Huna (A Glimpse into the Shamanic Tradition of Hawaii)
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
The Huna tradition is a window into a much more ancient tradition which flows under most shamanic traditions. The appearance of shamanic traditions in various cultures can be viewed as flowers emerging from the same vine into different cultural environments. Different cultural contexts have tended to specialize in or preserve certain aspects of this underlying body of wisdom according to the needs of the environment. In Hawaii, much information from this deeper body of wisdom has survived inspite of the assaults on the tradition by various forces.
Huna is an expression, which has been translated in various ways, but the term “secret” comes closest to conveying the meaning. It was coined by Max Freedom Long, one of the first, and more well-known western researchers into the spiritual practices of the Hawaiian people. Long was picking up the thread of this ancient tradition in Hawaii after the spiritual practices of these islands had been pummelled by years of superstition, degeneration and attack.
Superstition was a by-product of the degeneration in the application of the wisdom contained in this tradition by the Hawaiians themselves, which had been going on since 1200 when the Hawaiians began applying these techniques in warfare. With the advent of the Christian missionaries who began operating in the islands in the late 1700’s, a more active and deliberate destruction of the the spiritual traditions of the islands ensued.
Nonetheless, when Long arrived on the scene, there were still, far underground, practitioners who were drawing upon the principles of the ancient tradition and applying them toward healing rather than destruction. The Christians had not managed to completely destroy the people’s participation in this body of knowledge because it had proven itself to be far more effective in healing than anything the Christians had to offer.
Information about the original vine from which the Huna, and other shamanic traditions have flowered is hard to come by in external transmission traditions, but there are bits of information from intriguing sources. In the late 1890’s, Long himself received a very interesting report from a Professor Stewart, who was a researcher into North African cultures after he published a report on Huna practices in the “Psychical Review‘, a periodical which was read by occult enthusiasts of the time.
In it, Stewart outlined some striking similarities in the oral traditions of the Berbers to the oral traditions of the Hawaiians. The Berbers are a group of people in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, who were isolated from the more dominant cultures in the region. He pointed out that both the Hawaiians and the Berbers speak of their people originating in a far-off land. Both peoples describe the land as having been green and lush before desertification set in. Both refer to this origination at a time lost to history. And both groups speak of their people departing from that place by way of the ‘Red Sea of Kane.’ In both cases, the departure was precipitated by the reports from divination of an intellectual and spiritual darkness which was to descend upon the world. Both groups report that the decision was made that 12 groups would depart this land and set off to far away places to try and preserve the secret practices during the time of darkness. Some set off south to Africa, others toward India, the Berbers to the Atlas Mountains, and, in the Hawaiian oral tradition, it is noted that empty islands in a vast sea were seen in a vision, and that is where the particular group that came to Polynesia set off toward.
Among the Berbers, Stewart reported, there is a separate language for ‘the secret’ which is different than the local language. The similarity in words in this language is similar to the Hawaiian words for the same concepts. Kahuna and Quahuna both refer to males who hold the secret knowledge. Kahuna wahini and quahini both refer to females who hold the secret knowledge. Akua and Atua both refer to the great universal principle or Godhead and Mana and Prana both refer to a certain type of power or life principle.
As remarkable as it is that so much has been preserved in the external transmission channels of the oral tradition, even more remarkable is the information that is is available to the student through internal transmission channels. In spite of the corruption of this information due to external events in the Hawaiian Islands, this information is readily available to students who pick up the inquiry through internal methods.
Within Huna there is long tradition of movement inward to obtain teaching and knowledge. The meditative or altered state is the vehicle for this inquiry. By starting with the Hawaiian language words and definitions for such concepts as ‘power’, ‘relationship’, and ‘self’, one can readily tap into the body of knowledge which is held in the more ancient tradition. Perhaps because there has been an active tradition of crossing the boundary between the seen and unseen for so long in the Hawaiian Islands, information flows quite readily from the deeper inner tradition to the student. Also, the intense natural beauty and the invasion of the six senses by the force and magnitude of the natural forces helps create a flow of information which is difficult at least for me to ignore.
The more ancient tradition contains a tremendous amount of knowledge about the use of non-physical powers in affecting physical manifestation. By starting with Hawaiian words such as ‘aka’ which is loosely translated as ‘etheric mind stuff’ and ‘mana’ which is loosely translated as ‘power’ one can begin to get information on the non-physical building blocks of material reality. Further inquiry in an altered state reveals methods for manipulating aka and mana to obtain desired physical manifestations.
In the work I facilitate within the Huna tradition, my students attain deeper and deeper levels in working with these concepts. Although my first teachers as a child were the plant spirits of Hawaii, it is the inner teachers from this older tradition who have trained and informed me through the window provided by the natural world of the Hawaiian Islands. I take people to the same places where I was tapped on the shoulder as a child, and I point them to the same patterns of light which emerged from natural world to me. In this way, people can have a direct experience of this deeper knowledge through the window of the Huna tradition with minimal coloring from my own filters of perception. The amount of understanding and knowledge which available through these channels is tremendous.
Naturally, one has to be very circumspect with this knowledge. In any shamanic or mystery tradition, there is always the possibility of the misuse of power. Whenever this knowledge is put into the hands of the personal will, degeneration will result. There is always a downfall of not only the individual using the knowledge in this way, but there is always a loss of integrity in the larger social and cultural context as well. In spite of the efforts of the ancients to shield this information from those who would put it to negative use, corruption of this information did take place in the Hawaiian Islands when it fell into the hands of those who sought to use it do harm.
Nonetheless, the light tradition of the older wisdom is still available through inner transmission and through external transmission lines which do not look to personal will as vehicle for this information. There are more and more practitioners, those who are native Hawaiian, mixed race and white, who are reclaiming the light tradition of this ancient knowledge to help overcome some of the very difficult social and cultural situations in Hawaii and in the world at large. Our roles as shamanic practitioners and spiritual teachers is, in many ways, to heed the way in which our own traditions create pathways to the deeper knowledge which is common to all our traditions.