Dreamtime Myth: History As Future

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Wildman, P. (1996). Dreamtime Myth: History as Future (interpreting an Australian Aboriginal view of history as future). New Renaissance, ISSN 0939-1657, 7(1), 16-19.

This article:

Wildman, P., & Blomeley, B. (1998). Dreamtime Myth: Exploring History as Future through the Dreamtime Stories of the Magani Whirlpools of Torres Strait and Gooriala the Rainbow Serpent of Cape York. In S. Inayatullah & P. Wildman (Eds.), Futures Studies: Methods, Emerging Issues and Civilisational Visions. Brisbane: Prosperity Press [multi media CDRom].

When we walk upon Mother Earth, we always plant our feet carefully
because we know the faces of our future generations
are looking up at us from beneath the ground.

We never forget them.
Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper,
Onondaga Indian Nation,
North America
Dreamtime Myth:

History as Future

(interpreting an Australian Aboriginal view

of history as future)

Like a withered leaf at dawn dreaming back through life of its re-growth on our tree of life*


How can history ever become future? Sounds bizarre doesn't it. Well maybe the old adage 'if you don't learn from you mistakes your bound to repeat them' shows how even in our Western culture this can occur. This paper interprets an Australian Aboriginal view of this phenomena where 'dreamtime' can become 'tomorrowtime'. The specialness of this view is explored in comparison with many religious traditions. An epistemological rationale from a Western is presented for respecting the integrity of such a view. Several points of relevance for us in 'todaytime' of this wisdom of the Indigenous are then outlined.


European languages require us to use words like past present and future. Consequently, we have the notion that time is unilinear, a sort of �times arrow�. For Lawlor (1991) this is like the hands of a clock moving from past to future. From my understanding, Australian Aboriginal languages don�t have a word for time. In this sense, the outer external or manifest world is part of the ancestors� dreaming. Surely only a Western view would hold that such an interest in dreaming and myth is historical, past oriented and child's play. Rather, I see dreaming and myth as symbolic indications of the �unmanifesting� ie.what we do as we are about to dream. It is the encompassing dream which is past, present and future and in which our consciousness speciates or produces particularities.

In this way, the concept of �future� folds back on itself as Dreamtime past which then outworks itself to become present reality. Consequently, Aborigine's undertaking present day walkabouts are, in effect, dreamtending their collective dream (their myth) as they re-trace the mythic pathways of their Dreamtime ancestors. In their waking state they are the dreaming of their ancestors. In turn, the Dreaming of the present day Aboriginal peoples becomes the waking state of their ancestors. One�s private dream maybe seen as one�s personal myth whereas a collective myth (Dreamtime story) maybe seen as public dreaming.

Here we explore some crucial aspects of such Indigenous knowledge systems and draw some lessons to be learned in our modern day chaos of life in the p/fast lane.

From Aboriginal Epistemology to Ontology

In most Indigenous ways of knowing, one needs to abandon the conventional abstraction of linear western time and replace it with the cycle of movement of consciousness from dream to outer reality. This model views creativity as the erotic expression of creation. In effect, one has to move from epistemology to ontology, where myths as symbolic codification's of knowledge guide day to day life and are in turn shaped by their conscious expression.

� dreamtime - an Aboriginal perspective

Dreamtime myths incorporate moral and spiritual understandings as well as all kinds of practical information. For instance, in this way of being (ontology), animals and to some extent people, live for the most part in the Dreaming. Death is movement into the dreaming which then takes a key role in constructing the active present and future and thus fundamentally different to much of our western knowledge of death. This pattern of knowing seems to me to be like the infinity symbol (�) symbolising fourfold movements from an inner world to an outer world and from unconscious to conscious and re-cycle. This becomes a way of being, an ontology, and is illustrated in the following figure.

Figure 1: Dreamtime Ontology

The Specialiness on this View

In my experience this ontology is unique. It has developed on the Australian mainland for at least 50,000 years in direct response to the calls of the ice ages, flora and fauna, landforms, and peoples of this continent. From this vantage point there is no need for concepts such as individuality, ego, possessions, nor is there separation of mind, matter and soul or Karma as they are commonly understood.

� some differences

This view is not unilinear in the Western time sense, with the movement into the future being to progress through 'times arrow' from the past through present to a bigger and better tomorrow. Nor is this perspective a traditional Christian one where the manifest �I�, is in need of �salvation� because of �original sin� and �fallen nature�, which we seek to overcome through �repentance� in order to become a �chosen one� and thereby achieve �resurrection�. Also unlike the scientific tradition there is no separation of subject/object.

Further, it is not a circular expression, as in the cycle of the ages of the Eastern, Hindi, sense. Nor does it suggest an absorption into the cosmic whole as in the Buddhist journey, which is a sort of reversed Western story/myth leading to the absorption of the �I�. Further, it is not mystic in the Sufi sense of seeking all one needs inwardly and taking one�s roots from the phenomenal world and placing them in the Divine. Finally it is not mystic in the Gnostic sense of direct apperception of God.

Rather it remains, for me, quixotically and intriguingly unique. Many of the esoteric anchors in both Western and Eastern ontology's in this context simply prove to be artefacts even shibboleths. That is they are simply not necessary and yet there are parallels between all the ontology�s eg. the idea of the 'eternal moment'. Their absence is quixotic in that as Campbell says Aboriginal cultures are among the oldest intact culture on earth. It is unique in that it contextualises the present manifesting moment within the unmanifesting cosmos of the ancestors� dreaming and the present dreaming as the ancestors� present moment. The ontology is anchored securely betwixt the two worlds and one cannot colonise the other. That is between the conscious the unconscious, rather than emphasising the conscious as in the West or unconscious as in the East.

When this is coupled with 'the eternal moment' as balance between past, present and future, that is, Point F in Figure 1, we have a situation which is trans-temporal and trans-consciousness balance, transteric ie.exoteric and esoteric. This point/field may be termed and represents the quadradynamic equilibrium point of the eternal moment where history may be seen to fold in on itself to become future. It is my belief that Indigenous initiations occur at this point. In this context 'eldership' is as a form of spiritual guide ie.in Western terms the guide archetype of Hermes psychopompus.

In the context of this ontology there is no need for the fall, original sin, resurrection, redemption, repentance, salvation, transcendence, reincarnation, death, time, wounding childhood or materiality in the way Westerners (and even some Easterners) understand them. Nor are Nirvana, ego elimination or universal consciousness needed Lawlor (1991:37,74,183 & 360). The closest I can come to describing this Indigenous ontology is world soul manifest through archetypal dreamtime figures, undertaking walkabout dreamtending as active imagination (in the Jungian sense) Campbell (1988).

� some similarities

The aboriginal processes of initiation embedded in dreamtime consciousness remain unique yet may also be seen to link with many esoteric traditions. For instance it embodies the 'eternal moment', as point F in Figure 1, common to so many esoteric paths. Further in terms of the initiation process dreamtime processes reflect aspects of the esoteric process of the following paths towards spiritual enlightenment, in particular the alchemaic process.

The Sufi journey/path of the seven valleys: quest-> knowledge->love->non attachment->unity->bewilderment->God realisation

The seven step alchemaic process: reflection->recognition->release->remoulding->rebirth->reimmersion->resurrection.

In turn these are somewhat different to the Bhakti Path of: total devotion->synergy->resonance->union->new life->relatio(nship)->total devotion

In all these systems there seems to be: a search/experience period->a period of reflection->an annihilation of present self/initiation->a union with Dreamtime consciousness/God->release->rebirth/transumation and->reimmersion in life.

� the centrality of spirit of place

Aboriginal being has never been held in the Western tripartite prison of Greek rationalist philosophy, Roman law and Christian theology. Aboriginal ontology remains a liberated ecstatic celebration of its historicity and its speciating/nurturing of futures potential. It is also possible to see how such an ontology could evidence telepathy and a form of consciousness emerging from the land � a sort of noosphere emerging from the morphogenic spirit of place.

At the risk of being somewhat controversial, I propose that it may be this very uniqueness that has contributed to the continued existence of Aboriginal Dreamtime ontology. That is, it is just so different to Western ontology that we have had little to �hook into� and colonise. Thus I believe it is out of our own inability's to understand something so �other� that the culture �survives�. Almost every 'other' we Westerners �pay attention to�, or try to 'manage', dies. Even worse, they become 'consumed' as tourist destinations shown to us as media mastication's of 30-second TV �grabs� on CNN.

The recycling, closed-loop nature of Aboriginal ontology, however, renders it somewhat naive and thus vulnerable to external influences as �others� such as invasion whereas the Western arrow of progress penetrates, dissects, then consumes and incorporates the other, the invaded. Like a funnel it focuses and homogenises diversity. The West may be seen more as an open loop (an arrow is the ultimate open loop!) that to survive needs to feed by piercing and then consuming 'the other' whether this be its future or its Indigenous cultures.

� links to erotic and ecstatic forms of mysticism

Absorption into the cosmic whole is not the crucial focus of this way of being. Rather it is the erotic/ecstatic energies released in the corroboree dance that dances the way of history as future. In turn, these sexual potencies of metaphysical Dreamtime beings generate the natural environment with its flora and fauna. These manifestations act as conscious incantations, even mantras, of the unconscious dreamscape, even more so, since the erotic energies of humans and nature can and do affect each other. Perhaps we Westerners have faint echoes of this fragrance such as lovers� moonlight, waves lapping as silvery filigree on a distant shore, perfume, flowers, colour and seasons.

Some similarities exist with Sufism and other forms of mysticism such as Celtic and Hindu with their views of �yonder shore�. The Sufi poet/saint Rumi:

Hand and spade alike are His (God�s) implicit signs: (our powers of) thinking upon the end are His explicit declarations Mathnawi (2:52-53) Quoted in Stepaniants (1994:68).

For mysticism in general, the visible world corresponds to an invisible one, and serves as a series of symbols for us of that �yonder shore�. Also basic to much mystic praxis is the �resolution of opposites� (good evil, right wrong, innocent guilty, white black, woman man) as perceived in the manifest or exoteric world which points to esoteric unity. In Sufi terms this resolution is achieved by a swing or cycling between the conscious and unconscious where everything is swinging � earth, creatures, even the supernovas. This cycling or pulsing is reminiscent of that outlined in Figure 1.

In much Eastern esoteric practice there seems to be a desire for the conscious �I� to be absorbed into the 'non physical' cosmic whole. In contrast in Western conventional esoteric practice eg. Christianity there seems to be a desire for the conscious 'I' to achieve individual salvation. Indeed much Western exoteric science (and its derivatives psychology, technology and consumerism) seems to demonstrate a desire to liberate the rational and objective �I� from any form of unconscious or subjective influences. Aboriginal cosmology seems rather to celebrate this physicality and the erotic/ecstatic link between consciousness and the physical.

The non traditional, esoteric stream of mystical Christianity side-steps the intellectual concepts of theology and dogma for embodied spiritual experience. Medieval mystics such as Mister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa spoke of a deep self-knowledge where the inner-most core of the world comes to life as embodied spiritual content Steiner (1971). The creative, transforming power of this ecstatic experience to recreate nature and create the future has been recently echoed by the contemporary Christian monk/eco-theologian Thomas Berry (1988).

From Ontology to Cosmology

The cosmos may be conceived as a dynamic system of 'analogical' and/or 'mathological' relationships, like a text to be read and decoded, a veritable forest of symbols. This decoding can be achieved metaphorically and/or mathematically, which in many regards are mirror images of one another. Western science has taken the latter rational methodological path, whereas Indigenous knowledge systems the former symbolical, or what I call a mythodological, one. Nevertheless both are about decoding this 'forest' of symbols which is the cosmos that generates our inquiry into itself. Berry (1988), Wilber (1977).

Aboriginal cosmology renders humans us inseparable from the world and the cosmos. Much of Western environmental piety has a �use it and loose it� attitude whereby humans and nature are �managed� and �protected� separately. Tacey (1995). This can be seen as a kind of reflexive endorsement of �the fall�, where Adam and Eve were forced to leave the Garden of Eco-Unity because of their access to the tree of knowledge. In Aboriginal contexts, however, consciousness and unconsciousness are as one swinging in the erotic physicality of the world around us.

For me, Aboriginal ontology fits with a cosmology that is implicitly relational. It suggests a category of relational knowledge that is sadly lacking in the West. In Western terms we often speak of three ways of knowing or making meaning ie. knowledge for/meaning from:

� Knowing (scientific � scientia � the �only� real rational knowledge) which includes

. Doing (technical � techne)

� Dialogue (conversation/dialogue/dialectics - hermeneutics)

� Being (practice � praxis - critics)

Yet we seldom, if ever, speak of a knowledge for:

� Seeing (insight � gnosis) or

� Relating (connecting � relatio, religion � religio� to link back).

The latter two points relate to esoteric knowledge while the first three relate to exoteric knowledge. What is even more intriguing is that the systems of knowledge we accredit (Nos 1�3) relate people and things, not people and people. Is this yet another scene in the great Western tragedy? Wildman and Inayatullah (1996).

Possibly, such a tragedy is a function of the maleness/patriarchy of our knowledge systems and men generally are separate creatures. Even more concerning is the way the erotic (which is relationship knowledge) and the ecstatic are codified, even imprisoned, in the Western/traditional Christian sense. All of nature is tainted by original sin and sex is something that is essentially human and is to happen within monogamous heterosexual marriage for reproductive purposes or, even worse, is seen as pornographic. In Aboriginal terms, Western humanity would, I believe, achieve a very low (I would even suggest negative) rating in terms of our �relational� IQ. Gaia is suffering because of this.

In present Western epistemology words like apprehension, allure, allude and myth are often seen negatively, even as misconceptions, and words like apperception are almost unknown whereas words like comprehension, perception are celebrated as facts. It is almost as if there has been a conspiracy to repress those extant abilities in the language. To repress direct intuition of wisdom through the mind of the symbol. Rather, we see unprecedented emphasis in favour of the mind of the ratio (World Wide Web notwithstanding). This narrowing of the human mind has a destructive effect in terms of how we educate our children and the consequent development of their attitudes to the futures. Gidley (1996).

Story Telling - an Epistemic Context for the equivalence of theory and myth

Story telling as a form of inquiry fits within the auspice of what has come to be called New Paradigm Research (NPR). Reason (1988). NPR comes from the perspective that research is more than seeking meaning and holistic understanding, rather it also involves emancipatory action and learning through risk-taking in life. On a more practical level NPR embraces collaborative, grounded, action oriented emancipatory research in the humanities. Such an approach starts by resting in ones own experience and reflecting thereon through a process of critical subjectivity and thus starting a hermeneutical/ dialogical process of learning through what maybe called reflective praxis. Wildman (1995).

This is the approach used in this paper. My experience in working with Indigenous cosmologies is linked to various theoretical developments. I have been involved with this in order to explicate better the central tenet of this paper ie. that Indigenous wisdom's are not simplistic babblings of 'uncivilised' peoples, rather they are profound symphonies of the wisdom of millennia. Many of which transcend our western simplistic scientific babblings. Sadly many of these wisdom's are being obliterated by the western 'myth' of 'progress'.

In many regards these ways of knowing can be cumulative ie. not necessarily mutually exclusive. Primarily the New Paradigm Research concept of 'storytelling as inquiry' is one where Reason and Hawkins (1988:79ff) establish the equivalence of theory and myth draws from the second, hermeneutical or conversational way of knowing (see previous section). Appendix A illustrates this equivalence. While the metaphysical dimension is added through the title of this article ie. history as future where the outer (hermeneutical) and inner (gnosis) conversations are combined with relating to 'nature' (relatio) in general and dreamtime cosmology is born.

Here meaning is not via. a hierarchical cause and effect logic rather it is via. networks of meaning sort of 'floating orbs of meaning'. Incidentally the latter is very close to the sort of epistemic impact of the World Wide Web where knowledge becomes contextualised in dynamic networks impacted by each email input a sort of fireball orb of meaning floating over a meaning topography. Wildman (1996a). Such a perspective is much closer to meaning as story, especially in an oral culture, than to meaning to facts and figures.

A Dilemma of the Indigenous

For us in the West and especially for Indigenous cultures such as Australian Aborigine's, we seem to be caught in the horns of a dilemma.

One horn revolves around the degree of acceptance of the achievements of modern science and technology, to help preserve the huge diversity of Indigenous cultures. For instance, at invasion there were something like 300 discrete languages, double that in dialects and around 0.6 million people. The Indigenous populations had fallen to less than 0.03m by the mid 1920s and has now risen some tenfold to about half that at invasion. Ong (1982) indicates over 90% of Gaia�s cultures are non textual, that is they have no written language. For the writer, the net effect of western obsession with (hyper)textuality and literacy has been the ascendancy of the mind of the ratio and the genocide of Indigenous, often matriarchal, relational cosmologies based on the world mind of the symbol.

The other horn revolves around the tendency of limiting the meaning of science and technology to its narrow Western 'textual' rationality. Rather one may propose its development in line with a more alchemical approach such as that of the medieval world of myth and the magic of Dreamtime. In many ways the great silence in Australian and Western cultures about the wisdom of the Indigenous is parallel to our silence about our futures. We would rather they be a unidirectional, colonisable, linear extension of the present. It is, however, the alchemaic path that is the principal thrust of this article. Rationality and mythology can dance, they can achieve a dialectical equivalence. It is my passionate belief that this meeting is long overdue. Appendix A illustrates how this meeting might occur.

Applying the ontology � doing our own dreamtending

Sometimes I call it dream gardening. There are several cautions to applying this Dreamtime ontology in our own lives, e.g. we should not assume that conscious interpretation of our dreams is �the� way to go. For instance, Sardello (1995) argues that dream interpretation is defence against the dream. A little like taking a plant out of the garden to understand it. In some systems of Indigenous wisdom the shaman sends the wounded person back into the night (sleep) with healing images. A sort of conscious support for unconscious dream healing. In this sense maintaining a balance between consciousness and unconsciousness is crucial. This is analogous to point F in Figure 1. We need to, I believe, resist the Western tendency for 'recipeisation' of all experiences. All this, however is another article.

In light of all this there are, however, a few pointers I try to practice.

� We need to see our dream beings as living in their own right not only as part of our psyches i.e. we need an appreciation of point F in Figure 1.

� We need to start paying attention to the content and process our dreams � I keep a voice-activated tape recorder next to my bed. Sometimes I get up early and do some work just so I can go back to bed and maybe a dream sequence will initiate itself.

� Dialogue with these beings from your Dreamtime.

� Share your dream with a friend/lover. Sometimes this sharing can be mutual silent contemplation of the dream. Tell it while massaging, so the erotic/ecstatic/healing message/massage of the dream re-enters the telling process. Singing it, even re-enacting/dancing it are other options.

� Activate these insights in our waking lives.

Lefroy (1996) further develops this idea of dreamtending. We need to recognise that through tending our Dreamtime we in the West, who, I argue, have lost direct contact with our soul, can start to re-access the tree or wheel of life which is the healing world soul of Gaia.

Dreaming as Community and Corporate Futures

As we move towards 2000 many people are moving away from materialism towards more holistic spiritual position much like that outlined in Figure 1, although this time it will be conscious. Jensen (1996) argues we are moving into what may be called the 'dream society'. He traces five techno-economic societies � hunter gatherer, agricultural, industrial, information and now the dream society. In this society the production and distribution of information will have been routinised and the cutting edge will belong to those individuals, corporations and communities that can use this information to tell stories, make myths, and develop understanding and even develop 'common (organisational) dreams' that can weave into shared futures.

In today�s Information Society we prize those individuals and corporations who can skilfully manipulate data, however in tomorrow�s dream society, Gidley (1996) and Jensen argue, we will most generously reward those who can help us do corporate dream tending and tell stories therefrom. Moreover, this storytelling may well lead to a global revival of local cultures with each tribe (organisation ie. community or corporation) rediscovering its dreaming roots to Gaia. In this way, we as Western children of the nformation society may learn the potential for seeing history as dreaming future.

Personal Riposte

This article is an attempt by a white, middle class, middle-aged, male pracademic to understand an aspect of Australian Indigenous mysticism. It is not an attempt to idealise the past eg. Elder (1988), Grasby and Hill (1988), and rather it is an attempt to acknowledge in part the debt we already have and the learngings yet to be had from Indigenous Australians. In the Australian men�s movement we have used North American Indian symbolism, now it is time to try to bring some of the wisdom of Australian Indigenous people into mainstream Australian life. This exposition will be flawed and is not meant to be a virtuoso performance, for I am not learned in these things and I am not an Aboriginal. I became directly interested in Aboriginal culture in the early 1980s while working with clan groups in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. The project was to assess the social impact of telecommunications and rail on traditional cultures. Subsequently, I became and remain intrigued. I seek to embrace this approach to eroticism in my life.


I believe we have much to dream, learn and practice from the oldest surviving cultures on earth. This article has sought to outline one area where learn we must and with significant urgency. Gaia, and her children, require nothing less. I trust this piece can be one small contribution to such learning wherein we can start to see the equivalence of theory and myth in the context of history as dreaming future.

The all-pervading power of Time

Drives each of us without mercy

Into the future,

While at the same time

Hurling us into the motionless past,

And in our illusion of the present,

Time Deceives Eternity.

Hidayat Inayat Khan


Bily Blomeley, Gungil Jindibah, College of Indigenous Australian Peoples, Southern Cross University for his input, critique and encouragement also Mr. Osman, Qld Islamic League (Brisbane, Australia); Bishop John Gerry (Australian Catholic Response - Brisbane); Sohail Inayatuallah; Jenny Gidley.

* the first part of this verse draws from Alan Ginsberg.

About the author:

Paul Wildman is a lecturer at Southern Cross University, Lismore NSW Australia (SCU) in the School of Social and Workplace Development. His interests include Youth Work, Futures Studies, Regional Development, Work and Community Development, Public and Organisational Policy and Men's Issues. Previously Paul worked as Director Labour Market Directorate TAFE Qld and was responsible for an area with some 60 youth employment consultants in 20 centres around Queensland. He has published over 60 articles, books, audio and videos on the above areas. He undertakes workshops with Futures Studies as and institutional tool and lecturers in Futures Studies via. the World Wide Web and co-ordinates the UN Universities Millennium Project's South Pacific node. The URL's www.scu.edu.au/ewt/Futures/ and www.scu.edu.au/ewt/Future...roject.html refer respectively.

Contacts are by way of:
School of Social and Workplace Development
Southern Cross University
Lismore Campus
PO Box 157
Lismore 2480
ph 61 66 203820
email pwildman@scu.edu.au

Figure 2: Myth and Theory - a dialectic equivalence

Source: Wildman and Inayutallah (1996)

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Wildman, P. (1995). Research by Looking Backwards: Reflective Praxis as an Action Research Methodology. In S. Pinchen & R. Passfield (Eds.), Moving On: Creative Applications of Action Learning and Action Research (pp. 171-192). Brisbane: ALARPM (Action Learning, Action Research and Process Management Association).

Wildman, P. (1996a). From the Monophonic University to Polyphonic Multiversities. In Neo-Humanism and the Futures of Education, (pp. 24). Gardens Point Campus, QUT, Brisbane, Sat 9th Nov:

Wildman, P., & Inayatullah, S. (1996). Ways of Knowing and the Pedagogies of the Future. Futures, 28(8), 723-740



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