Monday, October 31, 2011

The Evil Meteor Spirits of Aboriginal Astronomy

Halloween is upon us once again.  Incidentally, Halloween is my favourite holiday and a great chance for me to merge the spooky world of All Hallows Eve with Aboriginal Astronomy by discussing the evil celestial beings that permeate through the Aboriginal Dreamings of Arnhem Land.

Look out on a dark clear night, and you just might see one of these beings streaking across the sky.  But be careful! Aboriginal groups across northern Australia believe this flash of light, which Westerners call a meteor, is the eye of an evil spirit with a ferocious demeanour.  This spirit has many names – Thuwathu, Papinjuwari, Indada... They streak across the sky with their long claws, searching for the souls of the sick or dying.  In Arnhem Land, this being is called Namorrorddo or Namorrodor.

Namorrorddo - a profane spirit
by Samuel Namunjdja  (2010).

According to Pamela Weston, the legend of the Namorrodor is handed down by grandparents through many generations. The presence of Namorrodor, a flying serpent and a man-eater, is signaled by a shooting star in the night sky. Namorrodor lives in a cave and goes hunting at night for food.  At dusk it begins moving in the cave, preparing to go out hunting.  It makes noise like wind, it has long claws and a head like a kangaroo or horse.

Namorrodor - the evil falling star spirit.

Meat must never be cooked at night, because Namorrodor smells it, meat attracts it to the camp.  It hides in the bushes watching, moving closer by jumping from tree to tree.  Namorrodor’s favourite prey is small babies, when it finds them it rips out their heart and takes it away. Babies that sleep in the bush always lie face down or sideways to protect their hearts. They are always well covered. When a shooting star is seen in the night sky, it signals to people that someone has died.

Namorrodor is a shooting star.  It transforms into a terrifying spirit creature that hunts for babies.  It is known to eat their hearts.  Two of this story’s main messages are that babies should not sleep unprotected in the bush, and that meat should not be cooked on the fire at night.  The smell of meat cooking at night attracts Namorrodor, as well as centipedes, scorpions, ants and other biting insects. The story is told to children to encourage them to behave and go to sleep.

Bark painting by Arnhem Land artist Samuel Manggudja (1960).

It is said that the only person who can kill Namorrodor is a medicine man (or witchdoctor) who has as much strength as the spirit creature. This man can only kill Namorrodor at a certain time of the night, and with a spear, which has been shaped over a fire while certain words are sung.  It is also said that when Namorrodor dies it makes a terrible scream.

Watch a film about Namorrodor below.

Click on the image to go to the video.  Video by Dust Echoes.
Happy Halloween!!!


  1. Hi there,
    My name is Dominic Crisci and this may not be the correct avenue for contacting you, but I'd like more information on this creature for a film that I'm currently writing. I'd like to be as accurate and respectful as possible when depicting anything from indigenous mythology and look forward to your reply!

  2. I enjoy learning about the native spirits of this land, Australia. Just wondering, do you know anything on the legendary spirit, Featherfoot? I believe it is hunting me, but I don't know too much about it.

  3. Aboriginals simplee used feathers on their feet to stop the hot desert sand burning them. Also when a child becomes a teenager the tribal elder/witchdoctor took the boys away to circumcise them and the girls were deflowered so to speak. It was a time of life that taught children about the birds and bees so to speak.