Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nature Spirits, Nerthus, and Celebrating Earth Day

photo by David Luther Thomas
creative commons license
What does Earth Day mean to you as a Pagan?  For me, Earth Day (and its constant Nebraskan companion, Arbor Day) is a secular holiday that nonetheless holds a great deal of religious meaning.  I hate to say things like "the nature spirits are the most important part of my practice" because of course my ancestors and the deities are also incredibly important.  But the land wights are certainly more present in my day-to-day life.  Just looking out my windows, walking my daughter to school, or even driving down the street on my way to work, I encounter hundreds of them, and there's no ignoring it.  People who would never think to discuss their God(s) or ancestors will comment often on the weather, the flowers, etc.  We are always thinking about our fellow earth-dwellers, all the time.

This is a ritual I wrote to celebrate the Germanic Goddess of the Earth, Nerthus.  I have written about Her before, a relatively 'dark' mother Goddess who allegedly received human sacrifice after parading about the land bestowing Her bounty.  Of course I am Her devotee and fairly biased, but I believe that as the earth becomes more and more damaged by human actions, more people will begin to see the darker side of the land.  I find it powerful and motivating to stand in awe of Her, not motivated by love or trust; but sometimes by genuine fear.  In my mind, it is She who sustains all life, and if She so chose could end that sustenance at any time.  She is truly awe-worthy.  It is my hope that this Earth Day ritual captures some of that wonder.

There are a few rituals for Nerthus out there, most centering on the journey of Her wagon bringing peace and feasting to every village She visited.  Since this is an Earth Day ritual, however, I find it more appropriate to focus on the things I can do for Nerthus, rather than parading Her about and asking Her blessings on the people who hold partial responsibility for the damage done to the land.

Set up a small shrine out of doors; in your backyard, a local park, or wherever you can be relatively assured of solitude.  If absolutely necessary this can be done indoors as well, be sure to face a window or have some reminder of your local land available.

Needed items:
Representation of Nerthus - something as simple as a bowl of water to represent Her lake will work
Found objects from the land to decorate shrine - my permanent shrine has dried leaves and twigs from each tree in my yard, as well as feathers and other found things; this is a good place to start if you're not sure what to use
Offerings for Nerthus and land wights - I often use birdseed or dried corn, but anything that does not
actively harm the land would probably be acceptable

Plans for an Earth Day activity to help the Earth

Approach the shrine, calling out:
"I call to all the spirits of this land:
the dancing wights of stream and creek,
the swaying spirits of the trees,
the singing grasses played by the wind.
I call to the stones, solid and stoic,
to the dark and fertile earth beneath my feet,
to the flowers that fly open and fade away.
I call to the furred spirits, waiting for twilight,
the feathered wights that serenade the dawn,
the tiny crawling beings, spirits of scales and slick skin,
to all the spirits of this land.
Be welcome and pray welcome me.
Accept this offering!"
Scatter or place offerings for the wights before the shrine.

Bending or sitting as you are able, place your hands upon the earth.
"Hail Nerthus, veiled Goddess,
dark and silent in your sacred grove,
hiding your eyes from the hurt of the Earth.
Vibrant with life, shining with death,
keeper of the never-ending circles all things dwell within,
green that grows from dark decay.
I see the broken land, I work to right it;
join your power to mine, and bring life from this death,
lend your aid to me and mine as we heal the hurts."
Scatter or place offerings to Nerthus before the shrine.

This is a great time to actually do some kind of service to the Earth - perhaps going around picking up trash, planting a tree, or any other activity you may have planned for Earth Day.  If you are not able to do it right away, simply tell the spirits what you plan to do in service to the cause of helping the land.

"Hail to Nerthus, sweet mother of earth,
and all the wights that dwell here in this place.
I thank you for your gifts of sustenance, gifts of beauty.
Remember me as I will remember you.
Hail and farewell!"

The found objects should be left to continue to give beauty to this piece of land, unless you feel one is meant to come home with you.

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