps Willow to locate Buffy and conjure the magical tool that will recover Buffy to her own body. She also senses Buffy’s pain and feeling of betrayal when Buffy discovers that Riley slept with Faith when she was in Buffy’s body (“Superstar”, 4.17).
Bolen’s description of the Hestia archetype growing up in a dysfunctional family describes what we first see of Tara in “Hush” (4-10), “…She tries not to be noticed, has a surface passivity, and an inner certainty that she is different from those around her. She tries to be unobtrusive in all situations- she becomes persona-less like the goddess herself…” (p. 49) In Jungian psychology, the term “persona” (from the Latin word meaning mask) represents the mask of social adaptation. In other words, it is the way we present ourselves to the world and how we are seen by the world. Bolen compares a person with a well-functioning persona as having a large wardrobe to choose from that is appropriate for all occasions. Hestia has no interest in persona and is often awkward and socially reclusive.
In her introductory scene, with Willow and the Wanna-Blessed-Be-s, Tara practically exudes the desire to disappear and doesn’t even fully complete her contribution to the meeting.
However, the connection between Tara and Willow, through a mere meeting of the eyes was obvious to anyone. Later in the same episode, Tara and Willow join hands and move the drinks machine to prevent the Gentlemen from entering the laundry room. Joss Whedon, in his commentary, says that the moment was meant to be “…physical, empowering and beautiful…It is a statement about love-two people together can accomplish more than when they’re alone, more than the sum of their parts.” He also said it was one of the most romantic moments of the entire series.
Although their relationship developed rather quickly, Willow kept the growing love between her and Tara to herself because, as she explains to Tara in “Who Are You?”, she wants to have something that is just hers alone. “I am, you know,” Tara says to Willow. “What?” Willow asks. “Yours,” Tara replies.
Even after Willow acknowledges the relationship, Tara still feels a bit like the outsider, saying in “Real Me” (5.2) that she’s like Dawn who’s not considered part of the Scooby Gang, and that she’s not sure if she wants to be included. Although Willow assures her that she is definitely one of the gang, the feeling doesn’t seem to quite dissipate until Buffy declares Tara as part of the family four episodes later.
That Tara’s inclusion of the Scooby “family” is concurrent with Joyce’s developing illness and death is possibly not an accident. Joyce, especially from the third season on, was a safe center that all the people in the Buffy universe could go to for some semblance of sanity and security. Joyce was a constant source of comfort, offering a bowl of soup or hot chocolate and a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on (“Innocence”, 2.14; “Killed By Death”, 2.18; “Lover’s Walk”, 3.8; “Fear Itself”, 4.4; “Restless” 4.22). The exception being, of course, when she was dating a homicidal robot (“Ted” 2.11- with an unforgettable performance by the gifted John Ritter); being controlled by demon eggs (“Bad Eggs” 2.12); trying to come to terms with her daughter’s vocation (“Becoming-Part Two”, 2.22); under the spell of evil chocolate bars (“Band Candy” 3.6-, magical Jane Espenson’s debut), or simply preparing to burn her daughter and her friends at the stake under the suggestive power of a demon who takes the form of the real Hansel and Gretel (“Gingerbread”, 3.11).
But with Joyce’s death, Tara’s compassion and wisdom begin to take center stage, and, in fact, Tara does become the emotional center of the Scooby Gang. Her experience with her own mother’s death makes her a rock for Buffy to turn to when no one else seems to know what’s going on inside of Buffy.
This is, in fact, the beginning of the separation of Willow and Tara, which was, as it turned out, not necessarily as bad it might have seemed. In “Tough Love” (5.19), Willow is momentarily resentful of the fact that Tara can understand more than she what Buffy is experiencing. This moves on to the revelation that Tara is fearful that Willow’s feelings for her are a phase and a college fling and that Willow will return to being heterosexual. The seeds of this appeared as early as the first episode of the season, “Buffy vs. Dracula”, when Tara is alarmed that Willow seems to be attracted by Dracula’s allure. The argument then goes on to Tara’s unease at the breakneck speed of Willow’s advancing magical skills.
Glory’s malicious brain-suck of Tara, the ensuing battle and Buffy’s death and resurrection put these conflicts temporarily on the back burner, but eventually the issue of Willow’s abuse of magic surfaces again. However, even after Tara left Willow, she remained a vital part of the group. We see her as a surrogate mother to Dawn in “Smashed” (6.9), taking her for a movie and milkshake fun day, but also extracting a promise from Dawn that she eat something leafy green late that night (she’s very specific about it being leafy green, not gummy green). She then reluctantly stays with Dawn because both Willow and Buffy are out all night.
And in “Dead Things” (6.13) Buffy turns to Tara to learn why Spike can hurt her and begs Tara not to forgive her as she confesses that she’s been sleeping with Spike. The last scene with Buffy falling on her knees and sobbing on Tara’s lap is one of the most heart-rending moments of the entire series.
“Her gift is to listen with a compassionate heart, staying centered in the midst of whatever turmoil a friend brings to her, providing a warm place by her hearth.” (Bolen, p 122)
Though the break-up is incredibly painful to watch, during the separation Tara finally becomes her own person. This is what Bolen recommends for those who have a dominant Hestia personality. As Drew Z. Greenberg, the writer of “Entropy”, (6.18), points out in the Season Six Overview, when Tara and Willow finally do get back together, it’s on Tara’s terms and it’s what both of them want. The seeds of Tara’s blossoming into her own person actually began in “Hush” when Tara sought Willow out to do a spell to restore everyone’s voices. She, in a sense, became the aggressor.
Hestia’s replacement by Dionysus was probably not as sudden as Tara’s death; the replacement of any societal icon can take hundreds of years. But it was just as permanent. Hestia all but disappeared from the pantheon and very little is known about her except what is found in the Homeric hymns.
Tara’s death, on the other hand, was swift and shocking and left many viewers with a sense of betrayal. So much has been written about Tara’s death and its socio-political impact that anything I would have to say at this point would be superfluous. I will however, say one thing. OK, two things.
Actually, I’m going to reiterate Drew Z. Greenberg’s response to those who protested Tara’s death as a lesbian cliché. Greenberg pointed out the hypocrisy of that opinion, as it represented Tara only by means of her sexual orientation, not the complete, beautiful person and character that writers created and developed for the better part of three years. The second comment was from Joss Whedon himself, who revealed on the Bronze Board on May 22, 2002 that he got physically upset while discussing Tara’s death in story meetings. That, he added, was how he knew it was the right thing to do.
Tara’s death did, however, leave a hole in the Scooby family that was never filled while the show was on the air. In fact, Tara was one of the few main characters, possibly the only one, who never returned to the show after she was killed.
It was the writers’ contention in Season Seven that Xander had been the rock for the Scooby Gang all along. Because of his lack of superpowers and sometimes literal invisibility to the rest of the gang, he was in a perfect position to see things objectively and sometimes to tell the hard truths that were hard to hear (although Spike performed that role extremely well many times over the years himself) and even save the world with his love for Willow. But the nurturing, compassionate wisdom of Hestia was something that, by nature, was missing from Xander and, indeed, the season after Tara’s death was the last for the television series. I would suggest that without the feminine nurturing element from either Joyce or Tara, the real center was gone and at that point things really did fall apart, until Buffy found that bit of Hestia within herself and shared her power with the rest of the potential slayers, much like Tara and Willow combined their powers for the first time in “Hush”.
So, was Joss Whedon wrong when he killed Tara? Far be it for me to argue with a genius. To the contrary, I’m grateful to him and the rest of the incredible writing staff for the creation of a character that became as beloved as much as, if not more than Hestia herself (extra props go to Marti Noxon, who recognized that Amber Benson was the one to play Tara). He did something that no one else in history has done, at least for me. He finally gave Hestia face and form. I am also extremely grateful to the gifted Amber herself for giving the character life and making her so beloved, not just by Willow but by many others as well.
While Tara’s death was devastating, the image and moment that lingers for me is the last scene of “Entropy”, where we see two people who each went on an incredible journey come together again, each as a whole unique individual, hungry for each other as only two people who were meant to be together can be, kissing each other like the world doesn’t exist, and for them, at that moment, it truly didn’t.
Credit must be given to the music editor Tim Isle and music supervisor John C. King. The song “That Kind of Love”, by Pat Bergeson and Michael McDonald, sung so beautifully by Alison Krauss, always, always breaks me, completely.
“They fall apart so hard. You can’t ever put them back they way they were…it’s just…you know, it takes time. You can’t just have coffee and expect…there’s just so much to work through. Trust has to be built again on both sides. You have to learn if…if we’re even the same people we were…if you can fit in each other’s lives. It’s a long important process…and can we just skip it? Can you just be kissing me now?”
“…though there was not faith enough
Still my heart held on…
When we find that kind of love.”