Many years ago, at an international Conference on ‘Healing’ arranged by a Lama-friend of mine; I met a ‘Medicine –man’ (which I would now call a Shaman) of the Shuar, the Shuar live in the upper part of the Amazon, in the tropical rainforest of Ecuador and Peru.
I was reminded of him on this Earth-Day.
For the Shuar the Earth Mother is called Nunkui, She nurtures all that grows.
In her we find a different aspect revealed than in most statues, pictures and forms of the ‘Earth goddesses’. For example I am thinking of Bhumi in India, a voluptuous female, consort of Vishnu (a male God) that stands for fertility or even wealth (when associated with Lakshmi).
Nunkui, as far as I know, is without a male consort. She is Spirit Being, although thought of as woman; Nunkui lives at day-time, under the Earth and there, in the darkness she nourishes the roots of plants and tends to the seeds.
Now to me this is a very interesting point. Because in the darkness, the inner earth, the potency – earth holds the seeds and the roots of anything that grows in trust. From here all life starts. Like a mother holds the seed in her womb (as well as the fertilized egg for 24 hours without movement) and only then, from there evolution starts; then nourishing comes (within and without) but this first step is vital.
In the story of Nunkui the initial/real work of nurturing and hold/supporting is done underground, in the dark, in the yet unknown/invisible. Nobody needs to know….no pomp and circumstances here… this in Yoga we call self-less service!
When night falls, when dusk descends and the world grows dark, She spirals up (like a new fern leaf) out of the earth to nourish life ‘on top of the earth’ There she continuous to nourish all plants, all life. For some, She is specifically associated with the growth of plants/food tended by women.
However, what I find interesting here in the feminine archetype of Nunkui, is that the Shuar see the mystery of that which started before; it began in the dark before it has visible form. It is giving great importance to the initial stirring, the initial movement from which all unfoldment… all evolution happens.
In Yoga philosophy, we talk about the principle of creation from the subtle to the gross, from the unknown to the known.
Although in the common understanding of Nunkui, it is focussed on seeds, to my mind this does not just include plants, and with it naturally grown food, but also the world of ideas, and the world of our psyche. All start with ‘seeds’.
In the Tradition of Nunkui, these ‘seeds’ begin to unfold inside the earth; it’s from here where all unfolds. Bruce Lipton (New biologist) has it that the outer skin/shell of a seed has to be broken, before the inner can unfold, grow. It’s the power of that which starts within (the power within the seed), which makes growth possible.
We glibly say, “we are of the earth”…but that’s not enough, here the emphasis goes deeper…right to the beginning. We start within the darkness of the earth potential; meaning none exists without her, without Her!
Many cultures in the past have had similar understanding, and put it into practice. For example, they had healing chambers inside the Earth, i.e. in Greece (Incubation rituals in sanctuaries of Asclepius) or in Cornwall and other Celtic lands (where Fogous were used in part for a similar process).
Inside the Earth growth and healing starts… and what do we do, in our times? We pump chemicals inside her to be able to take her substance out re: fracking and mining.
Nunkui is Mother Earth, but as such she is not just inner Earth but ‘outer’ as well, and as such She is associated with dark and light; no separation here as in many other cultures where earth and sky are separated, where dark and light are separated. As from this tradition, night unfolds into day; light unfolds from darkness…and sinks into darkness, its origin. But then darkness is not bad or evil as in our culture, but dark is the infinite potential…is the womb. Seed and unfolding is the same, potential and form are the same… acorn and oak are one, indeed there is only One. It reminds me of modern physics where it is said that darkness and light are the same. Both are vibrating energy, which once reflected in certain frequencies, we perceive one as light, another as darkness.
In our society, we see the night as a nuisance… or even a danger, or even harbouring evil; moreover, we raise our children with the impetus to be afraid of the dark. We make dark as something bad… here with Nunkui a very different teaching is revealed.
It’s the Night which holds the potential of what we perceive in the day. Transfer that to our feelings: when all seems dark, we are desperate, when we are grieving – know that light will rise, she will infold! Nunkui is a process… not a static figure!
Nunkui is the power that coaxes the new to unfold, and she does so in the society of the Shuar especially to seedlings… hence she is inseparable from food and those who plant them; Shuar women tend to the plants once they have sprung up out of the ground and sing to them, invoking Nunkui. “As the women sing to Nunkui, they are Nunkui”. They are one with the Mother Earth, they are like her children… doing as she does…This is living the deep feminine principle or spirit.
When we (or the Shuar) do not tend with love and care, with honour and respect to the plants, food, water, air, all life – all earth (including humanity) – then Nunkui withdraws. Or in the story of the Shuar, She withdraws Her child, which was originally sent to help them. This is our situation now. We are more and more cut off from nature, from life, from the earth itself by our own greed. And we wither under more greed, more illness, more dangers and more and more violence…
We need to turn around, respect the earth, respect the life-force itself which ‘spirals out of her’; respect life so that the seeds of life, the seeds of humanity can mature in the ‘womb of Nunkui’ and spiral out from there into the light of life.
For that we need to see that earth, life, seeds, animals, humanity are all one, none exists separately; as the Shuar indicate: All are Nunkui, all are Mother Earth.
Earth-Day… let it be a call to return…to a New Forward in which all are sacred, all are honoured as HER, Earth Mother, of many names!