We show you all the facts about Australian Aboriginal Mythology. Know their legends, stories, myths and most powerful gods.
Australian Aboriginal Mythology
The Australian Aboriginal mythology, are the set of stories told by the Aborigines, which narrate the different rituals, myths and legends of all indigenous peoples belonging to the entire Australian continent.
The Australian Aboriginal population was formed due to the various migrations from the Asian continent to the coasts of Australia; their arrival to these islands is estimated to be more than 40,000 years old. However, today there are no more than 200,000 Australian Aborigines left.
Generally this mythology is called “the dreamtime stories” . It presents characteristics of catechism fragments and a cosmology manual as a different view of the world and its creation story.
The Australian Aborigines are characterized by a great diversity of tribes, which also brings us a lot of linguistic and cultural genres independent of each tribe throughout the Australian territory. But they all have in common a special bond with nature and the land.
History of Australian Aboriginal mythology
More than 40,000 years ago, primitive Aborigines migrated from Asia in canoes and crude boats, arriving on the shores of Australia. They were grouped throughout Australia and divided into three regions: Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia.
More than 400 Aboriginal tribes were created throughout Australia; each developed their own language and their own characteristics and cultures. It is difficult to generalize Australian Aboriginal mythology to have exact characteristics with such a diversity of languages, beliefs, myths and practices.
For their myths and legends are told in different languages and versions in each tribe. In spite of all this, according to the “Encyclopedia of Australian Aborigines”; it tells us that a remarkable similarity between all these tribes is in the mixture and similarity of their myths all over the Australian continent.
With the arrival of the first foreigners after the 15th century to Australian territory, the Aborigines felt invaded. They did not understand the customs that the new visitors wanted to impose, among them Europeans, English, French and even some contacts from China, Malaysia, among others.
Mainly the customs of the Europeans clashed with the beliefs and culture of the Australian Aborigines; from the exploitation of animals and land, to the buildings they built.
With these conquests, the Aboriginal people suffered a lot with diseases and violence, and their population declined enormously; even after being millions of inhabitants. Today there are no more than 200,000 Aborigines left in Australia.
The Australian Aboriginal population existing today keeps their culture alive through the practice of rituals, beliefs and artistic expressions of their ancestors. Leaving as a legacy the Australian Aboriginal mythology characteristic of their origins.
Cosmology of Australian Aboriginal Mythology
The vision that the Australian Aborigines have about the creation of the world, as well as the role that each man must fulfill on earth and all aspects of their daily life, have their base strongly linked to their culture; essentially from their strongest characteristic: “the connection with the earth and nature”.
Within the Australian Aboriginal mythology, nature is the essence superior to everything, which is integrated by all living and dead beings; from an earthworm to men. The existence of each being is important and depends on another, all share nature and not even man is superior to nature.
It was extremely important to preserve and take care of nature, because from it they lived and obtained all the resources they needed in their daily lives. For this reason their rituals were the main function of man to worship nature and its elements; in gratitude for the shelter that man receives from it.
The way in which they represented the elements of nature was through the “totems”; they worshipped them, either individually, by house or by tribe. They also classified them according to functions, from protection, sex, family, among others. These totem cults fed the creation of clans.
Thanks to the social classification that emerged after the clans, a great diversity of myths, beliefs and shared heroes spread. The large number of group divisions made it very difficult to generalize their mythology; however, they share a belief about the universe and their worship of the earth and nature.
Cosmology by aboriginal groups
As a consequence of the great diversity of Aboriginal groups throughout Australia, there are more than 250 different dialects, not to mention different cultures, beliefs and religions. This means that each region has its own cosmology of the creation of the world.
They could be classified by groups, mainly by the most known tribes. In general terms to establish the Australian Aboriginal population there are 18 cultural regions. They are divided as follows:
- Northern zone: tribes that stood out for painting. In this zone live 21 Aboriginal tribes.
- Southern zone: the groups belonging to this zone were called “nunga”. The aboriginal tribes that lived in this zone were three.
- East zone: 17 of the Australian Aboriginal tribes lived in this zone.
- Western zone: the tribes of the western zone were classified in two, the so called “yamtji” located in the northern area; and the so called “nyungars” in the southern area. In total there were 5 aboriginal tribes.
- Central area: where the most arid deserts of the earth are located, 7 aboriginal tribes lived there.
- Tasman Island: in this area lived the Nuenonne and Paredarerme groups.
- Torres Strait Islands: where the Meriam Mir and Muralag tribes were located.
Best known Aboriginal tribes
In all the Australian territory there were all these tribes and many others; but as for the Australian aboriginal mythology there are two tribes very recognized for their cosmic point of view:
- Murrinh Patha people: located in the northern territory; all aspects of their life, beliefs and religion are directly linked to sleep. For the Murrinh Patha, life is sacred, and there is no difference between the spiritual and the mental, the sacred and the profane, among others.
They believe that everything arises from this “eternal dream”. In their myths they clearly describe the message that life is good, but in the course of it there are sufferings that every man must overcome as he grows up until he understands why they happen.
- Pintupi people: located in the Gibson desert; their mythology interprets the dream in a different way, describing it as a “mythical conscience”. Within their super human mythology, events and happenings that were already told and sung in their rituals take place.
In their narratives, songs and rituals are a complex mythology as compared to other Australian Aboriginal tribes. According to their vision of the world and the eternal dream, they believe that there are mystical beings that within the dream guide them through three different paths in the desert where the Pintupi live.
Characteristics of Australian Aboriginal mythology
- Their voice was basically used only for singing and the way they communicated with each other was telepathic.
- Their relationship with nature is fundamental in their existence; they perform daily prayers and ceremonies to thank nature for their existence and never lack food.
- For them to have the daily food it is indispensable to make prayers and supplications every morning to obtain the daily sustenance.
- They are “Zaoris” specialists ; that is to say, they can very easily locate water in the desert. They can also calculate its depth, by the smell of the air if they are not very deep and by the vibration of the ground if it is very deep.
- They have super-developed senses of sight, smell and hearing.
- They can determine through the heat emanating from a plant if it is ready for consumption.
- From the beginning, their diet was based on vegetarianism; however, they were forced to eat meat and fish in certain situations due to climatic changes that affected the vegetation.
- They are not accustomed to celebrate anniversaries; the celebrations that are made are proposed by the same honorees at the moment they consider that they have become better men by their own effort.
- Each animal in their environment has a symbolism and meaning in their mythology that influences their way of life.
- They had a freedom of attachment to certain beliefs and some objects.
- Men wear feathers on their ankles and arms, white drawings of different animals all over their bodies, and colored ribbons on their heads.
- The women wear many necklaces, and drawings all over their bodies in white but with fruit and vegetable motifs.
- The nickname “old man of the tribe” was not necessarily due to age, it was given to anyone who proved to be the most mature and wise of the village.
Rites in Australian Aboriginal mythology
For Aboriginal Australians, spiritual beliefs were a fundamental part of their religion and daily life. But the existence of so many Aboriginal groups throughout the Australian territory, with a diversity of customs and traditions and despite sharing their worldview; created different versions in their cults and rituals between one tribe and another.
In their rituals the Australian Aborigines are characterized by the fact that instead of worshipping what is after death, they worship backwards; to a time known as “dreamtime” which means “the era of the dream”.
From ceremonies to rituals, the elders held a high position of respect. They had no priests to conduct these rituals, as any member of the tribe could perform the ceremony; and all members had a role. The elders were in charge of guarding the special stone tablets or carvings, which were engraved with the most important stories of the tribes.
There are few records of the details of the rituals of the Australian Aborigines, but in these rituals the participants moved to a plane of consciousness where they had unimaginable powers. They believed that man, animals and plants all had a spirit within them.
These spirits, upon death, would leave the body where they were and return to nature. Some spirits return in an evil form as diseases; but others return to provide protection. How spirits return is directly connected to the acts we perform, much like the “boomerang effect” or “karma”.
The most common ritual was the “corroboree”, also known as the “nature awakening ceremony”. It was the most direct way for the Australian Aborigines to get in touch with nature.
The songs and melodies they made in this ritual were accompanied by the women who took sticks to make noises by clapping them together with their palms; and the men made sounds with their spears on the ground.
Myths and legends of Australian Aboriginal mythology
In Australia there are both similarities and differences in their myths and legends due to the existence of different tribes with different languages, beliefs, lifestyles and religions despite sharing this territory. However, they all have in common the development of these stories in a world called “Dreamtime”.
The Dreamtime is an era of eternal sleep, where their ancestors are found, and this is the origin of the origin of the world. They could access it through mystical rituals and considered it the root of man. In their myths and legends, heroes, spirits, gods and celestial and mystical beings appear in their history.
Port Phillip Myth
Port PhillipBay , in many years ago was a place of land inhabited by the Australian Aborigines. Due to the rise in sea level, it caused the Yatra River and its tributaries to join together to form a large lake in the middle of the island. There the Aborigines celebrated feasts and lived off the marine life.
Myth of the Great Barrier Reef
In Yarrabah, there is the barrier reef coastline located south of Caims. Aboriginal stories tell that in the past there was a literal barrier reef that disappeared over the years, where there were large forests and trees that were submerged.
Myth of the Moon
In Australian Aboriginal myths, the moon is a male being. With the existence of the moon came two wonderful gifts to the Aborigines: fertility and the hope of life beyond death.
The moon was a mystical man who had the power to reproduce with women, animals and plants. He was the lover and husband of all the women of the aboriginal tribes and the only way for them not to get pregnant was not to look too close to the moon so as not to attract his attention.
All the waters where the moon is reflected were part of his domain. It has the power to control the tides and even cause floods. The moon’s cycle of waxing and waning is associated with life and death; for this reason he is named the lord of death and rebirth.
The god Biame, also known under other names such as: Balame or Byamee; whose meaning is the word “to make”. For this reason he is considered the creator god of the earth. When Biame created the earth, he divided the population of the different living beings into three tribes.
In the first population he created the tribe of the animals and the inhabitants of the soil; where he created all the animals of different shapes and sizes. From reptiles to koalas. In the second population, he created the bird tribe; where he created all the birds. Where different dimensions, color and plumage.
In the third and last population, he created the fish tribe. These populated all the rivers, lakes and seas of the earth; the objective of the god Biame was that all existing beings on earth should be equal and live together in harmony.
Myth of Lake Eyre
The relationship of Lake Eyre with the history of the Australian Aborigines goes back many years. The tribes that live around this lake tell stories of how these arid deserts of today were once fertile and wet lands, where there were beautiful endless gardens and where their ancestors lived.
Legend of the creation of the world
In the Tjukurpa epoch, the beginning of all time; there was only one type of motionless life on earth. It is described as a giant transparent mass, which was composed of the remains of unfinished beings of animal and plant species.
In that giant mass were enclosed the past, the present and the future of mankind. Then the supreme being, who came out of nowhere, arrived to transform this giant mass and sculpt from it human bodies that could stand upright.
Thus every man and woman created from that mass was linked to every unfinished animal or vegetable being from which it was sculpted. And then every mountain or sea on earth was created; however, the supreme being did not have time to finish man and so he remained an imperfect being.
Legend of the Wandjina
The most intriguing legend of the Australian aborigines is that of the Wandjina, described as giant beings with white faces, large black eyes, no mouth and a head surrounded by a kind of helmet. The only evidence of their existence are the paintings left in the caves and it is believed that they are beings from another planet.
The caves where the Wandjina paintings are located are sacred places for the Australian aborigines and they believe that they play a fundamental role in the creation of the world. The main place where these paintings are located is in Kimberly; specifically in the domains of the Unambal tribe.
The Australian aborigines have a great respect for the figures that represent the Wandjina, and they think that if any person disrespects them, the Wandjina have the power to punish them with floods, lightning and tornadoes on the earth. Only the elders can draw them and this knowledge is passed from generation to generation.
The Wandjina, known as gods of creation to the Australian Aborigines, lived among them creating human beings. They taught them everything they needed to live from hunting to penis circumcision. They gave them laws to follow, rituals and ceremonies. And even though they are no longer on earth they can control everything that happens in heaven and earth.
Dreamtime is the meaning of “the age of sleep”, it is a fundamental concept in the beliefs and religions of the Australian Aboriginal tribes. They believe that thanks to the eternal sleep of their ancestors, they have within each of them traces of their ancestors that they can activate through their rituals.
At the beginning of all times, when there was still nothing more than the creator spirit, there was a day when he began to dream. His first dream was of fire, and it came to life; then he dreamed of air and then rain.
Although there was a great battle between fire, rain and air in the creator’s dreams; he liked it and decided that he would continue dreaming. The battle ceased and then he gave way to dreaming of the earth, the sky and the sea. He stayed like this for so long that he began to get bored with his dream.
When that happened the great creator decided to give life to his dreams so that everything would come true. And the secret of dreaming he passed it on to his creator spirits so that they could continue with the dream on his behalf; the first creator spirit with whom he shared this secret was the fish, known as the Barramundi spirit.
Thus each creator spirit dreamed of all things existing on earth, until reaching man who was amazed by nature and its creations. Man understood that the dream created a brotherhood among all creatures and knew the importance of taking care of his secret.
Structure of the universe
Although the structure of the universe varies greatly among each Australian Aboriginal tribe; in a general idea it could be said that based on their mythology, the universe was divided into three planes. These planes were composed of the earth, the sky and the underground.
In the sky lived all the gods and ancestral heroes; it was also the place where the souls lived after leaving their bodies at death. The earth was represented by the whole of Australia, where the Australian Aborigines lived and was originally described as a dry place with little water.
The last plane, the subsoil was that which was found in a place below the earth and had great similarity to the sky. In some cases it is said to be a dark and desolate place; but in others it is said to be inhabited by beings very similar to humans. Shamans were highly respected because they were the only ones who could travel through these planes through their rituals.
Legend of the rainbow serpent
Also called “the mother snake”, she was an ancestral divinity of the Australian aborigines; she represented fertility and had the power to give life. When the earth was an empty space where nothing existed, inside the earth rested in a deep sleep the rainbow serpent.
One day he woke up and came out of the interior of the earth, when he reached the deserted surface he began to travel the earth, due to his power he provoked great rains creating lakes and seas. Every place it passed through with its power of fertility caused fertile land and lush vegetation to be born.
Thus trees of all sizes, fruits and colors were born all over the earth. At some points the rainbow serpent plunged into the earth creating valleys and mountains in its path; while at other points where it only slithered, plains remained.
He created the animals, plants and birds; and finally he created the human being from the bowels of the earth. The rainbow serpent, entrusted the mission to the human being to maintain the balance and be the protector of all creation; and that if he were to kill for pleasure, he would be punished by it.
Legend of the goddess Yhi
Considered to be one of the main deities of creation within Australian Aboriginal mythology. In the time of sleep the goddess Yhi remained asleep, until a mysterious whisper made her wake up and when she opened her eyes she flooded the world with her light.
With the earth illuminated, she decided to travel through every space of the earth, causing the birth of vegetation in her path until the earth was wrapped in a green mantle of vegetation and totally illuminated.
When the goddess Yhi, covered with her light even the caves, she managed to defeat the darkness bringing with her the creation of insects, fish and other animals, filling the earth totally with life with her powers. Then the goddess Yhi left the earth transforming herself into a great ball of light representing the sun.
Legend of Captain Cook
This legend is mainly linked to “Captain James Cook”, who played a very important role in the colonization of Australia. He is portrayed as a villain, his arrival is not at all a cause for celebration among the Australian Aboriginal tribes; and they blame him for having brought the British government with him.
Their legends contain differences in their accounts from tribe to tribe, each recounting their encounters with Captain Cook individually. He arrives just after the formation of the world for the Australian Aborigines, and brings important changes that influenced their social formation.
Gods of Australian Aboriginal Mythology
They are the supreme gods of the Australian Aborigines, they belong to the so-called “stellar council of the gods” . The chief of the Wandjina is the god Wallungunde, and they are the all-powerful beings; Wallungunde is in charge of protecting the galaxy, he is the one who dictates the laws and decides on the life and death of everyone and everything. And they have telepathic powers.
Also called “Eve”, she is the mother of all snakes in the dreamtime. She is also the mother of all human beings and every animal that dwells in the waters. She was brought to earth by the Wandjina.
The great rainbow serpent
He is the father of all creation, he is very good and gentle with all those who respect him; but those who break the laws he punishes them terribly. He lived in the interior of the earth until he emerged to the surface creating the world, then he went to eternal sleep leaving man as protector of all his creation.
Yingarna and Ngalyod
They were serpents that collaborated for the creation of the world; and define them as mother and son. Where Yingarna is the one that represents the feminine figure as the mother of all serpents; and Ngalyod is the masculine figure in charge of transforming the earth.
He is the god and father of the sky; creator of rivers, lakes, seas and caves. He taught humans the art of weather prediction, as well as music, dance, among others. And he was the one who created the first place of initiation for ceremonies.
He is a bird god who also belongs to the stellar council of the gods; he is responsible for creating all the necessary supplies for humans to live. He has the power to change forms, likes to create chaos and appears in people’s dreams. He usually lives in the “alchera zone”, which is the world of the gods.
They call this way to two brother gods that have the power to control genetics, and for this reason they were responsible for making the separation of sexes, male and female in the first hermaphrodite humans who were born on earth.
He was the most deceitful, incestuous and profane god that existed within the Australian aboriginal mythology. He was a cheating god whose only pleasure was to create problems and discord among humans in order to create chaos.
They called him “mantis insectoid god”, he was the god of destruction and represented evil on earth. He lived inside the caves and Marmoo was the evil god who wanted to destroy the goddess Yhi when she descended to earth.
The seven sisters
They are nymphs who left their home to travel to the earth and go through all its places, then ascended to heaven but in the form of stars as “the Pleiades stars”; they are also known as the seven Hathors.
It is the lizard god who is in charge of protecting the “Urulu”; it is the place where all the dimensions exist where the gods live. He was responsible for the death of the god Marindi, ancestral dog god; in one of the many battles between the gods that took place in the Urulu.
They call this way to some aquatic creatures that generally have the form of mermaids, but they can change their form to fish or crocodile reptiles. They have the power to control the weather of all planets and can create great storms.
It is an evil god that flies at night and kills anyone who crosses its path. It is described with a physical appearance similar to a humanoid, which has wings made of skin and bones; with horrible claws.
She is the goddess of light, in Australian Aboriginal mythology she represents the sun. This goddess created vegetation, all kinds of animals including insects, reptiles, among others. She also created the night and the day.
Mystical beings of the Australian Aboriginal mythology
- Adungun: also known as “maan”, is an evil and carnivorous spirit, devourer of men.
- Akurra: is a snake that plays the role of a minor deity that comes from the great rainbow serpent.
- Arkaroo: is the famous snake that dried up Lake Frome located in South Australia, drank all its waters leaving a large salt flat.
- Arunkulta: is an evil spirit from which only the Mangar-Kunger-Kunja lizard can protect them.
- Bagini: they appear in southeastern Australia, and are female spirits that take the form of young and beautiful women of the Australian Aborigines to rape men; they are half animal.
- Bobbi-Bobbi: this was a spirit being who lived in the sky, in the dreamtime. He is described as a giant snake similar to the rainbow serpent, and was very good with humans.
- Bolngo: was a genie who lived among the clouds and had power over thunder, rain and hurricanes.
- Bunyip: was an aquatic monster that came out in the swamps and rivers. They devour any animal that comes near their cave and their noises can be heard at night.
- Dhakan: is a being half snake half fish that lives in the wells and puddles, is the creator of all the snakes that inhabit these places.
- Djambas: they are described as creatures as giant as a tree that usually have the shape of a skeleton but can change to any shape they wish, they are cannibals and sometimes they can become invisible.
- Djambun: is a platypus that was formerly a man and lives in rivers.
- Djanggawul: they call this way to the union of two sisters and a brother who are ancestral spirits of the Australian aborigines. Between them they populated the land.
- Djunkgao: they are a group of sisters who had powers over the ocean currents, they gave the names to animals and plants. They lost their powers and became mundane women when one of them was incestuously raped.
- Drop Bear: its name means “falling bear”; it was a giant and ferocious creature, family of the koalas. It lived at the top of trees and was carnivorous.
- Dulumdulum: was a giant cosmogonic genie who lived during the dream age and was turned to stone when he died.
- Forso: this is the name given to the ghosts that appear on the islands to frighten their living relatives.
- Gauarge: is an evil spirit that lives in the caves along the coasts, and likes to lure intrepid swimmers into whirlpools to drown them.
- Golomono: half man and half crocodile, dangerous to both species.
- Gulkmin: they call this way to a snake that is yellow in color and they believe that it represents the rain.
- Gurangatch: half fish and half reptile, they describe it more as a kind of giant eel.
- Imarinja: they are spirits that hide in the mistletoe and attack men by getting into their hearts; they are shaped like green bats.
- Imberombera: she was a woman so giant that she even crossed the sea walking in the deep without sinking her head, she was the first mother of humans.
- Julana: is an evil spirit that rapes women who dig the earth.
- Kapoo: is an ancestral kangaroo of the Australian Aborigines.
Music of Australian Aboriginal mythology
Music plays a fundamental role in all aspects of Australian Aboriginal life; with the existence of over 400 Aboriginal groups throughout Australia, it is inevitable that music also has a wide variety of sounds and meanings.
The Australian Aborigines have one of the richest and oldest cultures on the planet, and their music not only dates back to their origins but has also undergone many variations after the processes of colonization. This has caused the combination of their musical instruments mainly with the European ones that were their major influence.
- Didyeridú: also called “yidaki”, which means “neck of the emu”; it is the oldest instrument of mankind. It is a very long hollow tube without holes, with wind inlets at both ends. It is generally made of eucalyptus wood and is played by men in ceremonies.
- Clapsticks: it is considered as a percussion instrument; they are two sticks made of wood that hit each other. They are oval and are carved with drawings, generally of snakes, although they can also have birds and other animals.
Conclusion about Australian Aboriginal Mythology
The Australian Aboriginal mythology is extremely broad, as it encompasses a great diversity of cultures, beliefs, religions and ways of life of more than 400 Aboriginal tribes throughout the Australian territory. Causing a complexity of generalization in its history and mythology.
In their myths and legends are present a large number of mythical beings, which all have in common moral messages about the union between species and the importance and protection of nature with which they have a sacred connection since the origin of time.
Their oral traditions were a legacy passed from generation to generation, demonstrating in them their great knowledge of the cosmos, nature and the human being. Ancestral rites and ceremonies play a fundamental role in their culture and way of life, since through them they can travel through the spiritual worlds and follow the laws of life of the cosmos.