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The Mother Earth Conspiracy: an Australian Episode1

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It has become almost a truism in Religious Studies that not only is the belief in a Mother Earth universal but also that this is amongst the most ancient and primordial of all human religious conceptions. Olof Pettersson has criticized the validity of this assumption as a comparative category, whilst Sam Gill has demonstrated the problem in applying the paradigm to Native American traditions. This article extends their re-examination of Mother Earth, taking the particularly revealing case of the Australian Aborigines. It is shown that those academics advocating an Aboriginal Mother Earth have clearly taken this leap beyond the ethnographic evidence with a Classical image in mind, and with either theological or ecologist agendas influencing their thinking. It is further revealed that this scholarly construct has, in only the last decade or so, been internalised and accepted by Aboriginal people themselves. Far from being an ancient belief, it is argued that Mother Earth is a mythic being who has arisen out of a colonial context and who has been co-created by White Australians, academics and Aborigines. Her contours in fact only take shape against a colonial background, for she is a symbolic manifestation of an "otherness" against which Westerners have defined themselves: the autochthonous and female deity of indigenous people against the allegedly world-defiling patriarchy of Western ideology.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, University of Sydney, N.S.W. 2006

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