Rainbow Serpent

creator god and common motif in the art and religion of Aboriginal Australia

A Rainbow Serpent is an animal in the Dreamtime which many of the indigenous people of Australia, the "Aborigines", believe created the mountains, rivers and lakes.[1] The Rainbow Serpent stories are found all across Australia, and especially in Arnhem Land, in the north of Australia.[2] The serpent is known by different names, such as Almudj and Ngalyod, in different Aboriginal languages.[2] The Rainbow Serpent lives in waterholes and controls the supply of water.[3]

Aboriginal artists have painted the Rainbow Serpent on cave walls or on pieces of bark. The earliest cave paintings found are about 8,000 years old.[2] In special ceremonies, they sometimes honour the Rainbow Serpent by painting their handprints on the magic snake.

Rainbow Serpent
A Rainbow Serpent painted on a cave wall by Aboriginal artists.

Scientists believe the Rainbow Serpent stories began at the end of the last ice age.[2] The rising sea levels would have forced a lot of people to move inland. The Rainbow Serpent became a symbol of both creation and destruction, and of unity and peace. This makes the Rainbow Serpent a symbol of the world's oldest continuing religion.[2]



In the Dreamtime, the Rainbow Serpent helped the world along with rain. At the beginning of time, the Rainbow Serpent awoke from its sleep and pushed through the Earth's crust. As it travelled over the empty land, it left behind deep tracks. The Rainbow Serpent called to the frogs to come out from beneath the earth. It tickled the frogs' bellies, and when they laughed, water poured out from their open mouths. The water filled the Rainbow Serpent's deep tracks, making rivers and lakes. Slowly, grass began to grow. Then all kind of creatures in Australia - birds, lizards, snakes, kangaroos, koalas, and dingoes - woke up and took their places on the earth.


  1. "The Dreaming - Australia's Culture Portal". cultureandrecreation.gov.au. Retrieved 11 September 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Rainbow Serpent and the Dreamtime - Aboriginal Art Online". aboriginalartonline.com. Archived from the original on 12 November 2010. Retrieved 11 September 2010.
  3. "Rainbow Serpent". bom.gov.au. Retrieved 11 September 2010.