Speaking with Nature: Awakening to the Deep Wisdom of the Earth - Sandra Ingerman, Llyn Roberts 2015
Earth Goddess Nunkui - Llyn
Wild Plum Seed and Earth Goddess Nunkui
I loved Sandra’s story about Wild Plum Seed. How magical that those seeds found their way to Sandra’s garden to grow into trees that bear her favorite fruit.
Earth Goddess Nunkui is a wonderful complement to wise teacher Wild Plum. I was first introduced to forest spirit Nunkui many years ago when I co-led groups with John Perkins to visit a remote Amazonian tribe in Ecuador, accessed by small aircraft landing on a machete-shaven airstrip. The Shuar, unconquered by both the Inca and the Spanish, were headhunters who lived harmoniously with the forest.
Twentieth-century missionaries shifted Shuar lifestyles so that even remote tribes began to seek outside resources for their daily needs, such as for clothing to cover their bodies and school supplies for their children. Their population also increased beyond what the forest alone could sustain.
Today, historically undefeated Shuar warriors fight oil interests that threaten their ancestral lands. Juxtaposing both the loss of traditional Shuar ways and the threat of devastation to their rain forests is the earthy Shuar deity Nunkui, who nurtures all that grows.
Living under the earth by day, Nunkui tends the seedlings and roots of the plants beneath the soil. When night falls Nunkui spirals up and out of the earth like an unfurling seedling, or a water fountain, to nourish the burgeoning plants.
Untiring Nunkui goes unseen as she nurtures life underground, and it is too dark to watch her careful tending after dusk. No need for pomp or praise; Nunkui’s ecstasy is life itself.
When I muse with Nunkui here in the Pacific Northwest, I see her waist-length auburn hair dampened by dew and, clinging to it, bits of twigs and soil. She smells green to me, like the spongy forest mosses and luminous streambed plants.
Midnight-haired spirit of the forest Nunkui is of the Shuar. I am Celt and in kinship with a different forest.
The feminine spirit of the Earth has names and appearances that are as diverse as the lands and waters that span the globe. Not bound by geography, description, or even time, this revered goddess is ever here, and she is everywhere. We can entice her presence through our care for the Earth.
Feminine archetype Nunkui opens us to the Earth’s abundance and the mystery of what flourishes in the dark—children may grow an inch overnight, we restore through rest, and a dark night of the soul can transform us. Tragedy, and even death, can initiate a fresh cycle of life. I have found that Nunkui can enrich our own dark passages and also support us as we face the suffering of people, animals, and nature in the world today.
Here is a story of how the spirit of the forest, by whatever name we know her, helped me.
In the Hoh Rain Forest, I am blessed to have many old-growth maple and spruce trees near my cabin on the strip of private land where I live. When I first moved here, I used to walk and run through a second-growth forest near my cabin that borders the expansive, untouched old-growth areas that remain. This made me cry. Mature stumps sat as gigantic phantoms amid dwarfed, new-growth trees. The original forest must have been magnificent. It no longer existed.
I spoke to the stumps, the grandmothers and grandfathers, and shared my gratitude as well as my grief. I felt hopeless and angry as so many trees are still being cut, here and elsewhere. In many areas even the stumps that hold the genetic memory of old forest in the soil, to generate new life, are now being removed.
Amazon tribes engage in a noble fight to keep their trees standing. North Americans who help them may be shocked to discover how much of our own temperate cloud forest is being cut right here in Washington State, our trees felled primarily for foreign buyers.
Feelings are signposts. I honored mine. Yet I couldn’t get beyond my despair.
One day the woman of the forest showed up on my walk. From my bottomless pit of grief, through my tears, I saw her light as if for the first time—in the joyous, unstoppable growth all around me. Countless plants and trees—ferns, oxalis, hemlock, spruce, mosses, and more—brothers and sisters spiraled up from the rich dark soil, feeding on death, the genetic material of the old growth. Ecstatic life was everywhere, visible and palpable. So absorbed was I by loss that I had missed the beauty right in front of me.
I recalled a time long ago when a dear friend died and my tears wouldn’t stop. I learned then that those tears pouring from my eyes, and the grief that broke my heart, reflected the pure force of love I felt for my friend. So I dipped into that bottomless well of grief, knowing that it was love, and committed to generate more love to benefit the life in this forest and the life here that was yet to be.
I sang with this love and joy as I ran and celebrated with tree brothers and sisters, offering them good energy and strengthening my intention “to join people with nature.” Like composting food wastes to enrich the soil, the Earth Goddess recycled my difficult feelings into fortitude for what was growing and hope that we can revive the old forests.
Nunkui gives us hope and reminds us of the opportunities in personal pain and challenge. Her light shines when there seems to be no light; she is a guide through difficulties that can evolve us. The spirit of the Earth is an alchemical midwife who nourishes essence.
Nunkui is associated with the night, and each night unfolds the classic cycle of dark to light. She says, “Relax what you desire as well as what you fear. Rest in my spiraling movement and perceive the dark as light.”
We can tap in to the light of Nunkui in the dark every night by paying attention to our dreams and awakenings, and sensing what blossoms, or stirs, in the wee hours. As the light dims the veils of reality woven of personal and collective hopes, fears, and conditioning grow thin. The sacred that is always there is easier to see.
All aboriginal shamanic people I’ve met respect the potency of night. Those traveling on the vast expanses of the Asian steppe, which is known for bandits, or sleeping amidst wild animals in the Amazon wake to the sounds and bumps in the night as a natural protection. In the Amazon Basin, Mongolia, Tibet, and elsewhere, indigenous people wake to dreams and spirits and use the power of the night to pierce through to other worlds.
Nunkui says, “Open to the fertile night. Attune to me, spiraling and abundant muse.”
Nunkui, who coaxes seedlings to unfurl into the plants the Shuar rely on for food, is inseparable from nourishment. Legend tells that Nunkui sent a child to help the Shuar grow food on the land by their long houses when the plants they had wildcrafted from the forest and along the river grew scarce.
Like women of all original cultures, Shuar women still sing the ancient secret songs (anents for the Shuar) to the plants and Earth Goddess so the crops will thrive. Sandra shares beautiful insights about singing to the nature beings and land in her writings on Corn.
Interestingly, science notes that extra carbon dioxide is released when we sing, making plants in the vicinity grow more quickly. Sound waves can also positively affect growth; everyone’s heard that harmonious music helps our houseplants and crops to grow.
As validating as science can be, its tendency to dissect the mystery into parts and pieces can deny other subtle factors that encourage life to flourish.
A Shuar woman will tell you in simple terms: “When a woman sings the sacred anents as she tends her garden, Nunkui is happy and so, the plants grow.”
Shuar women invite and intensify the life force of the food they grow by carefully tending their plants while singing sacred anents to invoke Nunkui. The women’s piercing, high-pitched voices are beautiful and induce an expanded state within which they merge with the spirit of the forest. The Shuar know that life needs more than physical elements, and that it flourishes when the spiritual force is strong—when Nunkui is present.
As the women sing to Nunkui, they are Nunkui.
When we extend love and goodness to the Earth by singing, tending plants, being respectful, making offerings and ceremony, preserving nature, bestowing good sentiment, celebrating, and in other ways living peacefully with nature, we also can merge with this deep feminine spirit.
When Shuar women do not honor Nunkui, the spiraling movement of life, the Earth Goddess moves on to other tribes. The plants suffer and the family’s food source is in jeopardy.
Old tales say that Nunkui’s child taught the Shuar to make the mildly alcoholic beverage chicha, from manioc (yuca, cassava) root that the women chew and then spit into a gourd bowl. Chicha is the staple drink, served only by Shuar women. Shuar of all ages drink chicha, a thick, pleasant beerlike brew, throughout the day in lieu of fresh water, which locally contains too much organic matter to drink.
Nunkui’s child also taught the tribes to hunt and cook. The old ones say the Shuar were at first excited about all they learned, but later became greedy. Nunkui’s response was to take her child back. The Shuar learned from this tragedy. Mothers taught daughters to care for the gardens and maintain good rapport with the Earth spirit. Men were expected to hunt and cut trees in balance with nature and not take more than was needed.
The story of Nunkui who took her child back from the Shuar mirrors where we are now—cut off from the seed of life and the earth by greed and immaturity.
To restore stasis we care for the earth and strive to live in balance and engage her mystery. Deep trust returns to us as we do. Yet it is strikingly easy for us, even those who strive to stay close to the earth, to feel disconnected.
When I first began practicing shamanism and energy healing, many considered them cults. Over the years holistic interests grew. As Reiki and shamanism became widespread, I traveled more to teach, but the practice of accepting every teaching opportunity caught up with me. I flew in airplanes, ate in restaurants, and stayed in hotels far more than was good for me or felt good. What irony, as the shamans I knew were rooted in the earth and drew their power from the land, especially the land on which they were born.
During this time the Earth Goddess kept showing up in my dreams. She appeared in different forms and dream scenarios, yet her message to me was always the same: “Come back to the earth; sink your feet more deeply into her than ever.”
I listened and got my feet as deeply into the earth as I could.
Not everyone needs to live at the edge of the wilderness, yet we all need to touch the wild places that remain. They teach us how to revive the land, which also revives us.
Nunkui says, “Mature land and waters—and reverence for your own elders—have faded from your reality mirror. Only in maturing yourselves will the reflection of the old and wise return.”
When we open our hearts we hear the forest spirit’s voice. She appears in myriad forms and speaks in countless ways. Loudly, clearly this Earth Mother calls her children to come back to her now.
Many interpret the Shuar as saying that all women are Nunkui. Others say Nunkui is Mother Earth, or the spirit of the Earth, or the spirit of the forest. Still others say she is the plant seedling itself.
Nunkui is each, as well as all, of these. And she is more.
Indigenous people do not compartmentalize as we do. The seed and life force, as well as the spirit of life, the forest, and the earth—and the womb of the Earth and the womb of women where life is nourished—are not separate. All comprise the sacred feminine.
Nunkui nourishes under the ground by day and above the earth by night. We can invoke her spirit in our own gardens. If you don’t have a garden, find one to explore or go to a wild place in Nunkui’s honor to learn how plants and trees grow to maturity.
Also watch what grows every day where you live. Check each morning for changes and new life. See what the Earth Goddess has inspired in the night.
Give good energy to the plants you engage with and grow. Feel what it’s like to be part of a growing garden. Shuar women invoke Nunkui and also take loving care of their plants. Good energy is action as well as sentiment.
As Sandra speaks of tending your inner garden of thoughts and actions, also give your good energy to people, projects, and passions, as well as problems. Then put these aside at night as you rest in the fertile gap—the goddess’s realm of potential. The nourishment will continue under Nunkui’s care. Release to her tending. You may wake with an insight or dream the answer to your struggles.
How does the archetypal Earth spirit appear? How do you know her?
If you stir in the night, be curious. Consider rising before dawn to the muse’s spiral dance. Breathe and stay clear to feel her. The feminine spirit of the Earth is there, alive and radiant. In the space between dark and light, at the edge of awareness, she abides. Empty out your preoccupations and make space to know her.
We touch the movement of the sacred with our hearts and subtle senses. Nunkui is one with the rhythm of night, darkness, and life, all part of Earth’s mystery.
Another good way to connect with the mystery and attune to natural rhythms of night and day is to go without unessential electricity one day a week.
Light candles or ease into the dark instead of turning on lights. Cook on a woodstove or eat leftovers. In lieu of watching television or using the computer, tell stories. Or go out and walk barefoot, watch the sunset and speak with the plants, water, sky, animals, wind, and stone people; then listen in turn to the animals, insects, wind, and trees as they speak to you.
Day releases to dusk. Twilight becomes night. Night is deep and full, then morphs to dawn. Morning breaks a new day.
What blossoms in the fertile time of night? What feelings or experiences stir?
These simple practices wake up the life in us. The magic is always there.
In a dark time of the soul, ask the feminine spirit of the Earth to support you in using this experience to alchemize suffering into power and love. Nunkui can help. Just as fevers in children often precede visible behavioral spurts, our darkest periods of loss, illness, or chaos can make us strong, wise, and compassionate.
Call upon the forest spirit, or Earth Goddess. Offer her the rich humus of your pain and confusion. You can even dig a hole in the ground and offer food that symbolizes your angst. Offer from the heart, feel your pain—cry it, yell it, move it, offer it to the Mother. The Earth can compost this good energy.
Afterward, rest. Trust the unseen force. Feel the life force course through you.
Nunkui says, “The center point of dark is light.” When the light floods back in, share that feeling with the Earth. Plant some seeds. As she has put the life back into you, offer life back to her.
Chaos and pain unfold in every moment, as do life and love. As we honor our difficult feelings, they can lead us to the rich center of the dark, which is love. We can find nourishment in this deep well and also offer it to others in need.