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Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Mysteries of Nerthus...

The ritual of the Earth Goddess Nerthus, who may originally have been the consort or twin of Njörðr the Ocean God, and the mother of Frey and Freyja, is of the ancient Vanir tradition. This  fertility festival was celebrated throughout Northern Europe by Nordic and Germanic tribes, and in another form, in ancient Greece, both of which presumably were derived from a ritual of even greater antiquity.

The major source for this festival is Tacitus, who tells an enigmatic tale of how the Goddess’s spirit is embodied within a sacred chariot, covered by a cloth and hidden by it.  Either the Goddess herself, or her image, is placed in a chariot drawn by white heifers, and together they make a ritual procession. When the Goddess retires from the view of the common mortals, she returns to a sacred grove on a remote island in the sea where she resides in a temple. At this place, Nerthus and her chariot and the cloth or veil are bathed by servants, who are then drowned as sacrifices to her so they cannot reveal the awe inspiring secrets of the mysteries that they have witnessed.

As in the Makahiki festival in Hawaii, which may faintly echo ancient European festivals in Asia too, since Europeans were present there in Northern China 1000 years before the ethnic Chinese, no war is permitted during this time. In Northern Europe all weapons were stored away and hospitality embraced, as was also the custom during the ancient Greek Olympics. I suggest that the putting away of the iron weapons  mentioned by Tacitus may be part of  the origin of the later superstition that witches could be warded off with iron.. It may also refer to the magical abilities  of amulets.

During the Dark Ages, our Divine Ones were demonized by christians and their wisdom and power temporarily obscured from view.  They have been presented as caricatures of themselves and objects of evil or fear by fanatics who have bowed down to the oppression of semitic cults. Now as the willful ignorance of christianity and its false gods is ending, the true nature and beauty of our Gods are revealed again. 

Zeus and Hera by Carracci

Nerthus is a fertility Goddess, and more. I believe her ritual is paralleled in the festival of the Greek Goddess Hera, whose cult image was also carried in honor by a chariot decorated with draperies and pulled by white heifers. In Hera’s procession there is also a sacrifice, and also a ritual bath to restore her virginity, which Hera takes before renewing her marriage to Zeus. Bathing in cold scared springs was believed to increase fertility in Nordic lands, and indeed, this is scientifically accurate, since bathing in water in very low temperatures is known to regularize and enhance hormones necessary for conception.

There are also aspects of Persephone and other chthonic deities which may be related to Nerthus.  The Earth Goddess, who is also the Queen of the Underworld, Persephone, joins her husband in the Netherworld in autumn, and renews her marriage as well. The earth lies fallow in her absence, awaiting her return. I think it is appropriate for Odinists to celebrate the Nerthus Festival again, at this time of year especially.

Above: An ancient Greek  relief that is commonly thought to be Aphrodite Anadyomene, who is born of the sea foam, but which I think may actually depict the ritual bath before the sacred marriage. 



1 comment:

  1. Very informative...thank you! Where exactly is Coconut Island, by the way?