(February 28, 2002)
Australian Aborigines believe that all living people are linked patrilineally with their ancestral beings by inherent and imperishable bonds, through territories and totems. These were either the handiwork or parts of the continuing “being” of the ancestors themselves. Aboriginal culture is characterised by a “tetrad”: living people, their countries (meaning their territories), their totems and their ancestors. Aborigines transform signs from the tetrad into assurances of life “under mystical nurture”. For example, ancestral beings left a world full of signs of their beneficent intent towards the men they had brought into being. Is there any indigenous culture on Earth that believes they are alone without connection to Spirit in some form? (Perhaps only modern western mankind.)

To Aborigines, “something always was”. The something had an arrangement, a structure. “It was recorded and transformed by posited means and agents so as to take on an explicit structure in which man had a determinate place. The world contains plural identities and universals”. “Religious business: essays on Aboriginal spirituality”, Charles Strong Memorial Trust, Cambridge University Press, 1998. There was also a clear suggestion that men were not meant to die.

In Elkin’s work “Studies in Australian totemism 1891-1979, in the 1933 Oceania monographs, he refers to “nura – a person who belongs to the ‘horde’ of his father and has free access to the horde countries of his mother and his father’s mother, and the spirit home: the place he was “found” by his father in a dream. When a child is to be conceived, the father “dreams” of his child. The country (territory) in which he has the dream becomes the child’s “nura”. Thus, Aboriginal spirituality is characterised by the belief in the pre-existence of spirits.

To illustrate a more comprehensive account of the Dreaming and Spirituality,
I quote at length from the website:

“At the beginning of time, or at least at the beginning of the time of the Dreaming ancestors, the world was largely unformed……Ancestors, the progenitors of life, came from the earth below to create species, landscapes, rivers, lakes, waterholes and the night sky above. Or at least modify what was already in existence. The stars, (and constellations) depending on the regional culture, are explained as the campfires of these ancestral beings…..such detailed knowledge of the night sky also provides highly detailed navigational information indicating some of the many aspects of “dreaming” as knowledge.”

The role of narrative or storytelling is the oral history of aboriginal peoples, and almost all natural phenomena are explained in terms of a narrative.
“The world is constant proof of their (ancestral) existence and the narratives of this past world provide the map of the country and the law of the land. Kinship relations and relations between people and nature re-enact the dreaming. In most stories, kinship, the rules governing relations between people are set out….they operate as metaphors about the human condition,
of law and social obligation. Characters can also be understood as personifications of good or evil and even represent the seasons.

It is sometimes difficult for western people to comprehend the notions of the sacred and spiritual which they ascribe specific to places, while for Aboriginal people, all the land is sacred. “It is alive with the sacra of the spirit world.”

“Aboriginal knowledge is knowledge directly read from the landscape and living environment of Australia. Through this way of knowing, the Dreaming, the country and relations between people, species and both the terrestrial and celestial landscapes are explained. Life in the Dreaming commences with the narratives of birth of the planet, struggle, conflict and other human frailties. These stories also introduce ways to attain harmony through the process and value placed on nurturing, balance and collaboration.”

Peter Stewart, the author of the text of the afore-mentioned website invites people to come to Australia and do a course in Aboriginal Spirituality through Desert Tracks and the Spirit of the Land Foundation.

Disclaimer: this is not necessarily an endorsement for Peter Stewart’s course. I do not know him and have encountered this material in my searches for information on Aborigines and spirituality in Australia. The archive material was found in the collections of the National Library of Australia, Canberra, and the Australian Capital Territory.