A quick way to get under the skin of a Christian literalist: Mention that the name of a Teutonic goddess is mentioned 450 times in the King James Bible.
That goddess: Earth.
Earth isn’t just an abstract idea represented by earth goddesses. It’s literally the name of a goddess who was said to take physical form in the area now known as Denmark. Other forms of the name include: Nerthus, Hertha, Erda, Erce, and Airtha.
Worship of Earth centered around a springtime procession. In the middle of a lake, there was an island. On that island, once a year, Earth was said to appear once a year. From there, she would be taken through the surrounding countryside in a sacred chariot, covered by a veil, to be seen, in a way, by the people. There is a lake in Germany that retains the name Hertha that is believed by some to be that same lake. Legend has it, some say, that the goddess Hertha still can be seen there, in the form of a woman who walks into the lake and disappears beneath its waters.
That sounds like the Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legends, doesn’t it? It just so happens that the Angles were among the people who worshiped Earth. The Angles, of course, journeyed from northern Germany to become one of the core culture groups in the nation that was eventually named after them: England.
Probably, as people who worshiped Earth moved around, they established new centers of their Earth religion, with Earth chariots on different islands in different lakes around northern Europe. A number of such sites are speculated upon by a geneological reference for the Hartley family, asserting that the name Hartley, and the word “hart” to refer to a male deer, are descended from the worship of Hertha, who was also known as a goddess of the hunt, similar to Diana in the Mediterranean world.
When Earth went out on her yearly ride through the countryside, all battles were temporarily stopped. Was Mother Earth a goddess of loving nonviolence, then? Maybe not.
According to the Roman historian Tacitus, the worship of this goddess had a particularly violent detail. Tacitus writes, in Germania:
“They share a common worship of Nerthus, or Mother Earth. They believe that she takes part in human affairs, riding in a chariot among her people. On an island of the sea stands an inviolate grove, in which, veiled with a cloth, is a chariot that none but the priest may touch. The priest can feel the presense of the goddess in this holy of holies, and attends her with deepest reverance as her chariot is drawn along by cows. Then follow days of rejoicing and merrymaking in every place that she condescends to visit and sojourn in. 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, when she has had enough of the society of men, is restored to her sacred precinct by the priest. After that, the chariot, the vestments, and (believe it if you will) the goddess herself, are cleansed in a secluded lake. This service is performed by slaves who are immediately after drowned in the lake. Thus mystery begets terror and a pious reluctance to ask what that sight can be which is only seen by men doomed to die.”