e all dream, and most of the time, take our dreams for granted, but some cultures take their dreams very seriously indeed.
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the Aborigines travelled from Asia to the northern shores of Australia. Here they split into groups and moved around the land in search of water. They travelled great distances, and their legends say that as they did so they deposited the spirits of those yet to be born along the way, leaving marks on the landscape, on the rocks, mountains and other geographical features, to signpost the places they had been.
According to legend, these ancestors were mythical figures, spirit beings who emerged from earth, sea and sky and who took on various forms, particularly of animals. They were given symbolic names, such as Red Kangaroo, the Blue Lizard or the Bell Bird Brothers. This era is known as the "dreamtime", when the ancestors created the landscape and set the pattern for the future.
For centuries the Australian Aborigines have followed in the footsteps of their ancestors, tracing the paths trodden by these giant beings and marked their sacred sites with ritual, song and legend. The dreamtime is like an exact spot where the ancestor left the world of death and went into the ground. In ritual dances, these sacred sites on the landscape are struck and the power of ancestors is brought back to life from the sleep of death.
If no one remembers or honours the dreamtime, the stories say, we shall remain trapped in the earth when we will die and will cease to be.
The dream is life
The dreamtime of the Aborigines is a complex concept: it is once a creation myth, a whole series of fables and an entire spiritual philosophy. For the native Australians, the whole of life had its evolution in the dreamtime, and for them everything around us is brought to life by the dream. They do not perceive time as a linear process but rather see humans as existing in an eternal "now", where the past, present and future exists simultaneously.
The world as they see it is a magical place imbued with supernatural forces, and we are at all times "dreaming the dream" so that it can become impossible to differentiate between the waking and the dreaming state.
The bushmen of the Kalahari hold a similar viewpoint, seeing the whole of his life as a dream and believing that they are the ones being "dreamed". Similarly, the Pagiboti people of Zaire consider that dreams are sent from their ancestors and believe that the spirits of the past have access to wisdom that can help with daily life.
For instance, hunting is important to the survival of the pagiboti and they believe their dreams can give them important information that can help them be successful: to dream of encountering an animal in the forest is regarded as a good sign.
Many other African societies set a great store by dreams, believing that they are linked to destiny. All aspects of life, from cures for sickness to political decisions, can be based on dream advice.