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Silver Wind
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Join date : 2007-07-18
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PostSubject: Nerthus   Fri Sep 14, 2007 9:31 am

One thing that some people are still in two mins about with Nerthus, is whether Nerthus is a god or a goddess. Tacitus the first person to tell us about Nerthus calls her Terra Mater or Earth Mother, suggesting that Nerthus is a goddess. But some people have called this into question suggesting that Tacitus got it wrong, and may have actually got Nerthus a god, mixed up with Terra Mater a goddess, and the two are separate deities rather than one. But whether it was Nerthus, also known as the Earth Mother or Nerthus male 'consort' of the 'Earth Mother', this is what Tacitus has to tell us about the Nerthus cult:


'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 holidaymaking 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.'


(Translation from 'The Lost Gods of England by Brian Branston)


This kind of procession is extremely ancient, as is the worship of the earth, and probably, like the worship of the Sky Father, goes back to the roots of the Indo-Europeans. But what's important about the Nerthus cult for Anglo-Saxon Heathenism is that one of the tribes mentioned by Tacitus is the Angli or Angles, who later settled in Britain and gave much of the land their name, Angle-land or England. The Angle's surely brought with them to England in one form or another the cult of Nerthus, or Nerthus and the Earth Mother. Extremely good evidence that suggests the Heathen Anglo-Saxons worshipped an 'Earth Mother' figure is contained in the charm known as the Land Fertillity charm, which although written down by Christian hands, almost certainly preserves evidence of the worship of the Earth Mother by the Heathen Anglo-Saxons. The parts of the charm to be spoken are as follows:


'Eastward I stand, for favours I pray,
I pray the great lord, I pray the mighty prince,
I pray the holy protector of heaven,
Earth I pray and sky
And the true holy Mary,
And heavens might and heavens hall,
that by the grace of god this charm
I may pronounce, by strong resolve
Raise these crops for our worldly use,
Make beautiful these meadows, as the
prophet said That he found favour
here on earth who gave Alms wisely,
in accordance with gods will.'
'Erce, Erce, Erce, mother of earth,
may the almighty eternal lord grant thee
fields growing and thriving
fruitful and reviving,
bright shafts of millet crops,
and broad barley crops,
and white wheat crops,
and all the crops of the earth.
May the eternal lord him,
and his saints, who are in heaven,
that this land be kept safe from every foe,
and it be secure against every harm, from witchcrafts sown throughout the land. Now I pray the ruler who wrought this world
that no witch so eloquent, nor man so potent,
there be to pervert the words thus pronounced.'


'Hail to thee, earth, mother of men!
Be thou blessed in gods embrace,
Filled with food for the use of man.'


'Field full of food for the use of men
brightly blooming, be thou blessed
in the holy name of him who shaped the heavens
and this earth on which we live.
May the god who wrought these lands grant us
growing gifts and prove each grain of use.'


(Translation from 'Anglo-Saxon Verse Charms, Maxims and Heroic Legends'
By Louis.J.Rodrigues-'Anglo-Saxon Books')


The lines Erce, Erce, Erce, mother of earth and Hail to thee, earth, mother of men, seem to invoke and speak directly to the Earth Mother. The charm also includes a form of sun veneration at the beginning, where the rising sun is honoured, shortly followed by the these instructions:


'Then turn three times with the course of the sun, then stretch thyself flat and recite the litanies there, and say....'


This may be a remnant from the worship of the Sky Father, who in the most ancient of days was regarded as the consort of the Earth Mother. Another interesting aspect of the charm is that it gives instructions to bake a cake which is to be buried in the first furrow of the field to be ploughed. The loaf is seen to be a gift to the Earth Mother, which in return is hoped she will bless the farmer with a good harvest. This kind of ceremony may have taken place in February, which Bede said the Heathen Anglo-Saxons called the month of offerings, as in this month 'cakes were offered to their gods'. We can be pretty sure that the charm contains much Heathen lore, as during the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, orders were given by Pope Gregory to incorporate such things as charms into Christian practices, thus helping in their conversion. But one thing this did do is preserve some of the Heathen religion of the Anglo-Saxons, albeit in a slightly Christianised form.

http://www.homestead.com/englishheathenism/nerthus.html

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