Religion and Ceremony

The Dreaming, the Dreamtime has become a handy phrase used to describe what is in fact a sophisticated and interconnected mosaic of knowledge, beliefs and practises concerning the creativity of Ancestral Beings, and the continuity and values of Aboriginal life.

The vibrant ceremonial and religious life of Northern Territory people generated a spectacular array of art forms, including body painting and personal ornamentation, ground sculpture, bark painting, wood carving, and rock painting and engraving. Artistic creativity and innovation were informed by religious belief. Designs and motifs embodied multiple sets of meanings about group ownership of lands and relationships to particular Ancestral Beings. These expressions along with the rich oral traditions, elaborate song and dance styles and personal performance of them, were all regarded as manifestations of the original ancestral creative power. Each generation accepted responsibility for passing on the economic, social and religious knowledge, beliefs and actions that ensured the reproduction of Aboriginal societies and cultures.

Before the dawn of the present age was "the Dreaming", or the Alchera of the Aranda, a time when the ancestors of the Aborigenes wandered over a featureless land. These ancestors were unlike people of today ; they possessed special powers and were so intimately associated with certain animals and plants that an ancestor of the kangaroo totem "many sometimes be spoken of either as a man-kangaroo or as a kangaroo-man. As the ancestors journeyed over the land, their actions gave if form, created the natural features such as rivers and ranges. The land they shaped is today occupied by their descendants.

During their travels the dreamtime ancestors carried one or more sacred tjurunga, each "intimately associated with the idea of a spirit part of some individual". Many tjurunga were buried, each burial site marked by a natural object such as a rock or a tree.

Other places of significance are where ancestors entered the earth, at which time they died, but their spirits remained within the buried tjurunga. These places were also marked by natural objects.

There are thus at the present day, dotted about all over the Arrernte country, a very large number of places associated with these Alcheringa spirits, one group of whom will be Kangaroo, another Emu, another Hakea plant, and so on. When a woman conceives it simply means that one of these spirits has gone inside her, and knowing where she first became aware that she was pregnant, the child, when born, is regarded as the reincarnation of one of the spirit ancestors associated with that spot, and therefore it belongs to that particular totemic group.

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