New Zealand Ghosts

9 Sep

What I hope to do on this website is share my own otherworldly short stories; accounts of myth, legend and superstition from all over the world and reviews of ghost/horror novels by other writers. With the rugby world cup starting today, I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to talk about the mystical traditions of our cousins in New Zealand!

Among the ancient Polynesian tribes that once inhabited this area of the Antipodes the position of Tohunga, or sorcerer-priest, was an important one.  The Tohunga occupied the place of the witch doctor, the war leader and the agricultural expert among others; they were historians and record-keepers as well as astrologers and preservers of old-time ritual.  Many of them were also experts in the practice of matakite, or second sight, and prophecy. These prophetic utterances were often delivered to the people in the form of short songs and when they pertained to war these were often sung during the performance of the war-dance. In this and many other ways the Tohunga were the archetype of the wise man, shaman or oracle found in many primitive cultures.

The sphere of knowledge and influence of the Tohunga was seemingly limitless. They were said to understand genealogy, oral history, astronomy, natural lore and a large repertoire of chants and karakia (prayers and incantations) for building and growing things, making war, healing the sick and bidding farewell to the dead. Tohunga mākutu, trained in the whare-maire (house of learning), were believed to have the ability to mākutu, that is, cast spells to make people sick or to kill them. For this reason they were often cast as the evil sorcerers of darkest Maori legend.

Some students of Maori life and customs are inclined to believe that many of the old-time Tohunga were acquainted with hypnotism and telepathy; that they possessed certain phases of knowledge and powers not usually attributed to barbaric folk; and that the many karakia they employed were really a form of medium between a mental process and its object. Thus the karakia makutu, or spells of dark sorcery, acted as a direct nexus between the innate powers of the Tohunga ‘wizards’ and the object to be affected by them. The object might be a tree to be blasted, a stone to be shattered or even a person to be slain.

Most importantly, the Tohunga were often called upon to cleanse homes visited by death or some other misfortune by performing rites intended to expel the spirits and Kehua (a species of ghost particular to New Zealand) to the places that await them beyond the mortal realm. It might be thought for this reason that the Tohunga were performing a benevolent act but the truth was often much darker. Whilst the Tohunga prayed for the Kehua to join those that had already departed the Earth, the spirits that awaited in the world beyond might not be satisfied and might try to take someone else – a sacrifice that the Tohunga were often all too ready to make.

For more information on the Tohunga and the Kehua I’d recommend a visit to the following website:

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