This is the last day of our tribute to Women’s History Month. If you missed our previous posts this week, travel way back in time with a bit of lore about some Hawaiian and Shinto goddesses. Today, we’ll wrap it up with a couple of creator goddesses from Down Under.
Papatuanuku, who goes by the much-simplified nickname of Papa, comes to us from the mythical land of the Maori — the indigenous tradition of New Zealand. Papa and her love, Ranginui (or Rangi, for short), play the starring roles in this well-known “world parent” narrative.
According to legend, Papa and Rangi had been bound together in a tight embrace from time immemorial. Their many children, who lived in the tiny, dark space between them, eventually realized they would die if they didn’t find light/life. And so began a series of attempts to separate the parents. They pushed and pulled. They poked and prodded. But Papa and Rangi were too much in love to be pried apart by a few meddling children. Finally, Tāne, the son who is god of the forests, managed to separate them. Rangi became Sky Father, and his tears of longing continue to fall toward Papa who became Earth Mother. She remains as one of the many mother/earth/nature/creator goddesses — like Gaia (Greek), Pachamama (Andean), Parvati (Hindu), and Papahānaumoku (Hawaiian).
Indigenous artist Marcus Winter tells the story of Papa and Rangi through sand images drawn in real time. You have to see this video to believe it.
Yhi is the goddess in the Australian Aboriginal tradition who created just about everything. According to most accounts, she was awakened from the darkness by a whistle, and when she opened her eyes, Earth was immediately bathed in light. Yhi soon began to drift along in this new world, and wherever she stepped, the world blossomed and bloomed. Soon Earth was covered in lovely, green vegetation.
Yhi then began searching in all the dark places of the universe. One by one, her illuminating presence brought life to the shadow-spirits. All the wonders of the animal kingdom burst forth. There were insects, butterflies, birds, lizards, and fish. Pleased with her work, Yhi returned to her own realm. Darkness followed, of course, but whenever Yhi opened her eyes, the light would reappear.
One day, sensing the sadness of her creatures, Yhi offered to give them whatever they wanted. The kangaroo wanted a frontward-facing pouch. The wombat wanted a backward-facing pouch. The lizard wanted legs. The platypus wanted to lay eggs. And the emu, for some reason, wanted wings. Yhi granted their every request.
Yhi thought her creation was complete. Until she noticed Man — a rather odd being who walked on two legs and lived alone. One night, while Man slept, Yhi create the most lovely flower Earth had ever seen. When Man awoke, he approached the newly-arrived magnificent stalk with sheer awe and complete reverence. Then, he watched, as the light-giving powers of Yhi turned the beautiful, fragrant stalk into Woman.