Australia’s Aboriginal Supernatural Beliefs
The word ‘aboriginal’ means ‘first’ or ‘earliest known’ (Humphreys, p1).
The Australian Aborigines share a unique relationship with Earth Mother that is a “connection [going] back to the beginning of our existence and it brings with it a sense of responsibility and respect for the Earth Mother. Our people were expected to take care of our sacred Earth Mother; that was a responsibility given to us from time immemorial” (Earth, p1). This relationship with the earth is evident in many old religions, but the Aborigines could be considered the first, as there has been evidence of their existence in Australia almost 12,000 years before Europeans in Europe.
Aborigines believe the creation of the universe and all things within it happened during “Dreamtime” when “spirit ancestors wandered through the land, created the physical environment and landforms, gave life to plants, animals and humans and established the order – laws, customs and beliefs – of Aboriginal society” (Dream, p4). These spirit ancestors fell from the sky and sprang from the waterways, and possessed supernatural powers that allowed them to change their form, and it is these “spirit ancestors [that] govern and determine Aboriginal ritual activity” (Experience, p4).
Of these ancestors, the most powerful was the Rainbow Serpent who traveled across the continent creating landscapes and forms as it moved through Australia. The Rainbow Serpent is often associated with water and is considered the source of all life. For the Aborigines, water was a sacred element – from the desert tribes to the coastal villages, water was the essence of life and “the Rainbow Serpent is said to dwell in deep, permanent waterholes, many of which have a sacred significance to Aborigines” (Experience, p4.)
Another important aspect of Aboriginal beliefs, is “Dreaming,” or totem. Everyone has one, and it is up to that individual to look after it. According to a Councilman in Australia, “We are put in this world to conserve the things that we look into. That’s why we have a totem system” (Dream, p5).
Dreaming trails link certain sacred watering holes, landforms and food sources across Australia, and in essence these trails are ‘lore records’ which ensure Aboriginal survival. “Certain landmarks, where significant Dreamtime events or journeys happened are invested with ceremonial or magical qualities” (Experience, p6). Uluru is a perfect example of a Dreamtime location, and is a sacred area to Aborigines.
It is not only landmarks, and animals that are sacred to Dreamtime. Councilman Joseph explains that “Plants that are Dreaming we just leave alone. There are certain times when we can pick some of these plants. The law governs how we fit in with the environment, how our daily life is decided” (Dream, p4).
A prominent figure in Aboriginal lore, is the ‘yowie’ or Yuuriwinaa which means ‘hairy woman or man’. The Yuuri were small people upto 4 feet tall, and having long white hair. Variations of the Yahoo, or Yuuri are found across Australia, with Aborigines from the Blue Mountains describing them as “fearsome creatures who are responsible for many deaths of their people. Legend has it that they would stand in the hollowed out trees waiting for their people to walk passed” (Yuuri, p2). Others recount the Yuuri as being passive and sometimes mischievous.
The Australian Aborigines have had strong ties to nature and their environment. Today, these ties are fighting to survive. It is these “strong ties between the land and Aboriginal peoples [that] have diminished since European settlement began, upsetting a unique environmental balance. Many Aborigines believe that the decline of Australian native species is partly because traditional ecological knowledge has not been handed down to children; and old people, who “held the law” for those animals and plants, have died” (Dream, p5).
Their relationship and respect for Earth Mother is the key component of their supernatural beliefs where Dreaming, and Dreamtime contribute to the way they govern themselves and live their day-to-day lives.
Experience Aboriginal Australia”
Australian Tourist Commission, 2003.
Ennis, D. Earth Mother and the people: The true meaning of aboriginal rights
Briarpatch Magazine, April 2002
Humphrey, M. The World’s Oldest Inhabitants
Online, 2003. http://users.orac.net.au/~mhumphry/aborigin.html
Murray, D.A. “Aboriginal Dream”
Children: 21st Century Guardians of the Land
Times Educational Supplement,
June 23, 1995, Extra Environment, p. IV- V.
Povah, F. “Yuuri”
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