Nerthus

From Anthroposophy

The myth and cult of the goddess Nerthus is part of the Northern Scandinavian and Germanic mythology tradition and originates in clairvoyant observation going back to Man's descent from spiritual heights down to Earth in previous epochs (see Schema FMC00.362). It then became a rite or ceremony, and later was a cult describes in a myth.

The reality

Around 3000 BC there was a major Mystery Center in Jutland (Denmark) - see also Druidic and Trotten mysteries - and the temple priests decreed that in certain tribes, the sexual union of human beings must only take place during the first quarter of the year, at the time of the first full moon after the spring equinox. This resulted in the remarkable power of the physical bodies.

The season of Easter was the time for conception with the view to a time of birth at Christmas. This was seen as a holy mystery of the cosmos and was later symbolized in the worship of Nerthus.

This process, as part of the religious worship of the Vanir (gods) in the people (called by Tacitus) the Ingaevones, had a particularly strong experience of the process of conception through a kind of dream annunciation or ‘knowing dream-consciousness', in which a spiritual being appeared to the one who was conceiving and announced to her the human being who was to come to the Earth through her. The godly being that appeared, Ertha or Nerthus, was perceived as male-female rather than purely female. Only later did this become wholly female. (1916-12-21-GA173)

Conception was brought about in a state of unconsciousness. The woman who was conceiving was however truly conscious of the visionary appearance of a spiritual being descending from spiritual worlds to announce the coming child. These women even foresaw the face of the coming child. (1916-12-24-GA173)

Furthermore: among the tribes of the Ingaevones, the first human being to be born in the holy night, was chosen to become, at the age of thirty, the leader or king for three years. He was raised and developed in specials ways in the first thirty years, and at the end of the three years underwent a kind of symbolic death (see description 1916-12-24-GA173 below).

This tradition was deeply rooted in the population across Northern-Western Europe and developed a special relationship with the birth of a special child, born on what is now Christmas, who is to become king for a period of three years. The result is that the Northern stream had an unconscious feelings connection with what was a foreshadowing of the life of Jesus-Christ. This stream is referred to in Luke's gospel as the shepards.

The saga

The myth describes the union of the spiritual soul-nature which descended from planetary heights with that which proceeded from the earthly body itself, the latter being called Riesenheim or Home of Giants.

The 'Sagas of the Vanen' or Vanir, appears in the Poetic and Prose Edda, and tells about the god Njordr (or Njörðr) and his children Freyr and Freyja as members of the Vanir.

  • The goddess Nerthus represented that which can be presented to the human bodies by the human souls coming down from the planetary spheres. Nerthus is the transitional stage between the virginal fructification and the later propagation.
  • Njordr, inwardly related to Nerthus, is her masculine counterpart and represents the primal memory of re-descent of the spiritual human beings during the Atlantean epoch (after they had previously ascended again), to unite themselves with physical human bodies.

The descent of the divine-spiritual into the physical is represented in pictures: (1910-06-17-GA121) - eg the marriage of Freyr with Gerda

  • The Gods Freyr and Freya his sister "were thought of and felt as having originally been those angelic beings who had poured into the human souls all that those souls required to enable them to develop further, upon the physical plane, those old forces which they had received by means of their clairvoyant capacities."
  • Freyr was the living continuation of all that had been formerly received in clairvoyance. He marries the giantess Gerda (or Gerta), taken from the physical forces of earthly evolution, "to unite himself with the physical instruments existing in the human body for use of the soul-forces which can carry into the physical plane what had been perceived in primal clairvoyance". Freyr gets placed at his disposal:
    • a horse Bluthuf - indicating that blood is the essential thing in the development of his ‘I'
    • a wonderful ship that expands and folds together - this represents the alternation between day-waking and night-sleeping, as the human soul expands in sleep and folds up again into the human skull and brain in daytime

The cult

In countless regions of Europe a rite or ceremony was carried out at certain times in commemorative festivals with the chariot of Nerthus who descended every year into the sea in a boat, symbol of diving down into the sea of passion. The slaves who drew the chariot were killed during the rite as a sign that these were mortals who saw the act, only the initiated priests could remain present during the ceremony without being harmed. (1908-09-10-GA106)

Aspects

  • origins and background:
    • Mystery center in the North: around 3000 BC, in the area of Jutland peninsula, part of Denmark, with influence and practices that spread eastwards ... there were Ertha processions even in Swabia (1916-12-24-GA173)
    • people: Those connected with the Scandinavian Jutland Mystery centre called themselves ‘the ones who belong to the god, or goddess, Ing’: Ingaevones. For background see also wikipeadia on Ingaevones. For a description of the Ingaevones tradition and mystery of birth, see description above.
  • timing Nerthus cult
    • descriptions starts around 3000 BC, but "it flourished even in the second millennium BC, and it is seen to have disappeared fully by the first millennium BC". By then, human conception and birth were spread more or less over the whole year and there is no more knowledge of a coming-down out of cosmic worlds via the starry constellations, nor of how much depends for a person's destiny on earth on the constellation under which he is born. Human conception and birth are spread over the whole year
    • "Nerthus processions were held in some districts until quite recently in history, right into the early Christian centuries"
  • names
    • goddess Nerthus is also referred to, see ao Tacitus, as Hertha (1908-09-10-GA106), Ertha or Mother Earth (1916-12-21-GA173), Nerthus became Nört in the North (1916-12-24-GA173)
    • various kinds of secondary names for Nerthus: "not only Frigg, Frea, Frija, but also name Ing, after whom the Ingaevones named themselves" (1916-12-21-GA173)
  • various sources
    • Tacitus, the Roman historian (first century AD) describes in his work 'Germania' that the Anglii were distinguished by their veneration of the goddess Nerthus (1910-06-17-GA121)
    • the Anglo-Saxon rune song about ‘Ing’ (Nerthus and Ing are one and the same)
      • ‘Ing was first seen by the men of the East Danes. Later he went eastwards. Across the waves he strode, and his chariot followed after.’
    • what took place as realities in Northern and Western Europe had migrated over to the East"comes to meet us again in the description in the Luke Gospel", in the story of how the archangel Gabriel appears to Mary in the annunciation of the child. It also describes "shepherds, people resembling those among whom the worship of Nerthus lived".
  • spiritual scientific positioning:
    • Nerthus is the transitional stage between the virginal fructification and the later propagation (1908-09-10-GA106) - see also Gender and sexuality
  • later stages
    • the ancient Ertha worship evolved and became ahrimanic as the union of the human woman with the spiritual world was sought at an unlawful time, a practice known as ‘Walpurgis Night’ (the night of 30 April to 1 May).
    • these mysteries lived on, and in place of Ertha comes Frigg, who as a symbol appears more as a traitor to what really lay at the foundation.
    • the Vanir were being replaced by the Aesir, and the Mystery-custom became corrupted. It migrated to isolated, scattered Mystery-communities in the East and one alone remained. (link with Gospel of Luke)
  • result: different approach to Christianity in North and South (1916-12-24-GA173)
    • in the South, Gnosis had more of an understanding of the Easter Mystery, the Christ Mystery. This Christ Mystery was destroyed root and branch by dogma of the Roman church.
    • In the North, there was more of a comprehension of the Jesus Mystery, a feeling for the child who comes into the world to save mankind. This was based on feelings of these ancient customs, which live longer than ideas, and made comprehension possible. This Christmas Mystery was rooted out and transformed into something innocuous by the Roman Church.
  • difference between ancient reality and cult-myth and the myth. The cult-myth is something that is still performed in external customs like a ‘dream performance’ of what reminds people of the ancient clairvoyant visions. First it existed as a reality, later it was performed as a mystery play (which was finally rooted out by the monks and priests or the Roman Catholic church), then it became a myth that was merely recounted.

Illustrations

Schema FMC00.440 provides a simple reference overview for orientation on the relationship between the Nerthus and Baldur myths in the Northern stream of Scandinavian and Germanic mythology. The Nerthus myths as we know it, is but a remnant of the cult and reality of ancient traditions described in (1916-12-21-GA173)

FMC00.440.jpg


Schema FMC00.362 illustrates the process of souls descending from the various planets based on their stage of spiritual development, for the process of developing the human 'I' principle and the pipeline for the Tenth hierarchy. The schema cross links to various other perspectives:

FMC00.362.jpg

Lecture coverage and references

1908-09-10-GA106

[the descent]

It is of special interest that in this time we have also to take into account those who had achieved this stage earlier.

When we say that certain beings remained at the Bull stage, others at the Lion, others at the Eagle, and so on, what does this mean?

It means that if these beings had been able to wait, if they could have developed their full love for the physical world only at a much later time, they would have become human beings. If the lion had not willed to enter into the earthly sphere too early, it would have become a Man; the same is true of the other animals that had split off up till then. Let us repeat it in this way: All that was human at the time when the lion formed itself said either, “No, I will not yet take up the lower substances; I will not go down into physical humanity,” or, “I will go down; I wish what has evolved to come into existence.”

Thus we must think of two beings. The one remains above in the etheric realm of the air and only in its earthly parts reaches down to earth, while the other strives to descend completely to the earth. The latter might become a lion; the former became a man.

Just as the animals remained fixed at a certain stage, so now certain men remained fixed. It was not the best men who became human too early. The better ones were able to wait; they remained for a long time without descending to the Earth and there carrying out the act of fructification consciously. They remained in that state of cognition in which this act of fructification was a dream.

One may say that these men lived in Paradise. We find that

  • the men who descended earliest to earth had especially strongly formed bodies, with crude and brutal countenances;
  • while the men who wished first to mold the nobler parts had a much more human form.

[Nerthus myth]

What is here described was preserved in a wonderful myth and rite. The rite is mentioned by Tacitus and is well known as the myth of the goddess Nerthus (Hertha), who descended every year into the sea in a boat. But those who drew the boat had to be killed.

Nerthus is thought of (as is often done today) as a phantom of the imagination, as some kind of goddess to whom a cult had been dedicated on some island. It has been believed that the Nerthus shrine could be found in Lake Hertha on Rügen. It was thought that the place where the chariot sank might be found there. This is a remarkable fantasy. The name of Lake Hertha is a new invention. Earlier it was called the Black Lake because of its color, and it never occurred to anyone to call it Lake Hertha and relate it to the goddess.

There are much deeper things in this myth. Nerthus is the transitional stage between the virginal fructification and the later propagation. Nerthus, who dives down into a shadowy consciousness, perceives her immersion in the sea of passion only in a tender, symbolic act; she perceives only a reflection of it. But although the higher humanity still felt things in this way, those who had already descended at that time had lost their original naïveté. They already saw this act; they were lost for the higher human consciousness, and were worthy of death.

The memory of this event of primeval times was preserved in rites in countless regions of Europe. A ceremony was carried out at certain times in commemorative festivals.

This was the chariot of the Nerthus image, which dived down into the sea of passion, and it was the gruesome custom that those who had to serve, who drew the chariot and could see what went on, had to be slaves and were killed during the rite, as a sign that these were mortals who saw the act. Only the initiated priests could remain present during the ceremony without being harmed.

From this example we see that in the time when what is here described was known in certain regions, the Nerthus cult existed. In these regions there was a consciousness that shaped this myth and the rite.

Thus mankind evolved through the most manifold forms, and thus what are real facts were presented in pictures. It has already been said that such pictures should not be regarded as allegories, that their content has a relation to the real facts. Such pictures arose like dreams. So the Osiris myth also was dreamed before the pupil could actually see the facts of human evolution, and only what prepares the way for real seeing is a symbol in the occult sense. A symbol is a description of real events in pictures. In the next lecture we shall discuss the effect of these descriptions.

1910-06-17-GA121

[Spirits descending onto Earth]

... [you] will remember that once upon a time in the evolution of the Earth an event occurred which we may describe as the descent of those human souls who, in primeval times, before the old Lemurian epoch, for particular reasons had ascended to the various planets of our system, and who at the end of the Lemurian and during the whole of the Atlantean epochs endeavored to unite themselves with that which the human body had little by little developed and perfected in the way of capacities, and which had been made possible by the separation of the moon from the Earth.

[editor: see Planets hosting beings at various stages of evolution, and eg Schema FMC00.362]

These Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury souls then descended; as one may still find today in the Akashic Records. In the course of the Atlantean epoch the air of Atlantis was permeated with water in the form of clouds; that was the condition when the descent of those souls could be perceived by the old clairvoyance of the Atlantean epoch. Every time new beings were born in the soft, plastic, flexible, pliable bodies of that time, when they descended so to say from spiritual heights, that was considered to be the external expression of souls descending out of the spiritual surroundings, out of the atmosphere, out of planetary life, to unite themselves with the bodies being formed upon Earth.

The event of these earth-bodies being fertilized, as it were, by that which poured down from spiritual heights, is preserved in a conception implanted in the Scandinavian Germanic mythology. The consciousness of this was preserved so long that even Tacitus himself still found it among the South Germanic peoples at the time when he made the observations which he described in his Germania. No one who does not know that this event really did occur, will understand what Tacitus relates about the goddess Nerthus.

The chariot of the goddess Nerthus was driven over the waters. That later on was preserved as a rite, a ceremony; formerly it was a matter of observation. This goddess represented that which can be presented to the human bodies by the human souls coming down from the planetary spheres.

That is the mysterious occurrence underlying the Nerthus myth and it has been preserved in all that has come down to us in the older sagas and legends which indicate the development of physical man.

Njordr, who is inwardly related to the goddess Nerthus, is her masculine counterpart. He represents to us the primal memory of the descent of the psychic-spiritual human beings, who had once upon a time ascended to planetary heights, and who during the Atlantean epoch, descended again to unite themselves with physical human bodies.

From my pamphlet, Occult Significance of Blood, you will see what a significant role the interminglings and relationships of peoples have played at certain periods. Now not only the interminglings and relationships which were expressed in the mixture of blood, but also the psychic and spiritual requirements of the folk-spirits have played a great role.

The vision of that descent has been preserved in the greatest purity in the sagas which in former times developed in these Northern parts. Hence in the Sagas of the Vanen you can still find one of the very oldest recollections of it. Especially here in the North, in the Finnish traditions, was the memory kept alive of this union of the spiritual soul-nature which descended from planetary heights with that which proceeded from the earthly body itself, and which Northern tradition knows as Riesenheim (Home of Giants). That which developed out of the earthly body belonged to Riesenheim.

We understand, therefore, that the Germanic Scandinavian always felt the impulse coming from this side; that he felt within his gradually evolving soul the workings of this old divine vision, which was still ‘at home’ here in those old days when the mists of Atlantis still extended to this neighborhood. The Germanic Scandinavian felt in his soul something of the arrival of a god who was directly descended from those divine spiritual Beings, those archangels who directed the union of the psychic-spiritual with the earthly-physical.

Freyr the god, and Freya his sister, who here in the North were once upon a time specially beloved gods, were thought of and felt as having originally been those angelic Beings who had poured into the human souls all that those souls required to enable them to develop further, upon the physical plane, those old forces which they had received by means of their clairvoyant capacities.

In the physical world, that world limited by the outer senses, Freyr was the one who continued all that had been formerly received in clairvoyance. He was the living continuation of the clairvoyantly received forces.

He had therefore to unite himself with the physical instruments existing in the human body itself for the use of these soul-forces, which then can carry into the physical plane what had been perceived in primal clairvoyance. That is reflected in the marriage of Freyr with Gerda, the giantess; she is taken from the physical forces of earthly evolution. These pictures represent the descent of the divine-spiritual into the physical.

In this figure of Freyr is expressed in quite a wonderful way, the manner in which Freyr makes use of that which makes it possible for Man to manifest on the physical plane that for which he has been educated by his preceding clairvoyant perceptions. Bluthuf (Blood Hoof) is the name of the horse placed at the disposal of Freyr, to indicate that blood is the essential thing in the development of his ‘ I ’.

A remarkable, wonderful ship is also placed at his disposal. It can be expanded into the immeasurable and can be folded together so that it can be contained in the smallest box. Now what is this miraculous ship? If Freyr is the power which carries clairvoyant forces into the spheres which express themselves on the physical plane, then it must be something quite particularly belonging to him; it is the alternation between day-waking and night-sleeping. Just as the human soul during sleep and until the moment of waking is spread out in the macrocosm, so does the miraculous ship expand and is then folded up again into the folds of the brain; so that during the day-time it can be stowed away in the smallest of boxes — the human skull.

You will find all this wonderfully expressed in the pictures of this Germanic Scandinavian mythology.

[Source and process]

Those of you who will go more deeply into these things, will be gradually convinced that this is no fantasy; but that what has been implanted, inoculated into the thoughts and feelings of this northern people by means of these pictures, really comes from the schools of the Initiates. Thus a very great deal remained in the guiding archangel or folk-spirit of the North, of the old education through clairvoyant perception of that which may grow up in a soul which, in its development on the physical plane, connects itself on to a clairvoyant development.

Although outwardly it may seem different at the present day, yet the archangel of the Germanic North has within him this tendency, and this enables him to understand modern spiritual science especially well and to transform it in the manner corresponding to its national character.

Hence also you will see why I have said that in the Germanic North the best conditions are to be found for the comprehension of that which I could only indicate briefly in my open lecture on the Second Coming of Christ.

Spiritual research at the present time shows us that after Kali Yuga had run its course, which lasted for five thousand years (from about 3100 BC to 1899 AD), new capacities begin to develop in Man. These will at first appear in single individuals, in a few especially gifted ones only. It will come about, for instance, that persons will be able, through the natural evolution of their capacities, to see something of what is announced only by anthroposophy, by spiritual research.

1916-12-21-GA173

[Northern Mysteries - connection with Earthly, vs South Gnosis and cosmos]

These northern Mysteries were founded on something utterly different from the foundation of the Mysteries of Asia Minor, the Mysteries of the South. These Mysteries of the North were founded on something that was more intimately bound up with the life of the stars, with nature, with the Earth's growth forces, rather than that which was shown in the symbols of a temple.

Mystery-truths are not the trifles certain mystic sects play around with today. Mystery-truths are grand and powerful impulses within human evolution. Just as we cannot find our way back today through anthroposophy to gnosis, to the ancient gnostics, neither can mankind return to what the ancient Mysteries of the North once meant for human evolution. It would be a foolish misunderstanding to believe that such Mystery-truths are being revealed now because of a desire to return in some way to what lived in them. For the sake of self-knowledge it is necessary for mankind today to know what lived in such Mysteries.

For what in the northern Mysteries involved the whole evolution of the universe was connected with what came from the Earth, whereas the gnostic wisdom inspired by the cosmos was connected with what took place in the far reaches of the universe. The mystery of mankind in its connection to all the mysteries of the cosmos, how it works when Man enters on the physical earth into his physical existence, all this, at a certain period of earthly evolution, lay more deeply than anywhere else at the basis of these ancient northern Mysteries.

[Mystery Center 3000 BC - Jutland Denmark, and the Ingaevones]

But it is necessary to go a very long way back, approximately to the third millennium BC or perhaps even further, in order to understand what lived in those souls who later took into themselves the feeling for Jesus. Just about where the peninsula of Jutland is part of Denmark today, there existed a centre from which emanated in those ancient times very important Mystery-impulses.

... these Mystery-impulses were connected with the fact that, in the third millennium BC in this northern region, there lived certain tribes who only considered those people to be proper residents of the Earth who were born during certain weeks in winter time.

This came about because the temple priests of this secret Mystery Centre on the Jutland peninsula decreed that in certain tribes, the Ingaevones as Tacitus called them, the sexual union of human beings must only take place during the first quarter of the year. Every sexual union outside this period decreed by the Mystery centre was taboo; and anyone not born during the season of the darkest nights, in the coldest season towards the new year, was considered by these tribes of the Ingaevones to be an inferior human being. The impulse was sent out by the Mystery centre at the time of the first full moon after the spring equinox. This was the only time when those who felt truly connected with the spiritual worlds were allowed to practise sexual union. The forces which are used up in sexual union were saved for the whole remainder of each year and thus contributed to the growing strength of the people. Therefore, they were able to develop that remarkable power of which even the dying echo so astonished Tacitus — writing a century after the Mystery of Golgotha.

In this way the tribes of the Ingaevones, and the other Germanic tribes to a lesser extent, underwent at the time of the first full moon after the spring equinox a particularly strong experience of the process of conception, not in a state of waking consciousness but through a kind of dream annunciation. They knew what this meant with regard to the connection between the mystery of Man and the mysteries of heaven. A spiritual being appeared to the one who was conceiving and announced to her, as through a vision, the human being who was to come to the Earth through her. There was no consciousness, only a semiconsciousness in that sphere which human souls experienced during the process of entering into physical, earthly reality. Subconsciously the people knew themselves to be ruled by gods, the Vanir. They were not fully conscious in their intellect but lived in a ‘knowing dream-consciousness’.

Practices which exist at a certain time, and are fitting for that time, often survive into later times in external symbols. In olden times the holy mystery of birth was shrouded in the subconscious, which in turn meant that all births were crowded together in a certain part of the winter season, and it was regarded as sinful if human beings were born at other times.

[Ertha or Nerthus saga in Tacitus]

Later on this was partly preserved, but only fragments passed over into later consciousness, fragments of which the meaning has so far remained undiscovered by any learning. Indeed, it is openly admitted that no scholar has succeeded in discovering any meaning. Fragments remain in the so-called Ertha saga. Except for a few notes, everything now known externally about the Ertha, or Nerthus saga is contained in the writings of Tacitus, who reports about it as follows:

‘The Reudigni, the Aviones, the Anglii, the Varini, the Eudoses, the Suardones, and Nuithones, Germanic tribes who are fenced in by rivers or forests’ — these are more or less those tribes who together constitute the Ingaevones — ‘venerate Nerthus, Ertha, or Mother Earth and believe that she interposes in human affairs, and visits the nations in her chariot.’

In olden times every woman who was to give the Earth a new citizen knew in her dream consciousness, through the religious worship of the Vanir, that the goddess later worshipped as Ertha or Nerthus would appear to her. This godly being was perceived as male-female rather than purely female.

Only later did a corruption lead to Nerthus becoming a wholly female principle. Just as the angel Gabriel came to Mary so, in ancient times, did Nerthus come in her chariot to those who were to give the Earth a new citizen. The women who were going to give birth saw this in spirit.

Later, when the Mystery-impulse in this form had long faded away, the people still celebrated the dying echo of this event in symbols. This is what Tacitus saw, and described as follows:

‘In an island of the ocean there is a sacred grove, and within it her consecrated chariot, covered over with a garment. Only one priest is permitted to touch it.’

This priest was thought of as the initiate of the Ertha Mystery.

‘He can perceive the presence of the goddess in this sacred recess, and walks by her side with the utmost reverence as she is drawn along by heifers. It is a season of rejoicing, and festivity reigns wherever she deigns to go and be received. They do not go to battle or wear arms; every weapon is under lock; only peace and quiet are known and welcomed at these times, till the goddess, weary of human intercourse, is at length restored by the same priest to her temple.’

This was exactly what the vision was like. Such ancient documents describe things really quite exactly, only people no longer understand them. ‘It is a season of rejoicing and festivity. They do not go to battle or wear arms; every weapon is under lock.’

Thus it was indeed at the season which is now our Easter time. Out of their inner soul life people believed the season of the earth's fruitfulness to have come for them too, and those souls were conceived who were later born in the season which is now our Christmas time. The season of Easter was the time for conception. This was seen as a holy mystery of the cosmos and later it was symbolized in the worship of Nerthus. All of it was shrouded in the subconscious and was not allowed to break through into consciousness. This shimmers through in what Tacitus says about this worship:

‘Only peace and quiet are known and welcomed at these times, till the goddess, weary of human intercourse, is at length restored by the same priest to her temple. Afterwards the chariot, the vestments and the divinity herself are purified in a secret lake. Slaves perform the rite, who are instantly swallowed up by its waters.’ A penalty to ensure that all who know about these matters are submerged in the night of the unconscious. ‘Thus reigns a mysterious terror and a pious ignorance concerning the nature of that which is seen only by men doomed to die.’

[later: Ahrimanic]

Everything that takes place in the world comes to have a luciferic and an ahrimanic counter-image. The practices of the Ingaevones, which fitted properly into human evolution, related to the time of the first full moon after the spring equinox.

  • But owing to the precession of the equinox, what remained in ancient times of what had once been a dream experience took place later and later, and thus became ahrimanic. When the events of true, ancient Ertha worship had gradually moved to a time approximately four weeks later, they had become ahrimanic. It was ahrimanic because the union of the human woman with the spiritual world was sought in an unlawful way, that is, at an unlawful time. This then came to be caught and held in ‘Walpurgis Night’ which falls on the night of 30 April to 1 May. This is purely the consequence of an ahrimanic time-shift. You know that a luciferic time-shift goes backwards; an ahrimanic one is the opposite, so here the equinox is shifted forwards so that the remnant from earlier times manifests later. Thus the ahrimanic, mephistophelean reverse side of ancient Ertha worship, its reversal into something devilish, later became ‘Walpurgis Night’, which is connected with the most ancient Mysteries of which only this weak echo remains.

Much of these Mysteries lived on in the Scandinavian Mysteries. There in place of Ertha is Frigg, who in the symbolism of later ages — as spiritual science reveals — actually appears as a traitor to what really lay at the foundation.

[Leaders]

Something else also should be mentioned in connection with the customs of these Mysteries. From the time of the spring full moon until the depths of winter the fruit ripened in the mothers' wombs. Then one such human being was the first to be born in the holy night. Among the tribes of the Ingaevones this human being, the first to be born in the holy night, was chosen to become, at the age of thirty, the leader for three years, for only three years. In most ancient times this occurred every third year. What then happened to him I might be able to tell you later on.

Careful research reveals that not only is Frigg, Frea, Frija a kind of secondary name for Nerthus, but that the name Ing, after whom the Ingaevones named themselves, is also a secondary name for Nerthus.

Those connected with this Mystery centre called themselves ‘the ones who belong to the god, or goddess, Ing’: Ingaevones. In the external world only fragments remained of what was actually experienced. One of these are the words of Tacitus which I have read to you. Another fragment is the famous Anglo-Saxon rune-song consisting of only a few lines. Every student of German philology knows it but none understand its meaning:

‘Ing was first seen by the men of the East Danes. Later he went eastwards. Across the waves he strode, and his chariot followed after.’

This Anglo-Saxon rune-song contains an echo of what had happened in the ancient Mystery-custom of conception at Easter with the view to a time of birth at Christmas. What took place in this connection in the spiritual world was known, above all, on the Danish peninsula. That is why the rune song says quite rightly: ‘Ing was first seen by the men of the East Danes.’

Then came times when this ancient knowledge fell more and more into corruption, so that only echoes and symbols remained. Altogether human evolution became more suffused with what came from warmer climes. From warmer countries comes something which is unlike what comes from colder climes, where the season of the year is intimately linked with what human beings experience in their inner being. In warmer climes the seed of man was sown all the year round. Of course this happened also in the colder countries even while the old atavistic clairvoyance still existed, but it was suffused in the ancient principles.

It came to the the northern regions when the Vanir were being replaced by the Aesir and when, in the southern regions, the nature Mysteries had long been replaced by the temple Mysteries. It came northwards, of course still mixed with the ancient ways, when the Vanir were being replaced by the Aesir. Just as the Vanir were connected with ‘imagining’, so were the Aesir connected with ‘being’, with being or existing in the material world which external understanding wishes to grasp. When the northern people had entered an age in which individual intelligence was beginning to develop, when the Aesir took the place of the Vanir, the Mystery-custom became corrupted. It migrated to isolated, scattered Mystery-communities in the East.

One alone remained. The one in whom the whole meaning of the Earth was to be renewed, the one in whom the Christ was to dwell, was chosen to unite within himself what had once been the content of the northern Mysteries.

So in contemplating in the Luke Gospel the story of how the archangel Gabriel appears to Mary, we may seek its origin in the true visions which occurred in what was later mirrored in the Nerthus Mystery with its symbols. This had migrated over to the East. Spiritual science now reveals it and only spiritual science can find a meaning for the Anglo-Saxon rune song. For Nerthus and Ing are one and the same. And of Ing it is said: ‘Ing was first seen by the men of the East Danes. Later he went eastwards. Across the waves he strode, and his chariot followed after.’ He strode, of course, across the waves of the clouds, just as Nerthus strode across the waves of the clouds. What had been general in the colder regions became singular, a single event. It took place as a single event and as such comes to meet us again in the description in the Luke Gospel.

[Christianity - feeling of Jesus]

Now once something is there, once it has become customary and firmly anchored in the soul, then it remains there, it remains firmly in the soul. So when the people of the North received the tidings of Christianity from what had been ancient Rome in the South, these tidings were linked with old Mystery-customs which lived no longer in full consciousness but in the subconscious and were thus only dimly sensed. That is why the feeling for Jesus could be especially strongly developed there. What had lived in the old Nerthus Mystery had sunk down into the subconscious where it was still present, where it was sensed and felt.

In those distant days in the far North, when the Earth was still covered in forests in which lived the aurochs and the elk, the families gathered in their snow-covered huts in the lamplight around a newborn child. They spoke of this new life and of how it brought to them the new light which the heavens had announced to them in the days of early spring. This was the ancient Christmas, the consecrated night. When they later received tidings of one who was born in the holiest hour and who was destined for great things it reminded them of another who had been the firstborn after the twelfth hour of the consecrated night. The ancient knowledge was gone, but the ancient feelings lived on when the tidings came of such a one born in distant Asia, one in whom lived the Christ Who had descended to the Earth from the starry heavens.

It is our duty in the present time to understand such things more and more so that we may learn to grasp the meaning of earthly mankind's evolution. Holy Writ is filled with what is unimaginably great, not with the kind of triviality so often discussed in religious tracts. It is filled with holy truths which run through the whole of human evolution and thrill us to the marrow, flooding our hearts with wonder. All this resounds in what the gospels contain. Once spiritual science has revealed the profound background to what lives in the gospels, these gospels will become for mankind something inestimably dear and valuable. One day mankind will know why it is said in the Luke gospel:

‘And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, (because he was of the house and lineage of David): To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.’

For Him, the firstborn among those who were to find one another in the soul, the ancient Mystery-forces had migrated to the distant East from the Danish peninsula.

‘And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid.’

In the same way had Ertha, who rode through the countryside in her chariot, brought tidings of the arrival of human beings on Earth in a way fitting for the ancient consciousness of the Vanir, that is, for subconscious, atavistic clairvoyance.

‘And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,’

Saying what the Ertha priest had spoken in the ancient northern Mystery to the woman who was to conceive:

‘The revelation of the divine comes from on high in the time of peace among those who are of good will!’

As Tacitus says: ‘It is a season of rejoicing and festivity. They do not go to battle or wear arms; every weapon is under lock.’

It is to this greatness that human beings must ascend: They must look deeply into the course of human evolution. For even the Mystery of Golgotha, which gave a deeper meaning to the whole of Earth evolution, only becomes fully comprehensible when it is shown how it stands within human evolution as a whole. When materialism has disappeared and people want to know, not only in the abstract but also quite concretely about their divine origin, there will once again be an understanding for the holy Mystery-truths of ancient days. Then will the interval of time be over in which Christ, though He lives on the Earth, can only be minimally understood in full consciousness. For the understanding of Christ among the Gnostics faded away; and the understanding of Jesus grew only unconsciously in connection with the ancient worship of Nerthus. In the future mankind will have to bring into consciousness and bind together both these unconscious streams. Then an understanding of Christ will gain more and more prominence on the earth, and this will be the link between ancient Mystery-knowledge and a renewed great flourishing of Gnosis.

...

Shepherds, people resembling those among whom the worship of Nerthus lived, are also described in the Luke gospel. I can only sketch all this for you. If only we had more time I could show you how deeply founded are the things I have to tell you today. ...

1916-12-24-GA173

At the start of this lecture, Rudolf Steiner asks (remarkably):

Today I would like to request you once again, without exception, to refrain from taking notes. This applies to all three days.

quote A

More important for our point of departure today is something else I introduced last Thursday, namely that in the North in very early pre-Christian times — I said 3000 years BC — there was a certain custom among peoples whom Tacitus called the Ingaevones. This custom was guided by Mystery priests in a Mystery centre focused on what is today Jutland, part of Denmark. This Mystery centre was able to work at that time and in those parts because all the climatic conditions in those colder regions differed from any in the southern, warmer regions — for all material conditions also have their own spiritual background. While the warmer regions were more suited to developing an understanding of the Christ-Being in Gnosis, the colder parts lent themselves more to evolving feelings about Jesus because of ideas still prevalent about ancient customs.

  • Thus it was that, in the South, Gnosis had more of an understanding of the Easter Mystery, the Christ Mystery. But the understanding, as I have said, was destroyed root and branch by dogma.
  • In the North, in contrast, there was more of a comprehension of the Jesus Mystery, a feeling for the child who comes into the world to save mankind. This was based not so much on actual ideas, which had died out, but on feelings which live longer than ideas. The feeling of these ancient customs made comprehension possible.

So it came about that

  • in the South it was the task of the church to root out the Christ Mystery,
  • whereas in the North it was its task to root out the Christmas Mystery, to transform it into something innocuous.

Thus later, in the Middle Ages, the idea of Christmas came into being which, one might say, reckoned with the rise of bourgeois values of more recent times, which appeared increasingly as the age of materialism dawned. For bourgeois values in the widest sense are a concomitant of materialism. We have to be clear, though, that greater, more significant ideas, in the form of feelings, lived in Central Europe right into the eighth, ninth and even the tenth centuries, for these feelings originated from prevalent usages, such as processions and other folk customs.

[Ingaevones recap]

Let me briefly sketch these ancient customs once again. Among the Ingaevones the life of the people was firmly guided by the Mystery centre which laid down the season when provision could be made for procreation. The union of man with woman was permitted only in the days of spring, around the first full moon after the spring equinox. It was approximately the time we now call Easter time. The remainder of the year was taboo as far as human reproduction was concerned, and those born at a time which showed that their conception had been out of season were regarded, in a way, as not quite proper people.

So the births of people conceived at the correct time all came together in the middle of winter, just after our present Christmas time. All those regarded by the Ingaevones as fully human had to be born at this time. The births had to fall at the time of the darkest winter days, when the trees were covered in snow and the people confined to their primitive homesteads. To use the language of today, every child was in a way a Christmas child, a child of the winter solstice.

This affected people's frame of mind and soul. Because nothing to do with procreation occurred at other times of the year, the old dream-conscious clairvoyance was preserved. And when the time of conception approached as the permitted spring days drew near, conditions of unconsciousness took over. Conception was brought about in a state of unconsciousness, not in waking consciousness. The woman who was conceiving was truly conscious, however, of the visionary appearance of a spiritual being descending from spiritual worlds to announce the coming child. These women even foresaw the face of the coming child.

[Evolution moving East and link with shepards in birth of Jesus]

And this annunciation, as we saw, is echoed in the time of the Luke gospel in the annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel. We saw that there even exists a fragment of an Anglo-Saxon rune song which tells of what existed in the old consciousness and that on the Jutland peninsula there really was a Mystery centre which then migrated eastwards.

Now mankind is, of course, developing, and development is a part of mankind. So this Mystery centre could only exist in most ancient times, for, had it persisted, there would have been no development of the type of consciousness needed as the task of the fourth, and then of the fifth post-Atlantean period. To clairvoyant consciousness the custom is hardly to be found anywhere in northern regions, where it flourished, even in the second millennium BC, and it is seen to have disappeared fully by the first millennium BC. By then, human conception and birth were spread more or less over the whole year and there is no more knowledge of a coming-down out of cosmic worlds via the starry constellations, nor of how much depends for a person's destiny on earth on the constellation under which he is born. Human conception and birth are spread over the whole year.

Parallel with this development is the rise of a new consciousness, the rise of the possibility of freedom for the human being and so on.

One last thing remained, however. Something had existed in the region where Denmark is today; it migrated from tribe to tribe until it reached the East, where the Christ-Being was to be incarnated in one last body still seen in connection with the constellations. The first-born of many brothers became the last-born of those who were seen in connection with the starry constellations. In evolution the last remnant of the old always links up with what is new.

Because in northern regions the feeling had evolved that the human being appears on the Earth during the consecrated season, it came about that here, too, surrounded by the echo of those atavistic feelings, the feeling for Jesus could evolve. Thus you will find in these northern regions that the paramount feeling and better understanding was for the Luke gospel, and that the Christmas Mystery worked more strongly than the Easter Mystery, which was imprisoned among the secrets of the church, whereas the Christmas Mystery became quite general.

[Leadership three years cycle: 30 years preparation]

... every three years special attention was paid to the one born first after the twelfth hour of the night that we now call Christmas Eve, the first-born of every fourth year, the first to be born after three years. This first-born was destined to undergo certain procedures until his thirtieth year. Until his thirtieth year he was kept apart and brought up by the Mystery priests. His soul was given a distinct direction. His soul was destined to undergo experiences in a quite special way during the first thirty years of his life. These experiences and procedures were to lead him — this is barely comprehensible today — in his thirtieth year to an inner understanding of the link between the human being and the surrounding spiritual world. Certain quite specific inner experiences during these thirty years were to lead him gradually to this point.

  • First of all this first-born was to understand, even as a tiny child, how the human being is linked to the spiritual world through his angel. Separated from the rest of the world, undisturbed by the concepts which usually enter a child's soul from his environment, he was to remain close to spiritual workings and spiritual events and, to start with, develop a profound awareness of his links with the angel-being who was his guide, his angel. In this way this child was equipped with a soul which was taught something very special, about which we may perhaps speak during the next few days. This special learning was expressed by saying that the child had become a ‘raven’. This was a stage of initiation which was disseminated over wide regions and was contained particularly in the Persian Mithras initiation, of which I have spoken in past years.
  • Then this soul was to ascend to an even more intense feeling for its connection with the spiritual worlds; this first-born was to relive in his soul the secrets of the spiritual worlds.
  • This would not be possible today, for our consciousness develops under different conditions. But, in those ancient times, when it was possible to develop a dream consciousness this was still perfectly possible. When the child had grown into a youth — it was always a boy, a girl did not count — he was given the leadership over individual districts, smaller sections of the tribe.
  • Finally, he had to serve in the administration and government of smaller communities. But it is important to remember that these affairs of government were always conducted in such a way that the youth was ever protected from external influences, especially shielded from the influences of various egoisms; he was most carefully shielded from the influences of egoisms, from influences which came about on the basis of external experiences.
  • Thus it was achieved that, towards the end of these thirty years, he could take on the role of representative of the whole tribe. When he reached the age of thirty he was ready to absorb consciously the connections of man with the whole cosmos. He became what is called in the Mystery centres a ‘sun hero’. Now he was destined to rule the tribe for three years. None but a ‘sun hero’ could rule the tribe. He was permitted to rule for only three years.
  • At the end of the three years something else, about which I shall speak, was done with him under the guidance of the Mysteries. In particular, in all the arrangements that emanated from the tribe of the Ingaevones, nobody was allowed to be king for longer than three years, and none was allowed to become king who had not undergone what I have described.

[Nerthus or Ertha myth]

You see, forming in these tribes, as it were the skeleton, out of which the gospels later created the life of Christ Jesus. These communities lived in very ancient times. Only symbols of what had gone before come down to later ages.

Thus the vision of the annunciation of the child to the mother came down to later ages as the worship of Nerthus, of Ertha. And the fact that the act of conception had to take place unconsciously in olden times is still hinted at in the Nerthus myth told by Tacitus a hundred years after the birth of Jesus. He describes how Ertha — who is male-female, not only female, for she is the same as the god Nerthus — arrives in her chariot; in other words, she is none other than the angel of the annunciation. Then those who have served her have to be drowned in the sea — slain. This is an echo of the submergence into unconsciousness of the act of conception in those ancient days.

In this myth of Ertha in her chariot and the slaves who accompany her but are drowned as soon as their service is concluded, in this myth of Nerthus, we have in the feeling-life an echo of something that was formerly an astral reality, something that had been experienced astrally. Nerthus processions were held in some districts until quite recently in history, right into the early Christian centuries. There were Ertha processions even in Swabia. These were echoes of ancient days. Those who in olden times, through certain rites which still existed as an echo of ancient heathen times, knew something about these earlier millennia, felt and thought about these processions of Ertha in her chariot: This is what our ancestors did.

And when that single event then occurred which was the life of Jesus, it was brought into connection with what had been more general in ancient times. This was then better understood in the feelings, at the level of the feelings.

[Extinction]

Therefore the monks and priests made every effort to root out anything which might remind their flocks of these things. Such things were rooted out just as carefully in the North as was Gnosis in the South. Otherwise people would have known, by bringing together these ancient customs with the Mystery of Golgotha, that this Mystery, in so far as it is a Christmas Mystery, was not an ancient, natural custom brought into the present but rather that it was replaced in the feeling for the Christmas Mystery by something at a higher level of consciousness. But this was not to be known consciously. This was to be suppressed into the subconscious, for there are always certain powers who reckon with the unconscious. A great part of what happens in history comes about because things conscious and things unconscious are brought together by those who know how to bring such things together.

[Later stage]

We rightly speak of what happens in going from the fourth to the fifth post-Atlantean period. But even in the transition from the third to the fourth there was a step forward in human consciousness towards increased I-consciousness, increased waking consciousness. The ancient dream visions of the spiritual world have disappeared.

In the North this was expressed by saying that the Vanir, who were connected with what is given in visions, had been replaced by the Aesir, who are indeed gods for a well-developed day consciousness. This is what was said in the North during the fourth cultural age, until all such memories had been rooted out by the priests. In the fifth cultural age, when materialism, or rather ‘Christianityism’, appeared, these things had already disappeared. While in the South the Greeks had their gods: Zeus, Apollo and the others, the people of the North had the Aesir, a word which is connected with esse, to be, which in turn is connected with being seen, being seen with the eyes.

But during the third cultural age the ancient peoples who inhabited the North of Europe had the Vanir. These Vanir were far closer to the people. Nerthus, which became Nört in the North, is one of the Vanir, who announced every conception or birth. Now I said that what had existed earlier was always preserved in later times in symbols.

Thus something that I have so far only sketchily described to you and which we may be able to go into more deeply in the next day or two, namely, the knowledge bound up with becoming ‘king’, becoming the ‘sun hero’, was carried over first into the cult-myth and then into the myth. We have to distinguish between the cult-myth and the myth as such. The cult-myth is something that is still performed in external customs like a ‘dream performance’ of what reminds people of the ancient clairvoyant visions.

[Baldur myth - what after the three years]

Thus, at a time when what I described to you no longer worked, we have in the Baldur myth, the myth of the god Baldur which was performed in many tribes as a mystery play, an echo of what was involved in ‘becoming king’.

First it existed as a reality. Later it was performed as a mystery play. Then it became a myth that was merely recounted. And finally it was rooted out by the monks and priests.

Baldur is one of the Aesir, that is, he was one of the ruling spiritual powers at a time when man had already awakened to I-consciousness. The Vanir had already faded, and yet Baldur remains as a representative of that being who was to become king, the first-born who came every three years.

  • It is told that, at a certain time in his life, Baldur had dreams announcing his death. Later these dreams came true. But this did not mean merely that he had felt the approach of his physical death. It meant that, having accomplished three years of service as king, he was raised from the consciousness appropriate for that, to a higher level of consciousness. Until then he had been shielded from contact with the outer materialistic world. A king such as this was to live within the priesthood so that all egoism should depart from his soul and none could enter in. He was not permitted to be king for more than three years.
  • Towards the end of the three years Baldur sensed the approach of the end of his time of kingly dignity. This meant, according to the ancient beliefs, that he was ready for contact with the outside world. First he had to rule, but he had to do this solely in accordance with the wishes of the spiritual world.
  • After that he was to become something else; he was to enter the outside world. For someone who had never had such contact before this was, in truth, a kind of death. This is what was expressed in his dreams.

The myth describes how the gods heard about these dreams and became uneasy. We must always think of the human element in relation to the divine element in the way that the two are united in the ancient Mysteries. When, towards the end of his time as king, Baldur felt the moment approaching, the gods — that is the Mystery priests — became uneasy and made all the creatures and all the conditions of the Earth swear that they would not harm Baldur. They forgot only one insignificant little plant — mistletoe, the Christmas plant. Loki, the enemy of the Aesir, found the mistletoe. And he made use of it at the festival of the gods, that is, at the event of the god Baldur's first contact with the outside world.

[link Baldur with Christmas]

Here we have an ancient Christmas festival, and the mistletoe custom linked with Christmas is still today a memory of this ancient custom which had to do with establishing a new king in place of the old.

[storyline]

The contact of the old king with the material world is depicted in the mystery play and the myth.

All created things have sworn not to harm Baldur. They are now used by the gods who throw them at Baldur and shoot them at him. Nothing — no plant, no animal, no illness, no poison — can harm him. Only Loki has discovered the mistletoe, which he has brought amongst the community of gods — that is, the priests — and given to the blind god Hödr.

Hödr says: What shall I do with the mistletoe? I am blind and cannot see where Baldur is standing, I cannot shoot at him as the other gods do. But Loki showed him the direction and he shot at Baldur with the mistletoe twig. Baldur was wounded and died.

So Hödr is the one who appears as the representative of the outside, material world, in so far as this material world is not comprehended in its connection with the spiritual world but lives like a parasite.

‘Höd’ is the ancient name for battle or war, while ‘Baldur’, as it still exists today, can be traced back to another designation of which the best, still preserved, appears in Anglo-Saxon. As I showed recently, ‘Tag’ appears at an earlier stage of the sound shift as ‘day’. ‘Bal day’ is a possible name, even though Anglo-Saxon. It means ‘shining day’, which expresses Baldur's connection with daytime consciousness, that consciousness which did not come to mankind until the fourth post-Atlantean period.

Hödr is a representative of matter, of darkness, but also of battle and conflict. Baldur is the representative of understanding, of knowledge, of light — namely, that light which shines in the human soul in the state of consciousness which has developed since the fourth post-Atlantean period.

So in the Baldur myth we have a special version of the Christmas Mystery.

Awareness of the connection between the Baldur myth and the Christmas Mystery was also rooted out by the monks and priests. For Baldur has some of the good qualities of Lucifer, and Hödr has some of the good qualities of the later Mephistopheles-Ahriman. I do not mean ‘good’ in the moral sense but rather in the sense of what is necessary for evolution. Such things, too, are connected with evolution as a whole.

During the fourth cultural age it was still possible for a human being to be guided into the spiritual world in the ancient way as was the case in the old northern Mysteries. This had to be changed as time went on, for the tentative way, later only present in an atavistic form, the tentative, clairvoyant way — still with a certain echo of dream consciousness, which was fitting for the fourth cultural age — could not resist the more robust demands of the materialistic age. This relationship of ancient clairvoyance from the fourth cultural age to what came later is expressed in the myth depicting the contrast between Baldur and Hödr.

What is working here, what is behind the fact that Baldur — the representative of human consciousness, which can be illuminated by the divine — can be killed through the influence of the evil power of Loki over Hödr, the god of battle, of war and of darkness?

Behind all this lies the fact that in our age, as it has been for a long time and as it will still be for some time to come, there must always be a working together of light and darkness. To try and make people believe that anything in the physical world, the world of maya, can be totally good, is nothing but religious egoism. Every light has its shadow, and a thorough comprehension of this fact is extremely important and significant.

...

Discussion

Related pages

References and further reading

  • Lotte Motz: 'The Godess Nerthus. A New Approach' (1992)
  • Stefan Zimmer and Anders Hultgård: 'Nerthus und Nerthuskult' (2002)