the mythosociological tradition

Modern social analysis is gaining an appreciation of the mythosociological tradition after a period of incomprehension referred to by TIME AUSTRALIA correspondent David Callaghan (1988:13) in the context of Australian Aborigines:

The culture of Australia's indigenous people is more akin to those of the American Indian, the tribespeople of the Kalahari, the Ainu of Japan, the Eskimo and many other gatherer-hunter cultures ... These cultures have been the subject of enormous misunderstanding by those girdled by what is called civilisation.

From a religious perspective, David Collins, an early settler and first Lieutenant Governor of Van Dieman's Land (1804-10), now Tasmania, recorded an impression of Aboriginal society in 1798, in 'An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales'.

It has been asserted by an eminent divine, that no country has yet been discovered where some trace of religion was not to be found. From every observation and inquiry that I could make among these people, from the first to the last of my acquaintance with them, I can safely pronounce them an exception to this opinion. (cited in Stanner, 1965:207)

Over a century later, explorer Alfred Howitt (1904:507) wrote that "[a]lthough it cannot be alleged that these aborigines have consciously any form of religion, it may be said that their beliefs are such that, under favorable conditions, they might have developed into an actual religion".

Half a century on, anthropologist William Stanner (1965:217) noted that the "[t]he known evidence suggests that Aboriginal religion was probably one of least material-minded, and most life-minded, of any of which we have knowledge". The modern view considers Aboriginal religion as both contemporary and one of the most complex spiritual traditions on Earth. Anthropologist Lester Hiatt (1994: 937) indicates that "today Aboriginal people and their traditions are widely admired as models of spirituality".

Sociologists have acquired an appreciation of mythosociology from the mythopoetic movement. The study of sociology emerged in Western society in the nineteenth century following the successful application of the scientific method to material culture. The social theorist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) attempted an objective approach to human social behavior, described by sociologist Doyle Johnson (1986:17) as "a view of people and society as part of nature, with human behavior subject to natural laws that could be discovered by the same type of scientific techniques of empirical investigation that had been successful in the physical sciences". Stanner (1965:211) notes that Durkheim developed five theses "about religion, totemism, social control, ritual, and thought, all inspired by Aboriginal materials". Stanner (211) goes on to suggest that Durkheim, "paying too little attention to the elements of human experience and aspiration, considered society the reality underlying religion".

Durkheim's approach was confounded by the co-existence of reality and religion, analyses, from the mythosociological perspective, derived from present and past cycles of social culture. Johnson (1986:18) contrasts Durkheim's view with "Weber's methodological stress on understanding verstchen (subjective meaning). Max Weber (1864-1920) formulated an approach interpreted in modern sociology as subjective perspectives of studies including deviance, demography, ethnicity and gender- based analysis.

Durkheim's objective approach is being revisited by the mythopoetic movement with social analysis derived from an appreciation of the sexes. Academic Robert Moore (1995:6), an inspiration to the movement, analyses the sacred masculine and the work of empowerment of the male soul, mythology from past cycles adapted to the present, in terms of genetic distinctions between the sexes.

There's enormous evidence to believe with Carl Jung that there's a Great Code ... that is in your two million year old DNA ... We're talking about the male psyche, but I want to do a quick round saying how the female journey to the center and the male journey to the center are similar and how they are different, critically different.

Mythopoetry applies principles of social theory determined by distinguishing between the sexes, in ritual and 'warrior training'. Author Mike Dash (1995:n.p.) suggests that mythopoetry can:

give us rituals of cleansing and healing. Mythopoetry is already building toward a new mythology of manhood ... we need new rituals of ongoing shared male community to take the place of the old ones ... So mythopoetry can help us with the inner work. However, we also need outer work and mythopoetry is not now doing it in this area. Understanding why this work is blocked is critical to moving the dialogue - and the movement forward.

The mythopoetic movement is drawing closer to obtaining objective principles of gender behavior through analysis of traditions described by Moore (1995:9) as those of "the old peoples of the earth".

Common Law is a further form of social analysis gaining an appreciation of the mythosociological tradition. Australia was considered 'terra nullius', devoid of people - as distinct from fauna, for two centuries until 1992 when the High Court of Australia conceded native title to Torres Strait Islanders of Far North Queensland in the Mabo (2) decision. (Mabo v State of Queensland (No 2), 1992: 175 Commonwealth Law Reports 1; 107 Australian Law Reports 1) In a further decision involving the Wik community from the western coast of the Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland, the High Court held that native title could co-exist with pastoral rights. (Wik Peoples (The) v State of Queensland: 120 Australian Law Reports 465) In Land Rights News, a publication of the Central and Northern Land Councils, editors Bruce Tilmouth and Galarruy Yunupingu (1997:13) of the Northern Territory Land Council, explain that:

[t]he June 1992 Mabo High Court decision said that in whiteman's law indigenous people had a right to their land - a right that existed before European settlement and which still exists. This right is called native title ... Then, last year, the High Court made another important decision with the Wik case. It said that native title rights could exist side-by-side with the rights of pastoralists on cattle stations. This is called co-existence.

Anthropology is a another instance of social analysis in civilization achieving an appreciation of the mythosociological tradition. Female ethnographers have gained insight into the assemblage of mythosociology unavailable to men, since, as indigenous co-ordinator of Aboriginal education, Pat Fowell (1987:11) notes:

Aboriginal women's spiritual and ceremonial life was not 'seen' by the predominately white, male anthropologists and rightly so. It is women's business and nothing to do with men. Increasing Aboriginal literacy, after government policies restricting Aboriginal access to education beyond lower secondary grades were dismantled from the 1970s, is contributing to a stronger mythosociological voice. Studies of religion, sociology, law and anthropology are increasingly being conducted in response to this voice and a growing appreciation of the assemblage of mythosociology in women's business and men's business.



Fowell, Pat (1987) 'Aboriginal Women 1788-1988'. Ms Muffett 33. September. 10-11.


Callaghan, David (1988) 'What Future the Aborigine?'. TIME AUSTRALIA Vol 3, No 32. 8 August: 13.

Dash, Mike (1995) 'After O.J.: An Open Call to the Men's Movement'. M.E.N. Magazine: November.

Hiatt, Lester, Richard (1994) 'Religion'. In, David Horton (ed) The Encyclopedia Aboriginal Australia, Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press: 937- 940.

Howitt, Alfred, William (1904) The Native Tribes of South- East Australia. London: Macmillan.

Johnson, Doyle Paul (1986) Sociological Theory: Classical Founders and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: MacMillan.

Moore, Robert L. (1995) Masculine Initiation for the 21st Century: Facing the Challenge of Global Brotherhood. Address to the New warrior Network, Windsor, Ontario, July 17. Transcribed and edited by Rob Johnson. Free Hawk, 7/92 Chicago.

Stanner, William, Edward, Hanley (1965) 'Religion, Totemism and Symbolism'. In, Ronald M. Berndt and Catherine H. Berndt (eds) Aboriginal Man in Australia. Sydney: Angus and Robertson: 207-237.

Tilmouth, Bruce and Yunupingu, Galarruy (ed) (1997) 'Native Title - 1. Mabo, Native Title & Wik'. Land Rights News. Vol 2 No 42: PO Box 42921 Casuarina, NT Australia 0811.

last updated july, 2010