Ertha, the Germanic Earth Goddess

Tacitus, edited by D. L. Ashliman


Nothing remarkable occurs in any of these tribes [of northern Germany], except that they unite in the worship of Ertha, or Mother Earth. They believe that she interposes in the affairs of men, and visits the different nations in her chariot. On an island of the ocean stands a sacred and unviolated grove, in which is a consecrated chariot, covered with a veil, which the priest alone is permitted to touch. He becomes conscious of the entrance of the goddess into this secret recess; and with profound veneration attends the vehicle, which is drawn by yoked cows.

At this season all is joy; and every place which the goddess deigns to visit is a scene of festivity. No wars are undertaken; arms are untouched; and every hostile weapon is shut up. At this time, only peace abroad and at home are known.

At length the same priest conducts the goddess, now weary of mortal intercourse, back to her temple. The chariot, with its curtain, and, if we may believe it, the goddess herself, then undergo ablution in a secret lake. This ritual is performed by slaves, whom the same lake instantly swallows up. Hence arises a mysterious horror and a pious ignorance of these events, which are beheld only by those who are about to perish.


Source: The Works of Tacitus: The Oxford Translation. (London: George Bell and Sons, Covent Garden, 1889), vol. 2. Translation slightly revised. This treatise, whose full title is "A Treatise on the Situation, Manners, and Inhabitants of Germany," was written in Latin in the year 98. The above excerpt is taken from section 40.