God of the Week: Nerthus

12/27/2010: Nerthus

Nerthus is an ancient Germanic goddess of fertility. She was a very popular goddess, worshiped among many tribes. In her worship, slaves were sacrificed to her, often by drowning in a lake or bog. At least some of the “bog mummies” pulled out of peat bogs in northern Europe are believed to have been sacrifices to Nerthus.

In the first century CE, Roman politician and historian Tacitus mentions the worship of Nerthus in his ethnographic description of the Germanic people called Germania:

After the Langobardi come the Reudigni, Auiones, Angli, Varni, Eudoses, Suarines and Nuithones, all well guarded by rivers and forests.There is nothing remarkable about any of these tribes unless it be the common worship of Nerthus, that is Earth Mother.

They believe she is interested in men’s affairs and drives among them.On an island in the ocean sea there is a sacred grove wherein waits a holy wagon covered by a drape. One priest only is allowed to touch it. He can feel the presence of the goddess when she is there in her sanctuary and accompanies her with great reverence as she is pulled along by kine.

It is a time of festive holiday making in whatever place she decides to honour with her advent and stay. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms, in fact every weapon is put away, only at that time are peace and quiet known and prized until the goddess, having had enough of peoples company, is at last restored by the same priest to her temple.

After which the wagon and the drape, and if you like to believe me, the deity herself is bathed in a mysterious pool.The rite is performed by slaves who, as soon as it is done, are drowned in the lake. In this way mystery begets dread and a pious ignorance concerning what that sight may be which only those who are about to die are allowed to see.

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