She appears each time I start drumming for the group journeys in my shamanic workshop at the De Roos Center in Amsterdam. She stands at the prow of a ship, looming out of a deep sea fog. She is robed, though her long golden hair floats free. Sometimes she has a dog, sometimes a basket of fruits or loaves of bread. When I go deeper, I see that her boat is part of a the back of a tremendous sea serpent, that may itself be part of the swell of the ocean.
I know her name, though its meaning is mysterious. It survives in inscriptions on votive altars erected by merchants and ship captains who credited her with safe passage through storms at sea. They called her Nehalennia. She was venerated at Celtic and Germanic sacred sites on the North Sea, especially on the island of Walcheren, and at Cologne.
She was the patron of voyagers; seafarers and traders made offerings to her for safe passage and success in their transactions. According to one etymology, her name derives from the proto-Indo-European root *neh2u- (boat); so her name could be translated as "Lady of the Boat" or "Goddess of the Vessel". Others find the source of the goddess name in the root *nek- (death, to bring) in the reconstructed proto-Indo-European lexicon. We could then translate Nehallenia as "Death Bringer", which makes some of the scholars twitchy but seems to me to bring forth a central attribute of the Goddess who opens the doors of life and death and rebirth.
Nehallenia is depicted as a lovely young woman enthroned within a seashell, with a basket of fruit on her lap and a dog nearby, gazing up at her adoringly. Often she has her foot on the prow of a ship, and a boat rope in her hand.
Her other close animal companion is the dolphin. In my dreaming, she is the patron of astral as well as physical journeys, just as Elen of Britain is the maker of roads as well as dreamways. For the Celts, the happy afterlife on the Islands of the Blessed requires a crossing by water. And in ancient Europe (as in Polynesia) one of the favorite forms of transportation for the Otherworld voyage is the dolphin. Ripe fruits are often carved over the top of Nehalennia’s shrines. She offers abundance and ever-renewing life, as well as safe passage through the Otherworld, before and after death.
I am glad for the presence of this kindly Death Bringer and Lady of the Sea, here below sea level, where it sometimes feels like the Netherlands is also the Nether World.