My own acceptance of and belief in Io is supported by the written evidence, especially the 1852 evidence of Richard Taylor, but is based on an oral tradition, the Ngaaphi oral tradition, as given to me by Maori Marsden. Maori's acceptance of the Io tradition went back to his grandfather who was himself a priest of the Io school. His grandfather was born about 1790, was a signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi and died in 1908. Maori himself was tohied, 'consecrated and dedicated', by a group of elders when he was about 8 years old.

Maori Marsden in 1975 speaks in detail of the oral tradition about Io, the Supreme God, taking as a basis the tradition of the Ngaapuhi wananga, 'school of learning', and modifying it by the tradition of his own tribal elders and his observations of other tribes.

Cleve Barlow also calls on his experience in a Ngaapuhi wananga in speaking of Io as the Supreme God who created all things.

In my own acceptance and understanding of Io, I am almost completely indebted to Maori Marsden and his presentation of Io.


Speaking of the nature of Io, Maori Marsden talks of Io as "both Being-itself and absolute Nothingness. That is, He is truly infinite, encompassing within himself both the absolutely Positive and absolutely Negative".

Io is both Passive and Active. In his passive state he is referred to as Io-Mata-Moe Io of the Slumbering Countenance', Io-Mata-Ane 'Io of the Calm and Tranquil Countenance , Io-Kore-Te-Whiwhia 'Io the Unchanging and Unadulterated in whom there is no confusion and inconsistency'. But he is also Io-Mata- Aho, 'Io of the Glorious Blinding Countenance', Io- Mata-Kaakaa 'Io of the Flashing Countenance."

Io is Io-Roa 'Eternal', Matua-kore 'Parentless', Matua 'First Parent', Io-Mua 'The Precursor'.

Io is Creator of all things, both Origin and Originator. Io-Taketake 'Foundation', Io-Te-Pukenga 'Io the Prime Source', Io Waiora 'the Fountain-head of Life, Maataa-wai 'The Head Waters'.

Io is Omnipotent. Io Nui 'Almighty', Tikitiki o Rangi 'Supreme One of Heaven', Te Toi o nga Rangi 'Pinnacle of Heaven'.

Io is Omnipresent. Io Uru 'The Diffuse and Ubiquitous', Mata-Kana 'The all-seeing, Omnipresent'.

Io is Sacred and Mysterious. Io Tapu 'Holy', Matangaro 'Hidden'".


Maori Marsden also gives the story of creation as understood by those brought up in the Io tradition of Ngaapuhi. In his notes he speaks of the process of creation as taking place over a period of twenty-seven nights or aeons and he divides this process into stages, following the Io genealogies. In the following account I bring together material from his notes.

This particular creation genealogy begins with Io.

I. Io-Matua-kore:- Io the Parentless who was the Always Existent without beginning or end. Io-Taketake:- Io the Root Foundation of all things. Io-Wananga:- Io the Source of all Wisdom.

II. Then Io-Taketake begat Te Korekore - a double negative, the Absolute Nothingness. Te Korekore Te Rawea - the Absolute Nothingness which could Not be Wrapped up. Te Korekore Te Whiwhia - the Absolute Nothingness which could Not be Bound. Te Korekore Te Tamaua - the Absolute Nothingness which could Not be Fastened. Te Kowhao - the Abyss. Te Poo - the Night. Io lived eternally i Te Korekore, 'in the Absolute Nothingness'.

The Korekore is a double negative, a double kore.

According to Maori Marsden, to the Maori mind, the doubling of kore. meant

...not simply 'non-being', or annihilating nothingness, though it includes this meaning, but it went beyond this. By means of a thorough-going negativity, the negation itself turns into the most positive activity. It is the negation of negation. Te Korekore is the infinite realm of the formless and undifferentiated. It is the realm not so much of 'non-being' but rather of 'potential being'. It is the realm of Primal and Latent energy from which the stuff of the Universe proceeds and from which all things evolve.

Te Korekore 'the Void', Te Kowhao 'the Abyss', together with Te Poo, the numerous 'Nights', were

...the realm of the Potential, the seed-bed of Creation brooding, expectant, waiting for the Wind of the Spirit to bring into being what had to be energised by His Spirit.

This was the space-time framework, the space (void and abyss) - time (the nights) continuum, in which the cosmic process could begin to operate.

Then Io seeded Te Kore and Te Kowhao laying down the root foundation of all things.

III. Te Kowhao begat: Te Pu - the Taproot, Te Weu - the Secondaries, Te More - the Hair-roots, Te Rito - the Shoots, Te Aka - the Vine.

Te Pu, 'the Foundation Tap Root' sent forth its secondary roots and hair-roots, an insensate movement towards being and self- realization. This was the beginning of the process."

IV. Te Aka begat: Te Rapunga - the Seeking. Te Whainga - the Pursuit, Groping towards. Te Kukune - the Stretching and Elongation. Te Pupuke - the Enlarging. Te Hihiri - Elemental and Pure Energy.

The original seed, placed in Te Kore and Te Kowhao, the Nothingness and the Abyss, contained the Mauri, 'life-principle' which impelled the seed to send forth the roots to begin their quest to fulfill the latent urge towards being. Thus Te Mauri begat Motion and each begat in turn Te Rapunga, Te Whainga, Te Kunekune, Te Pupuke, Te Hihiri, 'The Roots, Seeking, Pursuing, Lengthening, Increasing and Culminating in Pure Energy'. Thus the Realm of Te Hihiri, 'Pure Energy' was established where the processes based upon a complex series of rythmical patterns of energy were put into motion.

But how can this process become purposeful and meaningful to direct the potential towards achieving authentic being?

V. Te Hihiri begat: Te Mahara - the Subconscious. Te Hinengaro - Deep Mind, Te Whakaaro - Consciousness. Te Wananga - Knowledge and Wisdom. Te Whe - Seed Word.

From te Hihiri, 'Pure Energy', the new process, a dramatic departure appeared. The subconscious harking back to its creator began to stir and grope its way forward towards Te Whakaaro and emerged into Te Wananga. Now the whole process has purpose. With Whe and Wananga, with 'sound' and 'knowledge', that is, wisdom, the transition from the spiritual World to that of the natural World was now possible.

Te Whe, 'sound', was always associated with Wananga. Wananga when standing alone means to discuss, debate, impart knowledge. When associated with Te Whe, it means 'wisdom'. Te Whe, 'sound' represented the word in embryo, or the seed word. It was the Kahu, 'dress', in which alone the seed word could be clothed and articulated, then thought may be conceptualised and expressed in word." Te Whe and Wananga were each indispensable to the formation and existence of the other."

VI. Te Hauora - the Breath of life. Te Atamai - Shape. Te Ahua - Form.

The birth of Word and Wisdom now made, Io infused Te Hauora, the Breath or Spirit of Life, into the cosmic process and this gave birth to Atamai and Ahua - 'Shape' and 'Form'. So the birth of the material natural world of sense perception was set in train by the infusion of Hauora, the Breath or Spirit of Life. This was the moment of conception, the moment when mauri-ora, the divine life-force, was infused into the processes which had been planted within the realm of Tua-uri, 'the world behind our sense experience', in the Void and Abyss at the beginning of the first night. This mauri-ora as the divine life-force must be distinguished from the mauri as a principle which activated the original process climaxing in pure-energy - Hihiri.

VII. From Te Atamai and Te Ahua came Wa and Atea - 'Time' and 'Space':- Te Wa - Time. Te Atea - Space.

Now with the mauri-ora, 'life-force' of the Spirit present, Word and Wisdom as the agents for the creation of Te Aro-Nui, the world seen by our senses, could begin to create Rangi and Papa and the myriad shapes and forms together with Wa and Atea, 'Time' and 'Space'. Time and Space became the framework into which Rangi (Heaven/Sky) and Papatuanuku (Earth) emerged out of Te Ao Wairua, 'world of Spirit', into broad daylight, into the world of sense- perception.


An essential element in the process was the mauri, the energy or life-force which was needed to bring it about, and is still needed to keep it in being and to bring it to completion.

A distinction was made between the mauri, 'essence' or 'life force', by which all things cohere in nature, and the essence of the human being, the mauri ora, the 'living essence'. According to Maori Marsden, the mauri or 'essence' "was originally regarded as elemental energy derived from the realm of Te Korekore, 'The Nothingness', out of which the stuff of the universe was created."

The priests of the Io tradition believed that when they acted together they could control that energy.

Two sources of the material energy which we recognize today are gravity and nuclear power. Even when we think we are standing still the force of gravity is drawing our planet and us around the sun at something like 1800 kilometres a minute. While the nuclear energy in the sun is "burning hydrogen into helium like a controlled H-bomb".


The Io creation genealogy goes a long way back. The Taylor manuscripts (1855) provide some parts of the Io creation story. There is reference to Te Pu, Te More, Te Weu, 'the Primary Root, the Tap Root, the Fibrous Roots'. There is reference to Te Hauora, the 'Living Breath', producing the sky. There is also reference to Te Kune, Te Pupuke, Te Hihiri, Te Mahara, Te Hinengaro and Te Manako, 'the Conception, the Increase, the Thought, the Remembrance, the Consciousness' and 'the Desire', and there is reference to the Nights.

Another genealogy, published by John White in 1889 is close to that given by Maori Marsden:

Te Kore, The Nothingness, Te Po, The Night, Te Rapunga, The Seeking, Whaia, Following, Te Kukune, The Conception, Te Pupuke, The Swelling, Te Hihiri, The Elemental and Pure Energy, Te Mahara, The Subconscious, Te Hinengaro, The Deep Mind, Te Manako, The Desire, Te Wananga, The Wisdom, Te Ahua, The Form, Te Atamai, The Shape, Te Whiwhia, The Possessing, Rawea, The Being Bound, Hopu Tu, The Possessing Power, Hau Ora, The Breath of Life, Atea. Space.


The normal way for finding out who we are, in the Maori world, is to return home, to our land, to our people, and to be welcomed home, in our own Meeting House. In this way we can become one with the living and one with those who have died. Here we can find out who we are. The karanga, the welcome call of the women, is a call from the whole family, both living and dead. The moving into the meeting house is a moving into the kopu, the womb, of the family so that we can be renewed, be born again into the family.

I suspect the normal way for coming to grips with Io is not in the Meeting House, but on our own, away from people. We are told "that the name of Io was not mentioned under a roof, but only out in the open." Perhaps it is in the open that we can begin to experience our own littleness and the littleness of our world, compared to the size of the universe. Then as we begin to realize something of the mauri, the energy which moves the universe, we can begin to realize something of Io, Io Taketake, 'Io the Root Foundation of all being', Io Wananga, 'Io the Source of all Wisdom. Io is the source of the material energy, the material life-force, the mauri which forms and shapes and gives life to the material universe. Io is the source of mauri ora, the spiritual energy, the life-force which is the source of our life as conscious, knowing and willing beings.

The Double Spiral

One way of symbolizing Io, the universe and the human person and our knowing of these realities is, for me, the double spiral, which is itself a symbol of light and knowledge.

The knowing I am speaking of is the knowing that comes from the experience of these realities especially in ritual and in the use of the karakia. This is a knowing beyond space and time, a knowing in the 'eternal present' of ritual, the knowledge from the third basket of knowledge, te kete tuaatea, 'the basket beyond space and time'. This knowledge can also be seen as an experience of oneness - of the person and people; of the person and the cosmos; of the person and Io. And so it can be seen as taking place on three major inter-related levels or stages - on the level of the human person; on the level of the cosmos; on the level of Io.

Three Levels or Stages

The first level is that of the human person.

On this level the double spiral can be seen as symbolizing both the individual person and the whole people. We each begin from the centre of the spiral, from the nothingness, and as our lives expand and unfold each section of the spiral represents some stage of our lives. The stages take place over space and time. Yet in our consciousness and memory we hold them together. We are our present stage and we are our past. There are many individuals, many spirals.

The many individual spirals can become one. Each person can become one with other people, not just of the present, but also of the past. So Paura Tuhaere, giving his genealogy and speaking of the history of his Ngaati Whaatua people, can say: 'I, Ngaati Whaatua'. This oneness is experienced particularly in ritual and in the use of the karakia. In the ritual we are Rata, we are Taawhaki, and the girl, even before she is born, is identified with Hine, the first woman, and with all women. This is the beginning of our tapu as a human person.

The whole movement of the human person to be one with all people, as our conception, life in the womb and birth, is a movement 'from the nothingness, into the night, into full daylight'.

The second level is that of the cosmos.

As the spiral symbolizes the unfolding of the human person so it also symbolizes the unfolding of the cosmos, not just the galaxy as we know it today, but also the millions of galaxies that make up the cosmos. At its core there is a 'singularity', where there is neither space nor time. The whole universe comes out from that point, i te kore ki te poo ki te ao maarama, 'from the nothingness to the night to the world of light'. This process has already taken millions of years:

`From the first division of time unto the tenth, and to the hundredth, and to the thousandth, all was darkness.'

We ourselves are at one point of the spiral, towards the edge of our own galaxy and coming into being long after the process had begun. Yet in ritual and through the karakia, the 'ritual chants', one with the ancestors and speaking their words, and one with the spiritual powers to whom we are dedicated, we can identify with the whole process, at its beginning, at the 'singularity', and in its unfolding right up to now.

The identifying with the beginning of the universe was expressed, at least for the people of higher ranking, at the ritual followed shortly after a child was conceived. The mother would be taken down to the river and a small mound of earth would be built up beside the river. The mound of earth represented both the universe coming up out of the waters, the defined coming up out of the undefined, and the child coming out of the waters of birth.

Also we have already seen, with the karakia e kau ki te tai, how the karakia can give a cosmic significance to our actions, linking our actions with the actions of the ancestors and with the whole movement of the universe.

The third level is that of Io

The double spiral is also, for me, a symbol of Io and the universe, and a setting for all the karakia. Io is at the core, at the centre point of the spiral, and is the source of its mauri, its energy or life-force. At the same time Io is at every point of the spiral.

Io is Io-Matua-Kore, Io the Parentless, Io-Taketake, Io the Root Cause of all. Io is the fulness of being. In Io there is no potentiality. In Io, therefore, tapu and mana are one. The sign of mana, as we have seen when talking of mana, is the ability to manaaki, show hospitality, the ability to give. In this understanding of mana, to be is to give. Io, the fulness of being, is also the fulness of giving. The universe is itself the sign of that mana, the sign of the giving of Io, a giving which is absolute and universal.

At the centre of the spiral, beyond space and beyond time, is also Wananga and Whe, Knowledge and Sound, the Wisdom which processes from Io and which reverberates throughout the universe, giving purpose and meaning to all things. At the centre, too, and processing from Io, is te Hau Ora, the Breath or Spirit of Life, the source of all mauri, of all energy and life, giving shape and form, and unity, to all things.

To Be Fully Human

To be fully human is also to be at the centre of the universe, beyond space and beyond time. To be fully human is to be one with the human race, the people of the past, as well as the people of the present. To be fully human is to be one with the universe and to take part in the whole movement i te kore, ki te poo, ki te ao maarama, 'from the nothingness, to the night, to the full daylight'. To be fully human is to be one with Io, at the centre and at every part of the universe, whether in the 'dark night', or in the 'dark light' spoken of by some of the Western mystics. Te Tangata - the Human Person. Return to Io - the written evidence Return to intro. What is Maori Theology Return to Maori theology home page