Songlines, Sacred Texts and Cultural Code: Between Australia and Early Medieval Ireland

  • Constant J. MewsEmail author
Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT, volume 30)


This paper builds on Max Charlesworth’s evolving interest in aboriginal spirituality by reflecting on potential affinities, as well as great differences, between the notion of the indigenous songline (popularised by Bruce Chatwin, but studied in more ethnographic depth by John Bradley in Singing the Saltwater Country) and sacred texts. In particular I suggest possible parallels between the travels of a spirit ancestor along a particular route, and the account of the journey of a specific early Irish saint (Carthage), itself modelled on the motif of the pilgrim within Jewish and Christian Scripture. Charlesworth always insisted that religion could never be studied as an abstraction, outside its specific manifestation in a culture. I argue that a core element of any religious tradition is constituted not by belief, but by song. Sacred texts themselves record oral traditions, transmitted through song or chanted recitation. While songlines and sacred texts delineate the sacred in very different ways, they both can provide maps of reality, relating to sacred geography and the values of a community. They can be described, in Charlesworth’s phrase as ‘religious inventions’, providing a cultural code necessary for survival, perhaps in a similar way to genetic code within a living organism.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Monash UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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