By Christine Broadbent

It was June 11, 2016, and I was one of 200 people at Te Aurere Beach in Northland, attending a Matariki event with a special purpose. The purpose of this gathering was to raise money, to help complete a marvellous building, which will be the new home of Hector Busby’s school of celestial navigation. Now 84 years old and with younger navigators by his side, this man used his bridge building skills to learn how to build a traditional sea-going waka and he also learnt celestial navigation. Devoting many years of his life to this, the waka, named Te Aurere after the beach where it was launched, finally made its historically significant voyage to Rarotonga and beyond in 1992. The truth of the ‘story’ that celestial navigation brought Māori to Aotearoa-New Zealand, was established by that 1992 voyage. Now 24 years later, I was standing inside the giant circle of the Star Compass, viewing an awesome night sky. The waka has 32 markings which are direction markers for navigation. Hector created the Star Compass on a high point of his land, with 32 richly carved markers in a circle. With a revolving seat in the centre he was able to take his bearings and decide his course, before boarding the waka. Now others are able to learn the skills of celestial navigation. 

A rich and mythically potent relationship with the sky is intrinsic to Māori cosmology. Social, spiritual, and practical aspects of survival are supported by astrological knowledge. Lifestyle, mundane daily living, and cosmological knowledge are interlinked in traditional Māori culture. From the celestial navigation that enabled the first migration, to the maramataka Moon calendars whose many local versions continue to support planting, harvest, and fishing, cosmological knowledge is grounded in everyday life. More subtle, magical and healing motifs come with the mythic genealogy of creation stories. Let’s explore some of this, then consider its significance for modern astrology.

The relationship between sky and human is often made peripheral to the more serious and logical investigation of signs, aspects, transits and the astro-gang of predictive paraphernalia that is a bonus of our trade. Yet this living relationship with sky and land is the heart of Māori cosmology. It could also be said it is intrinsic to any version of astrology.

There has been a major renaissance of Māori astronomy and astrology since the 1990’s. This is an interesting synchronicity since the ‘Project Hindsight’ astrological translations and academic initiatives that have contributed to a renaissance for Western astrology, also date to that period. Both have been partly driven by academic research and have contributed to re-affirming the value of traditional knowledge within those different cultures.

Cosmology Reaching Out to Culture

There are quite a few examples of a Māori cosmological renaissance occurring: 

· Māori Moon Calendars have been richly researched. These Maramataka differ slightly in different locations, being specific to local conditions. So far, 43 Moon calendars have been identified and documented as in common use. Ongoing research continues in New Zealand universities.1

· Seagoing waka journeys have re-established celestial navigation as a viable navigation technique, also supporting oral history, as to the origins of Māori in New Zealand. Hekenukumai (Hector) Busby and others continue to teach celestial navigation.2 The horizon relative to the celestial sphere shifts as we travel from south to north or vice versa. Oceanic navigation utilises the knowledge of star position to establish location, for example as we move northwards, the Southern Cross gets closer and closer to the horizon. Currents, cloud forms, wave patterns and the behaviour of bird and marine life, are all used as adjuncts. This resurgence of interest began in the 1970’s and was assisted by the teachings of the tohunga, Mau Pialug, from Satawal in the Caroline Islands.3

· There is ongoing linguistic research of the many cosmological references in colloquial sayings, poetry, songs, lamentations for the dead, karakia.4

· Traditional architecture of the early Marae meeting house, incorporates celestial alignments. For example, the outer porch faces the rising Sun, the Milky Way is depicted on the ridge beam. The Milky way is often referenced by its shape as a fish, for example: Te Ikanui—the great fish.
· Celestial symbols are integrated into traditional weaving and carving. Research into this and the cosmological significance of the double spiral motif, is in progress. The double spiral that has the outside ends bending to link with each other, appears repeatedly. This is known as the takaranga and is a classic symbol of continuity with cyclic cosmic rhythms.

· Māori New Year, timed by the rising of Matariki  (Pleiades), or in Taranaki and parts of Northland, by the rising of Puanga (Rigel), has entered popular culture. This occurs around the southern winter solstice in June. Not just New Year but the whole calendrical system was impacted by traditional astronomical knowledge.5  The seasons of the year were also measured by heliacal rising and setting of stars.

Both New Moon and Full Moon continue to be important timers. This is instrumental for traditional methods of agriculture, cultural events, celebrations and rituals.

Cosmology and Human Flourishing Belong Together

Mauri ora—human flourishing, has been identified as a key concept, linked directly to cosmology. Mauri or life force, directly follows Te ao mārama, or wholeness/cosmos, in Manuka Henare’s ’13 Principles.’6  In addition, the ‘Mauri Model’ was developed from 2002 onwards as a framework, decision making tool, and method to understand the interconnectedness of all things.7  While some of this research has been undertaken to specifically address various social and ecological problems, it is also a philosophical and knowledge-driven initiative. All researchers refer to Mātauranga Māori, which means Māori knowledge and philosophy, as the underlying factor for successful social change.

Harmsworth and Awatere, Landcare researchers from the Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Porou tribes, put the interconnectedness of all things into context: “Indigenous Māori have an intricate, holistic and interconnected relationship with the natural world and its resources,” noting that there is “no single Māori word or translation for ecosystem,” but Māori knowledge, language, and ancestral lineage, “are used together to unlock the indigenous perspective.”8 The ancestral lineage or whakapapa weaves cosmos, gods, human life, flora and fauna, land and sky, into a total dependent system. Human flourishing is dependent upon the whole balance of that system.

The spiritual perspective of tatai arorangi (astronomical knowledge) is supported by a sense of continuity and contingency. The community of cosmos, land, and human are an expression of a natural lineage. Thus the concept of mauri, or life essence, integrates human life with Sun—Te Ra, and Moon—Te Marama. Sun is seen as the essence of daylight growth; seasons and cardinal points are part of these cycles. Moon phases and stars are seen as key factors for growth in darkness. The rising of certain stars, time seasonal tasks like the kumara harvest; Moon phases time planting, fishing and celebrations. New Year (Matariki and Puanga) is a time for resting, regenerating, celebrating, and reconnecting. This comes in winter, at the Sun’s ‘rebirth’ time, when after the winter solstice, light begins slowly to grow again. Likewise, other cultural traditions like Christmas, were first timed for the winter solstice. Mauri is a spiritual energy like tapu, so the life essence nourishment of Sun and Moon cannot be viewed as a strictly physical effect, but also incorporates spiritual nourishment. “Knowledge flows like a waterfall from the stars” is a traditional saying that affirms this perspective.9

The Gods that unfold the Māori Cosmos

The ancestral lineage begins with nothingness—the void, the darkness, moves to a supreme god (Io-matua-kore), then emerging light, the creation of the tangible world, to the two primeval parents, Ranginui and Papatuānuku, the birth of their children, and the creation of humankind. Resonating with ancient Egyptian cosmology, Rangi and Papa are torn apart, sky father and earth mother are forcibly separated. Their children do this to create life and Rangi forms the sky and its rains, Papa, the land and its nourishing qualities. The Great Lady of Night, Hine-nui-te-Po, remains the final resting place, “the great abode of us all”, when life has run its course.

Sun, Moon, and Stars, perceived as celestial beings, were grand-children of the primeval parents, parented by Tangotango, and Wainui. Humankind were also grand-children, fathered by Tānemāhuta, who asked his siblings to give him the celestial children to adorn Rangi. Thus, the final separation of Rangi and Papa occurred with the appearance of the celestial bodies in the heavens. Humankind can reach back to this natural lineage through the pursuit of star knowledge.

Contemporary Obstacles and Initiatives

Clearly, the expression of traditional Māori cosmological knowledge has been impacted by social change. The contemporary renaissance does not ensure a widespread return to, or knowledge of, traditional ways. It is however taking many interesting directions, including the maramataka information regarding Moon influences on planting and fishing, gaining wider usage in both Māori and non-Māori circles. Anyone who wants to employ traditional methods of planting and food-gathering can benefit. Pauline Harris, an astronomer who co-heads the SMART research team, notes that with the impact of land loss, colonial bias and missionary teachings: ‘by the 1850’s in many tribal districts the pre-colonial systems of growing and harvesting crops had already been abandoned in favour of the promise of economic prosperity associated with a European lifestyle.’ 10 In this context, the return of interest in this Moon-related knowledge base and the research extending that interest, is socially significant.

Magical Mindsets

This renaissance however, in no way suggests that bias against astrological practices like planting by the Moon, have gone away. Modern bias often takes the form of stereotyping such practices as magical thinking. This allows the next step of refusing to test this experientially, but feeling justified to have an opinion. The existence of triangulated scientific experiments which demonstrate the influence of the moon, the Japanese research linking the moon to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and the Aotearoan University research cited above, are an important step forward. Since magical sensibilities are often linked to an artistic temperament and/or the lack of a guiding logical perspective, it is useful to be able to cite the academic support for this as a logical perspective. In early anthropology, entire cultural groups were assigned the stigma of having magical sensibilities, and traditional Māori cosmological knowledge fell into this colonial practice. Therefore, cultural renewal is slowly achieved when traditional practices gain a new status. This same process applies to astrological knowledge.

While ‘magic’ continues to be a loaded word, the concept of natural magic offers deeper meaning to the human connection and relationship with sky and land. Māori cosmology offers one path, of many. Given the contemporary concerns for the very real problems linked to the sustainability of natural resources, and the desire to create more environmentally and socially compatible technologies, it is not surprising that this research initiative is growing.

What can MAori cosmology contribute to modern astrology?

The traditional Māori cultural astronomy offers an integrated cosmology, enacted as astronomical understandings embedded in daily life and embraced as positive adjuncts to effective living. This integrated system raises a few questions:

· What dimensions do we draw upon as astrologers? Mental, physical lifestyle, emotional, spiritual, are all part of Māori cosmology. Do we actually acknowledge these levels and if so— how? Clarifying this may assist our astrological practices.

· Is the abstract mental level of rules and procedures allowed to dominate our sense of continuity, contingency, and community with land and sky?  

· Can we improve our relationship with the visible night sky—the basis of astrology?

· Does a cosmological perspective feed into ethical relationships, like guardianship of the land?

· Would internal schisms within astrology be given less importance, if continuities and commonalities were given first place? For example: the Vedic zodiac geared to the precession of the equinoxes, and the tropical zodiac geared to Earth’s experience, can be seen as mere differences of perspective.

In conclusion, our experience of Skyscape can perhaps be richer and less cerebral. Our understanding of living Land and Sky as an indissoluble whole of which we are a part, can benefit from traditional wisdoms. I, like many of my peers, love the whole ‘hands moving on a giant clock’ notion of time and transits that astrologer and writer Milan Kundera so well described. Yet seeking a sense of timelessness is also a part of the astrological narrative and a perception of Land/Sky unity evokes a timeless state. This could be yet another example of how learning from the past helps us nurture the present. ‚

© Christine Broadbent 24 January 2017

Christine Broadbent loves her work as a consulting astrologer and writer. For over 20 years she has written the Star Gazing column for WellBeing magazine, lectured at international conferences, and worked as a professional astrologer. Christine offers in-person readings in Auckland, Sydney, and Melbourne, also pre-booked consultations by phone and Skype. In depth analysis, relationship readings and electing propitious dates, are her special interests.   

1   Auckland University, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiarangi and Victoria University of Wellington.
2   See This gives details of Busby’s project building the waka Te Aurere, his voyage in 1992, and some background.
3   Harris, Matamua et al, 2013, A Review of Māori Astronomy in Aotearoa-New Zealand, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, 16(3) p. 333.
4   Rangi Matamua from the Department of Māori studies at Waikato University and part of the SMART team of researchers (Society for Māori Astronomy     Research and Traditions), has been particularly instrumental in linguistic research.
5   The SMART team referenced above (Harris, Matamua, Smith, Kerr, Waaka) was formed in the late 2000’s and their body of research continues to reveal more about this topic and many others.
6   Manuka Henare, 2001, Tapu, mana, mauri, hau, wairua: A Māori philosophy of vitalism and cosmos, in Grim, J. ed. Indigenous traditions and ecology, Cambridge MA, Harvard Uni Press, pp. 197-232.
7   K. Morgan, 2006, Decision-support tools and the indigenous paradigm, ‘Engineering Sustainability’ 159, (Issue ES4) pp. 169-177. Morgan has a number of papers that apply the Mauri model.
8   G. Harmsworth & S. Awatere, 2013, Indigenous Māori Knowledge and Perspectives of Ecosystems, in Dymond, J R ed. Ecosystem Services in New Zealand, Lincoln NZ, Manaaki Whenua Press, p.274.
9   Quoted by Rangi Matamua