Among the Maori, the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand,
(known by the Maori as Aotearoa) the spirits of the
dead played a prominent role, with the priests (or tohungas)
functioning in a manner quite similar to Spiritualist mediums.
Some were born with their gift. Others were devoted to the
priestly office by their parents and acquired their power after
the fashion of Eastern ecstatics, by prayer, fasting, and contemplation.
Prophets emerged among the Maoris during the early colonization
phase of the islands. As Great Britain established hegemony
in the land, her officials frequently wrote home that
the Maori would never be conquered wholly. Information of
the parties sent out to attack them, the color of the boats and
the hour when they would arrive, the number of the enemy,
and all particulars essential to Maori safety were invariably
communicated to the tribes beforehand by their tohungas.
The best prophets and seers among the Maori were female.
Christian missionaries tried to account for the extraordinary
powers they exhibited. For example, these women listened for
the sound of the spirit voice, a common designation that occurred
in their communion with the dead. Skeptical observers
suggested that the women who practiced such arts of sorcery,
were really ventriloquists; yet this attempted explanation
rarely accounted for the intelligence received.
In his book Old New Zealand (1863), F. E. Maning cites an
interesting case of tohungaism. A certain young chief had been
appointed registrar of births and deaths, when he suddenly
came to a violent end. The book of registries was lost, and much
inconvenience ensued. The mans relatives notified their intention
of invoking his spirit and invited General Cummings to be
present at the ceremony, an invitation he accepted. Cummingss
story continues as follows
The appointed time came. Fires were lit. The Tohunga repaired
to the darkest corner of the room. All was silent, save the
sobbing of the sisters of the deceased warrior-chief. There were
30 of us, sitting on the rush-strewn floor, the door shut and the
fire now burning down to embers. Suddenly there came a voice
out from the partial darkness, Salutation, salutation to my family,
to my tribe, to you, pakeha, my friend! Our feelings were
taken by storm. The oldest sister screamed, and rushed with extended
arms in the direction from whence the voice came. Her
brother, seizing, restrained her by main force. Others exclaimed,
Is it you Is it you Truly it is you! aue! aue! and fell
quite insensible upon the floor. The older women and some of
the aged men were not moved in the slightest degree, though
believing it to be the spirit of the chief.
Whilst reflecting upon the novelty of the scene, the darkness
visible and the deep interest manifest, the spirit spoke
again, Speak to me my family; speak to me, my tribe speak to
me, the pakeha! At last the silence gave way, and the brother
spoke How is it with you Is it well with you in that country
The answer came, though not in the voice of the Tohungamedium,
but in strange sepulchral sounds It is well with me;
my place is a good place. I have seen our friends; they are all
with me! A woman from another part of the room now anxiously
cried out, Have you seen my sister Yes, I have seen
her; she is happy in our beautiful country. Tell her my love so
great for her will never cease. Yes, I will bear the message.
Here the native woman burst into tears, and my own bosom
swelled in sympathy.
The spirit speaking again, giving directions about property
and keepsakes, I thought I would more thoroughly test the
genuineness of all this and I said, We cannot find your book
with the registered names; where have you concealed it The
answer came instantly, I concealed it between the tahuhu of my
house, and the thatch; straight over you, as you go in at the
door. The brother rushed out to see. All was silence. In five
minutes he came hurriedly back, with the book in his hand! It
It was now late, and the spirit suddenly said, Farewell my
family, farewell, my tribe; I go. Those present breathed an impressive
farewell, when the spirit cried out again, from high in
the air, Farewell!
This, though seemingly tragical, is in every respect literally
true. But what is that ventriloquism, the devil, or what!
Emma Hardinge Britten, in her book Nineteenth Century
Miracles (1883), notes
The author has herself had several proofs of the Mediumistic
power possessed by these savages but as her experiences
may be deemed of too personal a character, we shall select our
examples from other sources. One of these is furnished by a
Mr. Marsden, a person who was well-known in the early days
of New Zealands colonial history, as a miner, who grew rich
through spiritual communications. Mr. Marsden was a gentleman
who had spent much time amongst the Maoris, and who
still keeps a residence in the King country, that isthe district
of which they hold control.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. NEW ZEALAND
Mr. Marsden informed the author, that his success as a
gold miner, was entirely due to a communication he had received
through a native woman who claimed to have the power
of bringing down spiritsthe Maoris, be it remembered, always
insisting that the spirits descend through the air to earth to visit
Mr. Marsden had long been prospecting unsuccessfully in
the gold regions. He had a friend in partnership with him, to
whom he was much attached, but who had been accidentally
killed by a fall from a cliff.
The Spirit of this man came unsolicited, on an occasion
when Mr. Marsden was consulting a native seeress, for the purpose
of endeavouring to trace out what had become of a valuable
watch which he had lost.
The voice of the Spirit was the first heard in the air, apparently
above the roof of the hut in which they sat, calling Mr.
Marsden by his familiar name of Mars. Greatly startled by
these sounds, several times repeated, at the Mediums command,
he remained perfectly still until the voice of his friend
speaking in his well-remembered Scotch accent sounded close
to his ear, whilst a column of grey misty substance reared itself
by his side. This apparition was plainly visible in the subdued
light of the hut, to which there was only one open entrance, but
no window. Though he was much startled by what he saw and
heard, Mr. Marsden had presence of mind enough to gently put
his hand through the misty column which remained intact, as if its
substance offered no resistance to the touch. Being admonished
by an earnest whisper from the Maori woman, who had
fallen on her knees before the apparition, to keep still, he
obeyed, when a voiceseemingly from an immense distance
offyet speaking unmistakably in his friends Scotch accents,
advised him to let the watch alonefor it was irreparably
gonebut to go to the stream on the banks of which they had
last had a meal together; trace it up for six miles and a half, and
then, by following its course amidst the forest, he would come
to a pile which would make him rich, if he chose to remain so.
Whilst he was waiting and listening breathlessly to hear
more, Mr. Marsden was startled by a slight detonation at his
side. Turning his head he observed that the column of mist was
gone, and in its place, a quick flash, like the reflection of a candle,
was all that he beheld. Here the séance ended, and the astonished
miner left the hut, convinced that he had heard the
Spirit of his friend talking with him. He added, that he followed
the directions given implicitly, and came to a mass of surface
gold lying on the stones at the bottom of the brook in the depth
of the forest. This he gathered up, and though he prospected
for several days in and about that spot, he never found another
particle of this precious metal. That which he had secured he
added, with a deep sigh, was indeed enough to have made him
independent for life, had it not soon been squandered in fruitless
Many degrees of superstition exist among the Maoris,
states a writer in the Pall Mall Gazette. In the recesses of the
Urewera country for example, diablerie has lost little of its early
potency; the tohunga there remains a power in the land. Among
the more enlightened natives a precautionary policy is generally
followed; it is always wiser and safer, they say, to avoid conflict
with the two mysterious powers tapu and makuta. Tapu is
the less dangerous of the two; a house, an individual, or an article
may be rendered tapu, or sacred, and if the tapu be disregarded
harm will befall someone. But makuta is a powerful evil
spell cast for the deliberate purpose of accomplishing harm,
generally to bring about death. The tohunga is understood to
be in alliance with the spirits of the dead. The Maori dreads
death, and he fears the dead. Places of burial are seldom approached
during the day, never at night. The spirits of the
dead are believed to linger sometimes near places of burial.
Without going to experts in Maori lore, who have many and
varied theories to set forth, a preferable course is to discover
what the average Maori of to-day thinks and believes respecting
the strange powers and influences he deems are at work in the
world around him.
A Maori of this typewho can read and write, is under 40
years of age, and fairly intelligentwas drawn into a lengthy
conversation with the writer. He believed, magistrates notwithstanding,
that tohungas, somehow, had far more power than ordinary
men. He did not think they got that power from the
tiapo (the devil); they just were able to make themselves masters
of men and many things in the world. There are many degrees
of Tohungaism. An ordinary man or woman was powerless
against a tohunga, but one tohunga could overcome another.
The speaker knew of an instance of one tohunga driving the tohunga
power entirely out of a weaker rival. It was a fairly recent
east coast occurrence. Three Maoris had accidentally permitted
their pigs to trespass into the tohungas potato paddock, and
much damage and loss was the result. The tohunga was one of
the dangerous type, and being very wroth, he makutued the
three men, all of whom promptly died. Nobody was brave
enough to charge the tohunga with causing the death of the
men; they were all afraid of this terrible makuta. At length another
tohunga was heard of, one of very great power. This oracle
was consulted, and he agreed to deal effectively with tohunga
number one, and punish him for killing the owner of the pigs.
So, following his instructions, the first-mentioned individual
was seized, and much against his will, was conveyed to the home
of the greater magician. Many Maoris, it should be known,
stand in awe of hot water, they will not handle it, even for purposes
connected with cooking or cleaning. Into a large tub of
hot water the minor tohunga struggling frantically, was placed,
then he was given a page torn from a Bible, which he was ordered
to chew and swallow. The hot water treatment, combined
with the small portion of the white mans sacred volume, did
the expected work; the man was no longer a tohunga, and fretting
over his lost powers, he soon afterwards died.
Spiritualism in New Zealand
Among the earliest adherents to Spiritualism in New Zealand
was John Logan of Dunedin. Before he had become publicly
identified with the cause of Spiritualism, an association
had been formed, the members of which steadily pursued their
investigations in private circles and semi-private gatherings.
Logan became well known when he became the subject of a
church trial. Although holding a high position in the first Presbyterian
church of the city, he had been attracted to Spiritualist
circles and witnessed Spiritualistic phenomena. Rumors spread
around the small community that one of his own near relatives
was a very remarkable medium. On March 19, 1873, Logan was
summoned to appear before a church convocation, to be held
for the purpose of trying his case, and if necessary, dealing with
his delinquency. That was when he was deprived of his
In many of the principal towns besides Dunedin, circles,
held at first in mere idle curiosity, produced their usual fruit
of mediumistic power. This again was extended into associative
action, and organization into local societies. For over a year,
the Spiritualists and Liberalists of Dunedin secured the services
of Charles Bright as their lecturer. Bright had once been a
member of the editorial staff of the Australian Melbourne Argus,
and he had obtained a good reputation as a capable writer and
liberal thinker. Brights lectures in Dunedin were highly appreciated.
By their scholarly style and attractive manner they
served to band together those citizens who were not attracted
to orthodox Christianity, both the liberal dissenting element
and those attracted to Spiritualism.
In Auckland, the principal town of the North Island, the
same good service was rendered to the cause of religious
thought by the addresses of a Rev. Edgar, a clergyman whose
absorption of Spiritualist doctrines had tended to sever him
from more traditional churches and drew around him the Spiritualists
of the town.
NEW ZEALAND Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
Besides the work effected by these men, the occasional visits
of well-known personalities like Rev. J. M. Peebles and J. Tyerman
and the effect of the many private circles held in every
portion of the islands tended to promote a general, although
quiet, diffusion of Spiritualist belief and practice throughout
New Zealand. In 1879, a lecture tour by Emma Hardinge Britten
gave added impetus to public interest and discussion concerning
By 1930, the Spiritualist Church of New Zealand, headquartered
in Wellington, had branches throughout New Zealand.
One of the most prominent mediums was Pearl Judd,
who demonstrated direct voice phenomena in full light.
Interest in New Zealand in psychical research flared briefly
on the heels of the development of psychical research in Australia
in the 1870s; but as in the neighboring land, soon died
away. Only after World War II did interest revive. In the 1990s,
there was an Auckland Psychical Research Society and a branch
of the Churches Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual
Studies, as well as the Federation of Spiritual Healers. There
is also a New Zealand UFO Studies in New Plymouth.
Britten, Emma Hardinge. Nineteenth Century Miracles. New
York William Britten, 1884.
Maning, F. E. Old New Zealand. London R. Bentley, 1884.
Reprint, Auckland Whitcombe & Tombs, 1922.