Before Australia was settled, its inhabitants were the Aborigines. These groups have their own belief systems that, like all other religions, are not just a set of beliefs, but also a way of life. There are many distinct Aboriginal peoples whose languages and traditions are not all the same, meaning that Aboriginal religion is rather complex as it contains many different facets. In general, Aboriginal Spirituality encompasses some features such as art, stories, and kinship. In many ways, the concept of Aboriginal Spirituality revolves around ‘The Dreaming’. Dreaming incorporates the law, and helps Aboriginal people understand the past and live in the present. It also links a person to the land and objects within it; it is the foundation of their religion. The land is a very important aspect of the Dreaming; every living thing and every element of the land, plants and animals are all related and linked by Dreaming. Aboriginal peoples lived according to their own established beliefs, laws and values right up until the arrival of Captain Arthur Phillip in 1788. This event marked the beginnings of European colonization, which brought devastation and great loss to the Indigenous peoples of Australia.
The Dreaming relates to the period of time when the world was formed. Aboriginals believe that the Earth had always existed but was meaningless, plain and surrounded by darkness, until powerful spiritual beings (also referred to as ‘Dreamings’) emerged and, through their creative activity, the world took on it’s shape, all animals and plants were formed and life was introduced on the Earth. Each Aboriginal group has their own particular Dreaming stories which account for the features of their own local landscape. The Beings in the Dreamings are not thought of in the same way amongst all Aboriginal people. While all Aboriginal groups believe that these are extraordinary beings possessing supernatural powers, every group has a distinct interpretation and understanding of ‘The Dreaming’. For example, the Dreamings (or Spiritual Beings) are also believed to have given life to humans, all over Australia different interpretations are given to the ‘creator’ Ancestral Beings. In southeast Australia, he is a powerful spirit, sometimes referred to as ‘All-Father’, while in north Australia, the creator spirit was more of a ‘mother’ figure.
One of the understandings of the Dreaming is that it’s the past, the present and the future. Essentially, the Dreaming provides Aboriginal people with the knowledge of their beginnings and the formation of the Earth and life itself. At the same time, the Dreaming offer the laws and values by which Aboriginal peoples live their everyday lives. By providing laws and certain responsibilities as well as a certain way of life (through the Dreaming), Aboriginal Spirituality guides Aborigines to lead the rest of their lives under certain conditions and in a particular way.
Some very important features of Aboriginal spirituality are the different methods with which the religion is handed down from one generation to the next. Traditional Aboriginal art is most often used to represent Ancestral Beings and stories of the Dreaming. Artwork is not seen as just visual, but also a means of connection or a relationship with the Dreaming. Art may also include symbolic or sacred paintings that convey different meanings. The religion is also handed down through stories. Although there weren’t any written literature, stories were verbally passed down to the younger generations. These stories have many different ‘layers’ or ‘levels of understanding’. Meaning that while a story would be told to a 7 year old in one way, in order for him to grasp the meaning, it would be told to a 20 year old a little differently as he would need to understand a deeper meaning. The stories tell mainly of the adventures and activities of the Spiritual Ancestral Beings and how the world came to be.
To Aborigines, land is sacred...
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