Hertha, The Germanic Mother Earth?

By I. M. Knosp

One of the most widely known goddesses of West Germanic myth is that of “Earth”, her name is given to one of the four elements of Western tradition, it is also the name of the planet we walk on, yet for having such a ubiquitous name this goddess is often relegated to the side. Existing less as her own entity and more as a nickname for the Greek Goddess Gaia, at least within the popular consciousness. But just as the days of the week did not arise out of a vacuum so too the name of “Earth” has its own roots in the mythology of the West Germanics and its interplay over the years with other mythologies and the conquering culture of the Roman Church. So who is Earth? What if anything can we glean from this near forgotten but ever present deity?

The Witch Holda and Frau Perchta

For starters we must begin by stating a common misunderstanding in regards to the ethnic gods and traditions of the various Germanic tribes. The idea that they were all the same. While it is certainly true that many gods had substantial size to their cults, spreading across numerous tribes largely indifferent to modern borders. So the deities of Iceland and the deities of say the Alps or the Anglo-Saxon’s while they may possess some overlap any concept of a one-for-one transference can be discarded forthright. As it stands there are within the Germanic tribes numerous potential and possibly simultaneous “Earth Mother” goddesses including but not limited to: Holda, Nerthus, Herodias, Perchta, Erde, and Hertha. Each one has potential links to each other, but also many differences as well.

I will begin by discarding Holda as an option. As the origin of the word “Earth” spawning from Holda or even Holle is extremely unlikely. Holda’s status as a “Mother Earth” goddess candidate can largely be attributed not to her being an outright Earth goddess in her lore, but in the sheer breadth and volume of her stories. Easily surpassing gods such as Odin or Tyr, who are much more well known. As a result of the variance in her tales Holda could be argued as a goddess of the Earth, but so can her status as a goddess of love, or fertility, or apples, or childbirth, or summer, or winter, or weather, or wealth, and on and on. While the attractive idea is to mark her as all of them, it is more complex than that. The concept of “God of” is already a rather stripped bare idea, not befitting a goddess with such extensive lore.

The case for Holda as Mother Earth has more to do with another goddess, who has been notoriously conflated with related goddesses, Frigg. This conundrum begins with the goddess Frigg being equated to Jord. Jord is still the word used for “earth” in Icelandic. The conflation of Frigg to Jord is fairly common place with many attempting to shoehorn her into the role to fit a preconceived idea of how the gods should be related. There is nothing to indicate the two are identical other than wishful thinking of those who desire a clear cut example of the Sky Father-Earth Mother theme. Jord is not the only goddess that Frigg has been equated to for the purpose of supporting such a theory, other goddesses have suffered the same fate. Yet it is important I bring up the Jord-Frigg comparison as it allows me to explain why Holda is even a consideration for the “Mother Earth” role beyond her massive lore.

A common misconception in Germanic circles is that Frigg and Holda are identical goddesses who have drastically transmogrified over time. Though this is a groundless claim and is due to a misinterpretation of an old church text mentioning Strigam-Holda or “Witch Holda” as Friga-Holda. Due to the “S” and “F” looking similar in older writings. In other words the “Mother Earth” conception of Holda is a result of cherry picking her lore and a misread passage from a church text. There is nothing directly tying her to being the goddess of or personification of the Earth. The sheer volume of Holda’s stories leads to a myriad of interpretations, while she is clearly tied to the land. She is not herself the land. There is even a tale where Holda is given her task by the goddess Hertha. To watch over her “steading” as it were. This by no means diminishes the importance of Holda, but as the goddess of the Earth, such a role is a result of numerous conflations and especially as we are searching for the origin of “Earth” I do believe Holda can be set aside as such a figure.

In regards to Perchta, there is plenty I could bring up, but the main reason I will remove her as “Earth” despite her name fitting far better than Holda’s, is that she is a Celtic goddess. Who just so happens to largely reside in what is now a Germanic territory. Her veneration and name are often thought to originate from the Celtic tribes that inhabited the Alps, and as such calling her an Alpine goddess rather than a Germanic or Celtic goddess would be far more apt.

Then there is the fact that Perchta is found too far South to be the goddess who gave the English language the name for planet Earth. While Perchta is often conflated with Holda, this has no bearing on her status as “Earth” so Perchta too can be set aside as the figure we are looking for. Though I will remark on her having considerable fertility and agricultural aspects to her lore, which makes her an attractive prospect for a similar role in her mountain range.

Witch Goddess Herodias and Fertility Goddess Erda

Now with Perchta and Holda set to the side we can now turn our attention to the other goddesses mentioned above: Herodias, Erda, Hertha, and Nerthus. To begin with I should explain where each of these goddesses can be found. All four of them are present to some degree in West Germanic sources. With Nerthus coming from Tacitus’ Germania, Hertha from German Folklore, Erda from the Saxon Aecerbot-Ritual, while Herodias was largely a Christianized form of a goddess found in Church texts. Similar to the goddesses mentioned above these four goddesses are often made to be identical. Though unlike the two above this is a more well founded argument at least for some than is made for Perchta and Holda. However, as always I will warn against fusing gods firmly, and instead take a look at each one individually beginning with Herodias.

Herodias is most likely not this goddesses name. Which is the first point to bring up in regards to this goddess. In truth the exact name of this supposed leader of the Witches in medieval Europe is unknown. Given her range the most likely goddess is Hera, and not the one you are thinking of. Hera was a powerful Greek goddess, this is true. However, Hera was also the name given for a goddess in Germany. Whether this was a result of covering up a German goddess with a Greek name, or if it is more akin to how there are two separate gods named Aker one a goat god of magic and fertility among the basque and one an Egyptian Earth god. Who is to say? There are only so many letters in the Latin alphabet so some similarities are inevitable, even amongst unrelated gods.

The German goddess equated to and perhaps spelled the same as “Hera” is mentioned in Gobelin Persona’s text Cosmidromius he describes Hera as flying through the air with wings and bells. She is also worshiped in the same area as Irmin, a Saxon god. Persona also mentions that she is known as Frau Here, and brings abundance as she flies across the sky. This is akin to another German goddess Frau Harke/Herke and may indicate a connection between the two. Harke is depicted as a Cthonic goddess who flies on the Wild Hunt or in the form of a Dove and gives fertility to the land. More information on all figures would be needed to fully suss out the connection or lack thereof for Harke and Hera. Though one key difference I can mention here is that Hera has been depicted as riding a goose in Gaulish art while Harke is more associated with badgers, oxen, and doves. The fact that Hera is depicted on Gaulish art indicates a possible Gallo-Germanic goddess.

Though the main issue with Herodias is that her name is merely used to villify a goddess beneath. Herodias being a biblical figure who caused the death of St. John the Baptist, as such the continuation of the interpretation of Northern gods as Roman or Christian figures continued. Of all the goddesses mentioned here Herodias could be argued as the most liquid as she is so undefined to begin with.

Aside from her role in bringing abundance and as a Witch goddess. Other possible goddesses that Herodias was covering up include but are not limited to Hero, Ero, Erada, Hretha, Erda and Hertha. The latter two are who we shall discuss next. Beginning with the goddess Erda.

A Witch Goddess in the woods spinning, and controlling the sun and the moon. 1532 Woodcut by Hanz Weidetz

As mentioned above Erda is seen in the Aecerbot Ritual, a Christian/Pagan agricultural remedy. Showing the survival of pagan customs that persisted under the church. In which Erda is also at times written as Erce or Ertha depending on who translates it. It is as follows:

Erce, Erce, Erce,  earth's mother,
May the all-ruler grant you, the eternal lord,
fields growing  and flourishing,
propagating  and strengthening,
tall shafts,  bright crops,
and broad  barley crops,
and white  wheat crops,
and all  earth's crops.
May the eternal lord  grant him,
and his holy ones,  who are in heaven,
that his produce be guarded  against any enemies whatsoever,
and that it be safe  against any harm at all,
from poisons [lyblaca]  sown around the land.
Now I bid the ruler,  who shaped this world,
that there be no speaking-woman [cwidol wif]  nor artful man [craeftig man]
that can overturn  these words thus spoken.

The naming of Erce/Erda as Earth’s Mother rather than “Mother Earth” calls to mind the god Tuisto, the supposed divine progenitor of the Germanic peoples. The grandfather of the aforementioned Irmin. As mentioned before the possibility that Erda is Herodias has been discussed as well as the possible links to the figure of Frau Here. The fact that Frau Here’s or Hera’s veneration was done in the same region of Irmin lends itself to the possibility that somehow the two are connected. Again Erda is tied into fertility, and aside from the above ritual and other similar traditions Erda is not a commonly occurring deity. Which again marks her as a rather ill defined figure. Which brings me to the goddess Hertha and the final goddess we shall discuss. That of Nerthus.

Hertha and The Nerthus Tribes

In the case of Hertha it is impossible to discuss her without also discussing Nerthus. The two are joined at the hip and are the most likely goddesses to in fact be one and the same. Similar to many old texts, the translations and transcribing of Germania over time has led there to be considerable controversy over what the name of “Nerthus” actually was, that’s before the fact that Nerthus is a latinized name to begin with is factored in. Many possible translations have been put forth including: Nerthus, Nerthum, Herthum, Ertham, and many others. So Nerthus as a defined figure is already on shaky ground and is in fact a fairly recent development as the popular name for the goddess venerated by the Nerthus Tribes in Germania. With Hertha in fact once being the preferred name, this changed after the name Nerthus was pushed heavily by Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology. Finding an extremely tenuous link to Njordr in the eddas. However, since then Nerthus has been the popular translation for the goddess mentioned in Germania. Before Grimm’s publishing of his Teutonic Mythology Hertha had many folk tales, poems, and sacred sites attributed to her.

Like Herodias and Erda, Hertha is also a Saxon goddess. As among the tribes named in the Germania “The Reudigni, Aviones, Anglii, Varini, Eudoses, Suardones and Nuitones” the Saxons as well as other components of the modern English are often seen as present. The Eudoses are often seen as related to the Jutes, The Anglii are the Angles (The Anglo part of Anglo-Saxon), and the Aviones are often seen as a former name or Roman name for the Saxon tribes. While the first and last of these can be seen as a bit of a stretch the Angles are much more blatant in their ties. So one if not three components of the modern English ethnicity are part of the worshipers of Nerthus/Hertha. So here as with Erda we find a possible link to “Earth”. Linguistically it would seem a done deal, but before this is done the lore and legends of these figures deserve their time in the sun. Because while the question of where “Earth” the word came from may be within our grasp, it is not only the “where” but the “who” I am after. So who is Hertha? Who is Nerthus? And do they connect as well to Erda and Herodias as one might presume?

Hertha, Witch Goddess

Hertha and Nerthus both suffer from a similar problem in the form of a “Chicken or the egg” situation. Did they exist as Hertha/Nerthus in the folklore before Germania was widespread? Or did they arise in response to the revelation of such a goddess? With the name entering the folklore and perhaps even subsuming deities such as Erda or Frau Here. It is impossible to know for sure. Yet Hertha most assuredly has a presence in the folklore and myths of the West Germanic’s. There is one notable example of the folklore being turned more towards tourism than in any honest tradition. That is the case of Hertha’s Castle and Hertha’s Lake on the island of Rugen. Which is generally considered to be the location of Hertha’s Sacred grove or “Temple” mentioned in Germania. It is highly unlikely the castle was originally associated with Hertha and was most likely renamed as a means to draw people to the island, same with the lake. Yet this does not stop the stories that arise from it, many of which take inspiration from the description in Germania. While the stories are most likely not ancient in origin, they are rather fitting and if nothing else show the way people viewed Hertha. There is also the possibility that they are in some way tied to older stories of Hertha or a related goddess.

Hertha Castle is said to have once had an idol within it known by the name of Hertha and she was considered “Mother Earth”, not far from the castle surrounded by Beech trees is a dark lake known as Hertha Lake.

Where especially when the moon is bright, a beautiful woman is said to walk out into the forest and bathe herself in the lake. Attended to by many maidens, it is said that any who see this will be drawn into the lake where they will surely drown. It is also said to be unwise for anyone to bring a boat to the lake. As someone once left a boat there overnight and found it the next day placed in a beech tree, a spiteful voice called out “My brother Nickel and I did it!”. Nickel might be a reference to a Germanic water spirit (Nixie/Nikker/Nykur) or it may simply be the name of a water spirit who did not like having a boat in its lake.

Hertha, as Mother Earth

Aside from the stories surrounding Hertha Castle and Hertha Lake there are other tales involving Hertha. In one tale she is credited with giving Holle her steading, effectively gifting a goddess her high status. Though this is a more modern tale, its inspirations are far older. In others Hertha travels around at harvest time in her cattle drawn wagon and aids her people. In one such story creating a healing wellspring where Binz and Prora meet. Which healed the sick in a camp of outcasts. In some tales Hertha shares in Herodias’ role as a Witch goddess. Leading the Wild Hunt and riding a stag. The stag wears a crown of hops and Hertha uses a stalk of Valerian as a riding crop. Both aid in sleep, and the point between waking and asleep was said to be the sweet point where “Witches” would go to their sabbaths or have night battles with more malicious spirits, defending their people and land with the aid of a powerful goddess. Hertha is by no means the only god or even goddess to lead the wild hunt, yet it shows that like the other hunters and huntresses of the Furious Host her tales have persisted. Though so have Nerthus’ and in her tales the hand of Jacob Grimm can be seen to have played a part in her revival.

Nerthus and Fro

It is hard to discuss Nerthus without bringing up Germania. As that is the core testament to her existence and long standing veneration. While now her name is generally the favored translation, especially as it allows people their desired connection to Njordr and by extension the Icelandic eddas, as explained above it is by no means the only possible name. There is even some level of discussion that Germania itself is a forgery, thereby making the entirety of its contents little more than historical fiction. In either case it has little bearing on whether Nerthus has or does not have folklore over the last few hundred years. As she most certainly does, yet the possibility of the forgery is important to bring up before delving into the rest of the tales, as Germania is often the crutch of the argument regarding Nerthus, and by extension Grimm and her connection to the Vanir gods. So to begin the below passage from Germania must be mentioned:

The Langobardi are distinguished by being few in number. Surrounded by many mighty peoples they have protected themselves not by submissiveness, but by battle and boldness. Next to them come the Reudigni, Aviones, Anglii, Varini, Eudoses, Suarines and Huitones protected by rivers and forests. There is nothing especially noteworthy about these states individually, but they are distinguished by a common worship of Nerthus, that is, Mother Earth, and believe she intervenes in human affairs and rides through their peoples. There is a sacred grove on an island of the Ocean, in which there is a consecrated chariot draped with a cloth, which the priest alone may touch. He perceives the presence of the goddess in the innermost shrine and with great reverence escorts her in her chariot, which is drawn by female cattle. There are days of rejoicing then and the countryside celebrates the festival, wherever she deigns to visit and to accept hospitality. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms. All objects of iron are locked away then and only then do they exercise peace and quiet, only then do they prize them, until the goddess has had her fill of society, and the priest brings her back to the temple. Afterwards the chariot, the cloth, and if one may believe it, the deity herself are washed in a hidden lake. The slaves who perform this office are immediately afterwards swallowed up in the same lake. Hence arises dread of the mysterious, and piety, which keeps them ignorant of what only those who are about to perish may see.”

A Nerthus style procession likely from the 1930’s Volkish Movement in Germany

It is doubtful that actual human sacrifice was performed, as atrocity propaganda was common enough among Rome and even more so among the clergy who would often be the ones transcribing such writings. Yet the idea of a drowned sacrifice has persisted in her lore, as shown above with the tale of Hertha’s Lake. Though the rest of her tales show a much less blood thirsty side to the goddess. Both Nerthus and Hertha have been influenced by the above text, and some say originated from it. The keeping away of iron and the enforcement of peace while it may have to do with Nerthus’ procession, it is also possible that Nerthus’ procession coincided with the end of the war season. To this day it is unknown if Nerthus’ festival was in the spring or fall, or any other time of the year. Though I would argue that it likely takes place in the Fall. When the war season would end. As mentioned above they are neighbored by many warlike tribes, and while the other tribes may show some level of respect for Nerthus’ festival and not attack when the entire tribe is in a spiritually mandated peace, it seems more likely that the washing and return of a goddess that was seen as of the land would coincide with modern day Fall or the end of Summer and beginning of Winter to the ancient Germanic tribes. With the lake acting as a liminal space through which she could return to the other world.

Along with these points another piece of Nerthus’ lore is that of her association with Njordr. Which was pushed heavily by Jacob Grimm and has contributed to much of her modern lore. Adding to this is the tale of German’s on the Eastern Coast of the Baltic Sea, who gathered Amber and were said to worship “The Mother of the Gods, Whose Emblem was the figure of the Wild Boar” this is used to tie her into Freyr and by extension Fro. Both Freyr and Freyja have boars as mounts and Fro as a result shares this distinction. While this is not a unique attribute other gods such as Dirk and Frau Gode also ride boars, but combined with Grimm’s theories it was enough to cement the relation to some.

Enough that a tale from Dutch folklore mentions Nerthus as the Mother of “Fro” here a sort of parallel Freyr even referred to as “Ing Fro” by some. He is born an only child and a god of sunbeams and fertility. As a teething gift the “fairy” Fro is given a boar made by the dwarves called Gullin, or “Golden”. Nerthus is overjoyed at her son and the gift he had received.

Fro and Gullin would go on to show man how to plant and plow fields, giving them the gift of agriculture. Gullin also became the progenitor of all tusked animals including boars, elephants, and walruses. This story relies heavily on the Nerthus as Freyr’s mother comparisons. But it also differs enough that there is likely some validity to parts of it. As this sort of sideways view of Germanic and Norse folklore is common in Dutch myth and folktales. From here there is one more figure of folklore that I feel must be mentioned and that is not a goddess but a Saint. Saint Notburga, patron of domestic servants and farm workers who is eerily familiar to many of the goddesses described above.

St. Notburga, The Oxen, and The Stag

Saint Notburga is a notable Austrian folk saint. It is also much more accurate to refer to her as Saint “Notburgas” as there are multiple figures who bear the name all of them folk saints. One of which has many many children, and bears an eerie resemblance to Perchta or Holda. The other St. Notburga and the one I will discuss at length today shares many of her similarities with Hertha and Nerthus.

It’s no secret that the Church would often cover up or replace a god with a saint. It was a common practice, The Virgin Mary or Jesus were the most common, but at other times a less prominent Saint, or even just the title of “Saint” would be enough. Notburga is most likely one of those figures. She is a folk saint and was never officially canonized, not to mention the entirety of her story reeks of German myth and legend. Though whether this is a St. Brigid or a St. Nicholas situation I am not sure. As Notburga is a Germanic name that means “Protector of the Needy” a rather apt name for what she is known for, and a possible goddess name. Though she may also be covering up gods such as Hertha and Perchta.

While the following stories are heavily Christianized their pagan core shines through. There are two core threads that can be followed in regards to St. Notburga. The first has her as a pious maid of a royal family. She would often share the food scraps from her masters with the poor, she was eventually let go though the reason varies. One example holds that the wife of the king didn’t like that the maid was giving away food scraps and dismissed her, while another holds that the entire family beat her horribly for her charitable acts and made her flee into the mountains.

At some point she worked for a farmer as a harvester of wheat on the condition that she would be allowed to attend church and not work on holy days, when the bells rang for vespers and the farmer refused to let her go for fear of losing the crop, she said “All right, let this sickle decide between us”. She then let her sickle go and it hung in the air like a new moon.

She was then allowed to go to vespers, in some tales she ends up back in the employ of the royal family after disaster strikes them. Though in the end her body is carried away by two oxen, and the king or whoever is with her is told to bury her where they stop. In some tales even crossing the River Inn, where the raging waters calm themselves on the approach of her corpse.

Another version holds Notburga not as a servant but as a princess. In this saga told on the River Neckar, a powerful king is said to have lived in Hornberg Fortress in times of old, with his pious daughter Notburga. In this story Notburga is in love with a knight, but he left for distant lands and never returned.

Notburga would cry night and day over her knights death and refuse any suitor that came her way. Her father was hard of heart and demanded she ready herself for an arranged wedding in three days time. Notburga refused and said she would rather “Go as far away as the heavens are blue than break my word” she then conspired with a servant to help her escape when the moon was bright. When they came to the woods and the river a snow white stag appeared. When it reached Notburga it stood still. Notburga climbed on the Stag’s back held onto the antlers and the Stag ran off with her. It easily swam across the River Neckar and bounded into the woods while the servant watched.

The King was furious when he discovered she was gone, and sent messengers to every part of his kingdom. They all returned without finding a trace of the girl. Every day at lunch the Stag would come to the fortress at Hornberg and have the servant place bread in its antlers to bring to Notburga. Eventually the King discovered the Stag, and forced the old servant to reveal the truth. The King saddled his horse and the next day followed the Stag to Notburga. Following it through the brush, across the river, and finally up to a cave upon a cliff. Where Notburga was said to be in pious prayer, her hands folded as she sat next to a cross, the white stag rested next to her. As Notburga had not been touched by the suns rays in quite some time, she was as pale as death, which caused the king to recoil in horror.

Genevieve of Brabant with her Roe Deer that Fed her

The King attempted to force her to return to Hornberg Castle with him, but she refused claiming she had pledged her life to God. The King tried to pull her away while Notburga held tight to the cross. The King eventually pulled Notburga’s arm off, it remained in his hand and he was overcome with such horror than he left and never returned to the cave. When people heard what had happened they revered Notburga as a saint. The Hermit in the woods would turn people away from him and send them to her to seek guidance and to pray to God. Notburga would take on their heavy burdens. When Autumn came and the leaves fell, angels came and carried her soul to heaven. They wrapped her body in a shroud and adorned it with roses, and just as in the previous tale Notburga was pulled to her resting place by two snow white steers, they crossed the river without getting their hooves wet. The bells in the nearby church began to ring on their own and Notburga’s image to this day is said to be hewn in stone near the River Necker, and Notburga’s cave remains and is called the Maidens cave.

Before I dive into this story which is rife with pagan imagery, I shall first tell a short alternate version of the above story that had several changes. In this version Notburga refused to marry a Pagan Wendt, she was only kept alive by a snake who brought her herbs and roots. She eventually died in the cave and wandering will-o-the-wisps revealed her grave. Again two steers carried her to her grave and stood there. Supposedly a carving of the snake still remains at the church of Hochhausen on the River Neckar.

A White Stag with its pack by Carl Bogh

This time the story is again supremely pagan. Both the Stag and the Snake are messengers of the Otherworld. Often used by what the modern world refers to as “Shamans” but would’ve originally been known as something akin to “witches”. The Christian aspects of Notburga’s story can largely be removed and have the story stay intact. Her being known as a saint could be replaced with being a wise woman, especially as hermits are not a christian conception. The hermit sends people to her as he believes she is more “holy” than him. But the story as a whole could be rewritten with Notburga as a pagan heroine or even a goddess with little to no change.

Notburga’s love would still vanish, whether he would be alive or dead is up for debate. Then her father would force the marriage. Wanting to keep to her word and evade an unwanted marriage she recruits a servant to help her escape. She takes the white stag across the river and waits in a cave, the white stag feeds her. Later her father comes and pulls her arms off. Word spreads that she is a woman with powerful magic. People start coming to see her, she eventually dies in the fall after taking on the burdens of the downtrodden. She is carried to her resting place by two snow white steers and calms the waters as she goes. The place of her burial from then on has miraculous properties.

The stag or the snake would be a sort of guide to the Otherworld. As the crossing of a river is often used in a tale to indicate that a figure has left the mortal realm and entered another. The stag and snake would be her spirit guides or familiars. As she is now in the Otherworld, perhaps even the land of the dead, she no longer experiences sunlight as she is underground in the Underworld. Her father comes to bring her back. Then her arm breaks off, but because she is functionally dead there is no pain or gore. When she eventually does “ascend to heaven” or “die” she is carried much like Nerthus is and even crosses the river to a place where she is laid to rest. Making the land magical. If she never crossed the river again after the first time. Then it could be said that when she “died” she was in fact returning to the mortal realm, at least in spirit. Or she may have truly ascended and left the world behind save her miraculous touch. The stag bringing her food is reminiscent of other tales involving a woman and a deer such as Genevieve of Brabant, or the Grimm Brother’s story “Brother and Sister”.

There is simply too much to unpack, but suffice to say for our purposes that this figure is a blatant deity masquerading as a folk saint. Or perhaps a myriad of goddesses being covered up by a single figure. Not unlike the way Sinterklaas behaves in German lore. The figure of Nerthus or Hertha is present in both the stag and the oxen pulling the wagon. While in the former tale the harvest symbolism and scythe is more akin to Perchta. As was mentioned before, there are multiple “Notburgas”. It is unlikely it is a singular deity behind Notburga, but many. There is even a possibility that Notburga was a sort of lunar, harvest, and death deity. Which would fit her imagery though it also fits Hertha rather well. Perhaps Hertha’s lore when seen in tandem with that of Notburga, shows what could be a more fleshed out form of the goddesses lore. A loving self-sacrificing goddess, who travels to the land of the dead, the underworld deep within the earth. Acting via her familiars the stag and the snake, and her divine steeds befitting a mother goddess. Her travel with the steers allowing her to observe those she aided. There is also the lunar symbolism that appears in each version to consider. Perhaps a reference to how her veneration differs at different points of the year. So with all that in consideration, who and what is “Earth”?

“Earth”

At the start of this writing the question was who is Earth? And what can we glean from such a goddess, that everyone knows the name of but can’t say a word about? What is the origin of the word Earth? Why a goddess of course! Which brings me to two points that must be made in regards to Germania. The first is the aforementioned comments of the text being a forgery which would take Nerthus out of the picture and possibly even Hertha, which leaves us with Erda AKA Ertha AKA Eartha. The name of the goddess need not be so complex as to derive from a name that veers too far off. The Germanic goddess of whom I speak is also not an “Earth Mother” in the sense that many will attribute to Gaia. As the term Terra Mater, while often equated to Gaia or the Roman literary form Terra. Is actually a term often used by the Roman’s to describe goddesses that are not their own. These include goddesses such as Cybele, a goddess whose own procession was compared to Nerthus’. It also was not meant to mean a literal Mother Earth goddess, but rather a goddess who was tied to the land. While it is attractive to place any of the goddesses that have been mentioned throughout here firmly in some prearranged archetype, I would advise against it. It oversimplifies the complex nature of deities, and their tribal cults and ranges. Yet, I can say with some level of certainty that Eartha (Erda) is the goddess whom our planet is named after in the English language, and to whom the element of Earth has derived its name from.

The likelihood of Notburga, Hertha, Herodias, and Nerthus being a part of that larger mythology is fairly high. So now that we have the origin of the name, who is this goddess? She is loving, she is harsh, she is self sacrificing, and healing. She dies and is reborn, she keeps her word, and rides with the witches, presides over magic and over fertility.

She is not a minor goddess, nor is she a goddess that can be directed as a singular force as the new age movement may have tried to paint her. Mother Earth is not Gaia, Mother Earth is Earth, a goddess of the West Germanic’s. Much, much, more could be said of Earth. Yet, I think it wise to leave it here. If you need to get to know her better walk by the river, barefoot in the soil and just be.

A 1920’s Fresco depicting Nerthus, Odin, Day and Night. It was heavily damaged after World War II.

Bibliography:

Ertha, the Germanic Earth Goddess. (1996, September 11). https://www.furorteutonicus.eu/germanic/ashliman/mirror/ertha.html.

Temme, J. D. H. (1996, September 11). Hertha Lake. https://www.furorteutonicus.eu/germanic/ashliman/mirror/hertha.html.

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