Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen":
THE AUSTRALIAN CYCLE OF LIFE

ABORIGINE


To the Aborigine, life is a cycle, though whether it is continuous or not, he does not always dare to say. Found by his parent in a spiritual experience, he is incarnated through his mother and so enters profane life. But a few years later, through the gate of initiation, he partially re-enters the sacred dream-time or sky-world which he has left for a season. After passing farther and farther into it, so far as the necessities of profane life allow, he dies, and through another gate, the transition rite of burial, he returns completely to his sacred spirit state in the sky, the spirit-home or totemic centre, perhaps to repeat the cycle later, perhaps to cease to be. In the case of a woman, the central part of the cycle does not exist-except in so far as she is the means of incarnation for sacred pre-existing spirits.

There are some interesting symbols of this return to spiritual existence. In north-western Australia, the individual's spirit came by way of a waterhole associated with the spirit of fertility or life; initiation gives him conscious knowledge of the source of his life, and after the final mourning ceremony his bones are put in a cave near by. In some of the desert areas, a hair-belt made from the deceased's hair, which contains something of his spirit, is finally returned to the cave or waterhole of the mythical serpent, from which the spirit issued for incarnation. In north-western Arnhem Land, the bones are finally placed in a totemic coffin and so identified with the totem and, therefore, with the source of life in man and nature. Finally, in parts of eastern Australia, the young fellow passes at his initiation to the skyworld which is symbolized on the initiation-ground by the marked trees, and when he dies, his burial-ground is likewise marked to symbolize the sky-world from which all life is believed to come and to which he now returns.


A.P. Elkin, The Australian Aborigines 3rd ed. (Carden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1964), PP, 336-7

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