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Mircea Eliade - The initiation rites of the Aranda (Arunta) of Central Australia



Type of Spiritual Experience


The following example sounds particularly brutal, but one has to remember that this is all figurative – it happens in the vision, not literally.  Many shamanic initiation rituals and experiences are ‘brutal’ in the visionary sense, but they are entirely symbolic of the need to ‘renew’ the person into the role of the shaman

A description of the experience

Mircea Eliade – Shamanism Archaic techniques of ecstasy

The Aranda (Arunta) of Central Australia know three ways of making medicine men:

  • by the Iruntarinia or spirits;
  • by the Eruncha – that is the spirits of the Eruncha men of the mythical Alchera (Alcheringa) times
  •  by other medicine men.

In the first case the candidate goes to the mouth of a cave and falls asleep.  An Iruntarinia comes and ‘throws an invisible lance at him, which pierces his neck from behind, passes through the tongue, making therein a large hole, and then comes out through the mouth. The candidate’s tongue remains perforated; one can easily put one’s little finger through it.  A second lance cuts off his head and the victim succumbs.

The Iruntarinia carries him into the cave, which is said to be very deep and where it is believed that the Iruntarinia live in perpetual light and near to cool springs (this is in fact the paradise of Aranda).  In the cave the spirit tears out his internal organs and gives him others,  which are completely new.  The candidate returns to life, but for some time behaves like a lunatic.  The Iruntarinia which are invisible to other human beings except medicine men, then carry him to his village.

Etiquette forbids him to practise for a year; if during that time the opening in his tongue closes, the candidate gives up, for his magical virtues are said to have disappeared.  During this year he learns the secrets of the profession from other medicine men, especially the use of the fragments of quartz that the Iruntarinia placed in his body

The source of the experience

Australian aboriginal

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items


Activities and commonsteps