Our Relationship to the Great Mother

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The following is excerpted from Baldr’s Magic: The Power of Norse Shamanism and Ecstatic Trance by Nicholas E. Brink, PhD, published by Inner Traditions. 


Now is the time for the rebirth of innocence, for the rebirth of compassion, creativity, and magic, and for bringing alive the enchanted earth. A new age of peace, an age of veneration and caring for our great and nurturing Mother Earth is on its way. As we will see, this rebirth was predicted by the ancient Nordic gods and goddesses at the time of the final battle, Ragnarǫk, with the rebirth of the gentle and compassionate Baldr. This ongoing battle began 10,000 years ago, when we began to move from being hunters and gatherers to being agriculturists; and this battle has continued with our attempts to control the earth through cultivation of its flora and domestication of its fauna. This so-called progress in civilization is now coming to an end with the realization that our dominion over the earth is leading to its destruction and our extinction.

The earliest matriarchal society of the North, which venerated the Great Mother, Moðir, and her progeny, the Vanir, was a peace-loving and nurturing society. One of her daughters, Idunn, watched over Mother Earth’s garden—the Garden of Idunn—and she taught us to pick the fruit, nuts, vegetables, and herbs of her garden for our health and sustenance.

According to linguist and anthropologist Felicitas Goodman, the hunter-gatherers arrived on the scene no earlier than 200,000 years ago. She explains:

In a very real way, the hunters and gatherers open the first chapter of our human history. And fittingly, this dawning was as close to paradise as humans have ever been able to achieve. The men did the hunting and scavenging, working for about three hours a week, and the women took care of daily sustenance by gathering vegetal food and small animals. It was such a harmonious existence, such a successful adaptation, that it did not materially alter for many thousands of years. This view is not romanticizing matters. Those hunter-gather societies that have survived into the present still pursue the same lifestyle, and we are quite familiar with it from contemporary anthropological observation. Despite the unavoidable privations of human existence, despite occasional hunger, illness and other trials, what makes their life way so enviable is the fact that knowing every nook and cranny of their home territory and all that grows and lives in it, the bands make their regular rounds and take only what they need. By modern calculations, that amounted to only about 10 percent of the yield, easily recoverable under undisturbed conditions. They live a life of total balance, because they do not aspire to control their habitat; they are a part of it.

As we moved from the hunting and gathering era and into the era of the agriculture, of cultivation of the flora and domestication of the fauna, we began to think that we knew a better way to live; we began to think that we had the knowledge needed to control the earth to our advantage, and we threw Idunn out of the garden. We thought our ways of cultivation and domestication were better. We began to see ourselves as superior to other life forms. We thought of our evolution as reaching its final conclusion, rather than seeing ourselves as one small step in the process of a continuing evolution and one small piece in the sustainability of the earth. We took upon ourselves the role of dominionist in our destruction of the earth.

Hopefully, we have not gone too far in this destruction of our Mother, and we can reverse the process for her recovery and health. As more and more of us accept the failure of this experiment in so-called progress, and as we begin our search for ways to reestablish our relationship with our Great Mother, we will find many needed answers by turning back the pages of history to the earliest times, when we lived by hunting and gathering, when we lived in the Garden of Idunn. We will leave behind the greed that grew through our attempts to control our environment and the greed of capitalism, and we will join others in seeking ways for a new and sustainable life that values and venerates Mother Earth. In so doing we will leave behind the loneliness of competition and find cooperation and nurturance in being close to her.

We are moving toward this new world. A growing number of us are showing our commitment to our Mother Earth by fighting on behalf of the environment, fighting against the causes of industrial pollution that has contributed to global warming and fighting against the unnatural manipulation of our plant stock by for-profit corporations. This fight is on many fronts. We are demonstrating, with a willingness to be arrested, to stop the Tar Sands Oil Pipeline that is planned to run from Alberta, Canada, to the coast of Texas. My wife was one of those arrested to stop that pipeline. We are protesting the process of fracking to extract natural gas from our Mother’s belly. Decreasing our carbon footprint has become an issue for many of us. We are increasing the insulation in our homes and adding solar panels to our roofs. We are buying more fuel-efficient cars and driving less. We are shopping for and growing our own organic foods. We are supporting farmers’ markets and sustainability by shopping for what is grown locally. Permaculture and forest gardens, where we can again forage and gather much of what we eat, are being planted, and worker-owned businesses and cooperatives are increasing in number. I believe a critical mass has been reached, and this movement cannot be stopped.

To promote this change at an even deeper level, we need to rediscover the power of listening to and hearing the spirits of the earth. How can we hear these spirits? The power of trance, whether ecstatic or hypnotic, can bring us into direct communion with the spirits of Mother Earth, and we can experience the healing powers of these spirits. Many of these spirits are of the flora and fauna of the earth, and when we discover what they have to offer and teach us we will no longer see the flora and fauna as subordinate to us; we will instead become one with them. We will find ourselves just one small piece in sustaining Mother Earth rather than in destroying her. Yet we will not feel small when we are a part of her, feeling how she cares for us and nurtures us. In such a state we will again be part of the Garden of Idunn.

Philosopher Jean Gebser sees this change as one of moving beyond the restrictive nature of the rational mind and into a new world of a time-free and transparent consciousness. Still within us is the magic of what Gebser defines as the magical structure of consciousness, an ancient era of our distant ancestors, in which events, objects, and persons were magically related, and in which, for example, symbols and statues do not just represent those events, objects, and persons, but are those same objects and persons. This magic came to be suppressed by the rationality of the mental structure of consciousness, with its emphasis on logic and linear thinking, resulting in our false sense of superiority and by our attempts to control our environment. Only now, as our consciousness increasingly becomes time-free and transparent, is our magical consciousness breaking through, in the rediscovery of our innate extrasensory powers and our ability to access the universal mind. The power of trance, whether ecstatic or hypnotic, and the altered state of lucid dreaming provides us with this ability. Trance can take us back to the ancient world to learn what we have forgotten over the last 10,000 years. In short, trance reestablishes our relationship to the Great Mother.

I discovered this ability back in the 1970s and ’80s, when I first learned clinical hypnosis in my private practice of psychology. It was then that I realized I could experience, or was experiencing, what my clients were experiencing when I led them into hypnotic trance. I first experienced this when I would see a client’s shock after I reflected back to them something of their trance experience that they had not told me. On one particular occasion a client was relating to me her experience with her twin sister when out of curiosity I asked her what nursing school her sister had gone to. My client was surprised because she had never told me her sister was a nurse, but from being part of her experience I just knew this to be the case.

My experience with this extrasensory ability was validated and I found the confidence to believe in it while at a workshop on neurolinguistic programming in the 1980s. At one point during this workshop the participants broke up into small groups of three people each. The workshop instructor offered us six imagery experiences. I still can remember several: “sitting in a comfortable chair after eating a big Thanksgiving dinner”; “waiting at an airport for a plane that is an hour late”; “putting on a fresh shirt with a heavily starched collar”; “walking on a cold, snowy evening.” One person in the group was to lead another in the group through these six imagery experiences, while the third person was to carefully observe the person doing the imagining for changes in breathing rate, body tension, skin coloration, and any other clues that were noticeable. Then the imaginer was to select one of the experiences and reexperience it while the observer was to attempt to identify which of the experiences it was. Only two of us in the workshop of about thirty people had extensive experience with hypnosis, and both of us had no trouble identifying the reexperienced experience. In fact, I was able to report that the person I was observing switched from one experience to another after a minute or so, and I was not specifically aware of changes in the physiological clues; I was just experiencing the experience with the other person, with my eyes likely either closed or partially closed. The two of us with experience in hypnosis, whether our perceptions were truly “extrasensory” or not, were clearly gaining access to the inner experience of others to an extent that defies rational explanation. Since then I have become aware of many more of these extrasensory experiences while using hypnotic trance.

Then in 2006, after reading Felicitas Goodman’s Where the Spirits Ride the Wind, I learned of the altered state of consciousness of ecstatic trance induced by rhythmic stimulation of the nervous system and her additional discovery that certain body postures give predictable direction to the trance experience. I have cultivated this ability to the point that I can very easily go into trance and have found that in this way I can at will access the memory of the universal mind to journey back in time and visit my early ancestors. I have used this learned ability to gain an understanding of how my Nordic ancestors lived and survived and of their mythic belief system, from the earliest time when their consciousness of the world was magical up through the mythical era, and also through the rational times when this magical consciousness was suppressed. Visiting these times in a state of ecstatic trance I have followed their lives, starting from before the time of transition, when they believed in the Great Mother, to the more fragile time of Viking chieftains, warriors, and constant battles, to a time when we now talk of valuing peace but seem unable to attain it.

Understanding the magical consciousness and the life ways of my ancestors in those earliest times before 2000 BCE, when they still worshipped Mother Earth (i.e., Moðir), gives us a glimmer of what this new era now unfolding can be like—an era of enchantment, nurturance, and compassion.

I am only able to place roughly in prehistory my ecstatic experience of going back to my distant ancestors. From the above quote of Felicitas Goodman, the era of worshipping the Great Mother most likely occurred during the hunting-and-gathering era of paradise, which for Scandinavia was after the end of the Ice Age, between 4600 and 3800 BCE, the era of the Ertebølle. The earliest pottery in Scandinavia dates from around 4600 BCE. Farming began around 3900 BCE; this was the beginning of when humans began their attempts to control the earth. It was later during this era that I believe the beliefs in the power of the masculine warrior gods Odin and Thor began. Only since the Bronze Era, around 1700 BCE, have metal implements been excavated. The petroglyphs found around Tanum, Sweden, have been dated to this time, between 1800 and 500 BCE. One set of petroglyphs in particular, across the parking lot from the museum in Tanum, shows a battle scene with axes and swords of iron and a figure of Thor being pulled in his goat cart above the battle scene, thus suggesting that the people at this time already believed in the gods of the Æsir,* or at least in the warrior god Thor (images of these Tanum battle petroglyphs are available at my website, I expect, though, that the worship of the Great Mother, the earlier time of the Vanir, continued into the farming era and only gradually evolved into the time when people worshipped the Æsir. Given this rough timeline, I estimate that my earliest ecstatic experiences of the time of the worship of the Great Mother were from around 2000 BCE, and the experiences of the time of transition were from about 1800 BCE, followed soon after by experiences from the era of the Nordic warriors.

*In Norse mythology, there are two pantheons, the Vanir and the Æsir, the latter of which includes the gods Odin, Frigg, Thor, Baldr, and Týr. According to myth, the two pantheons waged the Æsir-Vanir War, which resulted in a unified pantheon in which the Vanir became a subgroup of the Æsir.

I have the hope and belief that the turmoil of our current time is a sign of the final struggle of those who seek to hold on to the old ways because of their fear of this coming new age, and that I have a few more years left to see the dawning of this age.




Baldr’s Magic by Nicholas Brink, Ph.D. © 2014 Bear & Company. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International.

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