Forgotten Ancient Germanic Goddesses

Updated on September 16, 2017
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Kitty has been following an alternative spiritual path for seventeen years. She encourages others to follow their souls' calling.

Frau Holle, also called Berchta
Frau Holle, also called Berchta | Source

Forgotten Germanic Deities

Throughout time there have been thousands, potentially millions, of gods and goddesses venerated by various cultures. This practice goes back to ancient times. The Germanic tribes of Europe had their own deities, just as the ancient Celts. Some of those deities have been remembered, even immortalized in our days of the week. Frigga, for example, is remembered in the word Friday. Tyr is remembered in Tuesday. Odin is remembered in Wednesday. And so on and so forth. However, there are some who have been forgotten in the annals of time.

Here are four forgotten ancient Germanic goddesses whose stories are just as interesting as the others. They each have something to teach the world, if we just spend the time to learn and listen. If you know of any forgotten Germanic deities, please leave their names and stories in the comments.

Berchta: The Bright Lady Who Became the Child-Eating Hag

Berchta was an Ancient Germanic goddess mostly known throughout Southern Germany in ancient times. Her worship spread through the Alps, and came to be known in Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Kingdom. There is some speculation that she isn't Germanic and was actually Celtic Alpine first before her cult spread to the Ancient Germanic tribes. Her name, Berchta, is said to mean "The Bright One", but if we look at the syllables of her name we see "berch" and it is obvious this links her to the Birch tree and Berkano rune. Jacob Grimm writes of her in his Teutonic Mythology books, saying she was once a guardian and protector of babies and children. She was said to ferry the dead on a boat across the water to the other worlds. She was also known to wear a white gown, shine in the darkness, and carry a set of keys.

Over time and when the Church rose to power in Europe, Berchta's name and worship was dragged through the mud, so to speak. She was demonized and called the "Christmas Hag" or "Iron-nosed". Her beautiful motherly figure was turned into an ugly old hag who stole and ate bad children or slit their bellies open and filled them with straw and stone. They took her cult and scared people away from venerating her. She became a part of the Wild Hunt or Furious Host and rode alongside the wicked dead, her consorts being Berchtold and sometimes Wuotan (Odin). She was deduced to a mere witch, an evil figure in folklore to be feared.

The Perchten are a group of men and women who go around on Christmas in terrifying masks in attempts to scare away evil spirits. They are modeled after the hag-like folkloric figure Perchta (Berchta).

Berchta's name is immortalized in the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as Berchtentag, and also in the town of Berchtengaten in Bavaria. Some tales say she travels with other ladies and enters the homes of those who leave her offerings of food on the Night of the Epiphany. If she is pleased with the meal, she grants prosperity to the household.

She is thought by some to be the same goddess as Holda and Frau Holle. She is known to be a spinner and weaver.

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An old photograph of the Perchten, the people who mimic Berchta and scare off evil spirits near Christimastime.Frau Holle with children all around.Frau Holle shaking out her linens, bringing winter.
An old photograph of the Perchten, the people who mimic Berchta and scare off evil spirits near Christimastime.
An old photograph of the Perchten, the people who mimic Berchta and scare off evil spirits near Christimastime. | Source
Source
Frau Holle with children all around.
Frau Holle with children all around. | Source
Frau Holle shaking out her linens, bringing winter.
Frau Holle shaking out her linens, bringing winter. | Source

Eostre - The Easter Goddess

Most people don't know where the term "Easter" originates. According to Bede, his writings in the eighth century call this goddess the goddess of Spring. When the Church rose to power, they couldn't completely wash out her name and it became the name of the Christian holiday marking the Resurrection of Jesus. What most don't know is that this was a way to help pagans convert to Christianity by masking the Spring Equinox with the Resurrection and then calling it by the name of the ancient Germanic peoples' Maiden/Spring goddess.

It was said that people feasted in her honor in the month of her name. Easter eggs are attributed to her worship, according to Jacob Grimm, and the people would light bonfires in her name as she was thought to also be a goddess of bright light. Hence the connection between the resurrection and her worship (the rising of the Sun/Son). Not a whole lot more is known of Eostre, as her name has been somewhat lost in the pages of time. Bede wrote of her and so did Grimm, but there are scholars who deny her ancient existence entirely.

Holda - Mother Goose Goddess

Holda is another Ancient Germanic Goddess who seems to be the same goddess as Berchta. Grimm called Holda the North German counterpart to Berchta, the spinner goddess in Southern Germany and Switzerland. Holda was a spinner and weaver goddess in Pre-Christian times, then following the spread of Catholicism, she was turned into a witch who rode distaffs with other witches and was a part of the Wild Hunt.

Holda is typically depicted as a young woman with light hair - either white or blonde. She's said to "shake out her garments" and the snow falls. In comparison to Berchta, she is also associated with Diana, an ancient Roman goddess. She has also been related to the Virgin Mary, and because of this scholars deny the fact that Holda was once a pre-Christian goddess. They say she was more likely a version of the Virgin Mary then sweeped into fairy tales and folklore thereafter.

Holda is thought by some to be the pre-cursor to Mother Goose. Because of the early depiction of Berchta and Holda having a "goose-foot", and also because of the belief they protected or escorted babies, it is thought this figure inspired the idea of the classic children's tales Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.

Holda is thought to be the same figure as Mother Goose.
Holda is thought to be the same figure as Mother Goose. | Source

Nerthus - Fertility Goddess

There was an ancient Germanic tribe known as the Suebi tribe that worshiped a fertility goddess known as Nerthus. Nerthus was the consort of an ancient Germanic god known as Ing. Tacitus writes of her cult from the first century AD and says that the Suebi tribe kept a sacred grove on a sacred island in the name of Nerthus. She was thought to actually be among the people, and on the days she was worshiped no one was to go to war or do much of anything except celebrate her name.

Some scholars say multiple sacrifices were made in Nerthus' name, mostly slaves of the Suebi tribes, and she rides a cart that is pulled by two cows. Her worship and legend may date back to the Bronze Age, according to historians who have validated Tacitus' claim of Nerthus by archaeological finds in the regions that were once occupied by the Suebi tribes. Tacitus refers to Nerthus as Tera Mater, or Mother Earth, so it is possible that Nerthus was more than just a fertility goddess but may have been the Suebi's main Mother Goddess. She is related to the later Norse god Njord, which makes some question whether she was a goddess or a god. Some speculate Nerthus was a hermaphroditic deity.

Emil Doepler depicted Nerthus in her wagon, drawn by the two heifers.
Emil Doepler depicted Nerthus in her wagon, drawn by the two heifers. | Source

Questions & Answers

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    • Guckenberger profile image

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      9 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      Hey Nicole and Heidi. I'm something like 30-40 percent German myself. Our stories from antiquity are so surreal to me. Thank you Nicole. By the way, I got some Irish in me too Nic. ^_^

    • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

      Nicole Canfield 

      12 months ago from Summerland

      Heidi - I am also of German ancestry (also Swiss, French, and Irish).

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Being of German ancestry, this was very interesting! Keep the folklore insight coming!

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