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 Australian Aborigines 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.”