Aboriginal Dreaming Analysis

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(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

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In discussions of Aborigine cultures, Dreaming has two chief senses. In the first sense, the Dreaming (or the Dreamtime) is an eternal “time-out-of-time” in the creation myth central to the religious beliefs of Australia’s indigenous (aboriginal) population. According to this myth, supernatural quasi-ancestors walked the land, creating the world in its present form, and in the process marking out tracks and signs (“songlines”), which later generations must commemorate (in song) and follow (for example, on “walkabout”), in order for creation to be ritually renewed and sustained.

In the second sense, a particular kind of Dreaming (such as Kangaroo Dreaming or Wallaby Dreaming) signifies an individual’s chief totem figure, and so indicates the person’s clan, religious duties, and relation to the Dreamtime; in a similar sense the term applies to an individual’s “song.” The songs and stories describing the Dreaming are central to the sense of identity of a clan and its members and are carefully guarded against misappropriation by outsiders. In recent times, such stories have also served as evidence supporting a clan’s legal claim to a traditional territory.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Charlesworth, Max, ed. Religious Business: Essays on Australian Aboriginal Spirituality. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Chatwin, Bruce. The Songlines. New York: Viking Penguin, 1987.

Flood, Josephine. Archaeology of the Dreamtime. Rev. ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991.

Keen, Ian. Knowledge and Secrecy in an Aboriginal Religion. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1994.

McIntosh, Ian S. Aboriginal Reconciliation and the Dreaming. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.