View Full Version : Nerthus: Germanic Worship of Mother Earth

Tuesday, November 8th, 2005, 03:29 PM
Tacitus wrote in his 'Germania' of an Earth goddess, commonly worshiped by the Germanic tribes, called Nerthus who was taken amongst them in a wagon drawn by cows.

Wherever she stopped there was feasting and, since weapons were laid down, she was believed to bring peace and plenty. At the end of her travels, possibly done on a yearly basis, the wagon would return to the sacred grove which was accessible only to her priest and situated by a lake. Then her wagon, image and vestments were washed in the lake by the slaves who were drowned immediately afterwards. Great love, reverence and fear were accorded to her.

One of the three tribes mentioned in Tacitus's account was the Anglii, i.e. one of the three major Germanic tribes who later went to England (the Saxons and Jutes being the others).

Nerthus, although a Latin rendering of the native name, has a similar linguistic base to the Van god Nj÷r­. Echoing Tacitus's account, another god of the Vanir - Freyr - was known in Viking times to have had his image carried amongst the people in a wagon. The Norse myths talk of Nj÷r­'s sister who, with him, were the parents of the great goddess Freyja and her brother Freyr. This sister is not named but it could well be that she is the same goddess as the earlier Nerthus.

Mythologically Earth herself was said to be the daughter of Night. Frigga is said to be the daughter of Earth (Fjorgynn) by Odin as well as being his wife. The god Thor was said to be the son of Earth (Jor­) by Odin and was said to derive his might (the greatest in all the worlds) from Her.

Historically there is an Anglo-Saxon charm called Aecerbot (field remedy). This was linked to the blessing of the plough and it calles on Mother Earth: "erce, erce, erce, mother of earth ......". The charm includes the hope that she will be in the god's embrace and filled with good for man. Although it has been heavily christianised, the pagan undertones of an old fertility ritual can be clearly seen.

This portrayal of Earth as not only a place but also as the source of the deities themselves and nutrition for all living things, shows that she was regarded in a special light. She was known by many names even just in northern Europe, apart from Nerthus: Fold or Folde, Fjorgynn, Grund, Jor­ and Hlodynn (which means "kind friend"). The god Vidar was described as Hlodynn's son and there are (or were) Latin inscriptions in Friesland and the lower Rhine to "dea Hludana". Although some people have linked her to the Anglo-Saxon goddess Hre­ra, who gave her name to the Anglo-Saxon word for the month of March, this is inappropriate as there is a known Anglo-Saxon word meaning glory which is the root of Hre­ra's name and she is more likely to have been a warrior style goddess (similar to Skadi) .

The academic writer Kathleen Herbert has suggested a couple of most appropriate Anglo-Saxon names for Mother Earth in her most fruitful phases: Gifole or Gifiende. They have been derived from the Anglo-Saxon for giving or bestowing gifts. It would also be an Anglo-Saxon echo of the Scandinavian goddesses Gefion and Gefn.

Speculation suggests that the Harvest Queen festivities in England are derived from the old annual honouring of the fruitful Mother Earth at the harvest of her bounty.

From being an actual goddess in very early times, by the early medieval times and during the Viking age Mother Earth appears to have had a slightly different but no less revered place in the perceived cosmology of the North. As the Ring of Troth in America defined it - folk not only lived on and by her but were at the same time responsible for tending and acknowledging her, making gifts in thanks and bringing the blessings of the goddesses and gods to her.

Source (http://homepages.nildram.co.uk/~fealcen/motherearth.htm)

Tuesday, November 8th, 2005, 04:28 PM
Ahhh, yes. It is deep in the blood.
"Worship" of immutable Nature, the Earth I melt back into, the Sky above my head, the broad ocean, and the trees that bind, is something I gain sustenance from and feel is natural in my bones. It is above and beyond me, regardless of me.

The old North Germans had it right ;)