Memoirs of a Nerthus Gythia

The terrifying beauty of being a Gythia for Nerthus

By the folk, for the folk.

The dreams have started…she’ll be coming soon…

It is time for the May long weekend celebration that gathers the folk to participate in the annual Procession of Nerthus. Referencing “Germania,” written by Gaius Cornelius Tacitus circa 98 A.D., the goal of the weekend is to honour the goddess in a true Heathen manner of frith, feasting and frivolity.

The first day of the weekend-long veneration begins with the construction of the Vé, the sacred grove which will host Her Holy Mother.

‘This Vé we create will honour Mother Nerthus and we will be emulating her Grove. We are reminded that this is her home for the duration of her presence among us, and therefore, we erect her home with respect and dignity in tribute to all the gifts she gives to us. We will bring in the spirit of the traits she provides to us on Midgard, and honour the essences of the elements by which the Earth, our home, her Grove, is sustained.”

One of the most important ways that we, as a folk, can pay our respects to the lands that provide so much to our communities is to ensure proper gifting to those caretakers of the lands upon which we evoke Her: the Aboriginal communities who offered, sacrificed and lived on lands we use in our present day. Tobacco is gifted at the erection of each Vé post.

A gift for a gift.

“We welcome the nature of Peace without arms to this her Grove…
(The Vé post is staked, the rope looped around its top, then a tobacco offering is placed at its base. This is repeated for each post.)

The Folk: All My Relations.

We honour the essence of Earth, awaking with rebirth, in this her Grove…

We welcome the nature of Fertility and Growth to newly sown fields and the enrichment of our Heathen tribe to this her Grove…

We honour the essence of Water, life sustaining and cleansing, in this her Grove…

We welcome the nature of Feasting and frivolity amongst Kith and Kin to this her Grove…

We honour the essence of Air, to lift our spirits and breathe life into our growing community, in this her Grove…

We welcome the nature of Prosperity, to enrich our personal and community involvements, to this her Grove….

We honour the essence of Fire, unpredictable fuel for change, in this her Grove….

We welcome the nature of The Unknown, the potential of that which will BE, arising from our care and actions towards our Mother Earth, to this her Grove…”

Sacrifice. Raw power. Fear. Not all of the aspects about all of the gods serve to make one feel secure and thus…ignorant of the powers that be.

“Hence all men are possessed with mysterious terror; as well as with a holy ignorance what that must be, which none see but such as are immediately to perish.”

As I, Gythia, “reconducts the Goddess when well tired with the conversation of mortal beings” at the end of the weekend, there begs the ritualistic sacrifice of the slaves who assist in her cleansing, for those other than the priest/priestess who gaze upon her, are “doomed to be swallowed up in the same lake.” Being necessary to adhere to the laws of the lands, of course, a representation is crafted in order to fulfill the same process: Dude Breadman.

Dude Breadman is constructed in the image of a slave with arms, legs, head and torso. To remain eco-friendly, he is constructed from bread. Within his middle torso is carved a recess in which various root vegetable and herb seeds are placed. The children help assemble the Breadman and tells stories of who he might be, how he might have lived, how he might feel in this beautiful nightmare of impending sacrifice. There is an offering of a more “personal” nature that is given in order to expunge essence from myself and my assisting Gythia and thus detach any natural inclination of Her to bring any version of ourselves into the Well.

He is named in order that he, himself, has an identity and it is his name which is last spoken from my lips at the Well as he is drowned.

What I most look forward to in future processions is the enlisting of folk to craft the dough and bake the Breadman in the earth oven of Raven’s Knoll. This will enable even more participation from the folk to imbue their energies into the ritual itself.

THE PROCESSION
To the Sacred Well, the folk venture.

I’ve been walking behind the folk who are making their way up to the Sacred Well. I’m preparing myself for the impending ritual and the mental challenge of evoking a Goddess. I watch them chatter and banter, carrying family heirlooms, their hearth or kindred banners, and I listen. She will know what they need, but I am nervous to “feel” it. From both sides. The idol rests against my chest and it will soon be heavy with presence. My heart begins to beat faster and I try to ground out with each step. My bare feet trod gently even as the fervor grows…

The Sacred Well as a representation of the boundary between earth and water.

Water: essential for all life, life for Earth. Earth: receives and encapsulates the bodies of the dead, decomposition as the foundation of life.

Life via earth and water. Cyclical. Interconnected.

The Sacred Well stands as the receiver of offerings from the folk…of hopes and dreams and of gifts and goals. Sacrifices. A gift for a gift.

The folk, as a community, will honour Nerthus as primus among the gods and process throughout Raven’s Knoll, whose land she will soon grace with her presence. Together, the folk will honour her throughout the weekend with feasting, friendship and frivolity. Of peace without arms.

“As was reckoned by the Roman senator and historian Cornelius Tacitus (Germania) in the first century CE, Nerthus was the Holy Power of many of the Germanic Tribes (the Reudignians, Aviones, Angles, Varinians, Eudoses, Suardones and Nuithones) and has proven herself as a giver of luck year after year. The tribes gathered here in frith are shown by flags here today.”

As Gythia, I attend at the Well, alone, and cleanse myself with the water from the bog. I then begin to cleanse the idol into which I will soon evoke Her presence.

As I wash Her, I ponder the magnitude of the global village. From the people to the elements…from the raw force of nature to the soft fields of heather and sands. From rainforest to arctic tundra, from desert to Canadian Shield, from oceanic rifts to glacial valleys…I pause to hear, to smell, to feel, to listen…

For mere moments that feel like a stolen eternity, nothing else exists outside of the realm into which She will arrive. There is nothing to be felt outside of the boundary of water and earth upon which I sit. Every ounce of energy in my essence seeks to call to Her and I remain in a state of immensely energetic meditation. Soul light and breath heavy, I evoke Her.

…and when she arrives, my breath is caught, the breeze kisses my cheeks, and I am ready. She is here.

“HAIL MOTHER NERTHUS!”

I am present once again and breathe at the collective “HAIL!” I hear from the folk who have been eagerly anticipating Her arrival.

Gazing into eyes that have only seen my own…I carefully wrap Her in shrouds. No one other than myself must lay eyes upon Her and I make every effort to ensure proper care is paid over the entirety of the weekend to keep her from direct view.

Cleanliness is paramount over the course of the event. The Gythia each cleanse, the idol is cleansed and the folk all are cleansed prior to entering Her Holy shrine. The folk are invited to return to her grove over the course of the weekend to hold private company with Nerthus but are fully expected to cleanse upon entrance each time.

Before returning to the folk, I take a moment to relive past processions, channelling that inaugural year where, as novice mistakes were duly expected, I remember him. I remember his sacrifice and I remember watching him die just so. I watched and I waited on the banks of the Well and in the end I was his guide to the “now.” He is The Bog Man, I am his Valkyrie, and your children’s children will hear of him spoken in the lore of our community. Listen.

Walking back to the folk gathered at the barn, from where the procession will start, I place the idol and the slave on the cart and my assisting Gythia will finish placing décor around Her.

The cart is as energetically beautiful as it is esthetically radiant. Gypsy Birch’s hands certainly gifted the cart with purpose and intent as he crafted. Its wooden rails are wrapped in vine décor while flowers and shells and stones, a tribute to Njord, surround Her. Soon I will hear the rattle and clink of the handcrafted, wooden wheels behind me…

The most profound duties of the assisting Gythia has been to also craft and hold grounding for the folk in preparation for the procession. Nicole, previously Kate, holds an energetic connection to the folk and to the land like nothing I’ve seen before, or since. She takes my shoulders and in those few moments of connection with each other, I am centered by her energies in order to focus on the enormity of both the newly arrived presence, and of the impending ritual.

It comes time to prepare the two oxen for their procession of the cart holding Her Holy Mother, Nerthus.

They stand at the ready, but I know that they are awaiting a connection to Her.

I am passed the clean tabards bearing oxen and goddess images, handcrafted an entire world away by a community member (Polly Lind) and I raise and place them over the oxen heads in order to affix their stately attire and give precious attention to the beasts who are to be Her leads.

Whenever the Goddess enters this her holy vehicle, he perceives her; and with profound veneration attends the motion of the chariot, which is always drawn by yoked cows.

I take a moment to rest my hands on their shoulders. These men become beasts. Their energetic rhythms change and I can feel their breath deepen, their shoulders squaring, their anticipation growing to move and pull…

The folk are growing ever more eager to begin the procession throughout the land of Raven’s Knoll. They have come with their hearth and kindred banners. They have come with family and ancestral heirlooms. They have come together in the nature of peace without arms.

The “need” changes from year to year. The Procession is always powerful and effects upon people, but there is always a fluid change in the needs of the folk that umbrellas the energy of the Procession and of the weekend itself. One year can vividly be remembered as light, freeing and full of gratitude in gifting to Her. One year was rife with challenge and difficulty. It felt “heavy.” Folk needed to “hear”…Her Holy Mother needed to “tell.” My efforts involve connecting with those energies and opening a medium through which the folk may connect on their personal quest to ask what they seek and to offer what they have to gift.

She is waiting.

Let us begin!

The herald harks at the head of the procession:

Hail! Hail! Hail! Holy Mother Nerthus rides around the countryside!
Fecundity! Frith! And Joy Comes to the Land!
Join Us! Give Offerings as she rides to her Sacred Grove!!

Heralds (Jade Pichette, et al.) unite the procession and can be heard from the Well to the common areas of the land!

Folk who have volunteered hand out flowers to the people of the land as we process past… inviting them to take the floral offerings and lay them around her cart. Many people will also lay a personal offering on the cart. A gift for a gift.

Noise. We need more noise! Let them hear us all ‘round the lands! Communities, hearths and banners! SING! Sing LOUDER! Oh, let them hear us! Hold your banners higher! Oh, let them SEE us!

Mother Nerthus, rides through the countryside
Mother Nerthus, hear our call
Mother Nerthus, glorious and powerful
Mother Nerthus, bring us joy
Mother Nerthus, regal and triumphant
Mother Nerthus, hear our call
Mother Nerthus, primal mother goddess
Mother Nerthus, bring us joy
(Lyrics and melody by Kate Lumsden)

We process past the Gnome Home, the Rainbow Tree…’round past the Rookery and over to the Standing Stone…ending at the Vé which is Her Grove for the entirety of the weekend. Nerthus is placed at high honour in the front of the birch tree and offerings collected during the procession are placed in bowls and on the earth in front of and around her pedestal.

The folk are invited to be cleansed before entering Her holy grove:

(the folk approach one by one) “Clean is your body” when water is poured over their hands “Clean is your heart and mind” as the folk wash over their face and head.

*EDIT: The cleansing of the folk now occurs adjacent to the Sacred Well while I cleanse and evoke Her Holy Mother.

Upon entering the Grove the folk answer the question: “Do you promise to adhere to the hospitality of Mother Nerthus?” in accordance to the stated rules of the Vé:

“Most intolerable would it be for anyone to enter this Grove without a thorough cleansing of one’s hands, face and mindly convictions. You shall be provided with water and towel for purification.

-Secondly, it is of the upmost importance that you rid yourselves of your greatest iron possessions, such as keys, electronic devices and all edge weapons. Personal adornments are permitted, though modesty is expected.

-Thirdly, No mention of any Holy Powers other than that of our most esteemed host, Nerthus herself. You would not be so inconsiderate as to invite a guest of your own into another person’s home, therefore, this same rule applies to this Grove.

-Fourth, as was recounted by Tacitus himself, none other than the Gythia may lay eyes upon the Holy Mother beneath her shroud, nor lay a hand upon her. She has traveled from long and afar to bring to us such bountiful gifts of fruition, health and merriment; she now rests and lends her ear to words which fall from our lips, pour from the heart or rain in tears.

Know that to contravene her hospitality, is to invite her to leave us without having fully benefited from her gracious and most welcome presence and proven us frith breakers in word and deed.”
The folk are now resonating with a different energy…they have connected only to Her and Her presence. There is peace in the Vé of a nature not found in regular, daily living.”

Rituals affect different people in different manners. While the Nerthus ritual itself is rather short by most standards (the procession itself is a grandiose focus of intent and energies) it has had the appearance of affecting the folk very deeply and intensely personally over the years. I often wonder if it is the reality of coming face to face, so to speak, with the “Mother Earth” concept, and of having to be accountable not just for our actions past and present in and on the land, but of our impending actions and responsibilities of the future.

There are so many children in the Vé…their little feet carrying their little hands which offer from their little hearts to their Holy Mother Nerthus…

Do people begin to contemplate the magnitude of our presence on this beautiful blue orb hurtling through time and space…and of our varying beliefs of what else is out there? When people are asking for help from Her Holy Mother Nerthus, are they faced with a presence of deity that has superseded their expectations and magnitude of what it means to give sacrifice and offering?

I can’t hear their words, but their energy as they offer reaches into my essence. I know, without knowing. I can hear, without hearing. A temporary connection more intimate than anything one could possibly articulate in mere spoken language. It flows through the earth, right through me, and up into Her. The intent of the folk is overwhelming and I cannot stop my need to cry, for either the beauty of, or for the sorrow of, their need…

“We give you much thanks for your generous hospitality, your thoughtful ear and considerate heart. We now bid you farewell knowing that your Grove is always welcoming as your warm summer’s embrace.”

The folk are then welcome to return to the Grove at any time during the weekend with adherence to the rules of the Vé.

Mother Nerthus will eventually grow weary of her time in Midgard and at the end of the celebratory weekend, will return to her oasis home. The folk will gather once more to process Her Holy Mother back to the Sacred Well from where she entered unto the land of Raven’s Knoll.

The Gythias place the idol back onto the cart once more, and surround Her with the bountiful offerings of the folk. Soon she will be ready to be led, once more, through the land by her oxen, standing ever-ready, in duty and service to Her.

Hail! Hail! Hail! Holy Mother Nerthus rides to her Holy Well!
Celebrate her as she departs once more from Midgard!

The sounds of the folk ring joyously, once again. Anticipation and eagerness have been replaced with comfort and contentment. The herald’s voice is leading the procession back to the Sacred Well, the folk are contemplating their blessings and the children still frolic around the cart as it makes its way up the Yellow Brick Road towards the Sacred Well.

It’s almost over now. The weight of responsibility will soon be lifted from my shoulders.

The idol is carried to the Well to await Her release. The offerings are brought forth to the edge of the Well to be cast into its promise of bequeathed gifts. The folk wait quietly and patiently at the entrance to the walkway of the Well. The assisting Gythia stands at the Well’s entrance to calm and ground the land, once again.

The offerings are heavy with intent and gratitude as they are purposefully given to the Well. The “slave” is lifted and led to its edge.

It is time. I watch as the bubbles escape his body, through his mouth. My hands are around his neck, clasping together until they touch. He is drowning. My tears flow freely as I thank him, profusely, for his sacrifice… to be able to have Her in our presence. It’s another life I’ve taken. Another year that I will bear this burden of sacrifice.

The idol is washed once again, and on her time She releases to leave this world.

HAIL HOLY MOTHER NERTHUS!

I hear the folk hail in response. I feel my Gythia let go of the grounding upon the land.

We approach the awaiting folk and share moments of communal embraces and begin to make our way back to the Grove to take down the Vé.

“Mother Nerthus has returned to her island shine. We now convey our thanks that Mother Nerthus paid us visit and undertake to honour her presence again next year. Mother Nerthus, we thank you for your gifts of fertility, growth and prosperity to our fields, our families and our Grove. We bid you have safe travels.”

Another year to receive Her blessings upon us as a community.

“Then it is that days of rejoicing always ensue, and in all places whatsoever which she descends to honour with a visit and her company, feasts and recreation abound. They go not to war; they touch no arms; fast laid up is every hostile weapon; peace and repose are then only known…”

By the folk, for the folk.

The Agricola and Germania, A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb, trans., (London: Macmillan, 1877), pp. 87ff