The Aboriginal culture is steeped in mystique and intrigue, with stories flowing through the ages and becoming integral parts of modern Aboriginal life. One of the stories involves the Rainbow Serpent, a powerful "Dreaming" episode that embodies the stirring forces of spirit and nature.
Behold the power of the Rainbow Serpent story
The Rainbow Serpent is believed to have lived in the desert, specifically, within or around waterholes. This creature can travel between those waterholes through subterranean passages or, sometimes, within storm clouds that roll across the area. In fact, the Rainbow Serpent can bring on rain at will or keep rain away if he is unhappy. By doing this, he can impose a drought on an area that is so severe it can cause entire tribes to perish.For this reason, the locals pay great respect to the Rainbow Serpent, especially when they are in the neighbourhood of these waterholes. Before they approach, they will say a prayer to announce their presence and assure the Rainbow Serpent of their good intentions. As they sing, they will reaffirm that they recognise his power and ability to rule over them.
Why the locals appease the Rainbow Serpent
Locals believe that the Rainbow Serpent recognises who they are from the nature of their singing and is likely to treat them fairly as a result. To further announce their presence, they may rub a certain amount of earth over their bodies as they believe this will allow the Serpent to smell them. Only then will they finally approach the waterhole for a much-needed drink.The local Aboriginals believe that if they did not approach the Rainbow Serpent properly, he would grow annoyed and could instantly summon a major storm with high winds and torrential rain that would quickly drown them. He could also withhold rain completely, causing severe drought. Since water is such a precious resource in any desert environment, the Aboriginals believe that the Serpent fully has the power over life and death.
The force of the Rainbow Serpent Dreamtime story
In Arnhem Land, which is in the Northern Territory, the Rainbow Serpent story is even more revered. They associate the Serpent with general well-being throughout society as well as fertility. He is also linked to creeks and rivers and can control the water plants that grow in these areas, such as vines, palms and water lilies. In addition, the Aboriginal Rainbow Snake can shed its skin and re-emerge anew, reinforcing its capability to control the life cycle.
Fear of the Serpent
While the Rainbow Serpent can bring blessings, some Aboriginal myths talk about a Rainbow Serpent who can swallow humans alive. It will then regurgitate them and the remaining bones will immediately turn into stone. The creature can also inject its progeny (called little rainbows) into someone's body, which will cause them to fall ill and die. Further, the Rainbow Serpent can place "spirit" children into waterholes. Should any woman wade into the water without the permission of the Serpent, they may become impregnated by the spirit children.
The Rainbow Serpent in artwork
As with many other legends throughout the Aboriginal world, the Rainbow snake story is often recreated in art. In many Aboriginal paintings, the Rainbow Snake is shown as a creature with the body of a snake, the tail of a crocodile and what was first thought to be the head of a kangaroo.Aboriginal people love to paint the Rainbow Serpent onto bark, which is a way to perpetuate the story and honour the belief. They often use white ochre to help them create a brilliant rendition that stands against the dark wood of the bark. They will also use white ochre for body decoration in order to vividly replicate the image of the Rainbow Serpent in important ceremonies.
Earliest paintings of the Rainbow Serpent
The earliest paintings of the Rainbow Serpent seem to have appeared as far back as shortly after the last Ice Age. Archaeologists discovered these paintings in Arnhem Land and reasoned that the head of the creature was a replica of the ribboned pipefish and not a kangaroo as they thought at first.Further research shows that the ribboned pipefish first came to the attention of the Aboriginals due to the rising seas associated with the end of the Ice Age. The rising sea levels were changing the climate and diminishing the food supply. Thus, the resourceful Aboriginal people eventually had to turn to sea fish for sustenance. As the tribes shared the ribboned pipefish and worked together to survive, the fish became a sign of renewal, creation and change. This could have led to the legend of the Rainbow Serpent.
The oldest continuous religious belief
If this theory is true, then the Rainbow Serpent represents one of the oldest continuing religious beliefs, with the legend surviving to this day. In fact, the concept is so widespread in Aboriginal culture and is one of the most prominent Aboriginal Dreamtime stories that you can see it in many different names and forms. They say that the Serpent can live in a number of sacred sites and often represents the beginning of the "Dreaming" and "Creation" stories.
Rainbow Serpent artwork at Wentworth Galleries
If you're looking for Rainbow Serpent paintings and other meaningful works of art, check out the collection at Wentworth Galleries. We do everything we can to honour the Aboriginal culture and celebrate their work. Since we strive to help them share their stories, we're delighted to showcase some of the best artworks in the Aboriginal world.At our Sydney art gallery, you'll come across some of the country's most prominent artists, who have given us some of their best creations to adorn our walls. Whether you're thinking about owning a one-of-a-kind piece of Rainbow Serpent artwork or simply renting a painting for a limited time, the collection at Wentworth Galleries will provide you with plenty of Aboriginal art to choose from.
Own your Rainbow Serpent painting today
We have an extensive curated collection of Rainbow Serpent paintings for sale at Wentworth Galleries. We will also give you a free home or office trial and a valuable, two-year exchange guarantee should you need it. So, if you're interested in buying some Rainbow Serpent artwork, we will be delighted to hear from you. In the meantime, we can answer any of your questions when you reach out to us for help.