Australian shamans


As in so many other places, in Australia there was an Aboriginal shamanism halfway between medicine, magic and spiritual guidance. To this day it still exists in some of the small aboriginal communities, although they are more an attempt to disseminate and revalue their own culture and traditions than true shamanism, that is, believed and felt. The analysis of Aboriginal shamanism first passes through the careless and crude filter of the information obtained by the first colonizers, as well as the subsequent conflicts. Luckily, in addition to these records, indigenous communities and movements have helped preserve key elements, although there is also a lot of modern influence. This is especially noticeable in the protest sectors that began in the 60s, such as the Gurangara movement.

In any case, shamanism shares many of the elements that have already been analyzed in other articles on this blog (Mapuche magic, traditional African witchcraft...). The Australian shaman is considered a medicine-man and a high-ranking being among men, very close to the divinities, what is known as karadji, or its name in English as high degree or clever men. Both men and women can be found among Australian shamans, although there is, so to speak, a certain distribution of tasks. In ancient times, the shaman received, as often happens, a sign in his early youth, which led him on a path of learning and spirituality in the natural and divine arts. There were formal initiations in which the shaman "died" and was reborn with a new nature, helped by other shamans or the elders of the tribes. Some of these rituals consisted of long periods of physical and spiritual purification (fasting, solitude), or the mysterious ritual of the stones of power, where, it is said, the bones of the future shaman are broken and his organs are removed, which They are replaced by said stones, giving them their deserved powers. There were also natural initiations, that is, a child or young person would return from nature (a walk, hunt, a festive event...) with some distinctive mark that they did not have before, or with a strange sensation, what some called a purring in the chest. "Self-initiations", so to speak, were also frequent when a future shaman dreamed of his election by the divinities or spirits, or through the visualization of his totem.

Currently, however, a person can be considered a shaman in two ways: the first is that they are an individual who knows the Law of the Savannah, commonly called lawman or lawwoman. On the other hand, to the "authentic" aborigines, that is, those who continued to live in the wild after the invasions and the continuous attempts to introduce them into reserves. This group does not usually extend beyond the 1980s, where a large part of young Aboriginal people were separated from their parents to insert them into "white society", and only a few were able to continue with their traditions. At that time, shamanic initiations were secret and for emancipatory purposes, as well as identity, along with the maintenance of traditions that, if you think coldly, were no longer so close to the originals. Currently, there are shamans who are highly sought after by the communities and by the doctors themselves, who manage, through their intervention, to adapt modern treatments (of which many aboriginal people still distrust) to traditional shamanic medicine. Likewise, due to the rise of neo-paganism and New-Age cultures in which traditional magical thinking is revalued, there are rituals much closer to the homeopathic ideas of traditional Western magic, although there are always preferences for totemic rituals or the use of folkloric elements.

Their healing ability made them (and makes them) characters as appreciated as they were feared by the neighboring tribes, so, while in the center and the north they were considered wise, in the south they even became political and military leaders. This did not prevent, on the other hand, communication between shamans and members of the different tribes to heal members of each of them or find solutions to common situations, such as famines or droughts. Australian shamans have different names depending on the region, and each one has its own associated myth.

Names and origins of Australian shamans

The Maparn belong to the northwest, whose mythical ancestors are the Wati-kutjarra, "Two-lizard-men", who, in the Dream Time - the Australian mythical time - traveled through a large part of the Australian territory, giving names to all living beings. , and creating sacred objects (tjuringa). These divinities are related to the east and west winds, as well as certain constellations or galaxy clusters, specifically the Magellanic Nebula. Their relationship with life and especially with the world of the dead, gives them a great reputation for helping shamans in matters related to spirits, the dead, illnesses and trips to the land of the dead. The Wati-kutjarra appear to men both to announce their shamanic condition and to guide them in some other matters.

In the Warlpiri tribe, from the most central area, they point out that if their first appearance to a shaman is as two children, then the shaman's power will come not from them, but from their father, "the Invincible", or from Kidili, a ancient moon-god (also related as father), who was castrated by the two brothers for attempting to rape the Earth-God's wives. His constellations since then were Orion for him and the Pleiades for his wives. In this central region, the shaman could be called Maparn or Kurdaija - if his actions were dark and occult. The Kurdaija were also considered a kind of vampire, who devoured the soul (pirlirpa) of men by sucking or devouring their liver. As a curious fact, this name is related to invisibility and concealment, since the footwear of murderers and expeditions in search of revenge, which left no traces, received this same name.

On the other hand, as was the case among the Arrrernte, there was a belief that certain shamans had a spirit in their language, hence they could prophesy or deal with topics hidden from human eyes. These types of shamans had taboos such as ceremonial silence or not eating certain foods, or not eating them hot so as not to "scorch" the spirit.

We also find the jalnganguru, from the western coastal area, they have their mythical origin, as their name indicates, in totem animals (jaln = totem). These animals were linked to them from the moment of their mystical awakening, and became their assistants and relatives for all types of magical and healing practices. People of a certain spiritual sensitivity and other shamans describe this help as a figure that appears momentarily emerging from the shaman's body. Dances are also developed in which the shaman imitates and acquires the characteristics of his animal. A shamanic characteristic of this region is that it was considered that they could see the spirits of unborn children, that is, the spirits awaiting birth or reincarnation, which offered them facilities to identify pregnancies and create appropriate receptions at births.

The Balman shamans of the northwest coast obtained their revelations (mowaljarlayi) from their travels to the land of the dead, Dulugun. As the dead come back to life with the blows of the west wind, it is logical to think that in these regions those who have transcendent abilities can contact them, and return having learned things that only spirits can know. Likewise, ubiquity or bilocation is considered common in this type of shamanism, that is, the ability to be in more than one place at the same time.

In the southeastern region, Gommera shamans were experts in dream matters: they interpreted dreams on both a spiritual and psychological level and those of illness. Their role, mostly as a chief or advisor, gave them great participation in general decisions for their people, based on visions obtained through trances or trips to the desert. Great importance was given to images obtained in moments of delirium, high fever or madness, considering it a "fast track" to reach contact with the Spirit World. Likewise, they were in charge of identifying in the young shamans whether they were correctly following the initiatory path or not: the most frequent way of doing this consisted of imposing a dietary or sexual taboo on these young people, as well as entrusting them with missions, and the shamans were supposed to They would know how to identify the success of said mission, as well as whether the taboo had been respected or not.

In the southern area, shamans had functions related mainly to the deceased and mediumship in general. Both their first encounters and their most common rituals required the shamans to enter a trance, who in these cases were called birraark, who carried out all the ritual acts, songs and dances in this state. But in the southern area we also found those who, although within the shamanic group, were not considered as such, since their relationship with the spirits was less, although it was greater with natural forces: these are the sorcerers, bunjil, who They attended to the individual requests of the population, which entailed a social burden and very different consequences. For example, there were the bunjil-yenlil, who know love spells, and the bunjil-murriwun, who know how to kill from a distance, or the bunjibarn, who, with the help of a black stone, can bewitch people, animals or entire tribes, as well as removing spells from other bujibarn.

In relation to these sorcerers, the shamans called Bangal, from the southeast, had Bunjil as their spiritual and esoteric patron, a bird divinity who had a clan of six shamans, each one with the characteristics and name of a different bird. This divinity was a creator and like the eagle, he was considered lord among all sorcerers. After stopping the fury of the sea, according to some myths he hid in a cave that connected with the Dream Time, and according to others he retired and hid beyond the clouds, so he was related to the star Altair. But to connect with Bunjil, the intermediation of Gargomitch was necessary, another celestial being who transported them to heaven and brought them back to earth.

The type of magic used by all these shamans comes from both nature and spirits and divinities. Some knowledge was learned by inspiration, but most was transmitted from generation to generation, from the elderly shamans to the younger ones. Currently, Australian shamans, native or descendants of settlers, are trying to recover this connection with the Australian land and its folklore, and it is not easy at all, especially for the latter, since the Western esoteric boom allows a greater and more approach. simpler than that of a secret, ethnic, and practically disappeared culture. On the other hand, we find that the Jaln and the Tjuringa have very deep and indescribable origins outside the environment of the Australian desert. We also do not find amulets as they are understood today, and the rituals require materials that are not very accessible or discreet, such as carved bones. pointed (usually human or emu) or huge quartz originating from specific areas. This is probably why the shaman, instead of the magician, has preferred to orient himself more towards traditional medicine and quackery, which are more affordable and, in effect, useful in today's world, thus resorting to a more feasible survival.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -


-Akerman, Kim. From The Bukarikara: The Lore of the Southwest Kimberley through the Art of Butcher Joe Nangan. Crawley, W.A. : UWA Publishing, 2020.

-Elkin, P. Aboriginal Men of High Degree: Initiation and Sorcery in the World's Oldest Tradition. Inner Traditions, 1994

-Servier, J. (dir.) Diccionario crítico de esoterismo, Akal, 2006, Madrid.

Related posts:

> Mapuche magic: the kalku and the Machi

> Magic and witchcraft in traditional black Africa (notes)

> Mayong: the land of sorcery in India.

Licencia de Creative Commons
Este obra está bajo una licencia de Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 4.0 Internacional.