Primal Religious Traditions
Australian Aborigines
The concept Myth may not be
familiar to us because most people
no longer hold a predominantly
mythic worldview.
Typically we equate myths with
falsehoods but in the study of
world religions, myths actually
convey important truths.
Myths are both nonhistorical and
Myths are sources of sacred truth
and are therefore powerful, for
they give meaning to life.
Myths take the form of sacred
stories that are passed along from
one generation to the next.
Many religious rituals
re-enact a myth or
sacred story.
Why Study Primal Religions?
We study “primal” traditions for 2 reasons:
Primal religions provide insight into the
mythic and ritual dimension of religion
Primal religions are the source from which all
the world’s religions have sprung.
Groups we will look at
 Australian Aborigines, Yoruba, Plains Indians
of North America, Aztecs
Primal religions today are
generally practiced by people
of oral (non-literate)
Non-literate people means that
they do not depend on
scriptures or written teachings
What they lack in written texts,
they make up for in oral
material- myths or stories that
are passed down from
generation to generation
Primal religions tend to be traditions practiced by
 Tribal peoples who live in villages
 BUT, they are also practiced by city dwellers such
 Modern Yoruba
 Ancient Aztecs
The Dreaming
 The foundation of Aboriginal religion
is the concept of the Dreaming.
The world was originally formless.
Supernatural beings called
Ancestors emerged and roamed
about the earth.
The Ancestors gave shape to the
landscape and created the various
forms of life, including the first
human beings.
The Ancestors organized humans
into tribes, specified the territory
each tribe was to occupy, and
determined each tribe’s language,
social rules and customs.
Devil’s Marbles
Near Wauchope North of
Sydney Australia
Great power is said to be found below the sacred places left
behind by the Ancestors.
Prior to a baby’s birth, the mother is to visit a sacred place so
her baby will receive spiritual essence
Each Aborigine is a living
representation of an
This relationship is
symbolized by a totem
The natural form in which
the Ancestor appeared in
the Dreaming
An individual will always
be identified in certain
ways with the Ancestor.
Taboos dictate who can do
what and when when it comes
to ritual practice:
A taboo usually
orders society through its
Determines who may and
may not:
participate in certain activities
handle certain objects
contains punishments for
those who violate these
Only priests may consecrate
Eucharist (Christianity)
Men must not touch Women
during menstruation and
right after childbirth
Only priests can tell your
future (Yoruba)
The purpose of the
initiation rituals
awaken young
people to this
spiritual identity,
and at the same
time redefine their
social identity
within the tribe.
It might be difficult for an
outsider to understand
the reasons for these
various rituals.
•This difficulty illustrates
the great power of myth.
•Aboriginal myth creates a
reality that is unique to
the Aborigines, a world of
their own in which such
initiation rituals not only
make sense but are
essential if life is to have
•The power of myth, and
the performance of ritual
to re-enact myth, are
basic features of all
primal traditions.