Out of the Dreamtime

By I. M. Oderberg

"Dreamtime" is the name given by the Australian Aborigines to the period that, millions of years back, preceded the selfconscious awakening of human qualities in the protohumans. It is the period when the "ancestral beings" gave expression to the mysterious animating energy in nature that emerged out of the primeval, prephysical forms that were the patterns for later developments. Because the Aborigines used no writing, their amazingly accurate insights into the operation of nature were transmitted orally through myths. They envisaged creation as an ongoing process not limited to a one-time event that occurred long ago. They had no words for past or future, but thought only of an ever-present now. What we conceive as evolution, they thought of as fresh unfoldments of faculties emerging out of dormancy within all beings. They viewed all the inhabitants of our planet as linked together in the vast chain of entities that comprise the globe.

One of the finest expositions of the Australian Aborigines' heritage is a recent book by Robert Lawlor (Voices of the First Day, Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime, Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 1991; 413 pages, illus., endnotes, bibliography, index, softcover; proceeds to The Doonooch Aboriginal Healing Centre, and South Australian Earth Sanctuaries to rescue endangered species). He equates the myths and their meaning with the insights of the Dravidian people of ancient India who, it has been suggested in recent scientific research, were their ancestors, driven south and east by invaders into India from the north. After a fascinating survey of scientific findings regarding the implications of the earth's rhythms upon our planetary life he states:

In light of this new model, we can conceive of a bridge of interaction between the magnetic life of the planet and biological and cultural developments of humanity.
In summary, the flow of human civilization from the wood-based cultures of the south mirrors the south-to-north circulation of the continental masses. At one time over one-half of the earth's land masses were in the southern hemisphere, whereas now over three-fourths are in the northern hemisphere. The earth's magnetic lines of force flow in a similar pattern, from south to north, as do the continents. All of the cycles of the earth's body carry out its metabolism.
The Dreamtime myths mirror these interrelated patterns and cycles of earth and human nature. The myths begin with an interplay of great cosmic energies that move and shape the earth's crust (the cycle of drifting continents). The energies and cycles of earth then create, influence, and destroy all living species in rhythmic sequences (the magnetic cycles and the ice ages). These life cycles of the planet then have a profound and lasting influence on cultural patterns and the development of humanity. -- p. 96

The Aborigines entered Australia with established skills, their myths all indicating a prior time of human development. They are now believed to have traveled across a landbridge that included Malaysia, Indonesia, the islands in between, New Guinea, and the northern part of Australia -- a broad landmass. A narrow strip of water between the present Indonesia and New Guinea could have been crossed on rafts.

It used to be thought that the Aborigines arrived in Australia some 20,000 years ago, a figure amended more recently to 40,000 years. However, Lawlor draws on material that is the culmination of much research among remains at campsites all the way from Northern Territory and Queensland to the far south. For instance, chemists have used carbon and other dating methods, and paleobotanists have found traces of long extinct species of plants among the camp debris. In addition, the author provides tables of geological findings and has commentaries upon them, drawing upon Vedic material to give cores of meaning for certain of the mythic stories. This is breaking new ground because the scholars of the Vedas tend to date what are known by this name according to the probable date of writing. There is much to support the contention that the Vedic heritage was transmitted orally long before it was set down in writing; this claim is similar to that made for the Homeric writings of ancient Greece: to have been transmitted bardic fashion before the writing down.

The result of all the research provided in Lawlor's book is the correction of the date of the first arrival of the Aborigines as probably 120,000 years ago with very recent estimates offering the figure of 150,000. They are startling numbers for some conservatives!

H. P. Blavatsky's writings refer to the Aborigines as among the last survivors of a stock-race that evolved on a previous continent that once embraced in its larger mass Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and India. This land was given the name "Lemuria" last century by P. L. Sclater, a scientist investigating species of lemur found on the three places mentioned here. He thought it would be a fitting name for a continent no longer above sea level. Blavatsky alluded to this and stated that the original name had faded out of human memory, but it was vastly different from Sclater's designation.

It is certain that the Aborigines, dismissed for so long as "primitive" in the modern sense of inferior, were actually the remnants of a once highly cultured ancestry. The Aranda tribe, for illustration, has had a complicated marriage system designed to prevent inbreeding; totemic names enable the easy remembrance of one's genetic heritage drawn from the maternal and paternal lines. At a conservative estimate, it would take many generations from these lines' combination for a descendant to have the same heritage of genes as an ancestral pair taken at random.

In addition, the Arandas and some other tribes had a system of training that not only involved the ability to live in the harsh, arid conditions prevailing over the major portion of the continent. By no means all of the tribes lived in the fertile areas of eastern Australia! The system of education mentioned comprised seven grades of instruction, with initiations into higher degrees from lower ones, each testifying to competence rather like university examinations. This special training was intended to offer fuller understanding of the human organism and its components, and further insights into the purpose of life on the planet. Those completing their induction into higher levels were called Elders, who seem to have acquired in the process some special capabilities and characteristics.

As Dr. A. P. Elkin, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Sydney, pointed out in his Aboriginal Men of High Degree (The John Murtagh Macrossan Memorial Lectures for 1944, Australasian Publishing Co., Sydney, 1945. Professor Elkin claimed that the "Aboriginal secret cults and religion are Oriental," and its adepts like the Indian and Tibetan yogis), the Elders display an "immobile face, shrewd, penetrating eyes -- eyes that look you all the way through -- the lenses of a mind which is photographing your very character and intentions."

I have seen those eyes and felt that mind at work when I have sought knowledge which only the man of high degree could impart. I have known white persons almost fear the eyes of a karadji, so all-seeing, deep and quiet did they seem. This "clever-man" was definitely an outstanding person, a clear thinker, a man of decision, one who believed, and acted on the belief, that he possessed . . . the power to will others to have faith in themselves. -- p. 19

And R. M. Berndt, another anthropologist who lived among Aborigines for years at a time, testified:

You could always tell a medicine-man (walemira) by the intelligent look in his eyes, two Wiradjeri informants told [him], and great ones were enveloped in a peculiar atmosphere which caused people to feel different (Ibid., p. 19).

The summation of the Aborigines' program of education was the realization that all nature is one, and that the earth-life of all our planetary co-inhabitants points to a holistic approach to our responsibility that was born long before those of the West thought and felt the reality of the holistic view! (See "Holistic Views of the Australian Aborigines," SUNRISE, Aug/Sep 1992.)

We can see this in the "Walkabout" that took a long time to complete, in which all the tribes participated. Professor W. E. Stanner, also of the University of Sydney -- a noted anthropologist and sociologist specializing in the Aborigines -- has claimed that the tribes moved around the continent like the hands around a clockface. He referred also to an interruption caused by the large-scale decimation of the tribes by settlers who hunted them down during the last decades of the nineteenth century and early years of our own. This had also resulted in the subsequent tragic circumstances of the Aborigines, as well as the end of the cycle of "Walkabouts" around the country. In our times, this aboriginal event has been interpreted to mean that an Aborigine would suddenly feel the urge to "go bush" for some days, and leave his family and fellow tribesmen! The larger "Walkabout," however, had to do with events combining astronomical and global positions and energies.

One of the surprising aboriginal myths involves the cyclings of stars and constellations as seen from earth. For example, their names Irdibilyi, Wommainya, and Karder relate to the Alpha stars, respectively Altair in the constellation Aquila the Eagle, Vega in the Lyre, and to Karder (this constellation is the Lizard in Aborigine lore), the Dolphin constellation whose brightest star is classified with a brightness between the ranges of Alpha and Beta as compared with others. The myth involving these three stars, too long to present here, describes Karder as being "lazy," meaning slow-moving, which implies a long time of observation for it to be certain that a star's seeming movement in the cosmos -- as seen from earth -- must have appeared to a viewer to be "slower" than that of the other two.

Astronomical and other myths were retold by Daisy Bates, whom the Aborigines loved as one of their own, and honored with the name Kabbarli or "Wise Woman." Kabbarli was interested particularly in the Aborigines' zodiac, and in moving from place to place with them, she would scan the skies with her portable telescope, relating her hosts' myths to the cosmic entities to which they gave color (See "Aboriginal Tales Retold," SUNRISE, May 1980).

However, in my view the quintessence of the meaning embedded in the Aborigines' lore is contained in Lawlor's treatment of their heritage alongside that of India's Dravidian people. He ascribes to them the tables of the yugas, the cycles of Ages that the Greeks labeled Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Iron. He adds to the list the periods of global glaciation that fit exactly into the succession of the four Ages listed above -- the allusion is to both the large and small Ice Ages.

When referring to our globe's reception of solar energies at the north pole and transmission of energies from the south pole, he presents tables of duration derived from ancient sources. The result of these and other processes involving our planet and the sun is the efflorescence of human culture in the south, moving slowly northward in the beautiful image he gives of the lotus flower born in the mud, rising to the surface of the water, then opening its petals to the sun. This famous symbol is used also in the Orient, and in Egypt too from its civilization's ancient days, to represent birth, infancy, adolescence, and maturity when it spends its all to provide seed for the next generation. Then, he says, there is a withdrawal to the south again, where a new gestation takes place, resulting in yet a new efflorescence.

What a magnificent picture this presents for our consideration: a vast view of evolution as the opening of buds of our human potentials into flowers of civilization, and really of those dormant in the energy field of the planet itself! As some scientists are beginning to proclaim, recent discoveries about the universe suggest to them that it is a conscious system. If this is recognized generally, then evolution must be considered to be directed by some kind of a cosmos-spanning consciousness, since a pattern appears to be innate throughout its domains.

(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1993. Copyright © 1993 by Theosophical University Press)

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