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As a heathen, I pondered for many years the question of how to reconstruct old or construct new practices for today
In Chapter 40 of his Germania, Tacitus tells of a number of Germanic tribes who shared a common worship of a goddess, Nerthus or Terra Mater. He writes that the tribes believe that she involves herself in human affairs, travels among the peoples, and resides in a sacred grove on an island in a wain draped with cloth which none but her priest may touch.
Further, Tacitus indicates when the priest perceives the goddess’s presence, he escorts her in her wain through the countryside and there are rejoicings and celebrations. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms; every iron object is locked away. Then, and then only, are peace and quiet known and welcomed, until the goddess has had enough of the society of men and is restored to her sacred precinct by the priest.
In light of that writing and quiet contemplation, Lone Star Kindred performed a springtime procession around Texas with a goddess idol riding in a wain in May of 2011. For some years, we desired to find ways in which to honor this goddess that were different from the common fashions employed by many Heathens. In the weeks leading up to that day in May, a synchronicity of occurrences, in the forms of potential omens and fortuitous coincidences, gave rise to our actions. Our plan was to travel a bit over 600 miles in a day and a night, taking our idol to places where people could gather, enjoy the company of other Heathens, give gifts, and honor the goddess. Those gifts would be sacrificed into boggy wetlands near my home. We believed that the community was interested because of the response received.
For many years as a kindred, we sought to strengthen the gifting cycle with our goddess. In previous years, we held rites in her honor and offered gifts, votive sacrifices and animal blots. Desiring to give more honor to her and to give Heathens in Texas an opportunity to honor her as well, the procession seemed to be an ideal opportunity. The idea grew from the actions of other groups. In the 1990s, Midgard Hearth, a now-defunct heathen group in Houston, Texas, performed a procession wherein members placed an idol in a wain (a trailer) and traveled the highway loop that encircles Houston, stopping at members’ homes along the way. Their actions formed the basis from which we decided to have this year’s procession. Moreover, while spending time with two former members of Midgard Hearth, we discussed this year’s procession. To my surprise, one of them told of how the original idea grew from an apocryphal story of a group in England who traveled throughout the London Underground with a small wagon (similar to a Radio Flyer wagon) containing an idol to perform a procession. Midgard Hearth drew inspiration from that story and Lone Star drew inspiration from our friends.
Literary references to gods or goddesses riding in wains or wagons are limited. In addition to references by Tacitus, there are references to the god Frey making an annual journey in a wagon in the Ögmundar þáttr dytts ok Gunnars helmings as related in the Flateyjarbok. Further, Flateyjarbok also contains another story of the King of Sweden consulting with the wagon-borne god. H.R. Ellis Davidson briefly discusses these stories and some of the surrounding archeologyand Rudolf Simek indicates that the Freyr story fits in nicely with the procession of Nerthus as told by Tacitus.
When confronted with a lack of foundation, we decided to move forward with the procession while constantly consulting among ourselves in order to establish a tradition of review among our group to guard against far-flung interpretations or actions.
Our preparations began simply with an idol and an idea. Given the distances, an ox-drawn wain was not optimal (but was possible). Consequently, we chose a pickup truck (oxen) and a small trailer (wain). The route and timing were easily determined given my driving habits (600 miles was easily attainable). The ladies of the kindred, once given a schedule, sprang to action and organized welcoming places for the goddess to be received and honored. As we like to say in Texas, they did us proud.
In addition to obtaining those things necessary to actually perform the procession, as a kindred, we consulted on what we believed could happen. We hold that our gods can communicate by means of omens. In the past, we believe we have received omens in response to our actions and we could receive such a response here. We also agree with the inherent gender roles that women are much more intuitive when interpreting signs and omens. To that end, I asked our kindred to be aware of peculiarities that might be observed and considered. In the end, we believe that omens were seen and that they were positive.
When we spread the news, we also received a number of questions as to our plans. These questions gave us good reason for further study to make sure we got it right.
Q: Would we wait to perceive the goddess’s presence to begin the procession (as indicated in Tacitus)?
A: No. We decided that we might not be able to make such a determination. Further, given the busy nature of our kindred’s members’ lives, we determined to perform it on a specific day that allowed for all of us to participate.
Q: Would we cover the idol?
A: Yes. Indications from Tacitus are that the idol was covered and we would continue the practice. To that end, a kindred member sewed a silk covering for the idol and she remained covered from the beginning of the procession until well after the end.
Q: Tacitus wrote that after the goddess’s time among men, slaves washed the wain, the vestments and the idol in the sacred lake where she resided and were themselves drowned. How do you plan to account for that?
A: I made a number of jokes about it and was a bit concerned when that time came. I planned to buy my life with sacrificed silver and hoped the goddess would accept. I guessed that if I did not trip, knock myself out and drown in the bog, the goddess would accept my bribe. Further, on the day of the procession, a member of another group (Hridgar Folk) came to my rescue with a handmade doll that served as a surrogate slave and was bogged in my stead.
Leading up to the actual day, I conferred with members of Lone Star to coordinate where to stop and what would occur at the stops. We determined to have three stops where local Heathens could gather. With that settled, we put out the word to the local community of our plan. The response was positive and surprisingly widespread. We received a number of requests for additional stops along the route. To that end, we made two additional stops that sparked good additions to the overall procession.
Departing at sundown on May 21 with a wain (trailer in which rode our idol, previously washed and honored, we stopped in Dallas (one of the requested stops) and overnighted north of there, where a number of people awaited with a warm reception. As the sun tipped the horizon on the 22nd, we started south, stopping in Fairfield (another requested stop) and in Conroe. From there, we turned west for Killeen. After a hearty meal, we once again turned north to head for home and race the sun.
At each of the stops, those gathered were allowed to give gifts for the goddess. Two days later I gathered and bundled the gifts, traveled to a wetland area near my home, and bogged them to the goddess’s honor. As mentioned, during one of the stops made, a member of Hridgar Folk presented me with a handmade doll to act as a slave to take my place in the bog at the end of the procession. For that gift I am thankful, because, barring my genetic stupidity, my children will not lose their father in a freak drowning accident.
We were not even halfway into the procession when I started to notice occurrences that prompted me to contact the ladies in our group. I explained what I observed and asked that they confer and consider what it could mean. Further, other kindred and family members observed related occurrences almost simultaneously. The ladies conferred and made the declaration that these occurrences were omens and that they were positive.
After returning home, I gathered the gifts given in the goddess’s honor and wrapped them together in a burlap bag bound with silver wire and tied off with an antique key. At the local wetlands, yet more occurrences were noted and omens considered. For days afterwards, members of the kindred noticed more synchronicities that suggested positive omens. Overall, the procession was a success and the underlying intent proved proper.
Given the success of our actions and the response from the community, we will try to make the procession an annual event. With this first try, we practiced a bit of trial and error and now know what worked and what did not.
For the next procession, we will have a new wain dedicated to the purpose and decorated for such. Additionally, we commissioned a hand-carved idol from a talented Heathen artist that will become a centerpiece of our kindred, just as the goddess herself is such an important part of our family.
When trying to translate practices recorded in old books into our modern day, we wished to adhere to those writings with a reconstructionist point of view. To that end, we believe the procession to have been a success and we will perform it again in the new year and try to bring about practices that adhere to an older mindset.
Tacitus, Cornelius. The Agicola and the Germania. Trans. H. Mattingly & S.A. Hanford. Penguin Putnam, Inc. Harmondsworth. 1970.
Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Pelican Books. Harmondsworth. 1964.
Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Myth and Symbols in Pagan Europe. Syracuse University Press. Syracuse 1988.
Simek, Rudolf . Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer, Cambridge. Rochester. 1993.
 Tacitus, Cornelius. The Agicola and the Germania. Trans. H. Mattingly & S.A. Hanford. Penguin Putnam, Inc. 1970.
 See generally: Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Pelican Books. 1964., Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Myth and Symbols in Pagan Europe. Syracuse University Press. 1988.
 Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. P 92-95 & Myth and Symbols in Pagan Europe. P 116-119.
 Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer, Cambridge. 1993. P 92.