It’s June, and here in New Zealand an important event has occurred in the night sky: the return of Matariki, a beautiful star cluster that many will know by its European name: The Pleiades.
Matariki the wanderer dips above and below the horizon, teasing with its inconstancy. In both northern and southern hemispheres, it is sadly missed when it wanders away, and greeted with joy when it slips back again.
Why is this constellation treasured by so many cultures throughout the world?
Home of gods and goddesses
It is the home of the gods/goddesses and the ancestors. When Matariki disappears, the watchful guidance of those twinkling eyes is lost; when it reappears, the gods and ancestors resume their role of guiding things from above.
The Greeks felt the same; the poet Hesiod advised mariners to stay on land when the Pleiades disappeared and its protection was withdrawn. This is a constellation that watches over earth dwellers wherever they are. It is well loved and treasured.
Have you seen it?
For many years I longed to see Matariki. Then in 2007 I awoke in the vast space of the Australian desert. It was 3 a.m. as I wriggled out of my swag, shivering in the chill. I raised my eyes to the night sky and there it was, a brilliant, glittering cluster of seven main stars and dozens of tiny companions. It was just the way that ancient peoples all over the world have seen this constellation in their inky night skies.
There I stood on the red desert earth, receiving Matariki, the wonder and the tenderness of it. I remembered how Maori would greet the wanderer with vigorous dancing, chanting and tears of joy. Now I knew why.
Be with your longing
Do you know that feeling of missing someone, or something, so much that you ache with longing?
Sometimes the feeling is more subtle, a vague sense of something missing, but what can it be?
The Maori celebration of Matariki reminds me of this deeper theme, the theme of loss and return. It’s a theme that can visit us in any season. Even though my parents died over 20 years ago, I can still get a sudden stab of longing, out of the blue. It may be triggered by a significant event in my life that they are not there to enjoy, or the source may be unknown.
Maybe you miss a person, or an animal, a home or a country. Or maybe your ‘Matariki’ is a sense of connection with your vitality, creativity or spirituality, that for some reason has wandered far out of reach.
Spiritual teachers say that what you are longing for is already within you.
It’s a paradox.
Celebrating the festivals
Would you like to learn how to celebrate the seasons of the year with your family or friends?
I’m happy to announce that I’ll be teaching my seven week online course The Sacred Art of Ritual, starting on July 19, at a time to suit participants from NZ, Australia and Europe. If you missed out last time, now is your chance.
(If you are in the USA or Canada, please contact me to register your interest for a course that fits your time zone.)
Click here to find out more.