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Dreamtime

Dreamtime

In the mythology of the Australian Aborigines, Dreamtime, or The Dreaming, is the period of creation when the world took shape and all life began. During Dreamtime, ancestral beings created the landscape, made the first people, and taught the people how to live.


Spirits of Past, Present, and Future. The Aborigines believe that the spirits of ancestral beings that sleep beneath the ground emerged from the earth during Dreamtime. As they wandered across the land, the ancestral beings took on the forms of humans, animals, plants, stars, wind, or rain. During their epic journey, they created hills, plains, and other natural formations. Some of the beings brought forth rain. Some created the first people, and some established the laws by which people would live.

When the ancestral beings lay down upon the wet and still soft rocks, they often left impressions of themselves. The Aborigines believe that the ancestral beings continue to live in the places that bear their mark. There, deep down in the earth, they left various forces, including "child-spirits," which take on human form through a father and a mother on earth. One of the ways in which humans trace their origin to the ancestral beings of Dreamtime is through the child-spirits.

Dreamtime did not end at the time of creation because the ancestral beings and the child-spirits are eternal. When a life ends, the child-spirit returns to the earth and remains there until it comes back again in another human form. Moreover, by participating in certain rituals, individuals can reenact the journeys of their ancestors. Ancestral beings and human beings are thus closely and forever linked.

ritual ceremony that follows a set pattern

Dreamtime Stories. Different Aboriginal groups tell various Dreamtime stories about their ancestral beings. One group of northern Australia describes how an ancestral being in the form of a snake sent bats for humans to eat during the Dreamtime. However, the bats flew so high that the people could not capture them. The snake gave up one of his ribs to create the boomerang. Using this weapon, the people could hunt and eat the bats.

The Arrernte people of central Australia speak of a great lizard ancestor. They describe how the lizard created the first people in Dreamtime and gave them tools for survival, such as stone knives and spears. The Arrernte, who consider the lizard sacred, believe that certain waterholes and rock formations mark the places where the great lizard did his work.

See also Australian Mythology.

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Dreamtime

Dreamtime another term for alcheringa.

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dreamtime

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Dreamtime

Dreamtime

Nationality/Culture

Australian Aboriginal

Pronunciation

DREEM-time

Alternate Names

The Dreaming, Alcheringa

Appears In

Australian Aboriginal oral mythology

Myth Overview

In the mythology of the Australian Aborigines, Dreamtime, or the Dreaming, is the period of creation when the world took shape and all life began. During Dreamtime, ancestral beings created the landscape, made the first people, and taught the people how to live.

The Aborigines believe that the spirits of ancestral beings that sleep beneath the ground emerged from the earth during Dreamtime. As they wandered across the land, the ancestral beings took on the forms of humans, animals, plants, stars, wind, or rain. During their epic journey, they created hills, plains, and other natural formations. Some of the beings brought forth rain. Some created the first people, and some established the laws by which people would live.

When the ancestral beings lay down upon the wet and still soft rocks, they often left impressions of themselves. The Aborigines believe that the ancestral beings continue to live in the places that bear their mark. There, deep down in the earth, they left various forces, including “child-spirits,” which take on human form through a father and a mother on earth. One of the ways in which humans trace their origin to the ancestral beings of Dreamtime is through the child-spirits.

Dreamtime did not end at the time of creation, because the ancestral beings and the child-spirits are eternal. When a life ends, the child-spirit returns to the earth and remains there until it comes back again in another human form. Moreover, by participating in certain rituals, individuals can reenact the journeys of their ancestors. Ancestral beings and human beings are thus closely and forever linked.

Different Aboriginal groups tell various Dreamtime stories about their ancestral beings. One group from northern Australia describes how an ancestral being in the form of a snake sent bats for humans to eat during the Dreamtime. However, the bats flew so high that the people could not capture them. The snake gave up one of his ribs to create the boomerang. Using this weapon, the people could hunt and eat the bats.

The Arrernte people of central Australia speak of a great lizard ancestor. They describe how the lizard created the first people in Dreamtime and gave them tools for survival, such as stone knives and spears. The Arrernte, who consider the lizard sacred, believe that certain waterholes and rock formations mark the places where the great lizard did his work.

Dreamtime in Context

The term “Dreamtime” was coined by anthropologist Francis James Gillen in about 1896. It reflects the fact that the Northern Arrernte, one of the first Aboriginal groups studied, use the same word to mean both “dream” and “the period of the creation of the world.” In other tribes with similar beliefs, the two words are not related. Dreamtime is not meant to refer to sleep, although dreams are considered by some tribes to be a way to access the parallel world of the Dreamtime, which is not just an event that happened long ago, but is always occurring.

Key Themes and Symbols

The myth of Dreamtime is complex and symbolizes a way of life completely different from other cultures. Some elements that can be easily distinguished include the theme of creation, the idea of the snake as a sacred ancestor, and the theme of reincarnation or rebirth as illustrated by the child-spirits. The Dreamtime also represents a parallel world that is eternal and exists outside of time.

Dreamtime in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

The myth of Dreamtime is most often seen in the work of artists who have been raised in the Australian culture. The 1977 film The Last Wave by Australian director Peter Weir focuses mainly on the clash between Aboriginal and white cultures, and includes elements of the Dreamtime as an important part of the plot. Some artists outside Australia have also been inspired by the myth: the English band The Stranglers released a successful album titled Dreamtime in 1986, which also contained a song by the same name.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

The importance of dreams has long been debated by philosophers, psychologists, doctors, and others. What function, if any, do you think dreams serve? Is their purpose medical, cultural, personal, spiritual, or some combination of these? Do you think it is possible that a parallel world, such as the Dreamtime, could exist and be accessed while sleeping? Why or why not?

SEE ALSO Australian Mythology

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