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Posts Tagged ‘nerthus’

Well, I wrote up a whole post about the Earth Mother earlier this week, and scheduled it for Tuesday… and then wordpress apparently ate it. So now I’m going to try to recreate it, which will probably be substandard to the original. But anyway, you get two E posts today, thanks to WordPress not paying enough attention to my earlier post! (Grumble…)

Rev. Ian Corrigan shared a post the other day on the Three Centers of Paganism – Deity Centered, Earth Centered, and Self Centered (not in the “selfish” sense but in the “development of the self” sense). I found it to be really thought provoking in how it reflected the divisions in contemporary Neopaganism (and how those divisions often end up with people getting mad at each other. To quote Rev. Corrigan, “In ADF terms we are good at Deity Centered, hound ourselves about being Earth Centered, and are just starting to develop stuff for Self Centered.” I’d argue that the Initiate’s Path is largely a Self Centered practice, which is part of what draws me to it, but I like that it takes place within ADF’s greater context, which strives to make a place for all three centers of thought.

ADF ritual is, primarily, about sacrifice to the Three Kindreds, but each ritual takes a space at the beginning and end to honor and thank the Earth Mother. In a way, she transcends the Kindreds – she is more than just a Goddess (though many approach her as such) and she is certainly more than just a Nature Spirit (she is, perhaps THE Nature Spirit?).

I usually approach the Earth Mother as Nerthus, the Vedic Earth goddess of the early germanic peoples. She isn’t a happy flowers and rainbows kind of goddess – she is intimidating, a goddess of community peace and sovereignty, and her historical practices reinforce the kind of devotion that her people had for her. From Tacitus:

By contrast, the Langobardi are distinguished by being few in number. Surrounded by many might peoples they have protected themselves not by submissiveness but by battle and boldness. Next to them come the Ruedigni, Aviones, Anglii, Varini, Eudoses, Suarines, and Huitones, protected by river 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 believes that she intervenes in human affairs and rides through their peoples. There is a sacred grove on an island in the Ocean, in which there is a consecrated chariot, draped with cloth, where 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 designs 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 experience peace and quiet, only then do they prize them, until the goddess has had her fill of human society and the priest brings her back to her 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 swallowed up in the same lake. Hence arises dread of the mysterious, and piety, which keeps them ignorant of what only those about to perish may see.
A R Birley Translation

When Tacitus says “swallowed up by the same lake” he likely means “ritually drowned”. The only people who could look upon the face of Nerthus were then killed. She’s more than a little bit intimidating!

The Anglo Saxons also had reverence for the Earth as “Mother”, as referenced in several charms, the most famous of which is the Aecerbot – a remedy for a fallen field. It contains both Christian and Heathen elements, but is a good suggestion that for the Anglo Saxons, the Earth Mother idea was strong enough to survive Christianization.

But I don’t just approach the Earth Mother as a goddess. I also approach her as an idea, as an inspiration for environmentalism and “right living” by the land around me. Having a good relationship with my landbase, and being a Druid of this Place – stuff I’ve talked about here before. It’s all important. It’s also hard. It prompts hard questions like “Should I be trying to find a new job (that might not be as good as my current job) so that I drive less and burn less gasoline every week?” and “Is it more important to have a garden or to have sanity and downtime?” and “I want to have an organic lawn, which means it will have weeds – what do I do if I get a letter from the homeowner’s association about the weeds in my yard?” or even “Eating lots of animal protein isn’t the most sustainable way to live, but I lift heavy weights regularly and my body needs lots of protein to recover from my workouts adequately.” Being in communion with your landbase often means tackling hard questions about your energy use, the sustainability of the way you eat, and many other things.

Who is the Earth Mother then? To me she is something bigger and more critical than “just” a Goddess – I relate to her AS a Goddess, but I also relate to her as the Earth itself.

Hail, Earth, mother of all;
Be abundant in (the) Gods’ embrace,
Filled with food for our folk’s need.

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A brief account of the efforts of the Dedicant to develop and explore a personal (or Grove-centered) spiritual practice, drawn from a specific culture or combination of cultures.” (600 words min.)

I came to Druidry after almost two years of pre-initiation study with a Gardnerian Wicca coven that turned out to be incompatible with my mental health issues. I was very upset with the loss of my coven and found I couldn’t practice Wicca on my own in a way that I found satisfying, so I needed something to challenge me spiritually in a way that would be different from what I had been doing before (since that was no longer something that was going to be an option). After a few months of reading everything I could get my hands on about ADF, I joined and started the Dedicant Path immediately, with the idea that I would have the best chance of really giving this new mode of operation a try if I worked on their introductory study program. I didn’t make an “official” first oath, but I promised myself that I would finish the Dedicant Path within a year of starting it, and that I would use that time of spiritual searching to decide if this had the potential to be a lifelong path for me.

I also went in hoping to have a Grove to learn from and with, but that hasn’t worked out well for me. My efforts to get in contact with the local protogrove have not been productive, and their only meetings take place at a private home (and I am uncomfortable having my first meeting with people I’m intending to do ritual with taking place in a stranger’s house). Their hearth culture is also very different from mine (at least as I am currently practicing), so I have contented myself with finding my Druid community online, especially with the support of my Regional Druid and the ADF mailing lists. It is curious that I did so poorly practicing as a solitary Wiccan, but have settled into practice as a solitary Druid. I think it is the community online and the structure of the Dedicant Path that has helped me stay on track. Having something that I am pursuing as an academic and spiritual study has done a lot of good, and is encouraging me to continue my studies in ADF.

I started this path fairly certain that I was going to practice in a Celtic hearth of some kind, but after only one High Day, started looking elsewhere – the mythology just wasn’t clicking with what I felt I should be doing. I have since done several Gaulish rituals that went very well, but settled into a Norse hearth culture, with a newly developing transition into a more Anglo-Saxon based style. This was a totally new mythology for me – I am not even a reader of comics, so I didn’t have comic books or movie mythologies to contend with. My first experience was through a good friend who is a practicing Vanatruar. He was telling me of his relationship with Freyr and Freyja (particularly Freyja) and I decided to give the Norse hearth a try just to see how it felt.

I had some serious trepidation about the change, because there are some really unsavory things that are promoted in the name of Norse Mythology, but I figured going through the ADF side of things would protect me from a lot of that backlash. I read my Hearth Culture book, HR Ellis Davidson’s Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, and set about learning about the Norse Gods and their culture. As time went on, though I did make an initial contact with Odin, I found myself drawn very strongly to Freyr, and I had a personal encounter with him in a meditation that put me on the path to working with him in a way that I hope will become one of patronage. While I haven’t had any really close experiences with Him regularly, I feel that relationship will deepen with time and practice.

I have my altar set up in an ADF style (with a few nods to my Norse hearth yet, since I haven’t found any statues that I like) and I light incense and meditate there regularly. I utilize the ADF methodology of Threes as an integral part of my worship – Three Worlds, Three Hallows, Three Realms, Three Kindreds, and though the Norse Mythology claims nine worlds, I connect them all with the World Tree (with the Underworlds Below and the Upperworlds Above), so I don’t see much of a disconnect. I find the Three Kindreds belief system works particularly well for the Norse, since they strongly believed in Ancestor worship, in a proliferation of land and nature spirits in the world around them, and in a full pantheon of Gods with different functions.

Recently, I’ve found myself being drawn toward the Anglo-Saxon strain of Germanic paganism, though I have other aspects of my practice that fit into more of a pan-Germanic worldview. I am cultivating a relationship with Njord and Nerthus, who are not talked about in the Anglo-Saxon sources I’ve seen so far, and I have a strong relationship with my Disir/Matronae/Ancient Mothers, whose cult spanned most of Germanic Europe at various times. I think this will remain something that is somewhat fluid about my practice, since there is a lot of overlap between these cultures, and that doesn’t really bother me. What draws me to the Anglo-Saxon hearth is the similarities to things I understand (being an English speaker) and that it is the culture of my ancestors, some of whom date back to pre-Norman Britain. I will be trying, as I move forward, to add more Anglo-Saxon flavor to my rituals, hopefully through writing more ritual material for my own use.

Overall my transition into the Norse hearth was both immediate (ritually) and slow (personally) – it’s taken me awhile to get to know this new group of deities and their surrounding customs. I work primarily with the Vanic deities, specifically Freyr (or Ing-Frey), and I would like to have a better relationship going forward with His sister and father (and possibly mother – Nerthus is a goddess that I find extremely intriguing, and my research about her has only increased that intrigue). I like that she is a sort of “Earth Mother”, and that she can fill that function in ADF ritual, while still remaining a separate functioning Deity in her own right. Some recent articles I’ve read have put her name as a linguistic cognate to Jord (the other “Earth Mother” of the Norse), and I am fascinated by her role in the hierarchy of Deities, as well as her domains of holiness and peacemaking.

I have kept to my informal first oath, writing this penultimate essay of the Dedicant Path before I have completed the final High Day of my year of observations, and I am very proud to have stuck to it. In a way, it was a promise I made to myself, to give myself this time of searching and exploration of something different. In some ways I feel like I haven’t learned much at all, but then I am reminded of just how far I’ve come in a year, and how many new paths are open to me now.

I don’t know for sure if ADF will be my path forever, but I am finding myself increasingly comfortable here. There is a great deal of tolerance for variation, an emphasis on scholarship (but also an emphasis on practice, when scholarship falls short), and I am drawn to the practice of ADF style rituals. I think the poetry of those rituals makes them work well – even if they seemed very strange to me at first, coming from a traditional Wiccan worldview. While I have not always fully embraced the views that get presented as “ADF’s”, I like that if you ask three Druids a question, you should expect six answers. The balance of scholarship and personal practice/personal gnosis is one that I think I can find myself at home in as I continue this path. I am drawn towards the Initiates Path at this point, though I do not know if I will start on that coursework immediately. I crave a deep, meaningful spirituality, as well as meaningful community and spiritual interactions with other people – something that can be hard to get as a solitary. I hope through ADF’s embrace of technology, through my ability to volunteer to help in the organization, through learning more and mentoring other new Druids on the Dedicant Path, and through furthering my own spiritual practice, I can find my own place here in this corner of Neopaganism.

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An account of the Dedicant’s efforts to work with nature, honor the Earth, and understand the impacts and effects of the Dedicant’s lifestyle choices on the environment and/or the local ecosystem and how she or he could make a difference to the environment on a local level. (500 word min)

I’ve had a personal relationship with nature since I was a small child, when I had a “Nature Sanctuary” in the woods behind my house (there was a goodish sized clearing with an old stump), and I would have nature rituals there. How this managed not to attract the attention of my very Christian parents I will never know, but I treasure those memories, and when I go to nature in visualization I often start from my memories of that place. I like to meditate outside, and while I’m fortunate to live in a place where it is temperate except for during the summer (when it is miserable to be outside), that means I live with the Cult of The Eternal Yard Work, and during pretty much any daylight hours I can hear the sounds of yard machinery. During the week, weekends, evenings, mornings – it doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve even tried going to the local park to meditate when I get extra time, but there I am regaled by the sounds of the local airforce base.

I feel an especially strong connection to nature at the beach. There is a magic to the ocean (and a feeling of being very small in the face of a very great power) that I find is both soothing and discomforting in a very good way. I try to get to the beach as often as I can, even if it’s just to sit on the seawall for an hour or two and listen to the waves. I love to meditate on the beach, where the sound of the waves becomes almost trance-inducing, and where the combination of warm sun, gentle waves (it is the gulf coast), the sea breeze, and the sand between my toes is like a healing balm for my soul. I have seen the truly powerful effects of the sea as well as the peaceful ones, so I am under no misconceptions about it being a force to be reckoned with. The sea I usually encounter is a gentle one, though, and I truly enjoy those moments of connectedness that I feel there.

My other main connection to nature comes from caring for the little bit of Earth around my house. While I spend a lot of time outside, and am an avid gardener, I don’t meditate in my yard much because of the machinery noise, so I sustain my relationships either through active cultivation or through visualization inside where it’s quiet. My strongest connection to nature is probably through my garden and my yard, where I can have a direct impact.

Gardening helps me to connect with the Wheel of the Year (even though I live in a place with odd growing seasons compared to those in Northern Europe) and to the powers that drive that cycle. It also puts me in touch with the Earth herself. While I more frequently address the power of nature (and the cycle of life and death) as masculine, I feel the Earth itself is strongly feminine. I honor my connection to the Earth as her child: as the saying goes “from you all things emerge, and to you all things return”. I suppose that means I honor the Earth as a Goddess in her own right, though in my rituals I sometimes give her a name (often Nerthus, but sometimes Jord, or Danu). I am just as comfortable with her just being Earth, or Gaia, or the Earth Mother, and I actively seek to make my presence here one of respect and honor. I know that the modern lifestyle is not always conducive to Earth-friendly living, and that dichotomy is something I truly struggle with.

In light of that struggle, there are a number of things I do on a regular basis that seem mundane on the surface but are a crucial part of my Druidry. I compost as much as I possibly can – and buy compostable containers when I can as well. I use that compost to feed my garden, which I do not put chemical fertilizers on (though I do use an abundance of manure and supplemental compost, as the land here is almost entirely red clay). I also do not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides in my yard – with one exception: fire ants. Both my husband and I are ferociously allergic to fire ant bites, so they are my one pesticide exception. I also recycle as many things as possible, and try to buy recyclable packaging as much as possible. I use only re-usable bags at the grocery store, including some mesh produce bags that have drastically reduced the amount of plastic that comes through our house. We are also slowly replacing the light bulbs in our home with LED lights, as they use almost no electricity. Also, I keep the thermostat set very high in the summer (80-82 degrees in the house) to reduce our air conditioning usage. I try to buy cleaners that are biodegradable (or use things like vinegar and baking soda), as well as using personal care products that don’t use plastic containers or contain petrochemical-derived ingredients.

What could I be doing better? Lots of things. My recycling efforts are notable, but I haven’t taken a stand against purchasing things that have nonrecyclable packaging entirely. I also sometimes get lazy and throw things away instead of cleaning them out to be recycled. I would also like to be a better advocate for my landbase. I live in a threatened area – the coastal wetlands. These wetlands are disappearing rapidly, due to a combination of human encroachment and changes in the waterlines, and while my area was not personally affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the plants and animals in this ecosystem are still threatened. I would like to look for some local conservation organizations to support, though that support will primarily need to be financial for now.

Overall I feel like I’ve had my connections with nature pretty solidly created before I started the Dedicant Path, so over the last year I’ve spent my time reinforcing and thinking about those connections that I had already made. I also stepped up my efforts at living responsibly. This is one of the aspects that drew me to Druidry, and while I haven’t always thought of it as honoring the Earth Mother as a Goddess, caring for the planet – especially the little corner I’m responsible for – is something I’ve found important for a very long time. I hope as I continue with Druidry that these connections will only deepen, especially as I make more relationships with the Nature Spirits as a Kindred.

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