The Goddess Nehalennia
Goddess of the South on the Wheel of Andraste
Artwork by Willow Wand
The Goddess at Litha
Meet the Goddess Nehalennia at Litha
We move towards Midsummer at 21st June, the Summer Solstice. As the Sun is at its highest we celebrate the calming, cooling waters of the oceans, lakes and rivers with the Goddess Nehalennia, Protectress of Sailing Vessels, Goddess of Travellers crossing the North Sea. The Goddess of sea-faring, who brings us protection in water, as well as its healing qualities. The Celts worshipped Nehalennia in gratitude for safe passage across the North Sea.
There is a school of thought that as there is no satisfactory origin of Her name in Celtic, Latin or Germanic; Nehalennia represents a Zealand Goddess, venerated by the pre-Celtic peoples there, and later incorporated into the Celtic and Germanic pantheons.
Many votive altars (up to 160) have been found dedicated to Her in Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands. As late as 1970 and 1974 on the Zeeland Archipelago, many were found in the sea in what is believed to have been a sanctuary for Her, giving rise to Nehalennia being called the 'Forgotten Goddess'.
It is believed that the altar was established by sailors who, after a tempest at sea, invoked the Goddess promising Her a votive altar to be saved. After the rescue, the captain imported an expensive stone, (the low countries have no stone quarries) and ordered it to be cut and erected near the sanctuary. The cult of Nehalennia ceased when the sea destroyed the sanctuary. These votives depict Her holding a basket of loaves or apples or both, and always with a greyhound at Her feet. She is also shown with marine symbols and boats.
Many inscriptions on the altars are from merchants thanking the Goddess for safe passage across the sea with their cargo.
Nehalennia transports the souls of the dead across the waters to the Isles of the Blessed. She helps souls to pass from one state to another; from the physical world to the spiritual world and therefore She connects us to women’s mysteries, bringing children into the world from the waters of their mother’s womb, bringing the spiritual into the physical.
Nehalennia nurtures us through transition, as well as protecting us in Her watery embrace. Norse mythology believe all beings flow through water. ‘Wyrd’, the concept of fate or karma, is connected to water. Therefore, as Nehalennia is the personification of water, She rules over this mystery of the passage of ‘wyrd’ that links all things. Nehalennia’s waters are free flowing without restriction. She asks us to let our emotions be free flowing and unrestricted, giving vent to our emotions is freeing and healing. Bottling up negative feelings and anger leads to dis-ease and illness. Her colours are blue and sea green.
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Dogs are sacred animals associated with divination, hunting and the otherworld. Nehalennia brings transition to the Otherworld. Dogs are loyal, protective and loving, Greyhounds are fast moving as the ocean is.
Creatures of the Sea
All creatures of the sea are Nehalennia’s. She protects and loves them all.
Dolphins and Whales are intelligent mammals, Salmon bring wisdom. These fish are but three of so many colourful and mysterious creatures that live in water. The whale is believed to be the record keeper for all eternity, their gifts are wisdom, and inner depth, psychic and telepathic abilities. They bring beauty of movement. The whale teaches us how to create with song, using the rhythm and patterns of sound. They teach us to hear our inner voice, and to be in touch with our personal truths, thus knowing wisdom.
Dolphins have been seen as magical creatures for centuries. Dionysus transformed a gang of pirates into a pod of dolphins, charging them to rescue any distressed sailors. Dolphins are often portrayed rescuing sailors and there is very good evidence that they do indeed rescue humans in danger. It is also considered bad luck to harm a dolphin.
Salmon are imbued with great age, and therefore great wisdom. In Irish legend there is a tale about the source of the Boyne river where it is said to be a peaceful pool surrounded by hazel trees. An ancient salmon lived in the pool and fed on the hazelnuts as they fell into the pool. There lived nearby an old poet who wanted to catch and feast on the salmon, for he knew of a prophesy that said whosoever ate the ancient, wise salmon would gain all knowledge. Finn McCool of Irish legend and folk lore was apprenticed to the poet, and when the poet finally caught the salmon, Finn cooked it for him, but while he was cooking, he burned his thumb on the fish's flank, and sucked on his thumb to ease the pain, therefore tasting the fish before his master did. Thereafter, whenever Finn needed special knowledge, he would suck on his thumb, and whatever knowledge was needed in the current situation would come to him.
The symbolism for the gathering of wisdom speaks of going to quiet places within ourselves (the peaceful pool), patiently devouring titbits of knowledge (the hazelnuts), patiently seeking understanding, (the salmon) and gaining from it the wisdom we need and the inspiration to create.
Mermaids and Undines, Seals and Selkies
These are the mysterious Fey folk of water, and when we look into the big, kind, mournful eyes of Seals, it is no surprise that in myths they transform into human beings.
A female Selkie is able to discard her seal skin and come ashore as a beautiful maiden. If a human can capture a skin, the Selkie can be forced to marry him. Stories tell of a man who captured a Selkie, she bore him three children and although she loved her children and was a good wife, she longed for her home. One day the children found her skin in an old trunk. Immediately the Selkie put on her skin and returned to the sea, despite her love of her children. This story reveals to us the power of our connection to our homeland, and the homeland of our ancestors. No matter how much the Selkie loved her mortal family, her heart constantly called her back to the Sea. Somewhere in our past, the land of our ancestors calls to us, and we too, know the feeling of longing for home.
Herons sit on the water’s edge, silent, still, waiting for the opportunity to catch a fish, they are one of our largest birds at 3ft and with a wing span the size of an eagle. Celts thought the birds were the messengers of the Gods, and were birds of intelligence. Anglers thought that carrying a Heron’s foot they would attract fish. They teach us to be patient, to seek stillness and silence to find clarity.
Herring Gulls are adept at finding food, and have been observed using bread as bait when catching fish. As well as being seen to stamp on the ground to raise worms, they drop bivalve shells onto hard ground to break them open. They are innovative birds, with strong powerful wings and beautifully white headed. They fly fearless in the face of the strong winds and storms, proud, independent and strong.
Also known as Sea Goose; Gannet derives from Anglo Saxon, which also means goose. It is the largest sea bird that can dive from the height of 100 feet, hitting the water at 60 m.p.h. The Gannet is a symbol of the prophet.
In folklore, the Otter is a friendly and helpful creature, often mischievous. Native Americans considered them lucky and a symbol of loyalty and honesty.
The Albatross has been described as the 'grandest living flying machine on earth'. A parent Albatross may fly more than 10,000 miles to deliver a meal to its chick. It has the longest wings in nature, up to eleven and a half feet, allowing them to glide hundreds of miles without flapping. It is believed that a 50-year-old Albatross has flown at least 3.7 million miles. The Albatross evokes images of loneliness, known as a harbinger of good fortune, its enigmatic nature makes it a mysterious creature.
Water Dragons swim in the oceans with the Selkies and Mermaids. Creatures of myth, they represent the four elements.
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Associated with Nehalennia
Are associated with immortality. Nehalennia carries them as Her symbol
of the transience of life.
Shells and Driftwood
People collect shells; they evoke memories of the shore, perhaps these
memories are our ancestor’s memories. By collecting them we are calling
to the ancestors. Driftwood is a melancholy reminder of the destructive
power of the sea.
Nehalennia carried loaves and there is a school of thought that this takes the place of animal sacrifice such as the boar-shaped loaf baked at Yule in Sweden. Beautifully shaped harvest loaves are baked to celebrate the harvest and Nehalennia’s loaves show Her links to fertility and harvest as well as the harvest of the sea.
Ships and Boats and Sailing
In myth, boats transport us to the Isle of the Dead. In Arthurian legend, King Arthur was taken by boat to the Isle of Avalon. Ships with sails billowing in the wind, call to our imagination. The romance of sailing into the unknown stirs our inner self, yet we fear this unknown and the depth and the mystery of the ocean.
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Herbs of Nehalennia
A Herb of Midsummer, a protective tree, it is infused with the energy of the sun. Gathered at the Summer Solstice. it is excellent for use in magick. Burn the leaves in incense to enhance clairvoyance and the leaves can be used in healing pouches and incense.
Another herb of Midsummer, ruled by the element of water, and a herb of the sun of healing and protection. It is one of the sacred herbs of Midsummer and may be thrown onto the festival fire, used in garlands and incenses at this time.
Also known as Wild Sunflower and Elfwort, carried it brings protection, or may attract a new lover. It is a herb of high summer, an infusion of the herb helps to attune you to the Fairies’ vibrations at the Solstice.
Probably the best known herb, also known as Monk’s Herb, Our Lady’s Mint, Cradle-Wort and Bishop’s Wort. There are so many species of mint, it is believed that carrying it increases prosperity and hung in the home it protects.
St. John’s Wort
Ruled by the sun, it also known as the Balm of Warriors, Goat Weed and Penny John. It gains special powers at Midsummer when it should be collected for magickal purposes. Used for purification and in exorcisms, bunches can be hung around the home or Temple for protection.
Under the element of water, Yarrow was used to stem bleeding. Also known as Bloodwort, Death Flower and Old Man’s Pepper. Nine dried Yarrow flower heads, bound together with a green ribbon tied into a bow and hung over the bed of newly-weds ensures everlasting love, carrying it in a wedding bouquet ensured seven years of happiness. Like the other herbs of Nehalennia, it is a herb of Midsummer giving extra healing power at the solstice.
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Her waters are free flowing without restriction, urging us not to restrict ourselves within unnecessary boundaries and to allow our thoughts and emotions to be free.
Like Her Oceans, She can be calming and gentle, she can also be wild, wilful and untamed,
but like Her Oceans She has immense power, yet She is nurturing, protecting and healing. She is constant
and will always assist you to find help, truth and peace.
Copyright © EAGT 2022
Reproduced by kind permission of Michael Taylor