Kandimalal and the Rainbow Serpent, by Boxer Milner.

Julunggul is one of the many Aborigine names for the ‘Rainbow Serpent’ in Australia, whose name and gender varies depending on the origin tribe. She is both a creator and fertility goddess, and represents the rains and oceans which are believed to be the bringers of life. Julunggul herself represents beauty, fertility and health, with her symbols being colourful flowers and rainbows. As the Rainbow Serpent, she is described as ‘flowing’ into her believer’s lives, in order to bring them children and the art of healing. She is embodied in the oceans and waterfalls, as well as housed in both salt water and fresh water pearls.

The Rainbow Serpent is a common motif in Aboriginal Australian art and mythology, appearing as a snake coloured with the rainbow. Many Aborigine tribes attribute a rainbow to being the serpent moving from one waterhole in the sky to another. As well as being a bringer of life, it is also a great destroyer if angry, causing huge flooding or drought. The Rainbow Serpent can be described as female, male, neither or androgynous and is one of the oldest religious beliefs still held in the world. As well as being a fertility deity associated with rebirth, the Serpent is also believed to control the maturing of and initiation of boys into manhood. In this role of ‘Mother Snake’, she would symbolically swallow a child and regurgitate him as a man. Occasionally when depicted in this role, she is shown with human breasts.

Its origin story depends on the specific tribe and location, but all show a significant power in the Aborigine tradition. A generalised version tells of a flat and desolate earth, where the Rainbow Serpent descended from the sky and burrowed into the earth in order to create deep valleys, tall mountains and rivers. They then divide and tell of the serpent populating the world with living things, or invoking them to come out of hiding. These stories all then unite end with the Serpent teaching the laws of community, morality and ethics.

There are a number of stories which tell of her replenishing the stores of water underground, while others tell of her filling great rivers from the sky. Without her, there would be no water on the earth and the landscape would return to desolation. Those areas which commonly experience monsoons show the Rainbow Serpent as interacting with the sun and winds. However, central regions which do not experience such turbulent weather predominantly show her as stopping the harsh rain. These tales which reflect the local environment are what has prolonged the mythology of the Rainbow Serpent, and ensured it has remained so widespread.

The Rainbow Serpent is celebrated in many areas of Australia, but particularly in Queensland. Here she is honoured with a colourful carnival filled with many different flowers. It has also lent its name to the annual Rainbow Serpent Festival held in Victoria, which is known for its Psychedelic Trance music and abstract artwork.

-Devon Allen
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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