The Strange Case of Marlo MorganOctober 6, 2010
Back in the days before the internet took off as an effective means of opposing new age fraud, an American woman, Marlo Morgan, pulled off possibly the most brazen, stupid and above all, bizarre scam in the long history of bizarre new age scams.
It’s a story that illustrates the damage that can be done by a “positive” message. The entire indigenous population of Australia had its identity quite literally stolen, and suffered a form of cultural assassination. And of course, tens of millions of fans world-wide lost their cash and believed a whole lot of utterly fake information.
Very simply stated, Marlo Morgan travelled to Australia in the late 1980s and returned with a bizarre story about meeting a hitherto unknown Aboriginal tribe, travelling with them through the desert for about three months, learning their secrets and being chosen by them to be the final guardian of their culture and their messenger to the world.
In fact the tribe doesn’t exist and Marlo actually spent her time working in a pharmacy in Brisbane, not wandering about in the desert. Aborigines themselves found her writings so offensive that they have unanimously demanded that Morgan admit the fraud and acknowledge that she does not speak for Aborigines.
Her self published “non fiction” account, Mutant Message Down Under, was a run away success in the US. Harper Collins recognised its potential, bought the rights and relabeled it “fiction” to avoid prosecution. Morgan wrote a Note From the Author assuring readers that the story was true — a statement which she seems herself at times to believe, but which her publishers see as part of the fiction. The book was a massive hit with New Agers. She appeared on Oprah, and her extraordinary story crossed over into the mainstream. Her bestseller was eventually translated into 26 languages.
Morgan reports that she was invited by the Australian Government to go to Australia and do “health work”. After helping a group of Aborigines she receives a mysterious invitation to an award ceremony somewhere in the desert. She is driven there by a mysterious driver and meets a mysterious tribe calling themselves the Real People, who make her throw her clothes and belongings into a fire. They instruct her to travel with them through the desert. They set off and Marlo receives horrendous cuts to her feet from walking over “razor-sharp” spinifex grass. She notices her tribe remain uninjured because of their hardened feet. By this point at the latest, Australian readers know there’s something wrong with this story.
It’s the grass that kind of prickles a little as it brushes against your legs when you walk through the dunes to an Australian beach. Spinifex, as you can see, grows in clumps. So what on earth was Marlo doing to injure her feet so horribly? Leaping from clump to clump? The Real People used a “special healing oil” to heal her feet. (Morgan was later selling this oil (tee tree oil) to her adoring fans back in the US.)
Her story becomes ever more bizarre. Her tribe tells her they have until now avoided contact with civilisation, including other “civilised” aboriginal tribes. She is the first “outsider” the Real People have contacted since long before the invasion and settlement by Europeans. No doubt that explains why the Real People have virtually none of the culture, traditions, customs or social relationships one would normally expect to find among Australian Aborigines. And maybe it is due to Divine Oneness, which the Real People regularly invoke, that their philosophy and lifestyle are virtually identical to pasty New Age clichés, popular New Age depictions of Native American culture, and, as several other critics have noticed, Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series.
Maybe their isolation from other Aborigines over many centuries explains why the Real People regularly commit acts which would traditionally have led to the death penalty. Men’s and women’s knowledge and rituals, for example, are strictly separated. Yet Morgan learns mens ritual and sacred teachings, and even reports women using menstrual blood to “heal” men’s wounds.
Aboriginal groups are characterised by highly complex social structures which are of course known to each other and respected as a matter of course. Morgan’s Real People, on the other hand, have none of this complexity, forming an amorphous free-form glob. And of course, they communicate using mental telepathy, a skill which “fallen” modernised Aborigines have lost.
Just as unexpected is Morgan’s depiction of life in the desert. Wandering about in the Nullabor Plain in the middle of summer without water and without even a hat is a very quick way to die. But Morgan’s tribe do it, and they love it. They have magical powers and they can survive.
One reviewer, Chris Sitka, notes:
Marlo claims to have been taught many wisdoms by her guides. Yet she describes virtually none of the regular spiritual practices and day to day activities of actual desert people….Her people were not performing their ritual obligations. Instead of singing for the country they gave what Marlo describes as ‘a concert’….People ‘sing their country’ in ancient chants accompanied by dance and sometimes sand drawings. Instead of experiencing and sharing with us her observations of such activities Marlo describes a very Western like concert for which her clan manufactures instruments never used in Australian traditions such as wind chimes and flutes. What’s more they include in the concert a bullroarer which is a highly sacred instrument which women are forbidden to listen to. However it did appear in a Crocodile Dundee movie which may account for Marlo’s familiarity with it. Likewise the percussive instrument of Australian peoples are the clapping sticks. They do not and did not use drums. Yet Marlo has them making drums.
Morgan recounts how they came upon a water hole and her first impulse was to jump in. The Real People were wiser and told her to wait while they sat and meditated before the water hole. Soon two large crocodiles emerged from the water hole and waddled away, leaving Morgan free and safe to enjoy the water at her leisure.
Now, it is true that there are many dangers in vast desert areas like the Nullabor, but being eaten by a crocodile is NOT one of them. Any croc would have to traverse a couple of thousand miles of burning desert sands in order to inhabit such a water hole. Some commentators have evoked quantum physics to explain such events as these.
One only needs to read a Quantum Physics textbook to delve into the strange, mystical world of sub-atomic particles. None of the seemingly extra-ordinary events depicted in Mutant Message Down Under can be refuted by modern science…
Sorry, but the crocodile is not widely considered by physicists to be a subatomic unit. And if they did suddenly start appearing from nowhere, it would actually cause some substantial revisions to modern science.
The fun continues, as Morgan recounts her wandering over vast tracts of desert. The light brown area shown here is the kind of area she claims to have roamed about in. (For scale, the light brown area is about 1,000 x 1,500 miles.) While it may look plausible that a small tribe could wander about for centuries in that light brown area without bumping into anyone else, the reality is different. Apart from the fact that environmental degradation has made it virtually impossible to obtain sustenance from the land, Morgan was ignorant of an essential aspect of the culture she claims to know so much about.
Here’s a map showing Aboriginal territories.
Morgan’s journey would have taken her across dozens of tribal boundaries and her tribe would be bound by tribal law to request permission before entering any of these areas. Her tribe never does this. Nor is there any part left for the vaguely described territory Morgan’s tribe claim as their own.
The climax of the story comes as the Real People reveal to Morgan the true reason for “calling” her from the US.
Their “time” has come. They have fulfilled their duty to the planet, and they now wish simply to die out. They have chosen Morgan because of her “special abilities” and “good character” to learn their culture and master their spiritual traditions. The last “true Aborigines” have committed themselves to extinction through celibacy, and they have chosen a manic depressive middle aged American as the final guardian of their culture and their messenger to the world.
And tens of millions of people around the world believe it.
Aborigines, the real three dimensional ones, the ones whose ancestors left Africa more than 50,000 years ago, and who are still struggling to survive in the face of 200 years of systematic genocide, are not happy about this at all.
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