Herta, mysterious Germanic goddess, was eventually Demonized as a Queen of Witches, a leader of the Wild Hunt. Although little information regarding Herta survives, her name remains sacred and familiar, as it is the one given our planet, Earth. Tacitus called Herta Mater Terra: “Mother Earth.” Archaeological evidence suggests that Denmark was the epicentre of her worship. Herta possessed a sanctuary amid groves on Rügen Island, in the Baltic Sea, now modern Germany, but once ruled by Danes. Rügen’s highest point is still called Hertaburg. Ruins of Hertha Castle near Herta Lake on Rügen Island are believed to be remnants of her shrine.
Herta has apparently not left home. According to local lore, a beautiful woman emerges from the woods on full-moon nights to bathe in Herta Lake accompanied by female attendants. Once in the water, they may become invisible but are heard splashing. They eventually reappear to disappear back into the woods. These spectral bathers do not welcome company. It is considered dangerous to witness them. Allegedly observers feel magically compelled to enter the deep lake where they drown. Local rumour says that at least one person drowns annually, suggesting that Herta may be collecting human sacrifices.
According to Roman reports, the statue of Herta was ritually removed from her shrine and bathed in the lake several times a year. Herta’s rites were secret and little else is known. (Whether they were always secret or whether secrecy increased under Roman threat is also unknown.) Allegedly most ritual attendants were drowned following fulfilment of their tasks, although whether as sacrifices to Herta or whether to maintain secrecy (to make sure they’ll never reveal her secrets) is also now unknown.
She appears in Norse mythology as Nerthus (Earth), sister-wife of Njord (Sea). The Vanir practice marriage between siblings similar to the ancient Egyptians (Isis and Osiris; Set and Nephthys). Njord and his children, Freya and Freyr, went to live in Asgard as Vanir representatives/hostages. Nerthus is his first wife and their mother, but because the Aesir disapprove of marriage between siblings, she remained behind on her island sanctuary. (Alternatively she just didn’t want to go.) Eventually, Odin, that inveterate traveller, came calling: the result was the Valkyries, daughters of Nerthus and Odin, representing the true union of Aesir and Vanir.
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Hertha; Erda; Eartha; Nerthus
In her later guise as witch-goddess, Herta rides a deer crowned with hops. She uses a stalk of valerian as a riding crop. (Both plants are profound sedatives and sleep-inducers.)
One of her ancient festivals coincided with the vernal equinox.
Rügen Island in the Baltic Sea: a deep black lake on the island was once surrounded by beech forests. Herta’s sacred grove was allegedly beside this lake.
- Wild Hunt
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.