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Post Publication Note, i.e., Hindsight: Shortly after the following article appeared in print, facts came to light that cast doubt on the truth of claims made by Marlo Morgan, who is the subject of my article and author of Mutant Message Downunder. Having read the opinion of a number of reliable sources and having had my own reasons to doubt Morgan's veracity, I have concluded that MORGAN'S ACCOUNT IS ENTIRELY FICTITIOUS and is somewhat more than a harmless fraud. If that controversy interests you, you may want to read my thoughts and what I know of the facts in a file elsewhere on this site, in a short essay titled "American Odyssey in the Fictitious Outback."
AMERICAN ODYSSEY IN THE OUTBACK
published in Uptown Express September 1993
She walked most of the day, making her way through the Australian bush, avoiding the highway. Her bare feet, tough from months of walking, made deep imprints in the black sand. Just as she glanced back, a gust of wind, seemingly from nowhere, swept across the sand erasing her footprints, erasing the only evidence of her having passed that way. As she reached the edge of the city, the brown falcon, her escort through most of her journey, appeared to make one last swoop over her head and was gone.
Yesterday she had had everything she needed: food, clothing, shelter, health care, companions, music, entertainment, support, a family and lots of joyful laughter--all free. But that was all behind her now as she approached an elderly man to beg for money.
"May I borrow a quarter? I just came out of the bush and must make a telephone call. I have no money. If you will give me your name and address, I will repay you."
His eyes were wide with disbelief, and he held his nose with one hand as he reached into his pocket with the other. Producing the coin, he quickly moved away.
Several hours later she was in a motel removing the ragged, wraparound garment that had been her only cover in the desert. She sank into the tub of hot water, where she remained for three hours, reveling in the miracle of modern plumbing, in the sensuous pleasure of the first bath she had had in more than four months. "I have a ritual now," says Marlo Morgan, "Each time I enter a new hotel room I kneel in the bathroom and kiss the floor. Don't ever take toilet paper for granted."
Morgan lectures, when invited, to anyone who cares to hear her story. The Australians had no interest, and she was somewhat surprised when friends in her native America clamored for a book. The result is Mutant Message, the story of her adventure in the Outback with a group of unique human beings as her guides, teachers and mentors. She does not seem to be at all concerned that there are those who do not believe her story. The message she brings, she says, is for those who want to hear it.
The name of the tribe that undertook the education of Marlo Morgan may be translated as "First," "Original," "Unchanged" or "Real." Morgan chooses to call them the Real People, and they chose for her a name that translates as "Changed" or "Mutant." At one time, they told her, everyone was Real, but now there are many Mutants, many who have changed.
Believed to be the only Aborigine tribe living in the way of their ancestors, freely roaming the vast otherwise uninhabited expanses of the Australian Outback, they are considered criminals by the Australian government. Their crimes include trespassing on government land, failing to register births and deaths and failing to report to the government reservation.
The Real People, says Morgan, believe that laughter is very important. "If you go to bed at night and haven't laughed," she says, "they think you should get up and find something to laugh about, and then you can go to sleep."
Morgan has apparently mastered the Aborigine gift for finding the humor in life. In her lectures about her experience, audiences chuckle at one anecdote and howl with laughter at the next. Descriptions of incredible hardships become straight lines for wry one-liners. If it's true that we learn better when we're having a good time, Morgan is a master teacher. The seriousness of her message is delivered with soft sincerity, the sad gravity of the moment relieved with her natural humor.
She recalls the telephone call she made when she emerged from the bush:
They said we'll send you money through the Western Union. Do you have some identification? I cracked up. I said no, I don't have a piece of paper, but boy I'm identifiable. I said tell them to be ready for this lady who hasn't had a bath in four months, she's wearing a rag, and she's got hoofs on her feet. And I went there at the Western Union. They were ready for me. They had a can of spray and they sprayed the money and they sprayed me.
º º º
It all began with a deceptively simple invitation, and nothing from her typical Midwestern American existence had prepared her for what she was to experience.
Dr. Marlo Morgan, a chiropractor with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, had been offered a position in Australia to help set up a health center. Her work was going well, and she had undertaken a volunteer project to improve the lives of urban Aborigines. This effort was very successful; thus, she was pleased, but not surprised, when she was invited to a meeting by a group of Aborigines. She was certain they had heard of her work in the city and wanted to honor her for the effort she had made on behalf of their people. She never questioned how word of her project with the Aborigines had reached the other side of the continent.
At the appointed hour, a young Aborigine pulled up to the curb in front of her hotel. After two hours in the open jeep, perspiration soaked her silk blouse, and her makeup had begun to melt in the 110-degree heat. The driver turned off the highway, the vehicle jolting across the uneven landscape till no road, no sign of civilization was evident. Four hours after leaving the hotel, they came in sight of a three-sided metal shed, isolated in the immense stretch of the Australian Outback.
In exchange for her elegant new clothes, her diamond jewelry and her handbag, she was given a much-used, ragged piece of cloth that wrapped her body and tied in front. Her belongings--everything she had brought with her, right down to her hairpins--were committed to an open fire. It was the beginning of the adventure that would impact her in such a way that her life could never be lived the same. She was to be honored not with an engraved plaque, but with a walkabout--a journey into the desert on foot. As she set out, she was certain she would be back in a few hours--certainly no later than the next morning.
Her only other option was to take the jeep and transport herself back to her hotel--but in what direction? They were a long way from any semblance of a road. So she trailed behind them as they walked in silent procession.
She soon learned that the mystifying silence of the long days of walking were not as asocial as appearance suggested. The Real People converse "head-to-head." Towards the end of her journey with them, she was taught this skill of communicating by mental telepathy. "It is the way humans were designed to communicate," says Morgan. "Different languages and various written alphabets are eliminated as obstacles when people use head-to-head talk. But it would never work in my world . . . where people steal from the company, cheat on taxes, have affairs. My people would never stand for being literally 'open minded.' There is too much deception, too much hurt, too much bitterness to hide . . . I learned, as long as I had anything in my heart or my head I still felt necessary to hide, it would not work."
These primitive, illiterate people are not like their urban kin. Indeed, Morgan found, only their lifestyle is primitive. Their philosophy, sense of community, and spiritual practice are far more advanced than anything she has experienced. Their community of 62 souls includes health-care workers, seamstresses, therapists, musicians, artists, chefs, custodians, and tool makers.
People in the tribe are self-named after their function in the group. Their names are Story Teller, Tool Maker, Secret Keeper, Sewing Master, and Big Music.
Morgan writes in her book, "Each child is named at birth, but it is understood that as each person develops, the birth name will be outgrown . . . one's name will change several times in a lifetime as wisdom, creativity and purpose also become more clearly defined with time." When someone decides to explore a new talent, she reports, perhaps switching from tool making to cooking, there is a celebration during which the new name is announced. All in the group who know something about cooking will share their knowledge with the self-appointed novice.
The health-care provider of the tribe, Spirit Woman, has a broad knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants. All members of the Real People community give great importance to the relationship between attitude and health. Their skills in "mind over matter" become very important when healing work is to be done. On one occasion Morgan observed the treatment of a broken leg and watched in wonder the next day as the patient rose and walked with the others.
In the course of the next four and a half months, she was to learn many things:
. . . that cooked grubworm tastes like pork rind
. . . that grubworm was at the aesthetic top of the natural menu
. . . that in the Outback you can use your hand for toilet paper and shortly thereafter use it to feed yourself--and not get a horrible disease
. . . that standing naked in the rain is an unexpected joy
. . . that unconditional acceptance is alive and well in the Outback
. . . that discomfort and pain can be transcended by focusing on other realities
. . . that gifts are unconditional, and if you care what the person does with the gift, it should be classified as something else
. . . that the futile attempt to control such things as bush flies can be advanta-geously surrendered to understanding their pur-pose
. . . that "You cannot hear the voice of Oneness when you are busy talking."
Morgan learned that the Real People for centuries have used the wild kangaroo apple as a contraceptive. Modern medicine uses it as a source of the steroid solasodine, a component of oral contraceptives.
"The Elder advised me," says Morgan, "that they feel very certain new lives brought into the world are meant to be welcomed, loved, and planned. New life for the Real People Tribe since the beginning of time has always been a consciously creative act. The birth of a baby means they have provided an earthly body for a fellow soul . . . The Elder confided to me that the random sexual behavior among some tribes, without regard for the resulting birth, was perhaps the most backward step mankind had taken."
The psychological well-being of every member of the group is given careful, sympathetic attention within the tribal community. Secret Keeper is there for anyone who needs someone to talk to. She gives no advice, but listens attentively, offering encouragement and comfort to those with issues to be worked out. Spirit Woman helps people understand the messages of their dreams.
After working with Spirit on one of her own dreams, Morgan was allowed to listen to another's dream. Tool Maker, an elderly man, had asked for a dream that would tell him of his muscle aches. He dreamed of a turtle that had lost legs on one side of its body and was lopsided. Spirit Woman talked him through his dream and, says Morgan, "He came to the conclusion it was time for him to teach someone else his trade. He once had loved the responsibility of being a master craftsman, but now there was less true enjoyment and more self-inflicted pressure . . . He had become one sided, no longer balanced in work and play."
"I saw him teaching others in the days that followed," Morgan continues," and when I asked about his aches and pains, . . . smiling he said, 'When thinking became flexible, joints became flexible. No pain, no more."
Disagreements are debated with the disagreeing parties standing facing one another. If they cannot reach resolution, they change places, placing their feet in the sandy footprints of their adversary, literally experiencing the view from the other side, seeing the other's viewpoint.
Being seated in a circle, for any reason, becomes an opportunity for self-examination, an opportunity to become a better person. Morgan states that the Real People believe that the person sitting directly opposite you in the circle is a spirit reflection of yourself. "The qualities you see in that individual, that you admire, are qualities within yourself that you wish to make more dominant," she explains. "The actions, appearances, and behavior that you do not like are things about yourself that need working on. You cannot recognize what you deem to be good or bad in others unless you yourself have the same strengths and weaknesses at some level of your being."
Literacy being one of her causes, Morgan was surprised to learn that the Real people do not want to learn to read. They believe it to be an unnecessary practice which creates lazy minds. Their history, their stories, their entire body of knowledge are memorized. They believe that committing these things to memory, rather than recording them on paper, develops a sharp, forever-young brain. Morgan observed that even those in their nineties showed no evidence of senility or loss of brain function. "Reaching 100 for the Real People," says Morgan, "means you know twice as much as you did when you were 50."
As her bare feet grew hooves of protection from the assault of scorching sand, beds of thorns and endless hours of walking, Morgan turned her attention from her long, matted hair and burn-encrusted skin. She began to see these people as far superior. She felt humbled and insignificant. As the weeks rolled into months, she learned that they are, after all, just people. They have arguments, disappointments, depression, elation, grief, compassion--all the very human emotions, with their accompanying joys and problems. What sets them apart from anyone she has known is the depth of their commitment to "Divine Oneness," to God.
The tribe lives their spirituality, explains Morgan. They live it as they breathe, as they work, as they walk across the endless expanse of sand. Morgan once asked if they had ever heard the word "Jesus."
"He is the Son of God," her respondent replied," our eldest brother, Divine Oneness in human form . . . Divine Oneness came to the earth many years ago to tell the mutants their way of life was incorrect. He told them lying, cheating, stealing, enslaving, murder were wrong. But the Mutants did not seem to listen. Even now they disregard the message and argue about the messenger."
As is universal among peoples throughout the world, the Real People have a story of creation that has been handed down through thousands of years. Peace Maker told the story to Morgan.
Divine Oneness created the light, the first sunrise shattering the total eternal darkness. The void was used to place many discs spinning in the heavens. Our planet was one of them. It was flat and featureless. There was not a hint of cover, the surface naked. All was silent. There was not a single flower to bend in air currents, nor was there even a breeze. No bird nor sound to penetrate the nonsound void. The Divine Oneness expanded knowingness to each disc, giving different things to each one. The consciousness came first. From it appeared water, the atmosphere, land. All temporary forms of life were introduced.
It was explained to Morgan that Creator Consciousness is in everything. "It exists in rocks, in plants, in animals, and in mankind. Humans were created, but the human body only houses the eternal part of us."
Morgan states, "Tribal belief says Divine Oneness first created the female, and that the world was sung into existence. Divine Oneness is not a person. It is God, a supreme totally positive, loving Power. It created the world by expanding energy."
"They believe man was made in the image of God, but not the physical image, because God has no body. Souls were made in the likeness of Divine Oneness, meaning they are capable of pure love and peace, have capacity for creativity and caretaking of many things. We were given free will and this planet to use as a learning place for emotions, which are uniquely acute when the soul is in human form."
The Real People see fear and faith as opposites. "If humans know about Divine Oneness and understand that the universe is not a haphazard event, but is an unfolding plan, they cannot be fearful," they told Morgan. "You either have faith or fear, not both." They believe things generate fear--the more things you have, the more you have to fear, and eventually you are living your life for things.
The tribe honors an individual's decision to die, to sit in the open, stop nourishment and end their worldly existence. "You can't really kill something eternal," they said. "You did not create it, and you can't kill it." Since they believe in free will, including the belief that the soul freely chooses to come here, they are mystified by the idea that rules could be made that would say one cannot go home when one chooses. The decision, they believe, is not made by the earthly personality, but rather by an "all-knowing self" at the eternal level.
One evening in a talk with Sewing Master, Morgan was surprised at the astute observation of a woman who "has never read a newspaper, seen a television or listened to the radio."
It seems business has become a hazard to Mutants. Your businesses were started so people could get better items collectively than they could get of themselves and as a method to express talent, and become part of your money system. But now the goal of business is to stay in business, it seems so strange to us because we see the product as a real thing, and people as real things, but business isn't real. A business is only an idea, only an agreement, yet the goal of business is to stay in business regardless. Such beliefs are difficult to understand.
Their way of life disappearing, the Real People do not want to leave without someone knowing why, without someone from outside their world experiencing their way of life, the life their people have had for 50,000 years. Morgan was chosen for this experience, perhaps because her work with the urban Aborigines showed openness on her part, or perhaps because she is American. The predominant Australian mindset is very similar to America's pre-civil-rights rigid belief that black people are hopelessly inferior.
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The Real People know about global warming, and they know that, as temperatures in the desert reach 135º, snakes and other creatures who have been a food source will disappear, and the water will disappear.
They told her that humans cannot make oxygen; only the trees and plants can do that. The message she was to bring back is simple: We are "destroying the soul of the earth."
"I now know we each have two lives," says Morgan, "the one we learn by and the one we live after that."