Yet we moderns weren't the first peoples to honor nature or the earth we live on. For adherents of the Old Norse religion, they worshipped the personification of the earth and motherhood, the mighty goddess, Jörð.

The personification of the earth

A common modern misconception about past cultures and peoples is their supposed lack of intelligence.

From the smug comfort of the 21st century, we tend to assume that people in the past, be it 50 or 50,000 years, were incredibly unintelligent. 

However, the written and archaeological records constantly prove otherwise. 

For followers of the Old Norse religion, there was a deep appreciation and understanding of nature that took on a mysticism that we moderns simply do not understand.

The focal point of this deep connection to the earth, the soil, and nature was a goddess in the Norse pantheon, Jörð. 

Whilst this divine figure was worshipped mainly as the very personification of Earth (and earth), she was also a symbol of fertility and motherhood. 

It is believed that the worship and symbolism of Jörð played a large part in the later medieval creation of Natura Mater ("Mother Nature"), the personification of nature as a mother. 

Her name, Jörð, is linked to the Old Norse word for "earth" and still holds that meaning in modern Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

Revered as the Earth Mother, the sustainer of all life 

If Hollywood adaptations of Marvel comic book movies have taught us anything (and they haven't taught us much), it is that all Norse gods need a good origin story. 

Some could argue that Australian actor Chris Hemsworth has made millions of movies explaining the origin and "back story" of the Norse god Thor

Few of these movies have any sort of literary accuracy when compared to the gods' original origins and beginnings in the Norse sagas.

Infuriatingly, though, whilst we know so much of Thor, Odin, or even Freyja, we have only brief mentions of Jörð in the sagas.

According to the rich tapestry of Norse myths and sagas, Jörð is said to be the daughter of two heavenly deities, the Norse goddess of the night, Nott, and her husband, Annar. 

Unfortunately, we have little knowledge of Annar other than a few very brief mentions in the sagas. Regardless of her familial background, Jörð was revered as the Earth Mother.

Given that people in Viking societies lived in the harsh climates of Scandinavia and its surroundings, their world was characterized by harsh landscapes and unpredictable weather. 

The earth was their ultimate provider; a good crop or forage could be the difference between life and death. Jörð is the embodiment of the nurturing and life-sustaining aspect of nature. 

The fertile soil, the bountiful lakes, streams, and the lush forests were all manifestations of her divine presence. 

She was revered when harvests were bountiful and for the sustenance her presence provided to both humans and animals alike.

As Jörð nurtures life on Earth, Yggdrasil binds the nine worlds together, with both entities playing complementary roles in sustaining existence. Illustration: The Viking Herald

A protector of magical boundaries and gods

The importance of Jörð in the Norse pantheon was also underscored by the order and nature (pun intended) of Norse cosmology. 

Adherents of the Old Norse religion believed in not one universe but nine. 

Each of these magical realms had their inhabitants, and all were connected at the epicenter by Yggdrasil, a giant worldly tree. 

Jörð, as the personification of Earth, played an essential role in protecting the boundaries between these vastly different realms. 

For those people in Viking societies who adhered to the Old Norse religion, the earth was a link between the Norse gods, mere mortals, and other supernatural entities and beings.

Adding to her revered status as a mother was the fact that she was, according to some Norse sagas, the mother of Thor. 

Now, given that the brutish strength of Thor seems far away from the motherly love and light of Jörð, this lineage may raise a few eyebrows. 

However, the sagas relate how Thor's strength, determination, and resilience were very much passed down from his mother. 

In fact, this emphasized a deep bond between godly mother and son, highlighting the symbolic location of where he received his power and strength.

"Moder Jord" statue representing Jörð, located in Vejen, southern Jutland, Denmark. Photo: Alexander Henning Drachmann / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Modern themes

It has been centuries since the often-bloody process of the Christianization of Scandinavia, during which the last pagan temples were destroyed and the sacred groves cut down. However, the concept of Earth as both a powerful and nurturing force has endured. 

The legacy of Jörð as a symbol of earth and the protective qualities of nature seem important as our modern society tries to reconnect more harmoniously with our natural world.

People in Viking societies inhabited a world where the natural environment was central to their survival, nourishment, and success. 

They intricately understood the delicate balance between humanity and nature and how fragile this balance could be at times. There was no greater mark of respect for this environment than their worship of Jörð, the personification of earth.

Many people today wish that we, as a society, manage to strike a fraction of the reverence for planet Earth and the natural environment that our Viking ancestors had.

For more information on Vikings and climate change, read a BBC article here.

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