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Stencil art at "Carnarvon Gorge, supposedly showing "unique clan markers and dreamtime stories symbolising attempts to catch the deceased's spirit."["citation needed]

Dreamtime (also dream time, dream-time) is a term devised by early anthropologists to refer to a religio-cultural worldview attributed to "Australian Aboriginal beliefs. It was originally used by "Francis Gillen, quickly adopted by his colleague "Baldwin Spencer and thereafter popularised by "A. P. Elkin, who, however, later revised his views. The Dreaming is used to represent Aboriginal concepts of "time out of time," or "everywhen," during which the land was inhabited by ancestral figures, often of heroic proportions or with supernatural abilities. These figures were often distinct from "gods" as they did not control the material world and were not worshipped, but only revered. The concept of the dreamtime has subsequently become widely adopted beyond its original Australian context and is now part of global popular culture.

The term is based on a rendition of the indigenous ("Arandic) word "alcheringa, used by the "Aranda (Arunta, Arrernte) people of "Central Australia, although it has been argued that it is based on a misunderstanding or mistranslation. "William Stanner remarked: "why the blackfellow thinks of 'dreaming' as the nearest equivalent in English is a puzzle".[1] Some scholars suggest that the word's meaning is closer to ""eternal, uncreated." [2]

By the 1990s, "Dreamtime" and "the Dreaming" had acquired their own currency in "popular culture, based on idealised or fictionalised conceptions of Australian mythology. Since the 1970s, "Dreaming" and "Dream time" have also returned from academic usage via popular culture and "tourism and are now ubiquitous in the English vocabulary of indigenous Australians in a kind of ""self-fulfilling academic prophecy".[3]


Origin of the term[edit]

The station-master, magistrate and amateur ethnographer Francis Gillen first used the terms in an ethnographical report in 1896. With Baldwin Spencer Gillen, he published in 1899 a major work, Native Tribes of Central Australia. [4] In that work, they spoke of the Alcheringa as "the name applied to the far distant past with which the earliest traditions of the tribe deal". [5][a] Five years later, in their Northern tribes of central Australia, they gloss the far distant age as "the dream times", link it to the word alcheri meaning "dream", and affirm that the term is current also among the "Kaitish and "Unmatjera.[6]

Early doubts about the precision of this English gloss were expressed by the German "Lutheran pastor and missionary "Carl Strehlow, who noted that his native informants explained "altjira, whose etymology was unknown, as an eternal being who had no beginning. In "the Arrernte tongue, the proper verb for "to dream" was altjirerama, i.e., "to see god". The noun is the somewhat rare word altjirrinja, of which Spencer and Gillen gave a corrupted transcription and a false etymology. "The native," they concluded, "knows nothing of 'dreamtime' as a designation of a certain period of their history."[7][b]

Aboriginal beliefs and culture[edit]

Ku-ring-gai Chase-petroglyph, via Waratah Track, depicting "Baiame, the Creator God and Sky Father in the dreaming of several Aboriginal language groups.
Waugals (yellow triangles with a black snake in the centre) are the official "Bibbulmun Track trailmarkers between "Kalamunda and "Albany in Western Australia. The Noongar believe that the Waugal, or Wagyl, created the Swan River and is represented by the Darling scarp.

Related entities are known as Mura-mura by the "Dieri and as Tjukurpa in "Pitjantjatjara.

""Dreaming" is now also used as a term for a system of totemic symbols, so that an indigenous Australian may "own" a specific "Dreaming", such as Kangaroo Dreaming, or Shark Dreaming, or Honey Ant Dreaming, or Badger dreaming or any combination of Dreamings pertinent to their country. This is because in "Dreamtime" an individual's entire ancestry exists as one, culminating in the idea that all worldly knowledge is accumulated through one's ancestors. Many Indigenous Australians also refer to the Creation time as "The Dreaming". The Dreamtime laid down the patterns of life for the Aboriginal people.[8]

Creation is believed to be the work of culture heroes who traveled across a formless land, creating "sacred sites and significant places of interest in their travels. In this way, ""songlines" (or Yiri in the "Warlpiri language["citation needed]) were established, some of which could travel right across Australia, through as many as six to ten different language groupings. The dreaming and travelling trails of the Spirit Beings are the songlines. The signs of the Spirit Beings may be of spiritual essence, physical remains such as petrosomatoglyphs of body impressions or footprints, among natural and elemental simulacra.

"Dreaming" existed before the life of the individual begins, and continues to exist when the life of the individual ends. Both before and after life, it is believed that this spirit-child exists in the Dreaming and is only initiated into life by being born through a mother. The spirit of the child is culturally understood to enter the developing "fetus during the fifth month of pregnancy.[9] When the mother felt the child move in the womb for the first time, it was thought that this was the work of the spirit of the land in which the mother then stood. Upon birth, the child is considered to be a special custodian of that part of their country and is taught the stories and "songlines of that place. As Wolf (1994: p. 14) states: "A black 'fella' may regard his totem or the place from which his spirit came as his Dreaming. He may also regard tribal law as his Dreaming."

In the "Wangga genre, the songs and dances express themes related to death and regeneration.[10] They are performed publicly with the singer composing from their daily lives or while Dreaming of a nyuidj (dead spirit).[11]

Dreaming stories vary throughout "Australia, with variations on the same theme. The meaning and significance of particular places and creatures is wedded to their origin in the Dreaming, and certain places have a particular potency or "dreaming." For example, the story of how the sun was made is different in "New South Wales and in "Western Australia. Stories cover many themes and topics, as there are stories about creation of sacred places, land, people, animals and plants, law and custom. In "Perth, the "Noongar believe that the "Darling Scarp is the body of the "Wagyl – a serpent being that meandered over the land creating rivers, waterways and lakes and who created the "Swan River.["citation needed] In another example, the "Gagudju people of "Arnhemland, for which "Kakadu National Park is named, believe that the sandstone escarpment that dominates the park's landscape was created in the Dreamtime when Ginga (the crocodile-man) was badly burned during a ceremony and jumped into the water to save himself.

In popular culture[edit]

An early reference is found is Richard McKenna's 1960 speculative fiction novelette, ""Fiddler's Green", which mentions "Alcheringa... the Binghi spirit land", i.e. the Aranda concept translated as "Dream time". Early (1970s) references to the concept include "Peter Weir's films "The Last Wave (1977) and "Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975).

"Dreamtime" became a widely cited concept in popular culture in the 1980s, and by the late 1980s was adopted as a cliché in "New Age and "feminist spirituality alongside related appeals to other ""Rouseauian natural people", such as the "Native Americans idealized in 1960s "hippie counterculture.[12]




See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ "the dim past to which the natives give the name of the 'Alcheringa'." (p.119)
  2. ^ The Strehlows' informant for this, Moses (Tjalkabota), was a convert to Christianity, and the adoption of his interpretation suffered from a methodological error, according to "Barry Hill, since his conversion made his views on pre-contact beliefs unreliable.


  1. ^ Price-Williams 1987, p. 249.
  2. ^ Swain 1994, p. 21.
  3. ^ Tony Swain, Place for Strangers: Towards a History of Australian Aboriginal Being, Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 21. Stanner warned about uncritical use of the term and was aware of its semantic difficulties, while at the same time he continued using it and contributed to its popularisation; according to Swain it is "still used uncritically in contemporary literature".
  4. ^ James 2915, p. 36.
  5. ^ Spencer & Gillen 1899, p. 73 n.1,645.
  6. ^ Spencer & Gillen 1904, p. 745.
  7. ^ Hill 2003, pp. 140-141.
  8. ^ "the Dreaming". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  9. ^ Bates, Daisy (1996), Aboriginal Perth and Bibbulmun biographies and legends, Hesperion Press
  10. ^ Marett, Allan (2005). Songs, Dreamings, and Ghosts: the Wangga of North Australia. "Wesleyan University Press: "Middletown, Connecticut. p. 1. "ISBN "978-0-8195-6618-8.
  11. ^ Povinelli, Elizabeth A. (2002). The Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism. "Duke University Press: "Durham, North Carolina. p. 200. "ISBN "978-0-8223-2868-1
  12. ^ Micaela di Leonardo, Exotics at Home: Anthropologies, Others, and American Modernity, University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 377 (note 42) ("Into the Crystal Dreamtime", promotional pamphlet, late 1980s; "Crystal Woman: isters of the Dreamtime" 1987; p. 36: "the prescriptive New Age genre, which sells one-hundred-proof ethnological antimodernism without overmuch worry about bothersome ethnographic facts"
  13. ^ Vanni, Maurizio; Pedretti, Carlo (2005). Giuliano Ghelli. Le vie del tempo (in Italian and English and German). Poggibonsi (province of Siena), Italy: Carlo Cambi Editore. pp. 18, 70. "ISBN "88-88482-41-5. Ghelli's work appears as an authentic initiatory experience, with important ordeals to overcome. No Aboriginal boy can be considered a man, nor can an Aboriginal girl marry, until he or she has overcome all the initiatory rituals. One of these, perhaps the most feared, is the interpretation of symbols in paintings associated with Dreamtime. 
  14. ^ Smith, Jeff. Bone #46, Tenth Anniversary. Self-published. Bone–A–Fides section. 


External links[edit]

[[Category:Australian Aboriginal mythology]

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