There are several powerful goddesses in Norse mythology who were greatly venerated by the Vikings. One of them was Nerthus, who was an ancient Germanic goddess who participated in the Aesir-Vanir war. Read on to learn more about her.
Nerthus was a mysterious goddess associated with peace and prosperity and was greatly venerated in Scandinavia and the other Germanic territories. According to German paganism, she was associated with fertility, peace, and prosperity. Everything we know about Nerthus comes from the first-century writings by the Roman historian named Tacticus, rather than more traditional sources of Norse mythology.
Nerthus was compared to the Roman mother earth ‘Terra Mater’ based on her fertile and nurturing nature. At the same time, she had the ability to bring famine and earthquakes.
During the Aesir-Vanir war, Nerthus was a party to the conflict and greatly defended the side of her people, the Vanir gods. Unfortunately, she became one of the unexpected casualties of the war after she was slain in battle by Magni and Modi, the strong Aesir warriors and sons of Thor.
Everything that you need to know about Nerthus, the goddess associated with peace, prosperity, and fertility, is found in the Roman historian Tacitus’s Germania, an account of the Germanic tribes that were published towards the end of the first century CE. Tacitus identifies that different Germanic tribes, such as the Aviones, Varini, Reudingi, Suarini, Anglii, Nuitones, and Eudoses, worshipped Nerthus/Mother Earth.
They all believed that Nerthus interests herself in human affairs and she loves riding among her people in her chariot. On a small island of the ocean, there was a sacred grove which was the sacred grounds where she was worshipped. In the grove, there was a consecrated cart wrapped with a special cloth, which only the priest could touch. Nerthus would then go to her sacred grove with her cart drawn by female cattle and the priest would receive her in deepest reverence and attend to her.
Immediately after, the goddess would visit different towns where her people resided. Her visit sparked a prolonged period of rejoicing and merry-making and peaceful coexistence between neighbors. No one was allowed to go to war during this time. So, they had to lock away every object of iron, and only peace was embraced at the time until the priest restores goddess Nerthus to her temple. She would only go back to her temple if she is fully satisfied with human company.
Once she is done, the cart, cloth, and the goddess are cleansed in a secluded lake. This service is performed by a secluded group of slaves who are drowned in the same lake once they are completely done with their part. This is one of the mysterious stories in Norse mythology as it is filled with both joy and terror.
Nerthus’ wagon tour is similar to several legends and archaeological finds of various deities parading in Wagons. There have been several archeological finds of ritual wagons in Denmark dating from the Bronze Age. Additionally, the neck-ring-wearing female figure –Nerthus would often kneel while driving her chariot, a skill that was popular during the Bronze Age. In that regard, we can deduce that the goddess Nerthus may have existed during the Bronze Age.
Unfortunately, there is not much information about Nerthus’ family. What we know is that Nerthus is a part of the Vanir Group of gods and has similar characteristics to Njord, the Vanir god of the sea. As we mentioned earlier, she is a fertility earth goddess who often walked around the land and brought peace and fertility with her at all times. She wasn’t a war-like deity like other Proto-Germanic gods and other Norse Aesir gods. All she does is ensure that her subjects are calm and peaceful at all times. In that regard, we can deduce that Nerthus was part of the Vanir family of gods.
Also, Nerthus is a likely pair for the Vanir god of the sea, Njord. The Norse people believe that Earth and Sea deities are to be paired together. According to the Norse and the Vikings, pairing the Earth and the Sea meant fertility and wealth. Additionally, there are linguistic similarities between Njord and Nerthus. The Old Norse name ‘Njord’ directly translates into the Proto-Germanic name ‘Nerthus’. There is the narrative that Njord’s unnamed twin sister is Nerthus.
Supposedly, Njord was first married to his sister Nerthus. The two then had two children – Freyja and Freyr, who were then taken as hostages by the Aesir after the Aesir-Vanir war.
Facts about Nerthus
Powers and Abilities
Nerthus was considered a bringer of peace. For this reason, she was greatly honored during the ritualistic cart procession, where the goddess’ priests would wheel a cart wrapped with Nerthus’ sacred cloth through various Germanic villages. As they did this, the inhabitants embraced each other in celebration and put away all their arms.
Also, she was immortal. However, she could be killed by more powerful beings. Unfortunately, she was slain in the Aesir-Vanir battle. Additionally, she was a Seidr practitioner. While we may not know the degree of her Seidr skills, indeed, she often used the magic of Seidr and different beings consulted with her services.
The name ‘Nerthus’ originated from the Proto-Germanic word ‘Nerthuz’, which means healthy, strong, and vigorous. Additionally, the Name Nerthus is the feminized equivalent of the Old Norse word ‘Njord’, the name of the Vanir sea god. Based on this explanation, most Germanic and Scandinavian scholars are convinced that Njord and Nerthus must have been the same deity and that Nerthus evolved into Njord by the Viking Age. Other scholars believe that Nerthus fully identifies with the Vanir tribe of gods.
Aside from that, quite a number of scholars have proposed that Nerthus’ sacred grove was on the island of Zealand in Denmark because her name is directly associated with the medieval place name ‘Niartharum’, which is presently located on the island of Zealand. Also, she is compared to goddess Gefjon, who is associated with the Danish Island of Zealand, ploughing, and virginity.