The spiritual dimension of Australian Aboriginal culture is known to Westerners as the Dreamtime. Aborigines do not care for the term because it suggests that their myths are viewed as mere dreams. When this alternative reality was discovered and embraced by the West, however, it was appreciated more as reverence for the power of dream. It seems fair to say that every enduring culture on our planet has its Dreamtime. It is the imagined “earliest time,” the age before Civilization organized, compartmentalized, and demythologized human society.
In this mythic domain, “humans and animals are one and the same.” The best known lore of these formative times comes from the folklife of Africa and Australia. Subsaharan Africa has given us the popular adventures of Anansi the Spider (say Ah-Nancy) and of Grandfather Mantis in the Kalahari Desert. The Aborigines of Australia have given us more complex and less well-known reports on the ways that animals and spirits gave shape to the land. Usually, Dreamtime stories were rooted in creation myths, tales of how the world began. It became interesting to me to find the equivalents of these myths in our present world.
There is no Hollywood movie that dramatizes authentic tales of the Dreamtime. That is to say, I have found no movie that delves into the creation myths of indigenous peoples. In the movie, Bilibo (2009), there is a brief scene with a village storyteller explaining the origins of the island of East Timor (just above Australia), born upon the back of a crocodile. See related myths of our time in Giant Creatures below.
These stories have come down to us in many ways, and their most recognizable characteristic is that the animals can talk. Eden, with its articulate serpent, deserves a place here. Western culture has maintained a rich literature of talking animals and when the Movie Century dawned, the tradition proliferated. Brer Rabbit, for instance, is the African trickster Rabbit transplanted to the Americas on slave ships; so too is Bugs Bunny. In the Wonderful World of Disney, every little mouse, duck, chipmunk, or cricket was chattering away as if it had always been so. And Disney also helped us to imagine “lands that time forgot,” the realm of the dinosaurs. We even have talking dinosaurs. Finally, there is a stream in modern philosophy that wonders if the world as we know it is not merely a dream – if we are not figments of our own imaginations, as in The Matrix.
*Go to About / FAQ for use of the term post-paradigm and capitalization of Civilization.
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