Earth Mother Magic
Some fifteen hundred years ago, the Teuton tribes of Northern Europe held an annual ceremony. At night, under the rays of the moon, a veiled statue of their preeminent female divinity was placed in a wagon. Her sacred cows were hitched to this wagon, which was pulled through the fields, as people assembled to greet and salute them. While this ceremony itself has obviously not been performed in centuries, vestigial memories of Herta or Eartha, as her name is sometimes spelled, remain. Her name resonates in our language as the name given to our planet, Earth.
We can't presume to understand all that this specific ritual meant to the Teutons nor precisely what their expectations might have been. Much of what we know about Teutonic ritual comes to us via descriptions written by Romans, themselves outsiders to the culture. The Romans tell us that this was a joyous time for the Teutons. Destruction and warfare were consciously and deliberately ceased, placed on hold, at least for the duration of the ritual. What we can recognize from our current distance is their attempt to unify and harmonize all the components of nature, all Earth's children, including plants, animals, spirits and people.
The Teutons did not confuse Herta with Earth. They were agricultural: they could distinguish between a spiritual entity and the dirt beneath their feet. Nor was she merely a personification of Earth. Rather, Herta served as an intermediary, a broker between Earth, humans and all Earth's other inhabitants, seeing to it that everyone's needs were met. Neither did the Teutons, or other early people, confuse the statue with the spiritual entity. They understood that humans created the statue. If the statue was damaged or destroyed, they realized that it did not destroy or damage the spirit. Rather this damage might indicate something significant about the relationship between people and spirit, perhaps one reason why conquerors destroy the representations of their enemies' spiritual allies with such force and glee.
Attitudes toward Herta changed over the centuries. From a benevolent intermediary, Herta evolved into a Queen of Witches, a spiritual entity to be feared and avoided. Earth's image evolved as well. No longer a she but an it, Earth became something to be conquered, mastered and controlled. No longer perceived as beneficially linked guides, providers and protectors, Earth and Herta became instead a source of danger and temptation. This was paralleled in changing attitudes towards Earth's other children, the plants and animals. Animals became witches' familiars rather than potential friends and allies of all. As the witch craze overtook Europe, plants that had given healing and pleasure became illicit objects of fear. People became increasingly afraid to communicate with these forces that had served them so well for so long, although the true danger, in the form of torture, repression and murder, came not from plants or animals, but from other humans.
Attitudes towards women were shifting, too. Once considered a repository of holy fertility power, the ultimate magic, women's bodies became a source of shame, danger and sin. Jumping forward to the present day, the effects of these attitudes are palpable. Earth is badly damaged. Many species of plants and animals are extinct or endangered. Creatures who remain on Earth are having difficulty reproducing. Sperm counts among many species, including our own, have fallen drastically. Earth, abused and caged to the point where she cannot provide for her children, may be practicing her own birth control.
The damage to humanity transcends the physical. In the United States, as elsewhere on the globe, to be human now in the 21st century typically means to be lonely and disconnected. Modern child-rearing practices are wary of the influence and power of the mother. From the first breath, the infant is encouraged to separate from its mother, and vice versa. Attempting to foster independence, we have fostered isolation instead.
The Lakota people, whose ancestral territory covered a large swath of the North American plains, possess a spiritual concept encapsulated in their phrase Mitakuye Oyasin. This translates into English as “all my relations.” Implicit in this phrase is an affirmation that all creation is connected. The two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, snakes with no legs, birds, fish, plants, rocks, minerals, spirits: we are all relations.
Tribal peoples, and that counts for all our ancestors, some just a little farther back than others, recognized that in addition to a specific human mother, we all share a common mother. Earth, the planet, is the ultimate mother. Just as the child is separated from the human mother, we have camouflaged our Earth Mother with concrete and fences. However, just as the weeds continuously break through the concrete, so Earth continues to reach for us in the manner of the good mother who never stops trying to reunite with her missing children.
Although we have limited information about pre-Christian Teutonic society, we do know of another ceremony they possessed, a childbirth ritual. This was a ritual of immense simplicity. Immediately following birth, the cord having been cut, the baby was taken and laid upon the ground. The intent was to formally introduce the child to his or her own other mother, Earth, the mother whom we all share.
There are practitioners of herbal medicine who believe that Earth provides solutions and remedies for all our ills, if only we can discover them and understand how to apply them. Would-be magicians will find the same to be true: Whatever you require is already available within you or has been provided by Earth. Recognizing our tools and learning to use them are the true challenges.