Theosophy – April 1897

THE ANCIENT WISDOM OF THE MAORIS — John St. Clair

In his reports of the World's parliament of religions at Chicago, Mr. Stead has a fine portrait of Tawhiao the late Maori King, but describes him as an "idol worshipper." Never was man more misunderstood than my sacred old friend Tawhiao, that he should be described as an "idol worshipper." He and his father, the great Potatau Te Wherowhero, before him were born mystics well versed in all the wisdom of the Wharekura — the school of initiation to the inner Mysteries. And his son the present King Mahuta Tawhiao, just emerging from "silence" possesses the wisdom of his illustrious ancestors. He looks with indifference, perhaps, with contempt on the slanderers of his father, and no doubt attributes their attitude to ignorance and the baneful influence of the missionary.

According to the Maori legends the ancestors of their race came to New Zealand in seven canoes, between five hundred and one thousand years ago from a mystic laud called Hawaiki, which scientists and western scholars try to fit in with Hawaii, one of the Sandwich Islands; but the Tohunga or Priest-Initiate, if you can get him to speak, will tell you that it is not so, but that Hawaiki was a large country swallowed up by the ocean long ago. The hidden meaning of references in many of their poems will show this to be the case.

When the Maoris came to these islands it was by direction of Kupe, the immortal, an all powerful Tohunga, who saw disaster approaching his race and wished to save all of it that he could. Kupe was a prophet, perhaps an adept; it is clear that he had the power of Matakite — clairvoyance — and could see both the past and the future. He also had the power of Moemoea — seeing visions — and could interpret them. He was a Tohunga Matau, or adept of the right hand path, as I hope to be able to show.

The Maoris in those days were guided in all they did by their Tohungas, who directed the welfare of the people and by powerful Karakias — incantations — warded off evil and influenced them for good. Tohungas were of two kinds, and the Tohunga Makutu, or black magician, by his spells and incantations could strike men dead from a distance. Makutu — witchcraft — is still dreaded by the Maoris. It is however of the Tohunga Matau and his ancient wisdom that we will first treat. This ancient wisdom is all but extinct, not more than perhaps some half dozen persons really know or retain the ancient lore and they, as born mystics, know well how to keep it concealed from the profane.

With the advent of the Missionary the Tokungas declined and retired into obscurity. They lost their power owing to the new teachers' declaring that their old religion was very dreadful and wicked, and that the new gospel was the only way to salvation. The Maoris to use their own expression, became nui atu to matou raruraru, i.e., very much confused or perplexed. They lost heart when they saw that the missionary taught one thing and practiced another. And when they found they were losing their lands and contracting intemperance and other European vices, they became downcast and dejected and have passed through many sad experiences during the last fifty years.

The sacred flame of their ancestral wisdom, however, still flickers, carefully guarded by a small handful of trusty Tohungas who wait for the dawn of the coming day when they may rekindle the ancient fires for the upliftment of their fallen race. In the hearts of many of the most intelligent of the race is the desire to remember and restore their forgotten religion, though they fear the ridicule of the European; but if you speak to them in confidence of the wisdom of their ancestors you will note the beam of true gratitude which steals over their countenances in spite of the power they have of hiding their true feelings. This shows that the dawn of a new day is fast approaching; indeed, judging from the interest the average Maori is taking in Theosophy, which he claims as his own ancient birthright, that dawn is now at hand. The justice of the claim is what I propose to show.

If he take his most sacred Whakapapa or genealogical tree, known only to the Maori mystic, we find that he begins his ancestry with Aha — That or What — or, in other words, the "Absolute" of the Secret Doctrine. From this first emanated Ihu or the coming forth, the first manifestation, and so on through various mystic generations signifying dawns, days, twilights, nights, — the lesser Cycles, — till we come to Rangi-Raua-Ko-Papa, literally, Heaven and Earth, but mystically, the separation of the race into sexes. Wini Kerei Te Whetuiti stated that this was the real hidden meaning and that before the separation of Rangi and Papa the race was bisexual or rather hermaphrodite. In their sacred Waiatas, songs or laments, we have the story of the creation and of the building of the Kosmos told much as it is in the Secret -Doctrine. The legend of Whaitiri, the lightning, conceals with a thin veil the mysteries of the sacred land at the north pole.

The seven principles of man are known to all despite the confusion which the missionary caused when he called the soul, Wairuar, though Wairua is only a phantom shadow or ghost, i.e., the astral body. The correct terms for the seven principles as known to the Maoris are 1. Atua, pure spirit; 2. Hine Ngaio, the higher soul — literally, the hidden, or lost, or concealed woman; 3. Manawa ora, the upper, and Manawa, the lower, manas. The above three are immortal. 4. Hiahia, desire; 5. Oranga, vitality; 6. Wairua, the ghost or phantom body, the astral body; 7. Tinana, the gross physical body.

With the Maoris the lower four principles are perishable, the second and third are the immortal man and Atua is the God or All-Father overshadowing and permeating them all. When a man dies, at first only his Tinana or body decays, the other principles slowly depart to the Te Reinga, the under world, or temporary abode of Spirits. If the departed can resist the desire for food on his arrival at Te Reinga he can return and reoccupy his body or enter a fresh body if there is one available; but if he touches food then death is complete and he remains there until the Wairua, or astral, perishes and Hiahia and Oranga are set free and disperse into the elements. Then the immortal part is free and goes to rest till the time for rebirth arrives and he is born on earth again.

Under the head of Tangis, or weeping for the dead, I shall deal with the reason why the Maoris do not bury their dead for many days after death and the reason of their wailing and lamenting as far as can be given out though the whole truth could only be given to E. S. T. members under the pledge of secrecy. To the profane European the incantations and laments are meaningless but to those who know anything of the science of vibration and sound they open up a deep field for investigation. These matters are taught only in the Maori Wharekura, or Masonic School, and it is difficult to learn much of them except from their poems and allegories.

A Tohunga will not explain any mystic saying, but if one stumbles on the meaning and asks him if that is right he will tell you, and it is in giving him my ideas as a Theosophist of his symbols and mystic poems that I have gained the information which is now committed to paper. The missionary and the orthodox may dispute some of my renderings of meanings of words such as Wairua, or Astral, and say it means the soul but on the authority of several Tohungas I can say that I am right and that the missionary was purposely misled in his translation of the Bible. Reincarnation was universally accepted before the advent of the missionary and has a firm hold on the Maori of today as will be shown by ancient and modern Waiatas. Karma is also one of their doctrines as it was of the ancient Tohungas, the Maori equivalent being Te Putake me te whakaotinga, literally, the cause and the effect. There are many instances where chiefs living today claim to be reincarnations of ancestors who have had to come back and be reborn to expiate a wrong done in a past life, but they rarely speak of such things, especially to Europeans as they fear the ridicule of the profane, and to the Maori such things are very Tapu, sacred. I hope to show in future papers that the world may yet learn much from the ancient wisdom of the Tohungas and that the ancient Tohunga Matau, if not an adept, was at least an advanced chela, incarnated to help save his race.


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