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This article is about Australian Aboriginal Mythology. For other uses, see Dreamtime (disambiguation).
Stencil art at Carnarvon Gorge, supposedly showing "unique clan markers and dreamtime stories symbolising attempts to catch the deceased's spirit".citation needed

Dreamtime (also dream time, dream-time) is a term for the animist framework also symbol system of Australian Aboriginal mythology, introduced by A. P. Elkin in 1938 and popularised by William Edward Hanley Stanner and others from the 1970s for a concept of "time out of time", or "everywhen", inhabited by ancestral figures, often of heroic proportions or with supernatural abilities, but not considered "gods" as they do not control the material world and are not worshipped.1

The term is based on a rendition of the indigenous (Arandic) word alcheringa, used by the Aranda (Arunta, Arrernte) people of Central Australia, although it appears that it is based on a misunderstanding or mistranslation, and the word has a meaning closer to "eternal, uncreated".2 However, "Dreamtime" and "the Dreaming" has acquired its own currency in 1980s popular culture based on idealised or fictionalised conceptions of Australian mythology. Since the 1970s, "Dreaming" and "Dream time" has also returned from academic usage via popular culture and tourism, and is now ubiquitous in the English vocabulary of indigenous Australians in a kind of "self-fulfilling academic prophecy".3

Aboriginal mythology and culture

Waugals (yellow triangles with a black snake in the centre) are the official Bibbulmun Track trailmarkers between Kalamunda and Albany in Western Australia. The Noongar believe that the Waugal, or Wagyl, created the Swan River and is represented by the Darling scarp.

The term "Dreaming" is directly based on the term Altjira (Alchera), the name of a spirit or entity in the mythology of the Aranda. Related entities are known as Mura-mura by the Dieri, and as Tjukurpa in Pitjantjatjara.

"Dreaming" is now also used as a term for a system of totemistic symbols, so that an indigenous Australian may "own" a specific "Dreaming", such as Kangaroo Dreaming, or Shark Dreaming, or Honey Ant Dreaming, or any combination of Dreamings pertinent to their country. This is because in "Dreamtime" an individual's entire ancestry exists as one, culminating in the idea that all worldly knowledge is accumulated through one's ancestors. Many Indigenous Australians also refer to the Creation time as "The Dreaming". The Dreamtime laid down the patterns of life for the Aboriginal people.4

Ku-ring-gai Chase-petroglyph, via Waratah Track, depicting Baiame, the Creator God and Sky Father in the dreaming of several Aboriginal language groups.

Creation is believed to be the work of culture heroes who traveled across a formless land, creating sacred sites and significant places of interest in their travels. In this way, "songlines" (or Yiri in the Warlpiri languagecitation needed) were established, some of which could travel right across Australia, through as many as six to ten different language groupings. The dreaming and travelling trails of the Spirit Beings are the songlines. The signs of the Spirit Beings may be of spiritual essence, physical remains such as petrosomatoglyphs of body impressions or footprints, among natural and elemental simulacra.

"Dreaming" existed before the life of the individual begins, and continues to exist when the life of the individual ends. Both before and after life, it is believed that this spirit-child exists in the Dreaming and is only initiated into life by being born through a mother. The spirit of the child is culturally understood to enter the developing fetus during the fifth month of pregnancy.5 When the mother felt the child move in the womb for the first time, it was thought that this was the work of the spirit of the land in which the mother then stood. Upon birth, the child is considered to be a special custodian of that part of their country and is taught the stories and songlines of that place. As Wolf (1994: p. 14) states: "A black 'fella' may regard his totem or the place from which his spirit came as his Dreaming. He may also regard tribal law as his Dreaming."

In the Wangga genre, the songs and dances express themes related to death and regeneration.6 They are performed publicly with the singer composing from their daily lives or while Dreaming of a nyuidj (dead spirit).7


Dreaming stories vary throughout Australia, with variations on the same theme. The meaning and significance of particular places and creatures is wedded to their origin in the Dreaming, and certain places have a particular potency or "dreaming".

For example, the story of how the sun was made is different in New South Wales and in Western Australia. Stories cover many themes and topics, as there are stories about creation of sacred places, land, people, animals and plants, law and custom.

In Perth, the Noongar believe that the Darling Scarp is the body of the Wagyl – a serpent being that meandered over the land creating rivers, waterways and lakes and who created the Swan River.citation needed

In another example, the Gagudju people of Arnhemland, for which Kakadu National Park is named, believe that the sandstone escarpment that dominates the park's landscape was created in the Dreamtime when Ginga (the crocodile-man) was badly burned during a ceremony and jumped into the water to save himself.

In popular culture

An early reference is found is Richard McKenna's 1960 speculative fiction novelette, "Fiddler's Green", which mentions "Alcheringa...the Binghi spirit land", i.e. the Aranda concept translated as "Dream time". Early (1970s) references to the concept include Peter Weir's films The Last Wave (1977) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975).

"Dreamtime" became a widely cited concept in popular culture in the 1980s, and by the late 1980s was adopted as a cliché in New Age and feminist spirituality alongside related appeals to other "Rouseauian natural people", such as the Native Americans idealized in 1960s hippie counterculture.8



2000 to present

  • In Big Finish Productions Doctor Who audio drama, Dreamtime (2005), the Seventh Doctor and his companions deal with Aborigine mysticism and Uluru.
  • Alexis Wright's novel Carpentaria (2006) alludes to Dreaming narrative from the Gulf of Carpentaria through her stories of contemporary Aboriginal characters, a form of Australian magical realism.
  • Sandra McDonald's novels, The Outback Stars, The Stars Down Under and The Stars Blue Yonder (2007–2009), use Aboriginal myth extensively.
  • The film Australia (2008) included aspects of aboriginal Dreaming (songlines).
  • The Finnish band Korpiklaani recorded a track called "Uniaika" (Dreamtime) on the album Karkelo in 2009.
  • Tuomas Holopainen's 2014 album Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge includes a track entitled "Dreamtime," which directly references the Scrooge McDuck comic Dreamtime Duck of the Never-Never, and includes a didgeridoo in its instrumentation.
  • Sam Kieth's comic Maxx relies heavily on the psychology and concept of Dreamtime.
  • Jeff Smith says that aspects of his cartoon/fantasy epic Bone were inspired by Dreamtime, among other things.9
  • Queenie Chan's manga The Dreaming (2005) takes place in Australia and deals with students from a boarding school who mysteriously go missing. Aboriginal legends feature in the series.
  • Betty Clawman from DC Comics' New Guardians was an aboriginal girl chosen to be part of the next stage in man's evolution - i.e. the New Guardians. Dreamtime figured in the story.
  • In issues #89–90 of DC Comics' Hellblazer, John Constantine ventures into the Dreamtime.
  • Wildstorm's Planetary issue #15 briefly deals with the Dreamtime.
  • In the graphic novel Y: The Last Man, the protagonist's love interest, Beth, spends time in Australia. Events in the Dreamtime are presented as a possible reason for the worldwide plague that killed almost all male mammals.
  • "Project Alchera" from the computer game Dreamfall: The Longest Journey draws heavily from the concept of Dreamtime, as well as from other Aboriginal mythologies.
  • In the episode "Walkabout" of the animated series Gargoyles, an Aborigine mentor to Dingo teaches him of the Dreamtime. In the same episode, Goliath and Dingo enter the Dreamtime in order to communicate with an AI nanotech entity called the Matrix.
  • In Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, the Dreaming/Dreamtime is an alternate universe inhabited by mystical beings known as the Bunyip, the titular characters family is sealed within the Dreaming by Boss Cass before the events of the first game, and in Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 3: Night of the Quinkan, Dreamtime becomes a warzone between the Bunyip and the Quinkan.
  • In the third Sly Cooper game Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, Murray is a student of Dreamtime, and his master joins the gang as well.
  • In the animated series ExoSquad, two of the main characters talk to an aboriginal aid who explains the nature of the Dreamtime and the cave art are shown depicting their current events.
  • Techland's video game, Dead Island, uses dream time to explain the state that zombies are in. Zombies are stuck between real time and dreamtime.

See also


  1. ^ R. N. Bellah, "Religious Evolution" in: S. N. Eisenstadt (ed.), Readings in Social Evolution and Development, Elsevier, 2013 p. 220.
  2. ^ Stanner himself noted "why the blackfellow thinks of 'dreaming' as the nearest equivalent in English is a puzzle." B. Kilborne, "On classifying dreams", in: Barbara Tedlock (ed.) Dreaming: Anthropological and Psychological Interpretations, 1987, p. 249. "eternal, uncreated": Tony Swain, Place for Strangers: Towards a History of Australian Aboriginal Being, Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 21.
  3. ^ Tony Swain, Place for Strangers: Towards a History of Australian Aboriginal Being, Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 21. Stanner warned about uncritical use of the term and was aware of its semantic difficulties, while at the same time he continued using it and contributed to its popularisation, and according to Swain it is "still used uncritically in contemporary literature".
  4. ^ "the Dreaming". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  5. ^ Bates, Daisy (1996), Aboriginal Perth and Bibbulmun biographies and legends, Hesperion Press
  6. ^ Marett, Allan (2005). Songs, Dreamings, and Ghosts: the Wangga of North Australia. Wesleyan University Press: Middletown, Connecticut. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-8195-6618-8.
  7. ^ Povinelli, Elizabeth A. (2002). The Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism. Duke University Press: Durham, North Carolina. p. 200. ISBN 978-0-8223-2868-1
  8. ^ Micaela di Leonardo, Exotics at Home: Anthropologies, Others, and American Modernity, University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 377 (note 42) ("Into the Crystal Dreamtime", promotional pamphlet, late 1980s; "Crystal Woman: isters of the Dreamtime" 1987; p. 36: "the prescriptive New Age genre, which sells one-hundred-proof ethnological antimodernism without overmuch worry about bothersome ethnographic facts"
  9. ^ Smith, Jeff. Bone #46, Tenth Anniversary. Self-published. Bone–A–Fides section. 

Other sources

  • Wolf, Fred Alan (1994). The Dreaming Universe: a mind-expanding journey into the realm where psyche and physics meet. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-74946-3
  • Australian Dreaming: 40,000 Years of Aboriginal History. Compiled and edited by Jennifer Isaacs. (1980) Lansdowne Press. Sydney. ISBN 0-7018-1330-X
  • C. Elbadawi, I. Douglas, The Dreamtime: A link to the past
  • Max Charlesworth, Howard Murphy, Diane Bell and Kenneth Maddock, 'Introduction' in Religion In Aboriginal Australia: An Anthology, University of Queensland Press, Queensland, Australia, 1984.
  • Anna Voigt and Neville Drury (1997). Wisdom Of The Earth: the living legacy of the Aboriginal dreamtime. Simon & Schuster, East Roseville, NSW, Australia.
  • W.H. Stanner, After The Dreaming, Boyer Lecture Series, ABC 1968.
  • Spencer, Walter Baldwin and Francis James Gillen (1899; 1968). The Native Tribes of Central Australia. New York, Dover.
  • Stanner, Bill (1979). White Man Got No Dreaming: Essays 1938–1973. Canberra, Australia: Australian National University Press.
  • Lawlor, Robert (1991). Voices Of The First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal dreamtime. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, Ltd. ISBN 0-89281-355-5

External links

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