Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Pagan Experience Week 3: Deity and the Divine

Nerthus by paintedflowers on deviantart
creative commons license
 I have really enjoyed the Pagan Blog Project the past few years, and was very sad to hear that it wouldn't be continuing for 2015.  Robin over at The Pagan Experience has taken over the idea, and will be posting prompts and collating links of Pagan blogs throughout this year.  I'm listed in the blog list as Heathen in the Grove - a little more descriptive of a title for those first visiting the site!  I'll be tagging these posts to make them easier to find, and also listing them under the Pagan Blog Project tag to make all my community posts accessible.

This week's topic is Deity and the Divine.  I feel I must start with Nerthus - my patron deity who has been with me since the beginning of my spiritual journey.  From the J.B. Rives translation of Tacitus's Germania:

"There is nothing noteworthy about these peoples individually, but they are distinguished by a common worship of Nerthus, or Mother Earth. They believe that she interests herself in human affairs and rides among their peoples. In an island of the Ocean stands a sacred grove, and in the grove a consecrated cart, draped with cloth, which none but the priest may touch. The priest perceives the presence of the goddess in this holy of holies and attends her, in deepest reverence, as her cart is drawn by heifers. Then follow days of rejoicing and merry-making in every place that she designs to visit and be entertained. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms; every object of iron is locked away; then, and only then, are peace and quiet known and loved, until the priest again restores the goddess to her temple, when she has had her fill of human company. After that the cart, the cloth and, if you care to believe it, the goddess herself are washed in clean in a secluded lake. This service is performed by slaves who are immediately afterwards drowned in the lake. Thus mystery begets terror and pious reluctance to ask what the sight can be that only those doomed to die may see."

This is all we know of Her, a brief note in a book written by a Roman around 100 CE.  Linguists link Her name with Njordh, noting they have a similar masculine/feminine naming dynamic as Frey and Freya.  This has led many in the Heathen community to the conclusion that Nerthus is Njordh's unnamed Vanir wife, the mother of Frey and Freya.

I believe that the true nature of the Gods is fairly unknowable for us - perhaps incomprehensible is a better word.  But I can tell you who She is to me; how She has shown Herself and what She asks.  I have always felt called by the most wild of places: the deeps of the forest, the midst of the river, where one can wander without seeing any signs of civilization.  I didn't feel safe or comfortable in these places.  They gave me a sense of deep excitement; like stumbling onto an alien land where I am not particularly welcome (though I'm not immediately ejected either - it's more of a low-grade, cautious hostility).  I didn't have many friends growing up, and I spent most of my free time in these places - being in a very small town granted me a lot of 'wandering in wilderness' opportunities.  It was in these places that I met Her.  Just like the land, She at first seemed hostile; but also thrilling.  She was the strongest presence I'd ever felt, a spirit far more concerned with the protection and well-being of the land than with yet another human.

As I grew, I became closer and closer to Her, this presence in the trees and streams.  I didn't have any idea that Paganism was a thing, that there were those who would call Her a Goddess.  When I discovered Wicca, I thought for sure She must be the Earth Mother others talked about; though I soon discovered that my Goddess was very different from the loving, all-embracing Gaia that so many described.  Nerthus is deep, She is ancient - She is angry, at times, a righteous rage at those who would defile the land.  She is sacred, She is hidden, She is veiled - too holy to be looked upon by those who do not understand.

And yet!  In Tacitus's description, we hear that when She visits, it is a time of great feasting and merry-making.  She harbors and loves all the land; even the tame agricultural fields, to which She brings bounty and prosperity.  It is my UPG that She is not commonly found in these places so worked over by human hands, but She will come if invited - and when She does, that is a good day.  Each spring, right around this time, my children and I perform a ritual to invite Her into the garden and bless our land and crops, and despite our presence in the suburban Midwest, we feel Her presence.

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