The Dreamtime is a widely used, but not well understood, term describing
key aspects of Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and life. Following is
an extract from an book by Geoff Moore. "Myth,
Mystery and Meaning of the Dreamtime". It explores the
Dreamtime through elements of philosophy; psychology; spirituality,
lore and secrecy that were the basis of the beliefs and practices
of pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians. He is the facilitator of the
History and Culture Research Project.
"The Aborigines learned about the origins of the tribe through
their Dreamtime creation myths, that told of the significant actions
of the creators. The myths were the basis of Aboriginal society and
were responsible for providing certainty about existence. They contributed
to their survival and it is beyond dispute that they survived for
thousands of years. The Australian aborigines believed that the land
they occupied was once vacuous - empty. This belief was a source of
great mystery to them. It was also a great truth that was known with
absolute certainty, because the ancestors had said this was the way
things once were. Then, during what has become known as the Dreamtime,
the land, the sky above and all they contained were formed by the
actions of supernatural and mysterious beings.
"The concept of the Dreamtime was first researched by Spencer
and Gillen in their study of the Arunta (Arrernte) tribe of Central
Australia. They came to understand the words Alchera and Aldjeringa,
as identifying a 'creative period'. Other tribes had words in their
language for the same concept. As communication between the Arunta
people and the non-Aboriginal scientists improved, it became apparent
to them, that the aborigines understood the Dreamtime as a beginning.
Here it is pointed out that there is a significant difference between
Aboriginal thinking and that of others. In particular the belief that
the Dreamtime is a period on a continuum of past, present and future.
"Aboriginal people understood the Dreamtime as a beginning that
never ended. In one sense it was the past, the sacred past. But as
Spencer and Gillen found, the word Tjurjunga was also associated
with the Dreamtime. Tjurjunga identified a category of belief
and action. A concept that will become more obvious as we proceed
through this book. For the moment, it is sufficient to say that Tjurjunga
identified the belief that the Dreamtime never ended.
"The Dreamtime itself has been explained in a number of ways.
Various explanations refer to creators who were mysterious and supernatural
beings. They include references to men and women 'just like us' who
had the ability to shape-change into animals and other fauna; creators
such as the Rainbow
Serpent and also All-father and All-mother figures.
There have also been references to the creators as heroes and heroines.
The essential point is that each tribe had a collection of Dreamtime
creation stories. In other words there were desert, mountain, alluvial
plains and seacoast Dreamtime stories.
"Land itself was an icon because of the spiritual basis on which
it was created and the fact that some of the creators continued to
live in the land, or in the sky above watching over them. Broadly
speaking they told of creative actions that resulted in the formation
of the earth, the sky above and all they contain. Every hill, water
hole and tree, every animals, bird and marine life along with every
other living creature and natural phenomenon was believed to have
come into existence in the Dreamtime.
"It was during the Dreamtime that the creators made men and
women, decreed the laws which all must obey - their behavior to one
another, the customs of food distribution, the rules of marriage,
the rituals of initiation and the ceremonies of death which must be
performed so that the spirit of the dead would travel peacefully to
his or her spirit-place.
"Although the Aborigines believed that the Dreamtime was a
beginning that never ended, some of their stories told them that the
mythical creators disappeared. Here it is tempting to say that they
believed that at an inexplicable point of time the Dreamtime ended,
but this is not what they aborigines believed. They believed that
the creators disappeared from the sight of mere mortals, but continued
to live in secret places. Some lived in the tribe's territory in rock
crevices, trees and water holes. Others went up into the sky above
as heavenly bodies. Others changed into (or perhaps became) natural
forces such as wind, rain, thunder and lightning."