Dreaming Under the Southern Cross

Friday Folklore

To continue with the theme of native people’s lore and stories, we’re shifting our attention from North America to Australia. The title of today’s post comes from the fact that the Southern Cross constellation, which can only be seen in the southern hemisphere, is featured on the Australian flag. To kick this off, I’m going to talk about the Australian Aborigine concept of the Dreamtime.

Dreaming and Dreamtime

Aboriginal Art, Wunnumurra Gorge
Aboriginal Art, Wunnumurra Gorge

Dreamtime, or the Dreaming, refers to the sacred time in which the world was created or an individual’s or group’s set of beliefs.1 Dreamtime can be divided into at least four parts: the beginning of all things; the life and influence of the ancestors; the way of life and death; and sources of power in life.2

These beliefs are passed on through Dreaming stories. By explaining these four parts, they pass on not only their spirituality but also their customs, laws, and social structure. These stories are told through oral telling, dances, and paintings.

It is also believed that everyone exists eternally in the Dreaming and the spirit of a child does not enter the mother until the fifth month of pregnancy. When the mother feels the movement of the child for the first time, it’s believed that it’s the work of the spirit of that land and the child is forever tied to that area. Therefore, after birth, the child is taught the stories associated with that place. It’s called his “Dreaming”.

People are not the only ones who can have a dreaming. Some places carry such significance and spiritual potency that their power is referred to as their dreaming.

The very earth, its features and movements, are the physical embodiments of their gods and evidence of their activity. For example, the Noongar tribe say the serpent that created the Swan River is represented by the Darling Scarp. Also, the stars were heavily watched and which stars or constellations appeared dictated hunting seasons and were used as the backdrop for their stories.3

This is only the tip of the iceberg in regards to Aboriginal beliefs about Dreamtime. There is so much more and it’s all fascinating. I highly recommend reading more about it. Below is a Dreaming story from central Victoria about how the sun was made.

How the Sun Came to Be

Early in the Dreamtime, before the sun had begun to shine, there was a young woman who decided to leave her group because the elders would not allow her to marry the lover of her choice.

Aboriginal dancers
Aboriginal dancers

She went a long way from the tribe and hid in a dry, rocky area. There was very little food and water here and no safe place to sleep. The young woman was hungry, thirsty and tired but she would not give up and return to her people. Then she saw that a group of men from her tribe were coming to take her back by force. She ran even further into the most barren part of the land.

Soon she was exhausted and bruised by branches and rocks, she was near to death but somehow she managed to keep going. Eventually her ancestor spirits became so concerned for the young woman, they lifted her gently away in to the sky world, where she slept peacefully for a long time.

When she awoke she found plenty of food and water and lit a camp fire. She was all alone but not afraid and grateful that she was at last warm and safe. She was as determined as ever to live alone forever rather than return to her tribe but as she looked down on them she saw that most of the men and women were sad that she had gone and her heart began to soften. After a few days she found she was feeling very homesick but now she belonged to the sky world and was unable to return home.

As she watched her people she saw that they were cold. Being occupied with the chores of daily life, they could not sit by their camp fires and keep warm as she now could.

The young woman decided to build up her camp fire and make it so big that it would warm all the people down below as they went about their day. So all day long she built up her fire to give warmth to her people and as night came she let her fire die down as they were then able to sit by their own camp fires.

When she saw how happy this made her people, she made up her mind to light her camp fire afresh each day. Soon her people began to look each morning for her sky-world fire. They were very grateful for the warmth it gave them and they called it ‘The Sun’.4

1Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime, Crystal Links, http://www.crystalinks.com/dreamtime.html

2Australian Aborigine Dream Beliefs, http://dreamhawk.com/dream-encyclopedia/australian-aborigine-dream-beliefs/

3Aussie Space Portal, http://members.optusnet.com.au/virgothomas/space/abobeliefs2.html


Also published on Medium.

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