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Dancing through Interfaces and Paradoxes

Group alchemy in the Empty Red Centre

-- / --

A. Introduction
B. Departure
C. Interfaces
D. Interpretive reflections
-- The Singer and the Song
-- Alchemical processes of the rubedo ?
-- Land interface
-- Dreamtime interface: Stories
-- Dreamtime interface: Patterns of stories
-- Dreamtime interface: Totems
-- Dreamtime interface: Songlines
-- Dreamtime interface: Dances
-- Dreamtime interface: Paintings
-- Economic and business interface
-- Anangu interface
-- Tourism interface
-- Infrastructure interface
-- Group dynamics interface
-- Temporal interface
-- Subject-Object interface
-- Involvement interface
-- Insight interface
-- Mystery interface
-- Sublime - Ridiculous interface
-- Strategic interface


A. Introduction

How to resist a personal invitation to journey with a group of westerners into the Dreamtime (or Tjukurpa) of the Australian Aborigines - who call themselves the Anangu? The invitation arose from a request by Anangu elders and ngankaris (notably Ilyatjari and Nganyinytja) of the Pitjantjatjara tribe in Central Australia wishing to meet with a group of 12 people exploring the future of western organizations. The tribe lives in a remote arid area forbidden to outsiders without special permission.

The group was brought together by Colleen Burke, strategic consultant to the CEO's office of the world's largest consulting firm on the topics of values, organizational knowledge and virtual learning communities. The initiative was consistent with her ongoing research into the effect of our ancestor's dreams, our contemporary metaphors, and the singing of our creation myths in realizing and creating our organizational landscapes. The nature of the event was conceived in partnership with Robert Bosnak, a Jungian analyst. Colleen articulated the theme of the encounter in the invitation as follows:

'In the Anangu environment, the ancestors continually dream the landscape into being, and the landscape shapes the moment and the people. Might it be that organizations dream their landscape, creating the rites, the songs, the dances, the beliefs of the inhabitants? Is knowing one dream the door to knowing another?' So ran the invitation, which continued: 'What is there in the Dreamtime which can help our organizations find the way across the landscape of virtuality to a new economy? How do we organize our collective knowledge so it is as accessible as the Songlines that access Anangu truth?' (Colleen Burke, 1997)

Having, coincidentally just completed a study entitled 'From the Information Highway to Songlines of the Noosphere' (Judge, 1996) that dealt specifically with the relevance of Anangu (and analogous) insights into the organization of knowledge on the Web, the temptation to participate was irresistible. However this only proved possible through a strange exchange of roles between the original invitee and myself relating to our attendance at the World Futures Studies Federation conference (Brisbane, 1997) which overlapped the event and justified travel from Europe -- I enabled his attendance in Brisbane whilst he enabled my inclusion in the group (in which he was unable to participate).

The broader significance of an encounter with the Anangu is argued by David Tacey (On the Edge of the Sacred, 1995). He sees Australia, through its history, geography and cultural challenges as being uniquely placed to explore the frontiers of spiritual awakening and paradigm articulation relevant to the coming century. The psycho-social implications of encountering the emptiness of the land at the centre, and the peoples who have long survived there, involves the kinds of alchemical processes of individuation articulated by psychoanalysts of Jungian inspiration. 'In Australia, landscape carries our experience of the sacred other: "The landscape in Australia is a mysteriously charged and magnificently alive archetypal presence.' (Tacey, p. 6). He points out that Australia is the only continent with two-thirds of its landmass effectively reserved for mystical experience".

It should be emphasized that the following account is as much a subjective interpretation as an objective case study. It is a personal exercise in imaginative learning from a particular cultural perspective. The experience continues to be a valuable source of extensive reflection in a mytho-poetic mode consistent with the intent of the undertaking and indicative citations in the text. In a search for other levels of meaning, it has been interpreted and moulded into a story whose perspectives some participants (although not named) may not share and may well even consider deeply offensive -- for which apologies may be appropriate.

B. Departure

The group, mainly from a single country in the northern hemisphere, assembled at Yulara in 1997. This is a highly modern tourist complex, housing 5,000 tourists per day in peak season. It is located some 400 kilometers from Alice Springs, the nearest town in the Northern Territory of Australia. A curiosity in its own right, Yulara is the place from which tourists visit nearby Uluru (otherwise known as Ayer's Rock). This is a 3 km size rock isolated on the desert plain and a traditional focus for Anangu ceremonies. Its main attraction for tourists is the manner in which it changes colour at sunrise and sunset -- and the challenge of climbing it (despite disapproval by the Anangu). As such it is perhaps the strangest of tourist destinations -- especially in a country that is not renowned for investment in the celebration of experiences requiring an almost Zen-like appreciation.

Following the inspiration of Colleen, the group was guided by three people who had received extensive Jungian training. Robert Bosnak had written of his own journey into the Pitjantjatjara Dreamtime (1996). David Tacey had articulated in his writings (1995) the challenge for westerners, especially Australians, to understand how the experience of the landscape impacts the unconscious life of society. Craig San Roque, a Jungian analyst who had considerable working experience with Anangu, was in the process of developing a new theatre piece (The Sugarman Cycle) to reconcile white and black cultures challenged by alcoholism in neighbouring Alice Springs. David and Craig were Australians. These three were present to assist the group in reaching an understanding of their experience.

The base camp at Angatja was reached after a drive (in two 4-WD personnel carriers) of some 6 hours, mostly on unsealed roads within the Pitjantjatjara lands south of Uluru in South Australia. The group was joined by the Anangu elders, men and women (together with their grandchildren), who set up their own camp nearby.

The interface with the Anangu hosts was provided by Diana James, an Australian anthropologist long integrated into the family structure of the Pitjantjatjara (whose elders speak relatively little English). As manager of the Anangu-owned company Desert Tracks, which provided the vehicles and infrastructure, she was also the principal outback guide, interpreting and negotiating across linguistic and cultural barriers (James, 1994).

At the base camp, the group was to encounter 7 ngankari with shamanic knowledge. For a group of 12 white people, in a red and a white vehicle at the invitation of their dark-skinned owners, being led into the wilderness -- from an isolated red rock via hills covered in green-bronze grass -- by a red-haired women of Celtic origin, is a symbolic trigger in its own right! Especially when accompanied by three wise men and its female instigator!

C. Interfaces

In order to communicate the challenges of understanding the experience, it seems most useful to explore the different interfaces to which the visitors were exposed. For it was these interfaces, and how each person responded to them, which determined the nature of their experience. In some cases they might constitute impermeable barriers, in others they could be a continuing challenge to conceptual habits -- whether delightful or not. As barriers they could take the form of mirrors revealing unwelcome insights. As portals they could offer alternative perspectives to those who passed through.

Land interface

For some people the experience of the landscape in the 'empty' centre of Australia is quite awesome. There is a strange sense of vastness often reinforced by unusual cloud effects in the sky -- or the unveiled stars during the desert night. But this same landscape of the 'never-never land' can also be experienced as monotonous, dead and alienating in its emptiness. The uniform redness of the soil and rocks can also be disconcerting. Where there are rock formations, hills or eroded mountain ranges, these can be of strange and beautiful forms that excite the imagination. But these too can be experienced as lifeless -- especially since wildlife of any sort is rarely seen. There are no mega-fauna as in Africa. This feeling can be enhanced by the absence of any habitation, fencing or other signs of western civilization. Under certain conditions, the landscape may be experienced as terrifying -- especially as darkness falls and unknown dangers are suspected.

The group travelled through the little-visited Musgrave Ranges to reach its camp. Since it had rained the previous week -- something that may not occur for months or years in that region -- the desert grasses and wildflowers, however fragile, were 'at their best'. As in some Chinese and Japanese drawings, even long-undisturbed dessicated branches or dead trees contributed to the experience. The landscape was remarkable in its beauty -- even to the eyes of experienced travellers. From any rise, there were magnificent uninterrupted vistas to distant horizons.

How a visitor responds to the land can strongly determine the ability to relate to the sense of place and the spirit of the land that are so vital to Anangu experience. According to the Anangu: 'Landscape is a mytho-spiritual field which acts upon human beings from without, causing them to conform to ancient patterns and to re-enact the lives and movements of ancestral animals and other beings.' (Tacey, p. 148) For James Cowan: 'Kurunba or 'life-essence' is a meta-physical expression denoting the presence of a cultural layer within the landform itself that has been inspired by mythological contact with the Dreaming. In other words the landform has become iconic in essence, fulfilling a role of containment, not only of physical attributes (shape, texture, mineral content, etc), but of meta-physical significations' (p. 26)

Cowan argues that 'What transpired from this unique relationship was that the land needed the active cooperation of man in order to fulfil itself as a cosmic principle, in the same way that man needed the land to realize his own cosmogenic self' (p. 27). For Tacey, European alchemists made gold in dark vaporous laboratories, whereas 'we in Australia make gold, or discover symbolical gold, by direct encounter with the landscape.' (p. 23) He argues that, aside from Anangu Dreamings, there is place for each individual's own 'psychic participation in the land' (p. 25).

What can a visitor see and with what eyes? How is the land to be sensed? How is greater sensitivity acquired? Are there similarities to the gourmet's palette or to the connoisseur of music -- both of which may require long learning, perhaps from an early age? Or is the encounter direct and intuitive? For Tacey: "these great stone monuments could act as mythic openings, if we would but allow ourselves to be opened by them. Whether this ancient land is sacred presence, or simply great scenery, depends almost entirely on the condition of the ego-personality that meets it. The sacredness of the centre becomes evident only when we achieve the courage to leave the psychological edge.' (p. 32). But again for some these matters are all too easily romanticised and subject to hype. Arguably, if there is nothing to see the mind has a tendency to invent things to see and appreciate. Even so, the question is whether in the absence of the trappings of a built-up landscape the mind can associate with its surroundings in a more integrative manner.

The surprising response from Diana, to appreciation of the Musgrave Ranges and the formations near the camp, was simply that the special beauty experienced was due to the fact that 'the land was sung' and 'cared for' through Anangu ceremonies. It is one thing to remember that Anangu attach special importance to the land. It is quite another to be confronted so early in the visit with the sense that there might be some detectable response from the land itself. Can rocks feel 'alive' and 'happy'? Certainly the contrast to the earlier part of the journey through lands which were 'not sung' and 'cared for' was quite striking. But again this could merely be subjective illusion -- although much of what the group came to learn (as discussed below) revolved around the erosion and reframing of the subjective/objective interface so important to westerners. Why is it that some westerners sing to their plants and claim to sense a response?

Cowan argues: 'To recognize in a landscape through ritual enactment and imaginal perception the presence of numen is the means by which the Dreaming can be made manifest illud tempus - that is, outside time. Such a mode of intellection is uniquely Aboriginal; and it is this people's greatest contribution to their own survival throughout the passage of untold millennia.' (p. 31)

Dreamtime interface: Stories

Even on the way to the base camp, the group was told its first story by an Anangu guide -- and how it related to features of the passing landscape. As with many such stories, it was relatively simple and not especially memorable at first hearing. The relationship indicated to the landscape seemed incidental and easily failed to capture the imagination. Diana pointed out that, as communicated to her, what she interpreted were merely the 'children's versions' of such stories -- each of which had deeper meanings unknown to her which were only communicated through initiation ceremonies. Craig later stressed that other versions of the stories were often held to be dangerous to the unwary. Both were reluctant to discuss in what ways they suspected that they might be dangerous.

The media in the West pump out vast quantities of stories. Huge investments are made in film versions of those that appear in books. Many grab the imagination and inspire. Some are made for that purpose. There is concern about copycat crimes inspired by some stories. Many stories are subject to extensive analysis; they may have multiple levels of meaning to which only the few may be sensitive. There have been scares concerning subliminal messages and other propaganda tricks. Westerners can be considered sophisticated consumers of stories -- so what can they learn from Anangu stories?

For the Anangu, the stories emerge from an eternal Dreamtime through which the world is sustained. This is more than simply a belief. It is a lived reality. As James Cowan expresses it: 'I gained the impression that the Aborigines are a unique race because they are utterly possessed by the Dreaming.' (p. 4) Telling the story appropriately is necessary to sustain the land. 'Once we being to realize that a topographic story illicited from a given landscape by a tribal member is not a 'just-so' tale but a demonstration of mythic data, then we will begin to understand what is required of us if we are to attain to a symbolic mode of thought ourselves' (Cowan, p.32)

Members of the group were impressed by the concentration and enthusiasm with which some of the stories were told -- including vigorous correction by one or other Anangu if details were left out. On the other hand, some of the story tellers could in no way be said to be skilled in conventional forms of expression and seemed to do little honour to the story.

Over the period of the week-long visit, some of the stories were repeated three or four times under different circumstances. Initially this was tiresome, once one 'knew' the story. Later other factors seemed to come into play for some, independently of the skills of the story-teller. What exactly was one hearing? What part of oneself was registering what kind of communication? Were aspects of the story being heard sub-consciously and with what effect and at what level? To what extent did the telling have a hypnotic effect?

The stories did not have any obvious moral, although on reflection they could be used to make moral points like many folk tales. Superficially they were merely descriptive. Repetition however entrained the awareness in subtle ways -- as a form of propaganda that lacked any apparent point. Perhaps this is one value of rote learning as in the case of koranic teaching and certain forms of chant. Perhaps such stories are best considered like a koan.

Dreamtime interface: Patterns of stories

One of the extremely sensitive issues is the revelation of secrets associated with Anangu ceremonies, including those relating to stories and songs. Those who do so (or who can be misrepresented as doing so) are effectively shunned thereafter, which can cripple the career of anyone befriending Anangu as part of their profession. The stories are now recognized as the intellectual property of the Anangu and may only be retold with their permission.

However, especially for psychoanalysts and the intuitive, interpretations of stories are always possible and natural to any learning process -- whether they are meaningful to others or correct in any larger sense. These may touch on understandings considered secret by the Anangu, although not revealed by them. The dangers may thus depend both on how one hears and is affected as well as on how such understandings are reported.

Four stories were told in all. Some were danced, sung or portrayed in paintings. The telling, singing and dancing were however done on separate occasions and only in some instances in relation to specific sites on songlines (see below). The stories were also treated as quite distinct although the features of the landscape to which they related were in the same area. For seemingly unrelated stories, they nevertheless together appeared to form a subtle pattern or a challenging koan:

In each case who is the pursuer and who is the pursued and what is sought by such pursuit? Given the initiatory meaning of death in Anangu culture, what is the transformation of perspective associated with the deaths in each story?

Were listeners effectively 'entrapped' and 'entranced' by this cycle of stories? To what end?

>Dreamtime interface: Totems

What can be understood about the Anangu relation to totemic figures characteristic of stories? Totems have acquired increasing meaning in the western world as a result of developing interest in shamanism. It has become fashionable to discover one's totemic figure -- and several members of the group had followed this route in their home country.

James Cowan (1989) explains the Anangu perspective in the following terms. Where there is an understanding that a person is made up of manifold identities, such a person is free to explore totemic identities. Achieving this requires that the person explore the depths of his imaginative life. He may then recognize experientially how he is a certain object, whether the object lives in some way or whether it possesses an inanimate existence (such as a stone undulating on a river bed, rain falling, or fire flaming from a tree). He is then able to partake of that existence in addition to his own, embarking on a manifold existence in keeping with a certain alter-ego as rich and mysterious as the identity that he conventionally allows to nest in himself. The person is then free to be both himself as conventionally recognized by others as well as an inhabitant of the imaginary world of any particular totem with which he identifies.

People identify with chosen totems because of the sense of enlarged life which they then enjoy and because of the imaginative vitality which this identification excites. The totemic condition allows the individual to partake of innumerable languages, free from the confinement of the logic inherent in word patterns. The individual finds for himself a new form of interior expression. This also implies a new kind of dialogue with nature, not one of classification and exploitation, but one that prefigures an inchoate courtesy more in keeping with the language of heraldry. The person becomes other than he normally understands himself. The totemic experience gives the individual access to other lives, fulfilling his own by inhabiting the realm conventionally known as that of the imagination.

For the peoples, such as the Anangu, who practice the totemic experience, a person can only be considered as such if he has become a 'lord of two worlds'. They must be able to bestow their puissance over wider realms, to include the territory that lies beyond all frontiers, thus transcending the ordinary by way of what is most distinctive in themselves. For them the totemic experience is partly characterized by the the possibility that the individual may not set out to acquire a totem. Exposure to nature leads to a situation in which the totem may be better understood as acquiring the person. Within that totem the person never dies, living on through re-integration into something larger.

Clearly for visitors, such significance of totemic figures could only be rejected or taken on faith.

Dreamtime interface: Songlines

As implied earlier, there are many intriguing indications that the 'land is sung' by the Anangu as a means of caring for it. At appropriate times people engage in the dreaming through story, song, dance and ceremony. The acts of totemic ancestors across the landscape are rehearsed and recreated to ensure continued fertility of the country and respect for it. Through these processes the land is enlivened. The dreaming is thus not some quaint or archaic mythology but is actually a living energy brought alive by the continuing communal consciousness of the people.

The stages or incidents in stories are thus represented on the landscape and associated with traditional sung poems that are intoned according to rhythmic measures. The land may therefore be read like music. Each song-poem is associated with a definite ceremonial centre and with a mythical being or group of totemic ancestors. A 'song' is therefore the complete set of verses associated with the story at a succession of sites. T G H Strehlow (Songs of Central Australia) indicates that a valid English alternative would be the term 'lay', defined as 'a short lyric or narrative poem intended to be sung'. As an old English word it bears an interesting relationship to 'ley', as in 'leyline', especially since the popularization of 'songline' by Bruce Chatwin.

The storyline maps the landscape and the landscape is the story. An individual is an active partner in both map and landscape beyond western understandings of subject/object distinctions. The continent of Australia is covered with a network of such songlines -- some short and some covering great distances across the territories of many tribes. Individuals may be custodians of particular parts of a songline -- sacred sites along the songline may be the 'place' and responsibility of a named individual.

The concept of a storyline is of course essential in the West to dramatized productions and their analysis. It is the integrating feature that holds the diverse elements of the story together. Arguably it could be understood as mapping out features in our collective psychic landscape. However the special contribution of the Anangu is to anchor psychic insights to the land and to embody the land in psychic insights.

The group travelled significant distances along two songlines corresponding to two of the above stories. However the special contribution

It was however easy to see these excursions as fragmented and lacking any deeper or more coherent meaning -- just as experiencing sections of the storyboard of any production would lack the meaning and effect they would have when integrated into the full production. 'Multi-media effects' were thus minimized -- perhaps in contrast to full-blown ceremonies. Indeed it was easy to disassociate from the songline because of the manner in which the parts were unfolded. Some members of the group clustered to discuss concerns from afar. Minimizing integration may have been deliberate on the part of the Anangu. Indeed one person nevertheless suffered physical effects at several sites consistent with the story.

It is fruitful to explore the songlines as active psychic environments rather than simply as neutral and 'tolerating' detached observation. For the Anangu at least, as an active psychic field they are not 'innocent', rather they entrain and enmesh -- forcing people into roles they may not expect. This would ideally be true of any media storyline, but in relation to the landscape the effects are liable to be more fundamental.

Although these matters may be disparaged as cultural baggage by westerners, they actually play a major role in relation to efforts to implement development projects for the Anangu. Basically, for any project to be meaningful to Anangu, and to 'take', it has to be integrated or expressed in terms of the stories through which their lives are ordered. Thus, for example, the Desert Tracks buses carried images of the Perentie Lizard since their activities needed to be explained in terms of that story to gain acceptance. Indeed the areas open to movement of the buses were defined by what could be seen by one manifestation of the lizard (namely the highest mountain in the area).

Dreamtime interface: Dances

Dancing is essential to celebrating a songline and telling a story. Key totemic figures have characteristic dance movements. Part of the process of an individual's participation in the story is carried by the ability to dance and to identify with the totemic figure. In the case of the 'wise men' in the group, it was clear that the three guides were men 'who knew how to dance' -- meaning that they had an ability to identify more fully with a totemic figure. Men and women dance different figures.

The men were instructed in the dances of the Emu, Eagle, and Wichitty Grub. The women were instructed in the dance of the Honey Ant. Both were exposed to dances by men of the Perentie Lizard and the Rainbow Serpent. It is easy to see how execution of such dances could be used to filter people into types for various purposes. However it is also easy to disassociate from the experience and see it is a matter for hilarity and an opportunity for questionable offerings of more sophisticated western dance variations and party pieces.

The audience for any dance, who provide the beat and possibly the song, raises the larger question of who are the watchers and what is being watched in a situation in which the subject-object relation is called into question (as discussed below). Does this hold the encounter between the conscious observer or dreamer and what emerges within that dream? The interface is therefore a very special one -- watching one's unconscious dancing? What is the painted dark figure that dances in this way in response to a beat from me?

>Dreamtime interface: Paintings

It is through Anangu art that their culture is perhaps most widely known. Paintings sell for high prices in western galleries, however minimal the sums received by the artists -- themselves naturally tempted by the opportunities of this process. The art has had a significant influence on Euro-Australian culture.

The paintings often depict totemic ancestors and their movements across the landscape. As such the best are secret and not to be traded to outsiders. They may even be for purely temporary ceremonial purposes, not to be conserved.

Like the stories, dance and music, the paintings are presumably designed to entrain the imagination into the processes of the Dreamtime. Some are considered dangerous. The group visited a site where certain paintings had had to be modified before visitors could go there.

But for the ignorant, how might it be possible to distinguish between 'psychically active' paintings and those done for the tourist industry? Indeed why should those active for the Anangu have any effect on people of other cultures?

Economic and business interface

An immediate first impression of the Anangu and their settlements activates many stereotypes relating to Third World poverty and economic and social underdevelopment -- especially in contrast to other parts of Australia. The Anangu lands permit little agriculture or grazing, even if these were desirable options for them. Jobs of any kind are almost totally lacking and many leave for distant cities where they are exposed to the temptations of alcohol and prostitution -- as with indigenous peoples in many parts of the world. This is not the place to explore these tragic issues (see Galarrwuy Yunupingu, 1997).

But there are strange ironies worth recording. Efforts to get any form of conventional business operational and sustainable are fraught with difficulties. Many kinds of business simply do not 'take'. They seem to become victims of apathy or short-termism of the most counter-productive sort. In fact the word 'business' has a quite different primary significance in Anangu lands.

A fundamental distinction is made in Anangu culture between 'men's business' and 'women's business'. Each gives rise to ceremonies in which members of the community invest heavily of their time. The roads through the area may well be closed to travel for several months during these ceremonies. Key people may be unavailable for this period. In comparison to the external world it might be said that whereas there the investment in ceremonial and matters of the spirit is minimal and token in comparison to economic investment, on the Anangu lands the reverse is true. For Cowan: 'The Dreaming means more to them than political or social issues because it is the only unsullied possession left to them' (p. 4)

It may even be fruitful to see the socio-economic deprivation of the Anangu, in contrast to the richness of their symbolic life, as mirroring in reverse the psycho-spiritual deprivation of westerners, in contrast to the richness of their socio-economic life. For Anangu, socio-economic systems seldom 'take'; for westerners, psycho-spiritual systems seldom 'take'. Tacey presents the split between the spiritual and the secular in Australian experience in the following terms: 'By virtue of this split, white Australians are denied access to sacredness (especially the sacredness of the land) and black Australians, often imprisoned in the 'religious' category, are denied access to materiality, wealth and economic security.' (p. 8) For him, the loss of spiritual ecstasy in both white and black cultures has been replaced by its spurious forms through alcohol and drugs - with people in both cultures becoming the victims of 'unconscious ecstasy' (p. 9).

Anangu interface

The encounter with Anangu on their own land, or in their own settlements, can be quite unsettling for westerners. How to respond to socio-economic poverty anywhere? That aside, how to respond to other attitudes towards hygiene, material goods and trash disposal? How to respond to unexpected attitudes towards the environment that do not mesh with new-found codes of western environmental correctness? White Australians responsible for 'Aboriginal Affairs' have endless disparaging tales about the uses made of western technology, goods and housing facilities by the Anangu. The nomadic tendency is still an influence -- houses may be completely abandoned for a while following a death. But dependency on waterholes has been replaced by dependency on boreholes -- and the red soil is kind to clean clothes -- it easily brushes off!

A useful insight is that, even for elders today, the challenges and strategems of living in a pre-contact hunter-gatherer mode still influence attitudes towards material goods. Objects are freely discarded since the environment was always able to recycle them. Westerners and their institutions are a resource to which gathering strategems naturally apply. Equipped with 4-WD vehicles and rifles, Anangu hunting capacity is augmented -- even if several kangaroo are shot to ensure selection of only the best for food. And strange to some, on a road in the middle of nowhere, the occasional stripped vehicle can be seen off the road. Given the vast distances, a 'Toyota dependency' has developed. For the elders most closely associated with the songlines, their physical stamina may make it impossible for them to walk the songlines -- they may even be driven by teenage grandchildren.

Aside from issues of poverty, the Anangu face major difficulties in their interaction with western society -- as with indigenous cultures everywhere. 'White Australia has a Black History' as one Australian bumper sticker goes to challenge easy repression and denial in white suburbs where there is typically much greater shock at lesser ills perpetrated in other countries. The past century has seen an extensive pattern of massacres in Australia. Isolated shootings of Anangu still occurred in the 1960s, notably as a means of proving machismo -- as is currently the case with gangs in the USA. Rape and prostitution of Anangu women continue. For those living on Anangu land, this may mean that a generation may be 'missing' -- either employed elsewhere, seeking employment, on welfare, or in prison (usually on alcohol-related charges).

But despite such challenges, it is the visiting westerners who may well be perceived as impoverished. What is their sense of place and their relation to their own place? Why do they travel (and sleep) alone and not with their family? Why do they spend so much time talking to each other when they came to visit Anangu? Why do they believe that knowledge can be acquired by asking questions? Why do they believe their actions are unobserved by Anangu? Certain gifts made to them were tactfully 'disappeared' -- notably a whole set of baseball caps for the children (donated on the condition that the corporate logo be photographed) and a frisbee. Have such gifts become yet another means of undermining non-western cultures -- or is it too late for such sensibilities? What gifts to indigenous peoples do not involve such dilemmas?

The Pitjantjatjara people operate within a different reality framework from westerners, notably with respect to time and space. They do not necessarily hold the same views concerning psycho-social boundaries -- whatever the influence of mission education systems. A group of people may therefore be less bounded by a western understanding of a 'container' -- such as a settlement or organization. Rather relationships may be more ad hoc, as with a flock of birds. This is reflected in Anangu art.

The group was most challenged by an assumption that information and insights could be obtained from the ngankaris by a western mode of 'question and answer' session. Obtaining 'access' and 'getting' answers became a major source of stress. The notion that there were other means of learning, many common to interactions in western society, was not appreciated. Professors do not necessarily respond usefully to question and answer where the subject matter is subtle. This is certainly the case with people in a leadership role, whether politicians or gurus. Significant new learning, involving a shift of paradigm, may not lend itself to responses in the language in which questions can be asked and in which the answers are expected.

Tourism interface

It is not easy to encounter Anangu on their own terms, free of the tourist industry and its more pernicious influences. So much of the infrastructure necessary to such an encounter by a foreign group depends on that industry. Yulara, as a major tourist destination, was a necessary point of departure. The economics of arranging such an encounter are intertwined with those of tourist marketing.

The group was fortunate to travel with an Aborigine-owned company, Desert Tracks, and to be guided by a person integrated into the Pitjantjatjara family structure in an area inaccessible to regular tourists. Craig pointed out that few in Alice Springs had the experience of such access to Anangu. Much investment was made to ensure a mutually acceptable interface with the Anangu as hosts. However it was not possible to eliminate certain economic transactions -- and it is difficult to see how it could have been appropriate to do so. Expeditions of any kind cost money. Amongst the westerners people were naturally paid in order to facilitate the encounter. On the Anangu side, people involved in the interaction, notably as guides, were also remunerated -- at a rate identical to the westerners. Carvings were offered and sold to the group -- as well as a CD of a principal story.

To what degree was the encounter an exercise in 'spiritual tourism' -- for which there is an increasing market round the world? To a large extent this depended on the beholder and the way in which the encounter was experienced. For the person there as a detached observer-cum-sightseer, much might be willingly experienced as spiritual tourism. Many took numerous photographs, notably during moments of interaction with a ngankari -- 'spiritual paparazzi' pushing cameras into the faces of those from whom they came to learn! Members of the group were introduced to 'men's business' and 'women's business' -- appropriately painted and taught to dance. Most appreciated an experience that could be taken seriously and not as a feature of a tour -- but it could also be seen with other eyes. As to the dances performed by Anangu for the benefit of the group, would it be useful to dismiss them as 'staged' -- when is a performance not staged to some degree? Again this would depend on what a person chose to learn from them. Slicker performances of certain dances are often available at Yulara and elsewhere, but they may only offer experience of the vigour of exotic 'primitive' dancing.

More intriguing, in the light of involvement in the dreamtime reality discussed here, is the question of who are the tourists? What does being a tourist / voyeur / detached observer / spiritual consumer mean in that reality? Who is the observer endeavouring to capture a reality in terms of the western logic that is questioned by that reality? How is the attempt to photograph that experience to be understood -- in contrast with being in, dancing with and learning from that experience? Whether these roles are necessarily incompatible may again be a matter for those who endeavour to engage in both. Is photography a way of deactivating the challenge of encountering the spirit of the land?

Infrastructure interface

Much preparation is required to ensure the survival of a guided group in the middle of nowhere for a week. Stores and material were carried in trailers to the 4-WD vehicles. Water was available from a borehole that also serviced washing facilities at the base camp. People slept in supplied sleeping bags (swags), whether in shelters, tents or in the open, clustered together or separately. It was the first experience of camping for some of the group. For some it was rough, even too rough. For others the expectation was that it would be rougher -- especially when faced (exceptionally) with asparagus and oysters for hors d'oeuvres! Meals were magnificently prepared -- by people who were artists in the off-season! Alcohol is however strictly forbidden on Anangu lands.

After the rain, it was not the heat that proved to be the major challenge, rather it was the flies -- somewhat curtailed by the lower temperatures. Other potential challenges were snakes, spiders, scorpions and dingoes -- none of which proved serious. The practical arrangements ran very smoothly and without the kinds of disaster that are always a possibility in the outback.

Given the preoccupation of the group, the interaction with the Anangu in relation to food and supplies was intriguing. As noted, the Anangu were paid for their participation. But on occasion they were also treated as guests -- and in many cases as honoured guests, friends and, in the case of Diana, relatives. This requires a range of human relations skills to navigate successfully between patronage, condescension and curtailment of unjustified requests without causing offence. When do you tell a renowned ngankari that enough is enough -- and how? Such skills are much to be admired in working across the interface between Anangu and western cultures.

Group dynamics interface

According to Diana, the group was the largest and most challenging that she had led into an encounter with the Anangu. Although nearly all the participants were from the same country, factions and tensions built up early. A continuing cause of tension focused strangely on issues around recognition of the role of individual group members in gathering together the group or, more generally, in terms of acknowledgement of their role in wider society. As professionals, personal credibility and its increase were of central importance to some. Curiously the group was cursory in the process of mutual introduction, which was kept minimal. Biographical information on participants was not available. Pressure to engage in more intensive introductions was resisted, partly because a number of participants knew (of) each other in their home country.

Given the professional human relations skills of most of the participants, it was readily assumed that the group could be essentially self-organizing within the general framework provided by Diana and Colleen in relation to opportunities with the Anangu and the constraints of the scheduled programme. In discussion with Colleen, the three cultural guides, Robbie, David and Craig, provided an informal level of process support, primarily centered on morning and evening debriefings. As is usual in a self-organizing group, whether more leadership was required remained a matter of discussion. Significantly Diana was challenged for failing to use her relationship to the Anangu to ensure greater access to their shamanic knowledge.

Curiously a basic split in the group was reflected in preferences relating to the two 4-WD vehicles, used daily for shorter or longer periods. The red, air-conditioned vehicle, was favoured by one faction. The white, un-air-conditioned vehicle was favoured by Colleen and Diana as well as those more accustomed to Australian outback travel, namely the cultural guides and a few others. Anangu guides (with children) also travelled in that larger vehicle. A few people occasionally moved between vehicles -- and communicated successfully with both factions under other circumstances. It was mainly members of the white faction that chose to rise before dawn to experience the splendour of the sunrise from the top of Cave Hill at the final camp.

The Anangu distinction between 'men's business' and 'women's business' was a major source of stress for many female members of the group. When the time came for the male ngankaris to interact with the men in the group, the female ngankaris went elsewhere with the women in the group -- accompanied by the grandchildren. The men were then perceived as having received preferential treatment and access that the presence of the children had inhibited. Furthermore the leading male ngankari, Ilyatjari, was necessarily with the men. Subsequent efforts to process this included what was perceived by some as an effort to project the gender debates of the external world onto the traditions of the local Anangu situation

Members of the 'red' faction, although notably easy-going in their interaction with the Anangu, tended to be more people-oriented. They therefore interacted to a greater degree with each other referring often to shared contexts back in their home country -- even clustering together for that purpose during transitional periods on visits to songline sites. Members of the 'white' faction tended to be more context- or land-oriented, less inclined to group conversation, and more likely to move away from participant clusters. One member, skilled in personality typing, claimed that the group as a whole had certain personality types over-represented, with others being significantly absent. Strangely the one gay member of the group provided a most valuable mediating function between both factions -- and was much amused by the need to define himself as part of the 'men's business'.

Although conceived as a group of 12 by Colleen, through functioning as part of the group (rather than a process facilitator) it effectively increased the number to 13. These could have been counted as 6 men and 6 women -- plus one 'intermediary'! But other individuals could also be selected as playing a role external to the 12, including Colleen herself.

In general gatherings, interventions, although always cordial, became progressively more guarded as the severity of unprocessed tensions increased -- mainly manifested in the form of minimal communication between certain group members. Some people explicitly or effectively withdrew from active participation in such group discussions. The formal efforts of the group facilitators became informal -- leading them to question their roles, although informally these proved to be very fruitful in one-to-one exchanges, however unplanned. Initial efforts to process significant dreams -- even in preference to proposed interaction with the Anangu -- were progressively curtailed, partly because of the apparently limited relevance to the group of many of the offered dreams. At the very end, somewhat frantic efforts were made on the initiative of some group members to remedy the situation. In the 'post mortem' debriefing, these were subsequently undermined by discussion of the mis-match between advance expectations and experienced reality.

Temporal interface

The group was frequently made conscious of the fact that the Anangu had lived sustainably with the land for anywhere from 40 to 60 thousand years. Some caves visited had been occupied for tens of thousands of years -- an immense timescale for westerners. It is against this scale that the Dreamtime has been experienced as an ever-present reality by the Anangu.

In contrast with this permanence, it was also clear that the Anangu responded unpredictably to the changing realities of the moment. Funerals and other ceremonies took precedence over arrangements scheduled according to the western mode. Places of apparently permanent settlement could be abandoned quickly as a result of death or other inauspicious events - a characteristic of the nomadic lifestyle.

Scheduling of encounters between the Anangu and the group followed a completely non-western style -- experienced as stressful by some. Happenings were proposed or cancelled on the spur of the moment, whether in response to cues to which the group were not sensitive or because of visitors priorities in favour of their own group process.

Subject-Object interface

This is the principal underlying challenge of any encounter with Anangu reality. Efforts to understand that experience in terms of western tendencies to objectification could only prove unfruitful and essentially meaningless. That said, how does a westerner come to sense the spirit of place and landscape which is so intimately reframed within Anangu culture? How to distinguish and avoid the distractions of dysfunctionality -- as common to Anangu as to westerners?

Whilst it can be stated that some Anangu still accord living reality to the embodiment of their totemic ancestors in the landscape, it is quite another matter to comprehend how that experience is held as an extension of individual consciousness. Do rocks, trees and animals carry aspects of the personality and consciousness of an individual -- with the landscape as a kind of carrier wave? Would the integrity of the community then be held by a kind of inter-subjective co-presence as that embodied landscape -- the landscape as the community in some deeper sense?

Such matters are debated in the west in relation to the physics of consciousness. For the ordinary mortal however, the question of the degree to which a bush, a rock, or an animal could be usefully seen or felt as much 'within' (subjectively) as 'without' (objectively) was a real challenge. When the landscape 'speaks to me', is this to be understood as a framing of some normally untouched level of myself?

More challenging still -- rather than being a safe, static view, however participatory -- how is one to move with an active environment -- when that environment, as part of my 'larger' self, challenges me, entrains me, and entraps me in totally unforeseen ways which are not necessarily felt to be safe and free of menace? How is this to be related to degrees of 'encounter with the other'? Does the environment effectively dance me (forcefully) through interfaces and paradoxes?

These questions relate closely to the interface between the conscious and the unconscious. David Tacey explored these at length with regard to experience of the Australian landscape. The landscape can indeed be experienced as a menacing 'other' -- an unconscious level whose significance people deny at their peril. It can be fruitfully encountered. But it can also be understood as having a distinct agenda which one may be challenged to integrate.

It had been hoped that by sharing dreams, learning in these areas could have been furthered. The more significant dreams were however not shared -- except on a one-to-one basis.

Involvement interface

The above interface is intimately related to the sense of identity. How is an individual to sense his/her boundaries, and the 'container' of personality, in a fluid subject-object, conscious-unconscious situation? Some participants expressed concern at experiences of loss of boundary and of 'dissolving' into the landscape. Recognition of this concern in Australia had been documented by David Tacey (1995): "if the ego loses too much ground to the unconscious, this can lead to absorption into the archetypal sphere, in which case 'the sacred' becomes a devouring maw, which overwhelms and distintegrates humanity' (p. 4). More interesting is perhaps the ways in which identity might in some way be enhanced by experience of the landscape.

These issues can also be seen in terms of degrees of involvement or participation in the landscape. This is the challenge for 'tourists' who may, or may not, want to get involved. How is engagement to be 'managed' in contrast to detached observation -- especially when the partner in the encounter is far from passive? A feature of this is the manner in which people bring to the encounter issues from external western contexts, not suspecting that these may themselves be catalysts or doorways through which an unforeseen encounter takes place. People brought their own latest problems and found them surfaced by their experience. In this sense the group, individually and collectively, activated a process through the nature of their projections onto the landscape and the experience there.

It is clearly in terms of greater involvement that 'dangers' became evident. It is also through such involvement that greater insights become apparent. For the Anangu, these are undoubtedly connected with degrees of initiation. As a westerner one can speculate on the possible levels of insight associated with increasing involvement. One approach is to adapt as a template the classic 10 'ox-herding' pictures of Zen during which the shadow is gradually encountered and integrated. The first 8 might then give rise to the following degrees of involvement and insight:

Intriguing in relation to this pattern is the possibility that all levels are active simultaneously, whether one is conscious of them or not. Thus one could be gripped and maneuvered in unforeseen ways by activity at a level of which one was unconscious, whilst feeling secure in objective responses at those levels of which one was conscious.

Insight interface

The previous interface again raises the question of how a person learns or acquires insight. It makes clear how questionable is any approach to 'getting' insight as a deliverable product, possibly puchased from Anangu. As many have noted, to the extent that what is offered is treated as a product it may effectively be very superficial as an insight and difficult to 'hold' as wisdom.

The reality of the Anangu world makes clear that the fruitful insights through which they work are more contextual, involving dissolution of the subject-object barrier and far from the sense of insight as a bounded 'product'. Where the learning in fact reframes the identity and boundaries of who is doing the learning, how the learner is entrained and reframed by what is learnt is a prime concern. In fact how this process is progressively understood is probably itself integral to increasing insight.

Mystery interface

There are many mysterious tales and phenomena associated with the Anangu. These range from records of astonishingly rapid communication (bush telegraph) between isolated communities through to people being 'sung to death'. The ngankaris are recognized in their communities as having the ability to 'sing' events into being. Match-making may be initiated through such singing. People are reportedly made ill or healed through such processes. Such contextual information was therefore more than adequate to bring a sense of mystery to the encounter. On the other hand the physical realities were also more than sufficient to temper mystification with judgements that could easily be superficial.

Several members of the visiting group were subjected to healing procedures by the ngankaris at different times. Some explanations were offered concerning the nature of this process.

The group was warned of the danger of walking in certain areas without Anangu guides. The danger indicated was of the probability of falling sick. The Anangu themselves were very sensitive to such possibilities. One sacred site had to be purified before being visited. Some sites could only be visited by men, others by women.

Late one afternoon, with storm clouds brewing, it was announced that there would be a special Rainbow Serpent dance -- involving two Rainbow Serpents. A supply of a particular leaf was requested by the Anangu preparing for the dance. Two visitors went several kilometres around the base camp hill in a 4-WD to a place where there was a plentiful supply. There they were exposed to a double rainbow against the gathering storm clouds. This was never visible from the base camp where the dance was being prepared.

The visit was conducted within a context of Anangu ceremonies over much of the area. Their nature was unspecified and clearly highly secret. Particular Anangu withdrew temporarily from such ceremonies to guide the group.

Did the Anangu have a hidden agenda in relation to the visiting group? Having sought the visit, and presumably 'sung' it appropriately, what was their expectation? Within their own framework, what did they seek to achieve with the group?

Sublime - Ridiculous interface

At any one time, what to experience and how to experience it could confront a participant with a choice between the sublime and the ridiculous -- and possibly both together. How to respond to being painted and feathered up for a dance with a group of men? Men's stuff? Plain silly? How to see a bunch of breast-painted women doing the Honey Ant dance a few metres from an Anangu 'fixing his car'?

How to deal with travelling 50 kilometres across the bush with a group of Anangu women to a favoured site for wichity grubs -- only to be told that they only have the opportunity to do so when whitefellas drive them? An important source of bush tucker, the digging experience was genuine to all -- whether or not one appreciated the taste.

Travelling a songline with a group of elderly ngankari women in a 4-WD allowed them to sing appropriate songs at each site along the way. However, whilst travelling between sites in the white vehicle some of Anangu women chose to sing Christian hymns in the Pitjantjatjara language to tunes known to the visitors -- who were able to sing with them in English. A strangely poignant, timeless sharing of experiences in a beautiful landscape - sublime or ridiculous?

How to see the archetypal simplicity of an age-old Honey Ant dance by a grandmother and her young grand-daughters, with painted breasts, against a magnificent scenic backdrop at dusk -- faced with a battery of paparazzi that would do honour to the other Diana? And yet the audience participated actively and with genuine enthusiasm -- since it is from the audience that the beat and song is provided to accompany the dance. Who are the perceivers who endeavour to objectify any such encounter?

Clearly, whether sublime or ridiculous, the beholder's role is central.

Strategic interface

It would be naïve to believe that the visit was strategically neutral. It would be more realistic to see it as a strategic minefield.

Clearly the key organizing figures all had both open and hidden agendas. For some it was to advance the cause of the Anangu. For others it was better to position themselves in academic and career streams in the western world by 'getting' insights from the ngankari. Amongst the westerners there was an element of competitiveness in achieving this. Between the leading ngankari, there could well have been a 'struggle of the magicians' -- stemming especially from men's business vs. women's business.

From an economic perspective the Anangu clearly welcomed the resources brought by the visitors. But they also had an explicit strategy to enable westerners to learn of their culture -- as articulated in the programme of their Angatja Bush College. Appreciation of their culture by outsiders reinforces the position of the elders in the eyes of grandchildren only too aware of the temptations of western culture.

From a broader perspective, the situation of the Anangu poses a challenging strategic dilemma -- which is the focus of much debate in Australia. Should they be 'left alone' to live their culture -- despite the fact that it is progressively undermined by western culture? And despite the fact that it is primarily the elders that continue to honour that culture? Or should they be drawn into various development processes designed to absorb them into the western cultural and economic system?

With the best will in the world, how can anyone begin to discuss appropriately the further 'development' of the Anangu? What might it mean to them given their attitude to the eternal present? Rather than western style 'projects' and 'programmes' (emanating from the paradigm that many in the west are desperately trying to supersede), this would seem to require some development through the integrity of the Dreamtime stories themselves. How can a story be developed without violating its authenticity? Are there ways in which 'metaphorical harmonics' can be associated with a story to carry other levels of significance that would mesh more appropriately with the initiatives of the western world?

Can groups in the west learn from the challenges to comprehension in Anangu stories -- especially if the challenge of western sustainability lies in understanding the dynamics inherent in any such encounter (Tacey's thesis again). Western organizations 'plan' future allocation of resources whereas Anangu 'dream' and 'sing' their futures. Are there circumstances where these two strategic tendencies meet? How can both learn to develop the power of their respective styles of dreaming?

Just as westerners may have their dubious strategies in relation to the Anangu, it is possible that the Anangu have their own strategies in relation to westerners. From what perspective might one expect the ngankari to operate? To what dreams are they seeking to give form?

Who is exploiting whom in the encounter? Who is manipulating whom? Why should it be assumed that ngankari operate according to western ethics? Are they not the strategic 'operators' of Anangu society?

According to Tacey's thesis, the encounter of the white-skinned with the dark-skinned has complex levels of significance - most simplistically labelled for westerners as an encounter with the shadow and the unconscious. Somewhat fancifully the 4-WD personnel carriers could be compared to reinforced submersible vessels from which vulnerable visitors could exit as cultural snorkellers or scuba divers - or alternatively as vessels designed to withstand the lack of pressure at higher altitudes. These interface vehicles could be understood as being moved to various levels at increasing cultural depths (or heights) where they were tethered to permit excursions subject to different risks. Interaction with the Anangu could then be understood to take place in terms of varying degrees of openness to the unconscious. Whether such levels can be vaguely associated with those identified above, or with the chakras implied by the kundalini associations of the seven sisters story, is another matter.

Was the group 'sung' into this encounter? Were visitors danced through the interfaces to some larger end? At what levels were they able to emerge from their vessels?

Da. Interpretive reflections: The Singer and the Song

In seeking ways to comprehend the 'language' of the Dreamtime and the process of 'singing' the land, one insightful approach is through reflections on the 4,000 year-old chanted hymns of the Rg Veda of the Indian tradition. The following comments are derived from an earlier paper on related matters (Judge, 1980) commenting on a very powerful exploration of this work by a philosopher, Antonio de Nicolas (1978), using the non-Boolean logic of quantum mechanics (Heelan, 1974), opens up valuable pathways that address the subject-object challenge to being 'in the world'. The following themes are explored in the de Nicolas study:

The unique feature of the approach is that it is grounded in tone and the shifting relationships between tone. It is through the pattern of musical tones that the significance of the Rg Veda is to be found.

'Therefore, from a linguistic and cultural perspective, we have to be aware that we are dealing with a language where tonal and arithmetical relations establish the epistemological invariances... Language grounded in music is grounded thereby on context dependency; any tone can have any possible relation to other tones, and the shift from one tone to another, which alone makes melody possible, is a shift in perspective which the singer himself embodies. Any perspective (tone) must be 'sacrificed' for a new one to come into being; the song is a radical activity which requires innovation while maintaining continuity, and the 'world' is the creation of the singer, who shares its dimensions with the song.' (de Nicolas, p. 57)

De Nicolas contrasts this perspective with that of languages governed by vision, as is typical of westerners:

'Thus, in a language ruled by the criteria of sight, vision may mean the sum of perspectives from which a fixed object can be seen, plus the theoretical perspective of the relationships holding amongst different perspectives of the object, plus the mental acts by which those perspectives, relationships and visions are performed. In any event, the invariant object is the condition for the variations in the meaning of vision. The object is the condition for the variations in the meaning of vision. The invariant object is, therefore, not a reality, but a theoretical precondition (phenomenal or noumenal) for a whole system or method for establishing facts. Therefore, it is no wonder that when people speak of transcendence, within this framework, they are mostly forced to speak in mystical terms of things unseen or unseeable, either in terms of religious experiences, or in terms of modern physics. In a literal sense, in the latter two cases, speech is about no things by the same criteria of the speech used to designate things.'

Whereas in a language governed by sound:

'In a language ruled by the criteria of sound, perspectives, the change of perspectives and vision, stand for what musicologists call 'modulation'. Modulation in music is the ability to change keys within a composition. To focus within this language, and by its criteria, is primarily the activity of being able to run the scale backwards and forwards, up and down, with these sudden shifts in perspectives. Through this ability, the singer, the body, the song and the perspective become an inseparable whole. In this language, transcendence is precisely the ability to perform the song without any theoretical construct impeding its movement a priori, or determining the result of following such movement a priori. Nor can any theoretical compromise substitute for the discovery of the movement of 'modulation' itself in history. The human body would then be asked to lose the memory of its origins; a task the human body refuses to do by its constant return to crisis. It is up to the philosophers to discover the language ruled by the criteria of sound, rather than presuppose a priori that the only language universally human is the one ruled by the criteria of sight.' (de Nicolas, p. 192)

Given the importance of sound and music as a major integrative factor across cultural boundaries, and given the size of the audience which music now has through radio and cassettes, the possibilities of this route merit further exploration. Integration modelled on sound may be inherently more comprehensible to more people than integration modelled on sight.

It is interesting to note a tantalizing relationships between this study and that of Jacques Attali who structures his study of the political economy of music in terms of 'quatre formes possibles de diffusion de la musique, retrouvant les quatre structures fondamentales que peut avoir un graphe' (1977, p. 63). These are 'networks' associated with: ritual murder or sacrifice, presentation, composition, and reproduction.

De Nicolas on the other hand structures his study in terms of four 'languages' distinguished by their intentionality: images and sacrifice, existence, embodied vision, and non-existence. The first three seem to be related to those of Attali, and it is the non-relationship of the last which is significant in both perspectives. Attali's concept of the sacrificial aspect (1977, pp. 43-91) as an attribute essential for the renewal of social structures is intimately related to the Rg Vedic concept (de Nicolas, pp. 139-154). Such efforts to show the functional significance of sacrifice in relation to social integration need attention in a period when 'nobody is willing to sacrifice' advantages acquired under the present systems in crisis.

De Nicolas study has already inspired an exploration of the tonal underpinnings of the Rg Veda by a musicologist, Ernest McClain (1976), which is interesting in its own right. This helps to understand the interrelatedness of perspectives and the mnemonic value of their expression through vivid symbols (gods, dragons, etc). McClain clarifies the musical significance of the four languages and, in this context, their relevance to integration:

'The four Rgvedic 'languages' de Nicolas defines have their counterparts in the foundation of all theories of music. His 'language of Non-Existence' (Asat) is exemplified by the pitch continuum within each musical interval as well as by the whole undifferentiated gamut -- chaos -- from low to high. His 'language of Existence' (Sat) is exemplified by every tone, by every distinction of pitch, thus ultimately by every number which defines an interval, a scale, a tuning system, or the associated metric schemes of the poets, which are quite elaborate in the Rg Veda. The 'language of Images and Sacrifice' (Yajna) is exemplified by the multitude of alternate tone-sets and the conflict of alternate values which always results in some accuracy being 'sacrificed' to keep the system within manageable limits. The 'language of Embodied Vision' is required to protect the validity of alternate tuning systems and alternate metric schemes by refusing to grant dominion to any one of them'. (1976, p. 3).

For de Nicolas: 'The embodiment of Rg Vedic man was understood... as an effort at integrating the languages of Asat, Sat and Yajna to reach the dhih, the effective viewpoint, which would make these worlds continue in their efficient embodiment' (1978, p. 136).

Db. Interpretive reflections: Alchemical processes of the rubedo ?

Death was an issue touching deeply several members of the group during the visit, including both Colleen and the principal female ngankari, Nganyinytja. Strangely in the case of Colleen's relative, it was the cultural imposition of alcohol in a hazing ritual which was the cause -- when this was precisely Craig's challenge in seeking new responses to the condition of many Anangu attracted to town. Significant at the time was that the white vehicle had to be commandeered to transport Anangu guides to a funeral that the non-Anangu passengers would not otherwise have been able to attend. Strangely death was the theme of the one and only overt, personal challenge made by one member to another in a general gathering -- which effectively 'killed' the whole-group process and led to its fragmentation. It is also curious, in the light of Tacey's thesis, that the Northern Territory of Australia was the first to legalize euthanasia -- an initiative that had just been quashed by the federal government.

As suggested at the beginning of this account, it could prove useful to explore the event through a western alchemical framework. Following the nigredo and albedo - however they were manifest in the encounter -- the final stage of the alchemical opus is the so-called rubedo or red death - recalling the colour so characteristic of the Red Centre of Australia. 'Since every Hermetic stage begins with a bout of putrefaction followed by an act of conjunction, the 'red' putrefaction is hailed by the adepts as the unlocking of the door to the last and most difficult labyrinth of the Hermetic castle' (Johannes Fabricius, 1976, p. 170). This might be considered consistent with David Tacey's thesis.

The sequence of images associated with this phase (Fabricius, pp 170-181) starts with a green and golden lion devouring the sun as it coils back on itself in a final, mysterious convulsion of depression and death. This recalls the strange coloration of the green-gold-bronze grass of the Musgrave Ranges at that time. The lion is portrayed with seven stars along the length of its body. Symbolizing the heavenly incestuous marriage, it devours or mortifies the sun and the moon, who separately and cruelly expire in the belly of the cosmic beast as it assumes universal proportions (Fabricius, p. 170). The stars recall the seven sisters in the Anangu story - configured in relation to Wati Nyiru, who might here be understood as the devouring lion that killed the object of its desire.

This mortification process is said to symbolize the crucial stage of the individuation process known as senescence or old age -- the atrophy of the libido. It is in this phase that depth psychologists have noted that the possibilities for psychic change are greatest. The green lion devouring the sun is thus a symbol of the libido's withering into senescence in the last movement of a regressing unconscious closing the circle of life and individuation. The delicate health of the two leading Anangu ngankari elders, and their initiative in inviting the group to visit, are a reminder of this condition.

At this stage of the alchemical work is hatched the philosophers' child (the macrocosmic son), representing the germinating red coniunctio -- embodying the idea that the individual is a microcosm that reflects the macrocosm. This understanding is reflected in the fundamentals of the Anangu relation to the Dreamtime - and perhaps carried by the Rainbow Serpent story. This child contains the whole universe since it holds its point of reflection in the child's human intellect, capable of grasping its laws. This unity of divine and human correspondence explains the spiritual ecstasy of the commentaries on this stage. The remarkable qualities of this state are its powers of 'multiplication', by means of a projection of itself. These are the very qualities developed by the philosophers' egg or stone when maturing in the hot fire of the rubedo (Fabricius, p. 173-5).

Is this projection process to be understood through the manner in which the Anangu work with their totemic ancestors in daily life? Strange that the alchemical commentaries stress the need for the philosopher's child to fix in itself the qualities of the sun - as exemplified by the rainbow? 'For the sun gives spirit, colour, fixation and perfection to the tincture. The colour added to it by the sun is a crimson purple colour, a deep pomegranate red: this being the immutable and permanent colour' (Fabricius, p. 173) -- and the prevailing colour of the Red Centre. And what of the image of the queen of the rubedo seated on the red lion of 'multiplication' presenting the philosophers' egg? (Fabricius, p. 175)

Fabricius cites a commentary on the nature of the multiplying stone: 'The said one thing enters into every regimen and is found everywhere, being a stone and also not a stone; common and precious; hidden and concealed, yet known by everyone; of one name and of many names, which is the spume of the moon. This stone, therefore, is not a stone because it is more precious. Without it nature never operates anything. Its name is one, yet we have called it by many names on account of the excellence of its nature' (Fabricius, p. 178). Does this suggest ways in which Anangu understand and relate to the 'spirit of the land'?

It is through the process of multiplication that the philosophers' garden is opened and imperfections are permanently rectified. Does this suggest why the land needs to be 'sung'? This work is accomplished through proiectio as the original act which starts the wondrous multiplicatio: Project on any body as much of it as you please, since its tincture shall be multiplied twofold' and from hence on ad infinitum. In tracing back the multiplication to its source, the adept gradually forces his way through multiplicity to oneness; ascending the pyramid of the multiplying stone, he finally happens upon the splitting of the One when 'projecting' itself. The proiectio thus becomes the instrument by which the alchemist recovers the primordial stone, the goal of his work' (Fabricius, p. 179). This suggests ways of understanding the subject-object challenge to perception and the role of metaphor in reframing the environment through projections. The processes associated with proiectio may be those fundamental to Anangu dreaming.

Fabricius explores many of these processes in terms of modern understandings of genetics. Thus, in happening upon the ultimate projection and the primal birth of the stone: 'In terms of the genetic process, this event symbolizes the regressive revival of the unconscious imprints of primeval mitosis, the 'gateway' of the primordial germ cell. The proiectio reflects this process in that it uncovers the great stone, or ultimate self, by means of division, a split-body becoming one body in the mysteries of the final coniunctio. In terms of the individuation process, the proiectio reflects the death trauma which is patterned on the primeval mitosis in that it too represents a split process duplicating itself.'(Fabricius, p.181). He also notes a sexual metaphor describing this process through which 'the alchemist and his sister are united as Sol and Luna by the red tincture or the elixir of life"The keys of the completed work are held by the newly-married couple, united in death by life eternal' (Fabricius, p. 180). He continues: 'This background explains the last transition of the opus which involves the alchemist in a paradoxical and mystical experience of the ultimate unity of death and primal birth. As the opus circulatorium closes, the end returns to the beginning, the act of death to the act of primal conception' (Fabricius, p. 181). Is this the awareness to which the Eagle Dreaming points?


It is fruitful to explore the alchemical framework as a means of comprehending the sustainability of Anangu culture through tens of thousands of years of living the Dreamtime. It may also contribute to understanding of opportunities for the sustainability of global society at this time - currently articulated through a desperate search for a 'global vision' to which all could subscribe. The subtleties suggested by the alchemical framework, and the fact that the Tjukurpa encompasses dreamtime, song, story, and law, suggests that the focus on 'vision' may be avoiding many dimensions vital to sustainability (Judge, 1997).

Tacey contrasts the alchemical tradition of opus contra naturam with the contemporary challenge of Australia: 'This country demands a different archetypal style, a style that works with nature rather than against it. The very notion that spirit is opposed to matter cannot take root here. Our spiritual mode will have to be ecological, a work with nature, an opus cum natura.' (p. 23). He values learning from the Anangu because they spontaneously felt the environment to be part of themselves and to be intrinsically related to their emotional reality. 'This is the missing dimension in today's official discourse about the necessity to be green"The rationalist mindset is itself part of the problem, and it cannot be expected to come up with a cure"The truly ecological task is not only to repair our damage in the outer world, but to repair the deep splits on the inside, to work towards inclusive rather than exclusive concepts of selfhood and identity.' (p. 152). And elsewhere: "we can urge each other to 'care more' about the environment, but until we have revised our sense of identity to include the natural world our best intentions may be in vain.' (p. 175)

Recognizing the challenge does not mean that the world should simply buy into Anangu cosmology in a final desperate act of spiritual consumerism. As Tacey cautions: 'The consuming of Aboriginal cosmology is merely the most recent expression of the white imperialist appropriation of the indigenous other. We have not only stolen Aboriginal land, destroyed

the tribal culture, raped the women and the environment, but now we ask for their spirituality as well".We need to regard Aboriginal mysteries metaphorically rather than literally, to experience them as rich cultural fantasies that stir our own souls to activity, rather than as metaphysical systems to believe in.' (p. 132-3)

Citing both the early Christian, Gregory of Nyassa, and Goethe, Cowan points out that: 'Clearly there is a time-honoured tradition demanding of mankind that he equate the integrity of his own nature with that of the land he inhabits' (p. 133). He points to Henry Corbin's (1977) recommendation for a new line of study, 'psychological geography', through which might be discovered the psychological factors that come into play in the conformation given to landscape and, conversely the mode of psycho-spiritual activity brought into operation by any physical structure. This is consistent with Tacey's argument about the missing element in green discourse.

The social project advocated by Tacey is described as follows: 'Australia becomes an ideal place for the birth of a new dreaming, a dreaming that could be an important cultural experiment for the world at large. The thesis of white rationality is being eroded by the antithesis of black Dreaming, but the synthesis will probably combine and transcend both in terms of cultural encounter.' (p. 159). Elsewhere he adds: 'We owe it to the future to ensure that culture moves forward in an authentic manner, and that the 'solutions' discovered for our spiritual crisis are not spurious or false.' (p. 196) 

Who is the Dreamer ? / Who is Dreamt ? What is Sung ? / Who is Sent ? Who is the Singer ?/ What is the Song ?


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