Aboriginality Spirituality and the Dreaming

Aboriginality Spirituality and the Dreaming
The fundamental tenet that underpins Aboriginal spirituality is a concept known as the
Dreaming. The Dreaming is a term referring to Aboriginal spiritual beliefs about
creation and existence. According to Aboriginal belief, all life as it is today - human,
animal and plant is part of one vast unchanging network of relationships which can be
traced to the ancestral spirit beings of the Dreaming. The Dreaming involves all
knowledge and understanding in Aboriginal societies, and hence incorporates all
beliefs and practices of Aboriginal communities.
The Dreaming includes an explanation of the origins of the universe, that is, how the
world came into being as a result of the actions of ancestral spirit beings upon the
land. These ancestral beings could be found in the form of animals, plants, humans or
part humans. They determined the rules by which all living creatures should live by.
The Dreaming is inextricably connected to the land, as the land is the physical
medium through which the Dreaming is communicated, since it is within the land that
the ancestor spirits of the Dreaming continue to dwell. The Dreaming is a
metatemporal concept, which means it is a concept that incorporates the past, present
and future reality as a complete and present reality.
The Dreaming is embedded in all aspects of life
The influence of the Dreaming is embedded in all aspects of Aboriginal life. The
different facets of Aboriginal life, from the ceremonial dimension of life, to the
ritualistic obligations owed to the land and people, as well as the intricate kinship
system are all intrinsically connected to, and are derived from the Dreaming. Thus,
because the Dreaming is so intimately connected with every dimension of Aboriginal
life, the process of telling and learning the stories of the Dreaming is a life long one.
Kinship ties identify a complex system of belonging and responsibilities within a
clan. It is based not only on familial relations but also on relationships springing from
one's totem, usually a plant or animal, which represents a person or group's
connection to the ancestor beings within the land. Kinship ties govern the day to day
life of the Aboriginal people by determining issues from whom an individual is
permitted to talk to and marry, to determining what are an individual's responsibility
is to other members in the clan.
Significance of Kinship ties
Kinship ties also assign the responsibility to transmit the knowledge of the Dreaming
from elders to the younger generation. People are initiated into the Dreaming by
different degrees according to their age and position in the community. This process
of learning the Dreaming is a life long pursuit.
Obligations to the land and people
Dreaming is inextricably connected to the land
The land is of paramount importance to Aboriginal spirituality. Aboriginal people
have traditionally regarded the land as their mother and hence have worked to deepen
their understanding and appreciation of the land. The Dreaming is inextricably
connected to the land, as the land is the physical medium through which the
Dreaming is lived and communicated. The land provides the foundation for
Aboriginal beliefs, traditions, rituals and laws because the stories of the Dreaming are
embedded in the land. Furthermore, the land acts as a dwelling place for ancestral
spirit beings. Since the land is revered as a mother of the people, the identity of an
Aboriginal person is inextricably linked to the land. At the commencement of many
formal public events in Australia an acknowledgement of the traditional owners of
the land indicates this significant link between the indigenous people and the areas in
which they have lived for thousands of years.
Sacred sites
Whilst all land is important to all Aboriginal people, particular sites, known as sacred
sites or ritual estate have a special significance for particular Aboriginal groups as
they are connected with particular events in the Dreaming. Aboriginal people have
special ritual responsibilities to take care of, and to learn from these sacred sites
which are off-limits and hidden from the non-initiated. For example, Aboriginal
people are responsible for performing prescribed rituals such as balance rites, which
aim for the proliferation of a particular animal, plant or natural phenomena that is
connected with a particular spirit being from the Dreaming.
Ceremonial Life
Art communicates the Dreaming
Art is a very important way of communicating the Dreaming because it illustrates
the actions of the ancestral spirit beings in the land. However, art does not offer a
simple, straightforward explanation of the Dreaming; rather art has multiple levels of
meaning. At face value, paintings offer an aerial representation of the land and its
inhabitants, using certain symbols to represent particular features of the land, plants
and animals. At a deeper level, paintings offer a narrative representation of the
activities of an ancestor spirit upon the land. Even more profound levels of meaning
reveal the subtler aspects of the Dreaming stories; however such access to the higher
levels of meaning is only known by initiates.
Stories from the Dreaming describe Aboriginal law and lifestyle
The Dreaming is primarily expressed through stories that describe how the ancestral
spirits, often in the form of animals or people, moved through the land creating rivers,
lakes and mountains and other natural phenomena. Their conflicts and other
interactions provide a foundation and explanation of various aspects of Aboriginal
tradition and law, by explaining the creation of the natural world and how the
Dreaming shapes the day-to-day life of people and animals. Learning the stories of the
Dreaming, a life long process, is an important tool for the socialization of Aboriginal
children as it is a major way of teaching Aboriginal children about right and
wrong behaviour in society.
Rituals from the Dreaming relive activities of ancestor spirits
Ceremonies and rituals, which are derived from important aspects of the Dreaming,
are important because they are understood as a moment of reliving in the present
moment, the creative activities of the ancestor spirits. Thus, a ceremony is not simply
a retelling of the story but rather they represent the reliving of the story in a
powerfully sacred way. The ancestral beings are made present through the people,
objects, words and movements of the ritual. An example of an action used in
traditional ritual is the smoking ceremony in which smoke is used to cleanse and
heal. Smoking rituals can be used symbolically at public events but other traditional
uses include the use of smoking ceremonies during pregnancies.
Totems represent the individual as they existed in the Dreaming and carry ceremonial
Totems are the embodiment of each individual in his or her primordial state. In
other words, totems represent that person, as they existed in the Dreaming, whether it
is in the form of an animal, plant or natural phenomena. They are thus links between
an individual or community and particular ancestor spirits in the land. Totems carry
with them, ceremonial responsibilities commonly known as balance rites.
Balance rites aim to assist the proliferation of a particular species, which embody an
individual's ancestral spirit being as they existed in the Dreaming. For example,
suppose that in the Dreaming, people in a particular tribe were part echidna and part
human. As a result, this tribe would have important ritualistic responsibilities towards
echidnas, as this animal represents the embodiment of their ancestral spirit being. It
must be noted however, that we should treat the Western conceptualization of totems
with caution, because it is often difficult to capture and understand the multiple
nuances of meaning involved in this powerfully sacred concept.