Archive for July, 2015

Stars in their eyes

Well, having recently suggested that the Matariki star group replace the Southern Cross on our national flag, it behoves me to actually learn a little bit about the Matariki and why this star cluster was  such a significant influence on Maori tradition. And quite an interesting little journey in space and time it was.

Matariki (translated as ‘ little eyes’) is a star cluster that appears in the South-East horizon of the night sky in May/ June in New Zealand and the Maori new year is now said to start on the first new moon after its appearance. Other tradition has this cluster has also been associated with the winter solstice and the star cluster named as Matariki, the mother, surrounded by her six daughters whose role is to assist the weakened sun to return to strength

Identifying notable stars and associating them with natural phenomena or religious significance is well recorded from ancient times, but still, it makes you wonder how the Maori actually came to settle on this cluster of seven stars, (usually with the naked eye only six can be identified; officially there are nine named with hundreds actually in the cluster, but for some reason, Maori myth refers to seven).

After a little further investigation, I learn that this same cluster of stars is recognised in Hawaii where it is named Makaliʻi hiki (also translates as ‘little eyes’). The Makaliʻi hiki in Hawaii rises shortly after sunset and is visible for four months from October/November to February/March. In Hawaiian tradition, this was a four month period of celebration of the harvest called Makahiki. Warfare was forbidden and it was a period of feasting, sports, dancing and celebration. The Makaliʻi hiki were also a navigational guide for the Hawaiians. Since the Maori have referred to their spiritual homeland as being Hawaiiki, joining these two geographical dots is a reasonable conclusion.

This same cluster of six stars is also recognised in Japan under the name Mutsuraboshi (“six stars”) in the 8th century Kojiki and Manyosyu documents. The constellation is also known in Japan as Subaru (“unite”) and you may note that the Subaru car logo contains six stars. Interestingly Japanese often saw seven stars instead of six. Travelers to Japan may be familiar with Shichifukujin (literally “seven happy gods”) which are often seen at temples and in miniature at souvenir shops throughout Japan. Locals in some prefectures of Japan still call the cluster “Shichifukujin”.  In Japan, as in Hawaii, this is recognised as the harvest time.

As with many things Japanese, the recognition of this cluster of stars was imported from Chinese astronomy observations. This cluster of stars seem to be among the first stars mentioned in astronomical literature, appearing in Chinese annals of 2357 B.C. The Chinese were a very advanced civilisation in the study of astronomy.

Seven stars Sumerian tablet, circa 2500 bc

Seven stars Sumerian tablet, circa 2500 bc

The Babylonian star catalogues name this same group MUL.MUL or “star of stars”, and they head the list of stars along the ecliptic, reflecting the fact that they were close to the point of vernal equinox around the 23rd century BC. Several Sumerian tablets have depicted the seven stars that reference the harvest period.

But the common name for this cluster of stars is Pleiades. The Pleiades cluster is within 4° of the ecliptic and is in the constellation of Taurus. The heliacal (pre-dawn) rising of the Pleiades marks late May/ June mid winter season in the Southern Hemisphere, likewise in the Northern Hemisphere the cluster can be seen in November from dusk to dawn.

Pleiades is mentioned in Greek mythology in the poems of Homer and Hesiod around 1,000 BC, in which the Pleiades were seven sisters: Maia, Electra, Alcyone, Taygete, Asterope, Celaeno and Merope. 

According to Greek mythology, after a chance meeting with the hunter Orion, the seven sisters became the object of his pursuit. Enamoured with the young women he pursued them over the face of the Earth. In pity for their plight, Zeus changed them into a flock of doves, which he set in the heavens. 

Even though the Greeks actually name nine stars of the Pleiades, they acknowledge that only six stars are distinctly visible to the naked eye. Apart from the seven daughters they also name Atlas and Pleione as the parents. These two stars do exist although they would have been invisible to the searching eyes of ancient Greeks, Chinese or Persian astronomers. But of the seven sisters, they write that the star Merope is often called the “lost Pleiade” because she was not seen by astronomers or charted like her sisters. The ancient Greeks explained that Merope was most faintly visible because she took a mortal husband, Sisyphus, the King of Corinth. It is a mystery how they knew of more than the six visible stars.

This same cluster of six/ seven stars appears in the folklore throughout the Americas, from the Cherokee to the Aztecs (Tianquiztli , the marketplace). In Norse folklore the same cluster was known as Freyja’s hens, identified as a hen with six chicks. In Celtic tradition the rising of this cluster between the Autumn equinox and Winter solstice was a period to mourn the dead which led to festivals of “all souls day” and Halloween. They also appear in Hindu writings.

So, that was quite a trip around the world and through history from something that I thought was a unique Maori tradition. That makes it not only significant, but also very curious. The cluster is, after all, over 400 light years away, so it’s certainly not as luminous as, say, Venus the morning/ evening star which is only about 4 light minutes away from earth. Matariki/ Pleiades is a collection of six specks in the night sky amongst a million specks that could be viewed in the sky of the ancients which was free of urban light pollution.

This is all based on the knowledge that the cluster was identified around 2500 BC in Persia, China and possibly even Britain with Stonehenge as appearing at the right time for the annual harvest. That this knowledge would travel with the people from Asia during their migrations would be the logical process upon which the referencing of Matariki came to be in Aotearoa around 1200 AD.

But then, with further investigation, I learn that the Australian Aborigines also include this same Pleiades star cluster, which they call the Meamei, in their dreamtime folklore. According to their mythology, the cluster represents seven girls chased by the hunter, Djulpan. This is an identical myth to the Greek myth of Orion, the hunter chasing Pleione and her six daughters. Again they speak of seven stars although only six are visible to their naked eyes.

So the Australian Aborigines, who have been living on the Australian continent for 60,000 years, have the same mythology about the same star cluster as was written by the Greek poets less than 3,000 years ago. The Aborigines, isolated from Greek poets and Chinese or Persian astronomers had acquired the same knowledge and myth about this small cluster of stars up to 55,000 years prior to recorded discovery in the northern hemisphere. And the Australian Aborigines had no need to monitor harvest time, they did not plant crops. However sites of the celebration of Meamei still tended to be where bush foods grew or where water was found. But for them the rising of the Meamei (Pleiades) was a sacred celebration involving the dramatisation of the fleeing of the seven sisters from the advances of the  hunter, Djulpan (Orion) as passed down from their dreamtime mythology. The narrative does have variation between tribes/ nations within Australia.

I was easily able to link the dots from Aotearoa to Hawaii and then onto the ancient Chinese astronomers. But there is no way I can connect any dots between classical Greece and the Aboriginal dreamtime. And when we look at the night sky as it would be seen in the clear night skies before the intrusion of the night lights of cities, and follow the star map that takes us (in the south) from the Southern cross via Orion’s belt to Matariki, just a quarter of the night sky, we can only wonder how all these cultures from all around the globe, focused on this single star cluster:

Someone must have told us very early in our ‘sapiens’ consciousness that this cluster was a special part of the heavens and given us all a star map to hand down through the generations as a place of veneration.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

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He sees dead people…..

I was an interested, but not convinced, viewer of “Sensing Murder”, the television series where psychics claim to communicate with the victims of unsolved murders in New Zealand. Despite some skepticism, I was much more a fan of this show than any of the magician shows, even though the magician shows were far more entertaining and delightful than “Sensing Murder”. But even though you had no idea how a $10 note you saw torn up before your eyes turned up intact in the wallet of a random spectator, you still knew that it was just an illusion. Not even the magician denies it is just an illusory trick. Unexplainable, much more so than “Sensing Murder”, but still an accepted fake, a deceit of the senses.

“Sensing Murder” claims to be a genuine psychic experience, not an illusion. But it would still have been very easy to dismiss as fake. Yet, probably for that very reason, I could not so easily dismiss it as such (was I victim of a double bluff ? where the potential for faking it is so obvious that we don’t believe they would be so dumb, therefore it must be true). And this doubt made it made much more compelling viewing for me than David Copperfield which I knew, beyond doubt, to be fake. So when Kelvin Cruickshank and his amazing troupe of dead people rolled into town for a performance, I thought, why not?

I expected to be one oddball amongst a couple of dozen gypsies, but was quite stunned that, arriving 20 minutes before the start, I could hardly find a seat. Almost as far from the performance as I could be. There was also quite a range of ages and characteristics represented. It was a congregation that most churches would be very envious of, and even if they had those numbers, they surely would not be getting $65 in the collection box as Kelvin Cruickshank was (plus book sales). On the dot of seven KC (as he referred to himself) strode confidently into the room without a sign of the limp that his name promised.

He spent quite a bit of time warming up (or calming down) his audience before deciding that he could see enough dead people to make a decent show and then over a couple of hours he spoke on behalf of a dozen or so dead people to the appropriate people in the congregation. None of my lot turned up, but then they wouldn’t, would they? Just not their thing. There were tears and laughter among the chosen few as he passed on messages. He certainly appeared to be picking up some specifics that you would not expect; like the ‘dead man’ reminding his wife about his dentures in the glass and asking why? It turned out they hadn’t put his dentures back in his mouth when they buried him.

The lady next to me, not being shy, stuck up her hand to catch KC’s attention and insisted on being told about her family; a bit out-of-order but KC quickly told her that her mother was not a nice lady and then asked who the alcoholic was. That settled her down as she later told me she had nursed an alcoholic brother who had since died and her mother had been such an unpleasant person that she had not even gone to her funeral. He also told her that her friend (beside her) had a spirit visitor called William (it was her father).

So where am I at the end of that. Any the wiser? Well my position is the same as it was when watching “Sensing Murder”. I don’t doubt these psychics can pick up messages and images, but the question I have is: ‘where from?” The answer of the psychics and the grief-stricken is that it comes from the souls of the dearly departed. That this pinpoint of energy, the soul,  manifests itself and other images in hologram form in the mind of the psychic and transfers written or verbal messages to the same psychic mind to be passed on. Who am I to say that is impossible? No one living through the last fifty years can rule anything out as impossible as the inconceivable has become reality in so many fields.

Is there a chance that he spikes the audience with stooges? Anything is possible, but I would almost bet the house that the lady with the bitch mother and alcoholic brother beside me was no stooge. I certainly don’t think a stooge-based show could be taken around NZ, to so many small, intimate towns, and sustained for too long before the secret was blown. And he has been going around the country for a few years now. 

But there is another source that also cannot be dismissed. The sceptics generally claim that the psychic simply throws out enough generalisations as bait until he/ she spots a reaction and builds from that with just some shrewd intuition until he/ she gets close enough to the truth, usually led by taking unsubtle leads from the emotional subject. I am sure a bit of that goes on at the lower end of the psychic business but, to give him his due, Kelvin Cruickshank was leading the conversations and certainly not taking cues from his audience. But one thing I do not underestimate is the huge amount of untapped capacity in the human brain. The often quoted “we only use 10% of our brain’s capability” is now generally accepted as a complete myth, nonetheless there do seem to be a variety of different ways that brains work to create different talents in individuals.

We know some peoples’ brains are left sphere dominant (language and logic) and others right sphere dominant (creative, intuitive, holistic). Some people are naturally mathematically wired up, even to the point where some have absolutely outstanding mental computing capabilities. Read about Arthur Benjamin as one example. Others are wired up for spatial understanding; there are numerous examples of outstanding child prodigies in music. Our brains can be variously wired to deliver unbelievable outcomes.

I do not think it unreasonable to think that different people with different brain-wiring that accentuates the right brain sphere to a level of intuition well beyond the cognisance of the average person. And I do not think it beyond the realm of possibility that at the highest end of the intuitive spectrum, one brain may be capable of actually reading images and messages from the energy waves sent out of another brain. That it is possible for some brains to communicate at a subliminal, non-verbal level. You may mock, but then you must conclude that he sees and talks to dead people.

So, you may ask, whose mind could he be reading in “Sensing Murder” when the victim was unknown to him and long since deceased? The answer is very simply the minds of the production staff who had so carefully researched the programme before he became involved and the police who are in attendance with the psychic process. All with their own information and theories.

I am not saying he is not a medium for the dearly departed. In the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I have myself witnessed events that have been pretty compelling as regards contact after death. I am certainly not denying the journey of the soul.

But I am just wondering whether these travelling psychics are truly in contact with the dearly departed on another dimension or whether they are in contact with the brains of the dearly grieving. If I was an exceptionally intuitively wired-up person who received images and messages into my brain that seemed to have very highly emotional resonance with grieving friends and relatives, and this was how I would earn my living, then I think I might also be presenting myself as a medium for the dearly departed rather than a mind-reader for general entertainment. It may well be that the psychic may have no more idea than I do where these images and words come from.

But if he helps people break out of the spiral of grief, then that is a positive thing and well worth the $65; I am even happy to donate my $65 to help others break out of that cruel spiral, for the natural cycle of life depends on saplings seeking the sunlight beyond the shadow of the fallen tree.

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