Dreamtime

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Illustration entitled “The Dream of Gilgamesh” by John Campbell, 1912. Fortean Picture Library.

Dreamtime

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Australian Aborigines trace their religion into prehistoric times. In their belief system, everything that exists is part of a vast, interlocking network, a relationship beginning with the ancestors of the Dreamtime. The Dreamtime continues today and is accessible to people when they "dream the fire," or enter into spiritual communion with the reality of the invisible plane supporting the visible one. The power of Aboriginal spirituality has been called both telepathic and mystical, in direct contrast to typical Western pragmatism. When Australia was discovered and exploited by European society, the Aborigines were considered primitive, people in need of "elevation" to modern cultural standards. Typically, the rich Australian spiritual heritage, existing on a plane unappreciated, misunderstood, and underestimated by Europeans, was considered nothing more than superstition. Only in the last part of the twentieth century did it begin to dawn on Westerners that Aborigines understood the dangers inherent in the trajectory of modern Western society far better than their European counterparts. When anxieties and stresses built up, when life got to be too complex and perspective was needed, it was the habit in Australia to "go walkabout," to pare down and sort things out, to spend an open-ended amount of time simply "being" until perspective was regained. Aboriginal religion intuitively understood that life can sometimes layer up, making it difficult to remain in touch with the very essence of the Dreamtime connection, the feeling of what it means to be alive, in touch with all things in the web. Through mythology, through the ritual of the dance, accompanied by the unique sounds of the didgeridoo or clap sticks, through the very act of observing, living close upon the sparse land in ways no Westerner could, Aborigines lived their religion moment by moment. When they came together to share their histories, telling the old stories, they released the power of the Dreamtime into presentday reality, informing new generations and carrying on the wisdom of the ancestors who had lived for so long on the land.

It can be argued that Dreamtime was experienced when early pioneers told stories around fires in the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett "went walkabout." American Indians danced and felt the presence of the divine in their environment. Indigenous Australians were no different.

Of course there existed those Aborigines who abused Dreamtime, walkabout, and the spiritual heritage that existed in Australia. There can be found, within the culture, abuse of women, laziness, drunkenness, and lack of direction. Probably no religious tradition has ever existed that personified a "golden age" when everyone was wise and spiritually fully developed. But spiritual traditions must be judged on their merits, not on their problem children. Dreamtime connected people with their heritage, supported and informed countless generations of people over the course of thousands of years, and is perfectly logical. Aboriginal customs have stood the test of time,

coming to the aid of people who have seen their world turned upside down in a matter of a few short years. And, the greatest test of all, Dreamtime has been validated by people who feel the pressures of modern life and want to establish spiritual roots in a rapidly changing world. When the pressures of life build up and threaten to overcome us, when too much information floods our souls, perhaps we all need to "go walkabout" or spend some quiet time "dreaming the fire."

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The findings have been published in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology by Fitzgerald and colleagues Thomas Rich, Patricia Vickers-Rich and Roger Benson.
CHRIS Healy from Melbourne University talked about watching, as a primary school child in the sixties, a prize-winning ABC TV series, Alcheringa, which 're-created, romantically and anthropologically, an imagined world of everyday Indigenous practices "before the coming of the white man"--it was perhaps the first television series broadcast in Australia to substantively feature Aboriginal people'.
There are around a dozen pages of notes leading up to the writing of "Spirits of the Head." As an example, here is one page of notes:</p> <pre> Alcheringa time
The Churinga came in, he thought, `to express the spiritual part of the alcheringa animal or man, the meaning of the term I take to be sacred--in the sense that the sacramental wafer is sacred to the Roman Catholic.' And later: `Sacred Churinga does not please me but I can offer no substitute for the word sacred'.
I was a contributing editor to Alcheringa, and I was probably what you might call "a member of the Central Committee" along with Jerome and Diane Rothenberg and Dennis and Barbara Tedlock, since I was there from the beginning.
Contrary to this is the Aboriginal Dreaming (alcheringa), the central symbol that informs all other aspects of life.
The warmth of the avuncular bond seems implicit in Wiglaf's exceptional fidelity to the hero, which mirrors Beowulf's own loyalty to his uncle before him (and so forth back down through the mythic lineage to an Anglo-Saxon alcheringa "illo tempore").