Harvesting Liminal Songlines – Honoring the Aboriginal Tradition of Australia

Uluru at Dusk, Central Desert, Australia

This past fall I went live with my new website giselawendling.com and blog Liminal Pathways. Liminal Pathways is also the title of a framework I have developed based on my evolving understanding of rites of passages as an archetypal framework for understanding human systems change. The word liminal comes from the Latin and means threshold or margin. It alludes to the in-between period in a change process where we are no longer the old and not yet the new, when the transformative process is the most active. The Liminal Pathways blog features essays on this topic.

In this post I introduce 13 essays that are very special to me and which I originally wrote for my Liminal Songlines blog. I these essays I reflect on my experiences exploring the spiritual healing tradition of the Aboriginal people of Australia while I was living there from 2009 to 2012. I write about the timeless wisdom of the Aboriginal people, their ceremonial practices and art, what they can teach us about relating to the land, […]

Rites of Passages and Wisdom Emerging

A couple of months ago I participated in the Wisdom Emerging retreat at IONS with Alan Briskin, Lauren Artress and Angeles Arrien. I began making the painting above during the retreat’s expressive arts process and completed it a couple of weeks later. The painting symbolizes significant aspects of the rite of passage that I am currently in. Here are my thoughts about the making of the painting and what it represents. As always I welcome your comments and questions.

Technique and Australian Symbolism

The painting is made within the art tradition of the Eastern Arrernte People of the Central Desert in Australia. I have been very inspired by the art of Kathleen Kemarre Wallace. She uses extremely bright colors and very intricate designs to tell the story of her people and her land. It is worth mentioning here that there are tight protocols about who can produce Aboriginal art. I have had to deal with this issue since I began exploring Aboriginal art making when I first moved to Australia. It is very important to state here that my art is not Aboriginal art. My art has primarily been an inquiry into Aboriginal culture. […]

That Old Man

In only a few minutes, this video conveys in powerful images and simple language how the Aboriginal people and their ‘country’, their art and their stories, and their songs and ceremonies are part of one another and, in fact, inseparable. Watching this film, I am reminded of Gregory Bateson’s comment that the aesthetic, the whole and the sacred evoke each other.

Having just returned from the Central Desert the second time and participating in Women’s Business at some very special sacred sites, I have begun to grasp in a new way what the notion of homeland or ‘country’ may mean to the Aboriginal people and how healing the land is healing ourselves.

Enjoy this glimpse into a completely different kind of human relationship to the natural environment, visible or not.

This post was originally published in my blog Liminal Songlines. The intention of that blog was to help capture my initial understanding of the spiritual healing traditions of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia while I lived in Australia from 2009 to 2012. Much of what I learned there is relevant to my continuing explorations of […]

Women’s Business, Women’s Ceremony – Two

Sacred Women’s Business

Women’s Business is sacred business and it is secret business. During the ceremony important cultural knowledge and sacred practices are shared and the agreement is that participants do not talk about the particulars of the ceremonies with those who have not participated in them before.  However, we were given permission to share about the going-ons of the visiting women’s camp since we were not doing ceremony with Aboriginal elders there. We were also asked not to take any photos while in either camp and to refrain from journaling, especially notes about the going-ons in the ceremony. We were asked to come with an empty mind and to be present to what is. I have often found photo-taking during sacred activities to be somehow disturbing the feel or energy of what was unfolding in the moment and refraining from journaling helped me stay more present with what was moving through me and before me rather than spending time in reflection and analysis. (I will share a few comments about the above painting later in this post.)

I have made […]

Women’s Business, Women’s Ceremony – One

Ceremonies are a collective healing response to the elemental and existential experiences of being human. As we dance, pray, chant, make offerings, surrender, and feel heard and witnessed by one another and the great mystery of which all spirits, all gods, and all that is divine are a part, our shared humanity becomes visible, and our place within this great weave of life is affirmed. Ceremony is healing and an enactment of wholeness.

The Sacred Centa: Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Last March I joined a group of nearly 30 women who traveled from across the country and overseas to the Central Desert to be in ceremony with local Aboriginal women. We spent four nights and five days camping out at a sacred women’s site about 20 minutes away from Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock). Uluru is the most sacred site to the Aboriginal people of that area and over the years Uluru has become the most dominant symbol of the Central Desert as well as a tourist destination for many travelers. However, for most outsiders the area is only accessible by flying into the small airport […]

Rites of Passages: Pivoting at the Edge with Spirit

Please feel free to download Understanding Rites of Passages. for a more conceptual overview, its traditional use and application to our contemporary experiences of change. It also provides a few essential references.

 

Change is central to the human experience. Its patterns and rhythms follow ancient archetypal processes that can be observed wherever a death and birth cycle takes place—in nature or the human community. Indigenous traditions have a rich repertoire of knowledge about these archetypal processes and have developed practices that support individuals and communities to more fully and consciously engage, guide and work with the momentum that is present in change. Rites of passage is one of those archetypal processes. Compared to many contemporary models of change this model acknowledges the centrality of the spiritual nature that is at the core of transformative change.

Recently I led a session on Rites of Passage for the Sydney’s Facilitators Network that was entitled Change Agents at the Gates of Transformation: Using an Ancient Approach to Harness the Vital Forces in Contemporary Experiences of Change. I designed the session so that the participants could explore an experience of change […]

Dreamtime or Time for Dreaming – Two

Dreamtime

Sometime after the painting Incubation: Lizard Dreaming was done, I looked online to find any references to animal totems in Australian Aboriginal culture. This is when I gained my first real understanding of the concept of Dreamtime. The English word ‘Dreamtime’ is a significant idea that tries to capture how aboriginal people relate to their period of creation that are expressed in their many tribal and land specific creation stories. Generally, Dreamtime refers to the time of creation, the time before time, when the world came into being. It was during the creation period when ancestral beings created landforms such as lagoons and mountain ranges as well as the first plants and animals.

Aboriginal people often interpret dreams as a memory of things that happened during this Creation Period and consider dreams as a means to transport us back to Dreamtime. The term “Dreamtime” in Aboriginal mythology is not really about a person having a dream or a vision but rather a dream is a reference to this Creation Period. Given this understanding, for example, this incubation time in my life, where I am nurturing a vision for my future and receive […]

Dreamtime or Time for Dreaming – One

I made the painting, Incubation: Lizard Dreaming, two months after I arrived in Australia. Making this painting was my first exploration of aboriginal symbolism and mythology and during the process the painting became a reflection of the rather ambiguous state I have been in. I want to share with you a few insights I gained into aboriginal art, symbolism and Dreamtime, as well as about this painting and myself. I share these small discoveries with sincerity as well as with a sense of humility because I am an eager and earnest learner, and because I otherwise would not muster the courage to reveal to you the cultural and artistic naïveté with which I approached the composition of this painting. Little did I know that in the end the painting turned out to be a depiction of an American lizard incubating the vision of a German woman amidst the shifting sands of the Australian desert.

 

Lizards

I was drawn to include a lizard in a painting for a couple of reasons. I had been intrigued by the many tiny lizards in our backyard and that there are over 520 species of lizards in Australia. […]

Parliament of World Religions – Two

(This is the second part of a two-part post.)

After the introductory remarks to the session Maama—The Untouchables Ones: From Cave to Canvas, several aboriginal elders invited us to participate in a smoking ceremony. What I gleaned from these aborigines about the ritual is that whenever they leave their land and enter another, they seek protection by burning special herbs and woods. The smoking ritual also protects those with whom they share their tradition – without doing the smoking ritual the aborigines would feel responsible for any misfortune or illness would come to the others.

I was rather surprised but also pleased when I saw the elders create a rather large billowing of smoke in the corner of this small conference room. Each one of us was invited to step through the smoke and breathe it in. The smoke was thick and the smell intense. Within moments the smoke penetrated the entire room and settled on our bodies. After some time and to no one’s surprise, a fire marshal entered the room to investigate the situation. At that point […]

Parliament of World Religions – One

In November 2009 I attended the Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne. The program offered hundreds of sessions for roughly 7,000 conference participants. Each day provided numerous sessions focused on indigenous and aboriginal culture. For me, attending these sessions became a fast-track introduction to the cultural practices and issues facing Australian aborigines from their perspective.

One session was led by several Ngarinyin elders of the North-West Kimberly region and was entitled Maama—The Untouchables Ones: From Cave to Canvas. The session introduced us to a Ngarinyin art project currently underway which involved participants in one of the Ngarinyin people’s essential ceremonies. This ceremony inadvertently surfaced one of many dilemmas that can mark attempts to share practices across industrialized and earth-based cultures.

Maama refers to images in ancient cave paintings of their God Wanjina who created the immutable law of the land that governs many aspects of their traditional lives.

Until recently the cave art was ‘untouchable’ and only shown to members of the Ngarinyin communities, and sometimes not even to them. A Caucasian woman who has worked with these aborigines for some years opened the session. As a creative director, she supports the Ngarinyin’s effort to […]