Spirit-Child: The Aboriginal Experience of Pre-Birth Communication
by Elizabeth Carman and Neil Carman, Ph.D.
The stories that we hear of pre-birth communication are typically about a woman sensing contact with her future child — so much so, that it is difficult to keep the subject from being classified as “just” a women’s issue. How fascinating, therefore, to learn of a culture where it is primarily the men who experience contact before conception. This article, excerpted from Cosmic Cradle, a forthcoming book by Elizabeth Carman and Neil Carman, Ph.D., presents stories from Aboriginal groups as reported in anthropological research. It offers a glimpse into a world imbued with very different assumptions from our own, reminding us of the plasticity of the human psyche.
Cosmic Cradle (publication scheduled for early 2000) is an extraordinary compendium of evidence for the most mysterious phase of human existence–the stage before conception. It brings together traditional accounts, little-known historic references, and interviews with contemporary Americans. This broad-based research makes it clear that the experience of pre-birth communication has been known and recorded throughout history and across cultures world-wide. More information is available online at CosmicCradle.com or email Elizabeth Carman.
Communications with the unborn may be as old as human life itself. Aboriginal peoples of Australia, a territory slightly larger than the U.S., had unique economic, political, social, and linguistic characteristics. At the same time, they shared one extraordinary belief: conceiving a child is founded in a spiritual event–a “spirit-child” selects his parents and this event enables biology to take its course. A Forrest River Aborigine, as a prime example, dreams of a spirit-child playing with his spears or with his wife’s paper bark; the husband thrusts the spirit-child towards his wife and it enters by her foot. Conception then proceeds into pregnancy (except in certain cases where conception occurs several years later).
The term “spirit-child” roughly equates with the Western concept of the soul. Aside from that similarity, the Aboriginal pre-conception paradigm contrasts with science’s understanding of pregnancy. The first anthropologists to hear Aboriginal pre-conception reports assumed that the spirit-child pre-empted the role of male sperm, and labeled this notion “the most elementary belief concerning the genesis of the individual.”
Even more puzzling, Aborigines held their belief after learning about biological conception as an accidental collision of sperm and egg. They contended that sexual intercourse, though it may prepare the way for the child’s entry into the womb, by itself is not the sole cause of conception–since a spirit-child is necessary. As elucidated by anthropologist Ashley Montagu(1):
The Aboriginal world is essentially a spiritual world, and material acts are invested with a spiritual significance… The spiritual origin of children is the fundamental belief, and among the most important stays of the social fabric. It is absurd then to think…intercourse could be the cause of a child.
A contemporary researcher who lived with the Aborigines explains the spirit-child concept(2):
The new life which has chosen to enter the woman is a complete entity who has originated at some time in the long distant past, and is immeasurably more ancient and completely independent of any living person.
Perception of spirit-children depends upon intuitive ability. Aborigines generally agree that the spirit-children are tiny, fully developed babies. Four versions follow:
Ngalia: Spirit-children have dark hair with light-colored streaks. They sit under shady trees, waiting for a compatible mother to pass by. Meanwhile they eat the gum of acacia trees, and drink morning dew.
Tiwi: Spirit-children are small dark-skinned people who are two to three inches high, but reach nine inches in maturity.
Western Australian Aborigines: Spirit-children are as small as walnuts and wander over the land, playing in pools like ordinary children.
Central Australian Arunta: A spirit-child is the germ of a complete pre-formed individual, about the size of a tiny, red, round pebble.