Mānawatia a Matariki!
Matariki has risen and it is time to celebrate. Welcome Matariki!
Why has Matariki become so popular for both Pākehā and Māori, to the extent that in 2022 it will become a public holiday? Is the adoption of this festival just another example of cultural appropriation by Pākehā, or is there more to it than meets the eye?
A New Year
The Matariki holiday is a significant event for many reasons.
With it comes an opportunity to celebrate the new year in its rightful place.
In European traditions winter solstice, which occurs around June 22, marks a turning point: the start of a new year. Once we adjust our seasonal calendar to the southern hemisphere, the link becomes obvious.
In Te Ao Māori Matariki also opens a new year. Both festivals take place after harvest and at the quiet start of a new cycle, a natural place to pause and begin anew.
Are there other reasons too?
The answer is in the stars
Yes, quite literally.
The Pleiades —the star cluster known to Māori as Matariki — has deep significance in traditions throughout the world. It is among the first stars mentioned in literature – in Chinese texts of c 2350 BC, then in Greek literature in the poetry of Hesiod in 1000 BC and also in Homer.
The Pleiades new year goes right back to early agricultural practices in South East Asia, India, and Mesopotamia. It is embedded in the ancestry from which both Celts and Māori are thought to have evolved thousands of years ago.
Why is such significance given to a tiny cluster of stars?
I believe the key lies in the Pleiades’ location close to the horizon. Constellations that ride high in the sky, such as the Southern Cross or the Great Bear, remain exclusive to one hemisphere. But a constellation that sits low in the sky is going to meander between hemispheres, appearing first in one and then the other.
A Māori whakataukī (proverb) captures the essence of the Pleiades:
Matariki kainga kore: ‘homeless Matariki’
Matariki is a wanderer. And like all wanderers, its comings and goings are noted.
It is also beautiful, a little community of gems in the sky, clustering together. It is not surprising that in so many cultures the disappearance and return of the Pleiades has become the marker of significant seasonal transitions, such as the beginning of planting and fishing, or the gathering in of the harvest.
Even though the sun does a disappearing act too — in this case as winter solstice approaches — the sun’s decline is steady, unlike the tantalising wanderings of Matariki.
A constellation that retreats and returns is inevitably going to become charged with meaning —especially when it glitters with such beauty.
What is it that retreats? What is it that returns?
This constellation is the home of the gods and the ancestors. When Matariki disappears, it feels as if its loving presence is lost; when it reappears the gods and ancestors resume their guidance from above.
The Greeks felt the same. The poet Hesiod advised seafarers, including fishers, to stay on land when the Pleiades disappeared and their protection was withdrawn.
The Pleiades appear in the Bible as a sign of Christ’s return. In the book of Revelation, he appears in a vision, holding up the seven stars in his right hand.
And so this constellation becomes an archetype of loss and return, longing and reunion: patterns that are deeply embedded in the human soul, through all cultures.
How you might approach Matariki today
At Matariki you might find it fruitful to contemplate what is returning for you at this time. What is it in your heart that is lost and found again?
Is it your spiritual connection, for example?
Many spiritual traditions recognise the human tendency to forget, and the need to remember and reconnect to the greater dimension of life. In fact, the Sufis have a practice called Remembrance, created in recognition of the need to return. Poet saints such as Rumi and Hafiz were forever writing about the longing for the Beloved and the power of reunion.
Is it the ancestors, those beloved, wise ones who have passed over, and whose guidance you long for?
In many Maori iwi/tribes Matariki was greeted with great emotion as the names of the recent dead were recited, along with the names of the stars where the dead souls resided. Somehow those beloved ancestors felt more present when these stars were once again glittering high in the sky.
Who are your dearest ancestors, whose wisdom you need in your life now? Who are the ancestors with whom you desire to cultivate a loving connection?
Is it also about the return of honouring and welcoming the indigenous cultural tradition that is embedded in this land?
Whatever it is that resonates, you might like to think about Matariki as a joyful and even tearful festival of welcoming back what was lost. Then you can begin a new cycle of hope and possibility in your life, a new year.
In this season of Matariki and Winter Solstice, I send you New year blessings.
May you embrace your longing once more with tears of joy.
Winter Attunement: This home ritual will bring you nourishment and sustenance as you come into the birthing of a new seasonal year. Click here to find out more.