Dream spirit journey to country

My spirit know the way to place where I been born – it travels like kiirr-kiirrpa (hawk) to my ngurra – that’s my “Patjuntjari” (dream spirit journey). (*Jimmy, traditional Mapantjara/ shaman)

I first encountered the phenomenon of “dream flying” during a field trip to Wiluna in January 1975. It was late December, the hottest time of the year, when I arrived at Bondini Reserve after a long arduous two day drive from Mt Margaret Mission. I was driving a truck loaded up with Aboriginal people and their belongings, who were attending the annual Nga-waji rainmaking ceremony at Bondini, an Aboriginal reserve settlement located about three kilometres east of the township of Wiluna on the legendary Gunbarrel Highway. Desert people from as far afield as the Docker River, Jigalong and Balgo were to be attending this event.

I was accompanied on the trip by a Warburton Lawman who acted as my guide and informant during the journey to Wiluna. On the journey down Peter (an alias) seemed to be preoccupied with something that was troubling him. When I inquired what was wrong, he replied that he felt anxious that something had happened to a member of his family back at Warburton. When we arrived at Wiluna, Peter rang his community from the police station and received the news that his father was ill. He murmured something, which I found inaudible, that he would visit his father to check on his condition later. I thought, did I hear him say this because there was no way he could travel all the way back to Warburton that night, driving about eight hours straight over one of the most rugged roads in the world.

I met him the next morning at about 8.30am at the Reserve where he told me that he had flown home the previous night to check on his father’s condition.  I sceptically asked him ‘Is your father recovering from his illness?’ ‘Oh Yes’, he said. ‘He ‘s walking around now and feeling much better.’  It was not until some eighteen years later that I came across by chance another night dream ‘spirit flight’ phenomenon. This time I wanted to understand how one could achieve this extraordinary night-time mission.

A conversation I had before the meeting with two senior Lawmen who identified themselves as Mapantjara shaman led me to believe that ‘dream spirit flights’ were almost as common as driving one’s car through the bush.

All my Aboriginal advisers had been born and raised in the desert country north or northeast of Wiluna on the Canning Stock Route, Carnegie, and Munkalyi. During the meetings which took place over a two day period the group frequently talked about going ‘back to their country’ at night by patjuntjari. Tonkinson (1970:260) in Australian Aboriginal Anthropology (edited by Ronald Berndt) records this same term at Jigalong as badjundjari. It would seem that this was a customary practice in settlements, such as at Wiluna and Jigalong, where initiated males received knowledge of how to fly in a lucid dream state back to their home country. To my consultants patjuntjari was as normal a means of visiting country as walking or driving, especially when it was not possible for them to visit their country physically because of the tyranny of distance and other cultural commitments. The term ‘astral flight’ was never used at any time during our meetings by myself or my advisers. They referred to their nightly sojourns to country as patjuntjari or mungarti purnpurpa ‘night flying.’

“We blackfellas say that every night a man sleeps, his spirit walk about all over the fucking place — but if he look hard [focus] and think about his ngurra country before he sleeps– and sing the song for that ngurra- he will go along that country.”  (W.W. 1975)

“I can see my country now if I close my eyes – but if you wanna go ta yer country in your dreams you gotta sing that song real hard in your head longa time, don’t stop.” (W. L. 1975)

“When you sing that song for your country – you will go longa your country. I been go longa time pilot me.”

“Me spirit know the way to country I been come from – it been travels like a hawk to that place – that’s my Patjuntjari” (dream spirit journey). (Peter Go-Go 1993)

Discussing spirit dream journeys north of Wiluna
Discussing spirit dream journeys north of Wiluna

All of the Lawmen interviewed stated they had no doubts that when a man dreams at night, he can direct his spirit towards his country and fly over that particular country and visit the place of his spirit conception ‘if he wants to.’ It was understood that in their dream spirit journey the soul leaves the physical body and can travel anywhere in their known world.

Method of dream spirit flying

Step 1: Focused visualization on country ‘Remember your ngurra -think strongly about your country — you gotta see it in your head proper and keep it in picture. Keep saying the name of your ngurra (country) over and over.’

Step 2: Sings the songs for that country – this can be achieved either sub-vocally or aloud for about an hour before sleep. Every word of that song is a mnemonic that triggers an account of Tjukurpa dreaming of that country. The song stimulates the narrative memory of the traveller and directs their spirit home to its ngurra.

Step 3: You must never travel over dangerous country or take the unknown track (route)

Step 4: A novice should travel with an experienced traveller or Mapantjarra.

To psychically project oneself to a particular place, one must focus attention on a particular place, repetitively singing or chanting oneself into an altered state of consciousness. This technique of cyclical chanting and focused suggestion prior to sleep enables the entry into a lucid dream state whereby the participant experiences the realistic sensation of flying to their homeland.

The most dangerous part of the experience is the danger of breaking the law by entering a forbidden territory or meeting a threatening ancestral being. It is for this reason that novices must travel with a Mapantjarra (shaman) as their guide.

The above information derives from my anthropological field diary notes, August 5th, 1975 field diary. Ken Macintyre

*Note: Jimmy was originally from Munkalyi. At the time (1975) when I first visited him he was residing at a fringe camp in South Kalgoorlie with a group of elderly people who had also been born in the bush and drifted into the urban setting. Jimmy was in a relationship with one of the women from this group and practiced as an urban Mapantjara (shaman).

I would like to thank the Lawmen of the Warburton, Wiluna and Kalgoorlie areas for providing me with information and ethnographic insights into their traditional practice of ‘dream spirit flying’ or ‘night flying. ‘