Ranting against the Earth Mother

Fisherman from Birsay on the Orkney Islands. Kind of related.

For some reason, some Heathens and Germanic pagans have decided to equate the cult of Nerthus as explained by Tacitus with Jǫrð from later folklore. I guess this is because of the ease of access and an attempt at fashioning a “tradition” based around two extremely vague figures. Both of which they terribly fumble around with and use to verify their weak ass earth worship.

But, to add more fuel to the argument — I’m going to subject you all to a quick rant for a second, and see what information I can pull from the words.

The proposed root for Nerthus is h₂nḗr, which means “man”, with an emphasis on the vitality or vigor of that man. See anēr in Greek, and later andro- root, and usage of Ner- in Italic, such as in “Nero”, and Nar- in Sanskrit.

The exact quote from Tacitus’ Germania “nisi quod in commune Nerthum, id est Terram matrem”— while the common denomination has a suffix of -us, a masculine form, the quote has -um, a neutered singular form of that same masculine suffix.

This betrays the proposed Germanic rendition to Nerþuz and Latin Nerthus, as the -us in Latin comes from the masculine adjectival ending -ós in Proto-Indo-European and likewise cognates to the Germanic ending -az, resulting in Nerþaz as a proper form. The -ō stem as being the female equivalent of the -az ending. Adding the -z would pluralize that form.

Further, while the text calls this figure the “Mother of Earth”, the figure was worshipped among coastal and other near-coastal tribal groups. This indicates that it was very likely a religion with a divine figure pertaining to the sea, especially when one considers the custom they mentioned in the treatise. There is more backing on this being more associated with the later Njǫrðr in Old Norse — the god of coasts, fishing and general abundance.

It could be stated that the function of this cultural piece was mistaken by the author based on his understanding of earth-goddess cults, or or simply represents the common twinning or doubling of divinities in certain traditions — this becomes apparent when one observes that the children of Njǫrðr, whom he sired on his unnamed sister-wife, hold different gendered forms of the same name, Freyr and Freyja; proposed forms are Fraujaz and Frawjō. It could be that the chthonic or earthly aspect comes from this part of the cultus, and was the female function.

Based on the name, it seems that this religion observed the male form as it’s primary focus. The divine pair I would reconstruct as being Nerþaz, and Nerþō in Proto-Germanic.

So with these points being out there in the open now, I don’t think Nerthus can equate the later form Jǫrð, as “the mother of Thor”. Especially since the roots of her name comes from the h₁er, and h₂erh₃ roots, pertaining to dry earth and ploughed fields, which don’t actually correspond to the function of Tacitus’ Nerthus at all.

This whole idea is really just a fantasy for hippies who want to play with runes.