Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime - Sacred Era of Creation
Sacred Era of Creation
Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime is as old as the land, it is the Sacred Era of Creation. For thousands of years, in the desert of central Australia, the Aranda Aboriginal people have occupied the area in and around what is now called Alice Springs.
The ancient belief system of the Aranda and other Australian Aboriginal groups is still adhered to today and is closely tied in to their spirituality. This belief is called the Dreamtime -- it is referred to as the "timeless time" of creation, the Sacred Era. Dreamtime, for the indigenous Australians, is Creation, which gives purpose or meaning to everything. The Different groups of Aboriginals give their own meanings to Dreaming. The Dreaming is a way for each group to establish rules of relationships between spirits, people, land and all Creation. Throughout Australia, there are several different language groups, and each group has their own Dreamtime stories. These stories are filled with significant truths related to a specific language group -- which is connected to their own landscape.
The Aboriginal beliefs are based in animism, in which all things have a spirit or soul. There is no separation between the spiritual realms and the physical world.
In normal dreaming (the English sense, or dictionary meaning), there is often a mix of things that have transpired during the day and brought together in a lump mass of confusion. Sometimes a person goes deeper and there is a spiritual quality to the dream -- images and conversations come in that may not have anything to do with the current life. These very possibly may be past life recalls, symbolism or even prophetic dreams.
Dreamtime for the Aranda people is a much different concept and has a specific, meaningful purpose and is very similar to intellectual property. In fact, the dream is owned by the dreamer. In the Aboriginal belief, a Dreaming story must be respected as the knowledge held by only the one who Dreamed it. No one else can portray in any way that Dreaming story without permission. These stories are the same as if an author had written them down, only they are passed down orally from generation to generation.
Australian Dreamtime Petroglyph
To a traditional Australian Aboriginal, all of life, even the unexplainable, is an immense and complex system of relationships which stem from the ancient ancestors family emblem, or totem -- the ancestral Totemic Spirit Beings of The Dreaming come down through the generations. The Totemic belief is that humans have a kinship with a spirit-being such as an animal or plant.
In the Dreaming, it is believed that the "spirit-child" exists for all eternity and only comes into the physical life when birthed by a mother. When in the fetus state there is no spirit till the fifth month of pregnancy. The very first time the mother feels the child in the womb move, the land she stands on at that very moment will be that part of the country the child becomes a custodian of. Once born, the child is taught from an early age all the stories and songlines of that particular part of the country. The "songlines" are dream tracks -- paths that cross the land where the creator beings left their mark during the Dreamtime. These paths, or songlines, are recorded in songs, stories, dance and painting by the child throughout his or her life.
The landscape is an extremely important part of Dreamtime. When an aboriginal has the knowledge of the marks on the land, left by the creator beings, they can then navigate the land over vast distances by singing their song in proper sequence. Even if they cross lands of a group that has a different language, this does not stop them from finding their way -- for it is the rhythm of the song that is crucial to knowing the right path to follow. The song describes the land and its particular marks, such as large depressions, which are believed to be footprints of the creator beings, like musical notes on a scale. Singing the song is "walking the songline", the right path.
A 19th Century Engraving of an Indigenous Australian Encampment
Map of Australia Showing the Land Formations
Footprints Record History of the Land
The Aboriginals believe every event that has happened has been embedded in the land, like a record of history. The world is in constant creation by actions of the ancestral totemic spirit beings -- their memories, universal ideas and interpretations are representations, patterns or a motif that shape the world.
The Noongar people in Perth believe that the Darling Scarp (the low escarpment that runs north-south in Western Australia) is the body of the Wagyl, the dreamtime serpent that created the Swan and Canning Rivers, other waterways and land formations. The Gagudju people of Arnhemland believe that this same escarpment was formed when Ginga, the crocodile man, turned to stone because he was burned in a ceremony. When he jumped into the water to save himself, he turned to stone. These happenings created a song at the time of a creation, such as when the Darling Scarp was created. Even though the two groups have a song of different words because their ancestral totemic spirit is different, the shape of the land forms the same rhythm.
It is very important to the traditional Aboriginal people to continually sing the song as they travel, for all land is sacred and must be kept alive through the song. This shows great respect to the creator beings.
Australian Darling Scarp From South West Highway Between Armadale and Pinjarra
Australian Dreamtime ~
The Rainbow Serpent
The Dreamtime story of the Rainbow Serpent is an excellent example of a songline. The Rainbow Serpent controls oils and waters, life's most precious resources. She is gigantic and lives in very deep, permanent waterholes. This serpent is very powerful and significant, for she is protector of the people in her part of the land. She also is seen as the one who punishes those who break the law. She is related to the land, water, life, social relationships and fertility.
In many cultures around the world there is the deity of the serpent. The Rainbow Serpent can be found in Native American cultures as well as in Australian Aboriginal beliefs. Each culture has their own name for their Rainbow Serpent. The Noongar people call her Wagyl. The Rainbow Serpent in Australia is the Supreme Creator of all on earth and in the Universe.
The land of the Rainbow Serpent is easily identified by the people. As she rose up from beneath the ground during Dreamtime (Creation), huge ridges, mountains, and gorges were created. The deep channels and gullies came into being as she meandered her way over the land in her snake-like pattern, causing the waters to collect and flow to other channels or gather in waterholes. When the Sun reflects upon the waters from certain angles it creates the colors of the Rainbow Serpent.
Rock painting of the Rainbow Serpent
Laws of Each Community
For each culture (community) of the Aboriginals, society social behavior and the structure of that society is determined, or established, by the Dreaming.
When the people are living according to the law, which is embodied in Dreamtime, and they are living the lore of the stories, then they are one with The Dreaming. They follow the lineages, sing the songs, dance the dances, tell the stories and paint the songlines.
© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns
More by this Author
Raven came from the Old World to North America over two million years ago. Raven represents the mystery of the unknown, death and transformation, he is a connection to the Otherworld.
Similar to the European werewolf, the rougarou is a man who can shape-shift, or transform, into a creature.
The nine Muses in Greek mythology have been an inspiration to art, philosophy and science since antiquity. Apollo is their teacher.