Māori myths of creation are powerful stories, rich with symbols that can remind us of the mystical and meaningful in our everyday lives.
These creation myths have inspired many of my Māori artworks, both landscapes and portraits. I believe they can help us as we attempt to understand the cycles of beginnings and endings of the world we live in. They help us relate to the earth beneath our feet, the sky above our heads and the mystery within ourselves.
With my mixed Ngati Porou Māori, Swedish, English and Irish whakapapa (heritage), and having had an eclectic upbringing in Aotearoa and overseas, it has been my art and these myths that have allowed me to find my place here. And eventually, to feel at home anywhere.
Finding human connection in storytelling
The act of storytelling and sharing myths connects all people across generations, places and cultures. In the same way, the story of Ranginui (sky father) and Papatūānuku (earth mother) helps us to connect to where we came from and how we came into being.
Today, more than ever, stories like that of Rangi and Papa hold a profound importance. With the modern world often seeming complex, isolating and fast-paced, myths take us back to our origins and help us connect to something much older and larger. They give us, as humans, a place in the cosmic family.
I believe there’s a growing desire for myths and mystical thinking to help us make sense of the world we inhabit. It’s not left brain logic, it’s dream logic, which uses the language of symbolism to speak directly to our subconscious. What I’ve discovered in my journey as an artist, is that people cling to stories.
“There’s something universal and transformational about the act of storytelling that triggers deep responses and emotions in all people, from all places in the world.”
The myth of Rangi and Papa is an important story, not just for Māori, but for all of us. Depending on what level we decide to take it in - psychologically, cosmically, materially or spiritually - we can learn about where we come from, about finding balance in our lives and our environment, and how to make sense of the chaos from which all life arises.
The separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku
Most mythological traditions speak of an event or act that brought about the world as we know it. In the Māori tradition, the central act of creation is the separation of earth and sky, Ranginui and Papatūānuku, in the dawn of Aotearoa.
First, there existed Te Kore, or the void of unlimited potential, which has long fascinated me and which I explored in another piece of writing.
There are many stages of unfolding out of the void until we get to the beginning of the great mother and father Papatūānuku (the earth) and Ranginui (the sky). These two lovers clung together in a close embrace. Between them were born their children who lived in Te Pō (the darkness).
Their children conspired to separate their parents and bring more space and light into the world. Tāne, god of the forest and progenitor of mankind, emerged as the strongest of the siblings. He pushed his parents apart by resting his shoulders upon Papatūānuku and thrusting his legs upwards, pushing Ranginui to the sky.
Tāne became known by many names, including Tāne-te-toko-o-te-rangi (Tāne the prop of the heavens) and there remained Rangi and Papa, separated as Sky Father and Earth Mother. In this way, Te Pō was opened up into world we live in, the world of light (Te Ao Marama).
Our sacred relationship with the earth and sky
For me, exploring myths, gods and symbols through my Māori artwork has been a way to become and stay connected to a greater reality. Painting allows me to find both connection and grounding – to touch the mystical, while literally feeling my feet against the earth and the wind on my face.
A lot of the inspiration for my work comes from looking at the horizon, the meeting point between the earth and sky. The horizon is where we do a lot of pondering and soul searching. It’s about looking back to where we came from, the space of creation which birthed the earth and the sky, as well as looking to the future.
“To me the horizon represents the unconscious, the dreamscape, in between space - the place where ideas come from.”
I explore this in my piece, Ao Pouri. “Ao Pouri” refers to a realm of deep night in creationary Māori mythology. The central dark band describes the confined environment between Rangi and Papa in which their divine children were born, and features a manaia bone carving symbolizing Tāne Mahuta.
I have also explored the relationship between Ranginui and Papatūānuku and represented this through symbols in landscape pieces such as Ko Waiapu Te Awa, The Separation of Rangi and Papa and Aotearoa’s Evolution.
The bridge between the mystical and the physical
I have long been fascinated with esoteric knowledge, and the common threads of wisdom that connect cultures, which have been separated by time, space and prevailing dogma. I find constant inspiration in the way different cultures have observed and revered the infinite that exists beyond our known reality, and manifested this into their own customs, rituals and art.
To me, contemplating the meeting space of the earth and sky allows me to contact both this infinite realm of creative, self-less potential, and stay deeply rooted to my ancestry and land. Māori myths of creation, and the story of Rangi and Papa in particular, are a symbol for understanding the universe with relation to our land and the history of our people.
In Te Ao Marama, I show Rangi and Papa as the cosmic mother and father in portrait form, drifting apart from each other. They long to remain united in love and this sadness cause fierce, whirling storm clouds to erupt in the space opening up between them. But the glorious light has been let in and life, in the form of soaring native birds, have entered the new, illuminated realm.
I present a similar theme in Dawn of Aotearoa, using a surreal landscape to represent the way our world emerged and it was able to sustain life - plants, animals and ultimately humans. Papatūānuku nude form lies within the river stones that bathe in the caressing glow of Ranginui.
Seeing the world through an enchanted lense
We all have the potential to be the channel or conduit between earth and sky. I explore this through my art and through other energy work, such as Chi Gong. For me, it’s about experiencing the world on an energetic, embodied level and communicating this at the symbolic level, which is what myths are doing. It’s about connecting with the mystery and manifesting something beautiful from it.
Myths and stories, and any art that blooms from them, are about getting our imaginations going, reminding people that we live in an enchanted universe.
They help to remind us that life is a mystery to be lived, not a business to be managed. It’s liberating to peek out beyond our veil of busy thought every now and then and pause to look around in wonder with new eyes. To me, Māori mythology does this so beautifully, providing a deep, rich source of inspiration.