I am the fertile land, the blessing of Audhumla and the bearer of her Queenship
In me all see her majesty and know her blessings
To me they sacrifice in thanks for your gifts
To them I offer hope of life eternal
This quote is a prayer offered by the goddess Nerthus to Audhumla, the divine cow. It came as part of my vision-questing work preparing for our Hearthspace story-session ‘Audhumla’s Dream: The Earth Mothers’. The trail of the Earth Mothers is hard to follow as they appear almost as bit-parts in the Eddas, Sagas and lore hinting at ancient rites and lost stories which we can only reclaim through a re-making.
Nerthus is perhaps better known than many of the northern Earth Goddesses. She was written about by the Roman Tacitus in Germania where we glimpse her as a Goddess worshipped by 7 tribes. We are told that to visit her peoples she takes up residence in a chariot shrouded by dark cloth and kept in a sacred grove. The chariot sets out on its travels tended by a priest and pulled by cows. As it approaches there is much merry-making, all arms are set down, peace prevails and all iron objects are locked away. Once her visit has ended the chariot is cleansed in a lake by slaves who are then drowned. Her name is said to be so closely linked through etymology to the sea-God Njord that they are considered consorts (and sometimes even the male and female aspects of a single androgynous deity). In books on runes she often appears linked to the Inguz rune; suggesting a strong relationship between this earth goddess and the divine hero who sacrifices himself for this peoples. Njord is also a member of the Vanir who are strongly connected to the elves; as you may already know, iron is known to be disliked by elves.
After writing Nerthus’s prayer to Audhumla I was really interested to see the links to sovereignty noted by other commentators like Wandering Woman Wondering. It reminded me of work I did many years ago now with a group looking at goddesses linked to the sovereignty of the land who could convey both blessings and curses upon the people and their leaders. The Earth Mothers I have encountered through this project with Audhumla often hold ‘liminal’ spaces – joining life/ death, sea/ land, earth/sky. This seems true of Nerthus who brings life but requires death and appears in a sacred grove but ultimately returns to the water.
Nerthus reminds me that in the present times fostering a relationship with the land as divine, connected and conscious is no bad thing. Ideologically stepping back from the land as ‘commodity’ is a must. Appropriate offerings to her include picking up litter, cleaning our water-ways and beaches and making efforts (however humble) to grow our own food. The promise of ‘life eternal’ that she holds out is, to my mind, the promise that the Earth will survive and flourish.
Getting to know her
If you want to work deeper with Nerthus here are some pointers to consider:
She responds well to greens, blues, earthy browns and berry-reds. An altar to her would appropriately include earth, leaves or branches, water and salt. The Spring is likely to be a good time to work with her. While you would do well remove iron from a working space dedicated to her, more importantly I would suggest avoiding conflict during your work with her. You would also do well to be mindful of the provenance of objects placed on or near an altar (she is unlikely to respond well to anything where production was harmful to the Earth). It would also be worth considering how you might include a covered ‘inner sanctuary’ space on her altar similar to the chariot Tacitus mentions – this could then be cleaned in water after your work and an appropriate offering made. My personal suggestion would be ceremonially washing the ‘chariot’ with your eyes closed and burying the cloth covered it with an offering of corn, seeds or amber.