Ertha, the Germanic Earth Goddess

as depicted by the Roman historian Tacitus

edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1996-2010

Nothing remarkable occurs in any of these tribes [of northern Germany], except that they unite in the worship of Hertha [Ertha], or Mother Earth. They believe that she interposes in the affairs of men, and visits the different nations in her chariot. On an island of the ocean stands a sacred and unviolated grove, in which is a consecrated chariot, covered with a veil, which the priest alone is permitted to touch. He becomes conscious of the entrance of the goddess into this secret recess; and with profound veneration attends the vehicle, which is drawn by yoked cows.

At this season all is joy; and every place which the goddess deigns to visit is a scene of festivity. No wars are undertaken; arms are untouched; and every hostile weapon is shut up. At this time, only peace abroad and at home are known.

At length the same priest conducts the goddess, now weary of mortal intercourse, back to her temple. The chariot, with its curtain, and, if we may believe it, the goddess herself, then undergo ablution in a secret lake. This ritual is performed by slaves, whom the same lake instantly swallows up. Hence arises a mysterious horror and a pious ignorance of these events, which are beheld only by those who are about to perish.

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Revised June 26, 2010.