Goddesses of the low countries

As you know, I live in the Netherlands, traditionally the ‘low countries’. More than 60 percent of the Dutch people live under sealevel, protected by the dykes, but if you look at estimated maps of the Netherlands in the past (distant past), the land looked quite different. There weren’t any dykes then, and the water level was probably different.

This was the time that the ancient tribes lived, the different farmer cultures that we only recognize by their pottery (that’s how I was taught in primary school). It’s a bit more recent that I began to develop an interest not necessarily in these cultures, how fascinating they might be, but in their religious life and the gods and goddesses. The world around me, the landscape and the way the seasons affect local nature, that is what I base a big part of my own practice on. So, naturally, I want to know about local deities!

Last year, when my cousin and I went to the museum of Antiquities in Leiden, we saw the tributes to Nehalennia. This goddess had temples in Zeeland (the southwestern part of Holland), close to a route from the mainland to Great Britain. In Roman times, merchants from Europe’s mainland paid tribute to Nehalennia in order to get home safely after their travel. She was depicted with a dog and apples, probably as a very powerful house goddess. She was the trigger to wanting to discover more!

Godinnen van eigen bodemDuring a weekend in Groningen I finally was able to purchase a book I wanted for quite some time about the goddesses of the low countries. Nehalennia is obviously portraited in that, but also, one of my favourite fairytale characters was! Who would have thought? Frau Holle, who brings snow to the world when her cushions are shaken. That is mainly how I know her from Grimm’s fairytale, but other elements are also important. She is a goddess of the netherworld, judging those entering her realm. A very powerful goddess and a very powerful image. Tomorrow, I will do a meditation, hoping to meet her for the first time.

One last goddess that was new to me, or actually a group of goddesses, were the Witte Wieven (White Ladies). They reveal themselves in misty surroundings. Perhaps that is too much, they show themselves as mist, as wisps of fog. I now pay much more attention when I cycle through fog, rather then trying to get through as fast as possible. These goddesses are known for predicting the future, but as fog tends to do, they can also lead you in the wrong direction. This makes appeasing them with cake for example a logical step, because you don’t want to get lost in the fog.

These are three goddesses from my home country, goddesses of the low countries. Every place will have its own traditional gods and goddesses, not always conforming to the pantheons. Do you know any from your place?

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Holland, land of water

Yesterday was the annual fireworks festival in Scheveningen that I visited last year as well. The wind was a spoiler, blowing fine sand into… well, everywhere, basically, which made it difficult to watch the illuminated sky.

We were in Scheveningen hours before the show started, so we had time to walk around the boulevard. There is an awesome exhibition with fairytale statues outside, both of commonly known tales such as Hansel and Gretel, but also of some Dutch legends and stories.

Most stories are connected to the sea. Fish, traveling overseas, the dangers of water… Especially the story of Hans Brinker deals with these dangers. Netherlands as a whole is some 2 meters below sea level. We live in a land of water, and swimming is one of the skills people find vital for Dutch children, surrounded by water everywhere. We are protected by dikes near the sea, both artificial and natural. In the fifties, Holland was shocked as the water overwhelmed part of the land. The flood was caused by a storm surge combined with springtide and took the lives of over 1800 people and left many more homeless. The dikes had broken…

The story of Hans Brinker is originally an American story, though it is situated in Holland. An 8 year old boy was bringing pancakes to an old man. On the way back, he notices the water behind the dikes is higher than he has ever seen. As he often sees his father working, he mimics him and checks the dike. There is a hole in the dike, and water is seeping through! Hans puts his finger in the dike to stop the water, and stays there all night. He shouts for help, but nobody hears him. In the morning, when he is found, it becomes clear that he has saved his village.

Holland is a land of water. We live of the water, and have learned to live with the dangers of it. Some things never change.

Find your greatness

The Olympic Games end tonight with the closing ceremony. We’ve seen so many great things, unimaginable for the most of us. Only the absolute best athletes in specific Olympic sports can perform at this highest stage in the world, once every four years. And only the best 5% or so can amaze and win medals. The Paralympics are perhaps more impressive, athletes that are not able-bodied, performing at the highest level possible. Of course they are influenced by their handicap, but they have refused to let it stop them from pursuing their dreams.

I play sports myself and try to go as far as I can. It’s not my ultimate goal however, and not where I think my talent lies. I know from myself that I am always happy and that I can bring a smile to people’s faces, as I’ve noticed during my work on campings, in a store and now in a nursery home. My intention is to inspire people to start moving, to find a sport that suits them. All people are good at something, have bodies or attitudes fit for specific sports. They just don’t know it yet. Perhaps they have bad experiences with sport and decided they’d rather do nothing. Such a shame! There is a sport for everybody!

Perhaps you didn’t like the more established sports of for example basketball or tennis. Then go try out something else, such as cycling, fencing, or archery. Maybe you’ll find you enjoy it and are somehow good at it. And mostly we enjoy things we are good at. You don’t have any money, there are no facilities, but you want to try something anyway? Most cities have a way of financially supporting people wanting to play sport, at least in the Netherlands. Or try running, you don’t need any club for that, just your two feet. Go for a swim and try to cover the same distance in less and less time. You have a disability? Plenty of opportunities for you as well, just look at the Paralympic Games. And remember, what you see there and during the Olympics is only the tip of the iceberg where sport types are concerned and even more where athletes are concerned.

Not many people can make it to the top, but we can be great in our own way. We can find a sport and get better and better, improving and enjoying ourselves. The last woman finishing a marathon, sweating like crazy, a red face, a hand at her waist because it hurts so much but going on anyway, how is that anything less than the man completing the marathon first? We don’t have the same body or background. We are not fit for exactly the same, which is why people specialize in mostly one sport. But in that sport we should try our very best to come as far as possible, to persevere. We can all deliver our own great performances, if we just dare to try.

So.. I dare you