My “Meetings for Worship” are necessarily on my own. But not exactly on my own. My fellow worshippers, joining me in the silence of the bush, have added a deep sense of spirit to the gathering, a strong sense of the divine presence in the stillness of creation. At times, one of those present has been moved to speak to me:
From Meeting for Worship Alone in The Northern Territory, Central Australia
Where the budgies spoke:
I am the budgerigar and I am usually thought of as a cute little pet, perhaps even a clever little pet, a companionable and ornamental domestic. But I am smaller than the pets in a cage, Australia’s smallest parrot, in fact, and, though tiny, I thrive naturally in the Australian bush. I am a true ‘Aussie’ icon, an original ‘Aussie battler’.
I am tough enough to cope with the harshest part of this continent, in fact one of the harshest places on this planet. Yet, I am unruffled, affectionate and demonstrate a success in the desert through nomadic behaviour, adaptability, and flexibility, especially to adversity. I am, as all my kind are, egalitarian. Our power is in the flock; ‘all for one and one for all’. There are no leaders. All are equal.
So, my friend, move as one with your chosen community; but still be yourself. Unity is paramount. You are as important and as good as any therein and yet, at the same time, no more important or any better than any. Though you may be small, yet you can survive and may even wheel like the flock. Allow your chosen flock to shelter you and nurture you. You are never alone but often, unnecessarily, try to go it alone. Remain steadfast, and yet adaptable and flexible enough to grow. You can survive; even the toughest and harshest of situations and adversities. Who knows why the budgie flock suddenly wheels as one in the sky when it has no leaders to follow. Such is the spirit among Friends when they are open and receptive to the mysterious promptings of the Light. Be, therefore, open and receptive yourself and the still, small voice will guide you even though storms or barren aridity may encompass you about.
From Meeting for Worship Alone in Broken Hill
Where the opal spoke:
I am the opal and I am formed in cracks and fissures in sedimentary rocks, often following the upheavals of earthquakes and volcanic activity, or the like. Deposits of silica accumulate from circulating waters and in the sedimentation I and all opals are formed. It is even common for us to pseudomorph into wood or other organic matter.
We opals are fundamentally colourless. It is impurities that impart colours to us, different minerals giving rise to a variety of hues.
So, my friend, it is from imperfection, from cracking up, from upheaval that we are washed anew, made over into glory, into purity, into exaltation. Amidst your upheavals, as you feel you are ‘cracking up’, be aware that from the darkest subterranean chasms of despair, often the seed is sown that will wash you anew and you can be brought forth into a new light, into a new transformation. All of us are imperfect, those that hurt you no less than you yourself. Accept your imperfections, and those of others. It is from impurities that colours arise. Do not judge which colours are better than another; and be aware that it is the multitude of hues that makes the opals so wonderful.. Seek after the Light that can come to you from whatsoever source it may derive. An opal in the dark has no colour at all. Opals take time to form or to ‘morph’. Do not be in too much haste. From your own upheavals, let the opal form within you. Do not give way to despair; be as the stone thrown into a tumbler, that emerges polished rather than crushed.
From Meeting for Worship Alone in the Flinders Ranges
Where the eucalyptus spoke:
I am the eucalyptus tree, the mallee and the gum. My roots cling deep into the ground whilst my branches soar into the skies. My leaves work with the Light of the sun and whilst nourishing myself breathe and inspire the oxygen that so sustains others. The scent of my essential oils cleanses and clears the air for all those that inhale it.
Though I may be huge, yet I am born from the tiniest of seeds. Though I thrive in soil, yet at times, I grow from sheer rock faces. I am a strong and hardy tree. Though lightning split me asunder, yet will I sprout again. Though raging fires scorch and devour me, yet will I sprout again. At times, I must shed a branch or two, sacrificing the limb that the whole tree may survive.
Remember, too, that I am multi branched, indeed often multi trunked, for there is no one way to grow and to flourish but many ways and many branches. The eucalypt family is divers and diverse; and many are the fruits thereof. And, too, I am a protector and provider of life for many besides my self.
So, my friend, be like unto the tree. Let your roots be not dislodged; stay grounded even though tempests blow you hither and thither and the storms of life toss you about. Even in the toughest adversity you can cling to the hardest rock and still find nourishment and life there. Be known by your fruits. Think of the leaves and branches as like unto the works you do. Let your roots be like the quiet waiting on the Spirit. Unless your roots are watered and fed, no good leaves – let alone good fruits – will develop. But the Spirit also requires works to grow; the roots require the photosynthesis of the leaves to nourish them and the whole tree; and a healthy tree spreads seeds for others to grow. Life is a web of interconnectedness and you must give as well as take. Stay grounded, drink deep from the inner springs of the spirit and turn your self toward the Light that you may be nourished and give forth inspiration unto others. Though any may be small, yet they can grow mightily. Remember that life is multi faceted and no one way to grow is the only way. And be prepared at times to shed a part of yourself that you may survive thereby. Yes, my friend, even standing in the middle of a forest and even if it has been burned out, beneath the ground the eucalyptus still has strong roots. We shall endure, we shall grow again and, still, we are connected to the earth, to the world. Be likewise so grounded as you too reach upwards. And the gum tree is not only resilient to flames (it rushes them up its dangling bark and throws them away with the oil in its canopy) but it actually relies on bush fires for its regrowth and survival. If not its own very self then the many myriad of seeds it has dispersed. You too shall be scorched and seared as you face the ‘hells’ that beset you at times but you can throw the conflagration away. Remember, the fire is symbolic of the need to regenerate yourself and all of us need, and have been through, hardships to identify and find our real strengths. Take in the Light, and grow.
From many Meetings for Worship Alone on Kangaroo Island
Where Ngurunderi often spoke:
I am Ngurunderi, one of the main Dreaming ancestors of Southern Australia. This is my story, told by my people, the Ngarrindjeri of the Lower Murray River, Lakes and Coorong
In the Dreaming Ngurunderi travelled down the [Murray] River in his bark canoe, in search of his two wives who had run away from him. At that time, the river was only a small stream, below the junction of another [the Darling] River.
A giant cod fish swam ahead of Ngurunderi, widening the river with sweeps of its tail and making swamps and cliffs. Ngurunderi chased the fish, trying to spear it from his canoe.
At last, with the help of Nepele (his wives’ brother), the cod was speared as it left the river and entered the Lake [Alexandrina]. Ngurunderi cut it up with his stone knife, and this created a new species of fish from each of the different pieces.
After spearing the giant fish, Ngurunderi made his camp by the lake, waiting for a sign of his wives. Meanwhile, they had made their own camp at a nearby lake [Albert] and on their campfire they were cooking bony bream to eat, a fish that is forbidden to Ngarrindjeri women.
Ngurunderi smelt the forbidden fish being cooked by his two wives and he started after them.
Hearing Ngurunderi approaching, his two wives escaped across the Lake on a raft they made from grass-trees and hurried on, to the south. Ngurunderi followed after them but his wives fled back along the Coorong. Ngurunderi followed their footprints north, camping as he went.
Ngurunderi crossed the [Murray] river mouth and followed his wives around Ramong [Encounter Bay], creating fishing grounds and islands as he went. At Kangjeinwal [Port Eliot] he camped and fished again but his wives were nowhere to be found. He grew angry and hurled his spears into the sea; islands formed where they landed. This was near Pultung [Victor Harbor] where he also rested.
Finally, while resting in the shaded shelter of giant granite rocks at Kaike [Granite Island] he heard his wives laughing and splashing about in the water at a nearby beach. He hurled his club to the ground, from which was created Longkuwar [The Bluff] and strode after them.
Ngurunderi’s wives escaped again, fleeing along the beaches, running ahead [to Cape Jervois].
At this time Ngurungaui [Kangaroo Island], was still connected to the mainland and the two women were trying to hurry across to it, ignoring his call to stop. Ngurunderi with a voice of thunder called for the waters to rise to stop them. The women were swept from their path as huge waves rose up. So potent was the uprising waters that they were both drowned; their bodies became the rocky islands [The Pages] that stand between the mainland and the cut off island that was created.
Mourning, Ngurunderi knew it was time for him to depart and to enter Waieruwar, the Spirit World. He crossed to the island and travelled to its far western end [Admiral’s Arch and The Casuarinas, at Cape du Couedic], there to prepare himself for the spirit world. After throwing his spears, spear-thrower and shield into the ocean, which became the two islands there, he dived in, before rising – to become a star in the Milky Way.
Before Ngurunderi left the earth to live in the Milky Way he told the people: ‘I am going first, you will come after me.’
|Waleruwar or Waieruwar – the Spirit World – the Milky Way
Funeral rites involved an inquest, a funeral ceremony, a period of mourning, and a final burial. These rites ensured that the soul of the dead person followed Ngurunderi’s path safely to the spirit world.
The spirits of the dead were believed to follow Ngurunderi’s path to Kangaroo Island, the Land of the Dead. After cleansing themselves in the sea they joined Ngurunderi in Waieruwar, the spirit world.
Ngarrindjeri burial platforms were built in the shape of a raft. The belief was that the spirits used rafts to follow Ngurunderi’s path across the sea to Kangaroo Island, the land of the dead, before entering the spirit world.
Ngurungaui, Kangaroo Island, named because it was created by Ngurunderi, means the ‘Land of the Spirits’; it is the place where the spirits of those who die come to be cleansed before reaching that final destination; where they are cleansed of any wrong doing in their lives in the purifying sea water at the Western End, before making their final journey to the Milky Way. This was the case for the Ngarrindjeri nation and their neighbours, the Ramindjeri, and the Yaraldi. Other neighbours, the Kaurna, had a similar Dreaming, about the island they called Karta. This is often said to mean ‘Island of the Dead’,
The whispering of the breeze in the she-oaks is said to be the voice of me, Ngurunderi.
So, my friend, hear my whispers as I say unto you through the stories of the Dreaming:
- In the cosmic reality, even upon earth, we are small in the scheme of things.
- Our consciousness divides us from the rest of creation, from each other – but it also provides a way for us to transcend that very division.
- Our consciousness, furthermore, informs us of our inevitable mortality but transcendent over this is some sense of continuance.
- We are able to learn, we are able to transmit knowledge and experience. The generations are outlasted, continuity and a sense of connectedness to past and future is borne within us.
- Sacred sites connect us to the past, support us in the present and link us to the future. Sacred story comes from the past, acts in the present and structures the future. The continuance of Life is acknowledged, celebrated.
- The connection to the Dreaming is that everlasting and continuous process of Creation. It was not a once-off event, not a seven day wonder but and unending, continually unfolding, ongoing process.
- Life itself is sacred. Everything is in balance. Creation provides all. [The Earth is our Mother.]
- The Universe, the Creation, has its Laws. We must live in respect and accord with the Laws, with Creation; or else there are consequences.
- SPIRIT means wholeness, and connection. [Spirit – etymologically, biblically – means breath, breathing; ie very Life itself. It is, also, cognate with inspiration]
- Ancestral spirits are those primal impulses of creation, of creativity that shaped the landscape, vortexes of energy that impelled mountains to lift, oceans to rise, creatures to spring forth. But creation is continuous! The spirits still reside in the landscape, impelling creation’s ongoing evolution and unfolding; sources of energy that still dwell in the land and, in their wholeness and connectivity, can be felt, can be realized, by those that are attuned, are awakened.
- Mortality is a transition that is, also, continually occurring. Matter, which is never lost, is transformed into other matter and into other energies and energy is transformed into matter; an ever changing cycle of metamorphosis.
- I, Ngurunderi, am a sacred Dreaming figure, as archetypal and as spiritual as Noah [another figure that guides by example, teaches lessons and helps explain rising waters – but in a land far, far removed from this one on which we live.] Historicity is not an issue here. We are in the realms of scripture. Dreaming stories are scripture stories – but about this land and place. I Ngurunderi went before you all; I Ngurunderi lead the Way in the journey of refining yourself before you meet your inevitable end. A very Christ-like figure, indeed, am I.
- Like any scripture, my story can be read at various levels. The level that is of interest here is how the story can be related to the here and now. I, Ngurunderi, am a spiritual guide. I guide you to those ideas that I have outlined at the beginning of these cogitations.
- The spirit world is the world of the spirit. You are spiritual beings – it is part of your physical entity: here and now, as you live and breathe. The ‘next life’ is metaphor, of the transitions you can make in this life. And when you do die, you return to what you originally were – ‘star-stuff’. Returning to the Milky Way is a most perfect image of that reality.
- Kangaroo Island is a very sacred place…despite European desecration of it. It is a place of cleansing – a place where one’s soul can undergo purification as it makes its way through life’s journey. Again, this is ‘here and now’. You can journey along the Dreaming Trail, learning as you go, cleansing as you go. There is no better place to ‘cleanse and purify’ than by the western seas at the tip of Cape du Couedic. There is no better, more appropriate, guide for you, here in the actual places where I, Ngurunderi walked, than the Ngarrindjeri’s Dreaming of Ngurungaui and Waieruwar.
- It is said that the whispering of the wind in the she-oaks is the voice me, Ngurunderi. I am still to be heard then, as long as the she-oaks still stand. Go. Seek. Listen. And learn.
MORE MUSINGS ON THE DREAMING
Many birds and other creatures are imprinted with a sense of locality. With unerring ability they can return to their home place, or their ancestral grounds (nesting or spawning sites, for example, at the other side of the world or ocean.) We, too, have an instinctual “sense of belonging”, a feeling of being “more at home” in some places than of others; a sense of the “spirit” of place. Our lives, so divorced from the land and its cycles, means we live in a technological haze that inhibits our connection with place, with the earth, but also with the long chain of continuity that links us with the ancestral past – both of the human and of the earth itself; let alone a link to the future.
The Dreaming pervades the consciousness, merging one inextricably with all that is, was and yet shall be; with that, and those, that were of the Beginning – of the Beginnings, for creation is an on-going, never ending process. We are, therefore, woven into the texture of creation itself. Acknowledged or not, we can not be other than part of the Dreaming. It influences, it permeates, all we are and do. Everything that we see, do, or feel is, consequently, part of the sacred.
With the spirituality of the Dreaming there is no need to believe in unseen gods. Rather, one is surrounded by the spiritual entities that established the earth and all that is in it. One can observe their impact all around – their upheavals of the landscape, their imprints on the land; the plants and animals they formed, the seasons and the skies’ movements that are observable and demonstrable, the patterns and the laws that were laid down in the ‘Dreamtime’ and that still attest that Life is one and that we are bound immutably within the great design that unfolded and unfolds from those creation ancestors.
The aboriginal culture is the world’s oldest continuous culture. It is humanity’s most ancient living civilization and religion. If there is any chance of getting in touch with the very well-springs of our beginnings, of our very selves, our very nature prior to the accretions of many layers of so-called development, then here is the Way.
In the beginning there was nothing. Some mysterious forces of creation moved across the formlessness – and the heavens, the earth, oceans, land, living things all came to be. These ‘forces’, these creative energies that impelled and permeate creation are described in all cultures, old and new, whether in terms of gods or molecular physics. In the Dreaming they are depicted as ancestral beings, ambiguous creators neither the humans nor the animals their terminologies embody but very real creative events and presences that pervaded – and pervade – the landscape and that set in place immutable laws that must be recognized, acknowledged and adhered to; or else consequences ensue.
I find it no more difficult – indeed, I find it easier – to relate to Rainbow Serpents than to Eden’s serpent, to the Songman’s two suns [memory of a super nova?] than to Joshua’s sun that stood still, to the Voice in the Gum Tree than to the voice in the burning bush, to Ngurunderi’s rising seas than to Moses’ parting seas, to a weeping opal than to Noah’s rainbow, or to Aboriginal heroes than to Greek heroes. Beneath the illusion of literalism, a sameness of spiritual and ethical learning resonates within most bodies of Lore, no matter their heritage. Similarly, a seed of historicity resides within most of the tales. The themes of human endeavour and experience, whether of tangible events or of less tangibles like lust, envy, compassion or of enduring love and devotion are themes common to the basic human condition. Dreaming scripture and story is as relevant, potent and inspirational as that of any other time and place. I wonder why we denigrate or ignore it? In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is actually more relevant and more powerful than the others for those of us upon this continent of its origin. Why do we not wish to attune ourselves to the vast body of inspiration and knowledge of the universal truths that our own land has inspired? Why do we cling to old modes of tradition that arose from cultures and shores far removed from that which surrounds us on every side? Why, I wonder? Why?
As Melva Jean Roberts has it : “ …Aboriginal mythology derives not only from the Dreamtime of the Aborigines, but from the Dreamtime of the human race as a whole…isolated on a continent…once connected to the rest of the world…[they]…maintained a spiritual culture at one time common to all humanity but since diverted into many different channels. If this is so, then the Dreamtime may demonstrate a deeper brotherhood [and sisterhood] than we are yet willing to concede. It is a brotherhood [and sisterhood] stretching back to the very dawn of time, when all men [and women] were of one race and all sought the keys to the mysteries which still remain concealed.”
The Rainbow Serpent is one of my most cherished images. Firstly, it is one that is extremely widespread across this continent; probably the most widespread. A huge serpent that dwelt in waterholes, rivers, swamps and lakes, and frequently associated with rainbows, is referred to almost Australia wide – though the tales themselves and the spirit’s name may have differed.
The serpent was huge and lived in its water course and, come the wet season, would generally go up into the sky as a rainbow. It was a force that was not to be trifled with in the many tellings and was capable of destroying those who offended it, or even causing catastrophic floods. For some nations it was even an ancestral creator spirit that formed the features of the landscape as it moved across the land; the people themselves coming from within the body of the serpent.
A rainbow indicated that the serpent was on the move, travelling from one waterhole to the next. The colours of the rainbow were sometimes linked to those in quartz crystals which were often sacred stones and part of the equipment needed by the shamanistic members of the community.
The rainbow is a wonderful image of wholeness and inclusiveness. It embraces all the colours in the one bow; the one light in its various parts. The snake is an image that is found in many cultures for energy and power and re-birth (arising from its coiling, boiling action and its shedding of skin).
Whatever the Ancestral Creator was around the various and many nations, he, she or it journeyed across the formless and featureless landscape and as they journeyed the topographical features of the land were formed, natural forces were created and life came into being. They also established the tribal law which governed the conduct of the community so that they would live in harmony with each other and with the land that was their Mother. Family was of foremost importance, sharing was vital, the aged were to be cared for, society was to be ordered, the land was to be maintained and all members of the clan had equal opportunity for input into the welfare and direction of the clan – there were no chiefs or kings here! Even the Ancestral Spirits were no king-like gods that dictated and reigned from on high. They remained part of the landscape, or the seascape, or the skyscape. They remained woven into the very fabric of their creation and continue their presence, their energy, their essence, their ‘spirit’ throughout all time.
Charles Mountford raises an excellent point when he queries: “The myths of ancient Greece and Scandinavia, like those of the aborigines, did more than account for the origin of the world about them; they provided a philosophy that governed the lives of the people and from that philosophy a force that stimulated their cultural life.
“One only has to consider the incalculable influence of the myths of ancient Greece on the literature, drama, and art…for over two thousand years, and that of the Nordic myths on the music, drama, and literature of northern Europe, to realize how the living myths of the aborigines, which belong so fully to Australia, could contribute to the cultural life of this country.
“But as yet our writers, musicians, dramatists, and artists, still dominated by the influences of overseas cultures, have been but little inspired by the beauty of the mythical beliefs of our [indigenous] people.”
To which I would wholeheartedly agree but add that the religious myths of Christianity and its scripture need to be put into the same argument and the same comparison made with the failure of Australian culture to embrace the religious and scriptural indigenous myths which also belong so fully to this continent.
One pertinent component of indigenous life that we can avail ourselves of, and which is especially significant to Quakers, is ‘Dadirri’. Miriam Rose Ungenmerr tells us of ‘Dadirri’, which is a special quality, a unique gift of the Aboriginal people, an inner deep listening and quiet still awareness. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. It is something like contemplation. The contemplative way of Dadirri spreads over ones whole life. It renews us and brings us peace. It makes us feel whole again. In the Aboriginal way learning to listen from the earliest of times ensured they could live good and useful lives. They are not threatened by silence but are completely at home in it.
Their Aboriginal way has taught them to be still and to wait, to not hurry things up but to let them follow their natural course – like the seasons. They don’t worry, knowing that in time and in the spirit of Dadirri (that deep listening and quite stillness) the way will be made clear. There are deep springs within each of us. Within this deep spring, which is the very spirit, is a sound. The sound of Deep calling to Deep. The time for rebirth is now.
ADDENDA: <The individual spirit dies, but the totemic essence returns to the Dreaming Ancestors.> When I die…I can live with that!