Australian Aboriginal Religion

Doctrines A key aspect of Australian aboriginal belief is the Dreaming. At the heart of this is the belief in powerful beings who arose out of the land, created or gave birth to people, plant life and animal life, and connected particular groups of people with particular regions and languages. The Dreaming beings continue to control the natural world, but their willingness to release the powers of fertility depends upon people continuing to perform certain rituals.
People are believed to possess spirits which originate from the dreaming. As children grow up they undergo a variety of rites of passage which initiate them into adulthood. Boys would be subjected to practices such as, circumcision, subincision into the urethra, blood letting or tooth pulling. Girls would be ritually decorated, and subject to partial seclusion or food taboos.
Totemism was also important to the aboriginal world view. The representation of mythic or living beings was seen to provide the means to access the spiritual powers of the Dreaming.

History Aborigines first arrived in Australia about 40,000 years ago at a time when there was a land bridge between Asia and Australia. Overtime much of the continent came to be occupied and cut off from Asia as a result of rising sea levels. Between 3,000-4,000 years ago the Aborigines began to use various stone tools. Over the past 2000 years the population grew significantly and adapted itself to the various environmental and climatic conditions of the continent. By the time the first Europeans settled in Australia in 1788 there were perhaps as many as a million aborigines in Australia and over 200 different spoken languages.
Prior to the arrival of the Europeans the only known outside encroachment into Australia was by Indonesian Muslims, the Macassans, who fished off Arnhem Land in the northern territory and who are the subjects of a number of aboriginal myths.
While the impact of the Macassans on the aboriginal population was limited, the impact of the Europeans was huge. The presence of Europeans had a devastating effect on the indigenous population. By 1850 96 per cent of the indigenous people of south-easteran Australia had been wiped out through disease, enforced labour or outright murder. This situation inspired the emergence of a number of millennial cults which anticipated the destruction or repatriation of white settlers. Among the best known of these was the Mulunga, a ceremony designed to use supernatural powers to undermine the power of whites.
Europeans brought with them Christian missionaries. In 1821 the Wesleyan Missionary Society established the first missionary presence among the aborigines. From this basis the missionary presence spread throughout the whole continent so that by the middle of the 19th century there were church settlements virtually throughout Australia. In spite of some resistance to missionary teaching, evangelical Christianity was widely accepted among the aborigines. Today over two thirds of Australian aborigines would identify themselves as Christian.

Symbols There is considerable variety in the art forms to be found in traditional Australian aboriginal religion. The oldest remaining art forms are engravings on cave walls of animals or people. In New South Wales large sculptures engraved in trees have been found. Smaller artefacts such as baskets, shields, boomerangs contain various abstract forms or animals such as snakes and fish.

Adherents Traditional Australian religions are no longer practised.

Main Centre
 Aboriginal communities were to be found throughout the whole of Australia.