Friday, April 26, 2019
The May Queen and the Sacred Sea of Hertha
Grimm’s Saga No. 365: The Sacred Sea of Hertha
Seven Germanic tribes lived between river and wood. They were called the Reudigner, Aviones, Angles, Warins, Eudoses, Suarthones and Nuithones*. They all worshipped Hertha, the Mother Earth, believing she involved herself in all human endeavors. The goddess came to the people driving a wagon. Her sacred forest, which had not been desecrated, was on an island in the sea. There her wagon stood enveloped by a cloth. Only a single priest was permitted to approach her. This priest knew the time when the goddess would appear in her sacred wagon. Two cows pulled her cart while everyone else followed behind reverently. Wherever the goddess went and whomever she honored with a visit, happiness and high times followed. No war was fought, no weapon seized, and everything made of iron was locked.
Peace and prosperity ruled the land and were desired by all. This lasted until the goddess had lived long enough among mortals; then the priest returned her to her sanctuary. The goddess along with wagon and cloth were then bathed in a remote lake. But the servants who assisted in this task were subsequently swallowed by its waters.
A secret terror and uncertain solemnity surrounded these matters, because anyone who witnessed the events, died immediately.
(*Names as recorded by Grimm).
A traipse through time: the trajectory of the May Queen, from pre-historical pagan ritual to Tacitus to the Brother's Grimm to Led Zeppelin to modern Druid celebrations.
This German saga by Grimm is based on an account by Tacitus. At first glance, the joyous spring procession described here might seem like a hippie-parade. The goddess Hertha (as translated by Grimm) or Nerthus (the name given her by Tacitus) is driving in a Zeltwagen, a cart covered with cloth or tent-like fabric (imagine a proto-historical VW camper, without any of the bells and whistles). This practical wagon was pulled on wooden wheels and served both as roving domicile and temple for the spring deity. Like a travel trailer, this goddess-vehicle was parked in a safe place for the winter, on an island in a sacred grove of trees. Hertha’s followers, male and female, probably all wore their hair long. According to Tacitus, many of the youthful male members of Germanic tribes combed their long locks to the side and tied these tresses into an enormous knot. Although Tacitus says these hair-dos were principally worn by young people, he sees this as a stature-enhancing ploy not tied to notions of beauty or adornment. Such hair-raising practices were intended to shock onlookers, especially enemies. The spring procession coincided with the first sprouting tree buds and it was the responsibility of the priest-consort to determine when this happened. The ritual was not without danger because the goddess- and cart-bathers did not survive after the wagon was returned to its garage for the winter. Most likely the helpers were slaves, who were subsequently pushed into the water and drowned. Although the spring procession ushered in a period of peace and prosperity (because tribes now turned their attentions to the more important pastimes of growing food and fishing from the sea) an underlying sense of terror and horror was never far from the surface of such celebrations. Remnants of the spring festival survived into the 12th century and beyond. But the goddess was now called the Pfingstkoenigin or Pentecost Queen. Later she was celebrated as the May Queen and her priest-consort became the May King. She was placed on a throne, draped in fine white cloth and honored with song and dance. In the seventies Led Zeppelin revived the May Queen in the popular rock ballad Stairway to Heaven. With her nature-loving ways (roving around in a camper, long hair and summer filled with music, love and peace, not to mention the high times that followed her) it is perhaps no wonder she was popular in the seventies. But May Queen celebrations have continued to the present, see the link below
To see a 2008 Druid's Beletane Celebration of the Blessing of the May Queen and King in Glastonbury, England hit the link and type in Druids' Beltane Celebration 2008 in the search box: