Herta - The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

Also known as Hertha, Eartha, Erda, Nerthus.

Herta is a mysterious Germanic goddess, eventually demonized as a Queen of Witches. In that guise, she leads 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 her Mater Terra, “Mother Earth.” Archeological evidence suggests that Denmark was the epicenter of her cult. She had a sanctuary amidst the groves on the Baltic Isle of Rügen, now German territory but once part of Pomerania and once ruled by Danes. The highest point on Rügen is still known as the Hertaburg. Ruins of Hertha Castle near deep Hertha Lake on Rügen are believed to be the remnants of her shrine.

She appears in Norse mythology as Nerthus (Earth), sister-wife of Njord (Sea) the father of Freya and Freyr, primary deities of the Vanir. Njord and his children went to live in Asgard, Aesir territory, as Vanir representatives/hostages. In some versions, Nerthus is Njord’s first wife and Freya and Freyr’s mother, but because the Aesir disapprove of marriage between siblings, she remains behind on her island sanctuary. Eventually, however, Odin comes calling; the Valkyries, lead by their half-sister, are the daughters of Nerthus and Odin, representing the true union of Aesir and Vanir.

Herta, alongside Hulda and Freya, was among those witch-goddesses Germanic women charged with witchcraft were accused of worshipping. She appears under the name Erda in Das Rheingold, the first part of Richard Wagner’s cycle of operas The Ring of the Nibelungs, loosely based on the Volsung Saga and the Nibelungenlied. In Wagner’s cycle, Erda is identified as the mother of the Norns (the Fates) as well as the Valkyries.

She is sometimes identified as swan or goose-footed, which may link her to shamanism or to Mother Goose. In 1867, the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837—1909) included “Hertha” in his collection Songs Before Sunrise. In this poem she is identified as the origin of all Creation: Hertha the eternal Gaia.

See also Freya, Hulda, Odin; DICTIONARY: Aesir, Valkyries, Vanir; FAIRY-TALE WITCHES.