Welcome to the latest edition of the Sophia Centre Newsletter.
The Centre is continuing to thrive, with twenty-two students signing up for the MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology this October. Evidence of the quality and scope of MA work is to be found in a student journal Spica and the latest issue has just been published by our capable and talented editor, Rod Suskin.
The Centre's brief at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David includes outreach, education and assisting with the wider dissemination of scholarship and research. With this in mind, we are developing a presence in London, our inaugural event being 'Touching the Sky', our first ever London Postgraduate conference, which will be held at the University of Wales London campus on Saturday 28th November. We hope this may lead to teaching classes in London.
Collaborative projects also feature on our agenda. One important development with which we are involved within the University is the Sophia-Tairona project a collaboration with Dr Luci Attala and the Tairona Heritage Trust in order to provide academic support for research into the cosmology of the Kogi people of Colombia. We are launching this with a day of events, Connecting Through Water, at Lampeter on 5th October. Future days will focus on the Kogi skies.
Also, within the University, The Sophia Centre has taken on construction and management of the website for the conference of the British Association for Near Eastern Archaeology which is being jointly organised by the School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology and the School of Classics. The conference theme is 'Land, Sea and Sky in the Near East' and it will include a panel on 'Skyscapes.'
On a wider scale, in August 2015 we sponsored the ninth conference on the Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena in London, and in September 2016 we will be sponsoring the annual conference of the European Society for Astronomy in Culture in Bath. We are also expanding our outreach and educational programme through sponsoring the Journal for Skyscapes Archaeology published by Equinox, and edited by two Sophia Centre MA graduates, Dr Fabio Silva, and Liz Henty. We also assisted with the publication of the 2011 SEAC conference proceedings.
In all these ventures we are grateful for the deep and ongoing support provided by the School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology, the Faculty of Humanities and the Performing Arts and, of course, the Senior Management Team at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.
Dr Nicholas Campion
Photo by Outside the Quad. From left, Dr Darrelyn Gunzburg, Alison Chester Lambert MA, Paula van Kersbergen MA, John Booker MA, Margot Dierderen MA, Colin Tuck MA, Geraldine Heil Postgraduate Certificate, Gaia Somasca MA, Astrid B. Leimlehner MA, Dr. Nicholas Campion, Petra de Preez MA, Rod Suskin MA, Dr David Fisher, Victor Reijis MA, Ada Blair MA, Hanne Cornelia Skagen MA and Dr Bernadette Brady
This summer a group of people, varying in age, in some instances having never met before and hailing from as far afield as South Africa, Austria, Australia, and the Netherlands (to name but a few), congregated in the small town of Lampeter in West Wales to celebrate their achievements in the fields of Cultural Astronomy and Astrology. They were there for this year's graduation ceremony, held in the Arts Hall at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David on Friday 10thJuly, a day which saw one of the largest cohort of students graduate from the Sophia Centre since its inception. Overall, the list this year includes one Postgraduate Certificate, two Postgraduate Diplomas, seventeen MAs and two PhD's and from amongst those who achieved these awards, fifteen travelled to Lampeter in person to collect them. It was wonderful to join everyone who converged on Lampeter from all around the world, united by a love of astronomy and astrology.
The ceremony was brilliant. The Vice Chancellor, Professor (or, as they say in Wales, Yr Athro) Medwin Hughes delivered an inspiring speech emphasising the Welsh heritage of the university, declaring that as graduates we have become part of that heritage. After all, the university is steeped in tradition, being strongly proud of its status as the third oldest university in the UK. As we study in the Sophia Centre, an online, global community, rather than being physically located in Wales, it would be all too easy to feel distant from the University, yet from a personal perspective Professor Hughes' speech made me feel proud that we had become part of the long and distinguished history of the University of Wales. Further speeches followed, providing an entertaining look at the history and achievements of the university.
Then it was time to line up and shake the Vice Chancellor's hand as our names were called out one by one (in theory this should be one of the highlights of the graduation ceremony, but I was more concerned with ensuring that I didn't fall over and embarrass myself in front of everyone...) We then formed part of the grand procession out of the Arts Hall, and congregated outside as we were reunited with friends and family. Once the formalities were over, the informal side of the day could begin!
This commenced with a champagne toast and photograph session outside the St. David's Building, during which Nick made a short speech and the graduates were kindly presented with a gift by Darrelyn on behalf of the Sophia Centre Alumni Association.
Having de-robed, a group of more than forty students, family and friends, plus three tutors in the form of Nick, Bernadette and Darrelyn, packed out the Black Lion pub for a celebratory meal.
Whilst the celebrations ended for many of us once the meal was over, there is video evidence to prove that for some the party was only just beginning, and would continue on for several hours under a tree in front of the Library in the University grounds.
Lampeter is certainly not the easiest place to get to, even for those living in the UK (I had visited once before, when I was a student at the University of Leeds, and it took me the best part of two days to get there!), yet for anyone who can, I would strongly recommend the trip to West Wales, as the graduation is a truly special day. It is worth making the journey not only because it may be the only opportunity to actually visit the campus in Lampeter during your studies, but also because of the collective sense of achievement shared with fellow students and tutors in the rapidly expanding field of Cultural Astronomy and Astrology.
I know a number of those who had travelled from further afield combined the graduation with a holiday, which is a great idea. Given the relatively limited availability of hotel/B&B accommodation in Lampeter, my wife and I decided to spend two nights in the halls of residence, which was like a blast from the past as it reminded us of our days of old as undergraduate students!
I'd like to close by thanking our tutors for their guidance and support that has enabled us to celebrate our achievements on such a special day. I warmly offer my congratulations to all those who graduated this year, as well to as those who blazed a trail before us. To those who remain buried under piles of books and paperwork, who are on their fourth draft, or who stare blankly at the computer screen trying to overcome writers' block, tidying the desk for the fifth time, when the light has not yet appeared at the end of the tunnel, I urge you to keep going... When you are dressed in your gown and mortarboard, walking up on stage to shake the Vice Chancellor's hand, and toasting your achievements with champagne afterwards, you will know that your hard work has paid off!
Congratulations to all those graduating this year, near and far.
The Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture
Thirteenth Annual Conference
The 13th Annual Conference of the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture took place on 27-28 June 2015 at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution in the historic and beautiful city of Bath, England. This year's programme, titled 'Astrology as Art: Representation and Practice', comprised 18 lectures on diverse topics, ancient and modern. The conference was accompanied by a photographic exhibition, 'A Celebration of Light and Skyscapes'; which was curated by Dr. Darrelyn Gunzburg. The exhibition showcased photos by Gaia Somasca, a recent graduate of the MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology, and Eva Young, a current student. Both the exhibition and the conference bookstall attracted much interest, with Catherine Blackledge's book on William Lilly selling out. Both days were well attended and the lectures were followed by lively discussions.
Saturday's presentations began with Professor Hilary Carey on 'Duke Humfrey and the art and science of astrology' and continued with Dr. Claudia Rousseau on 'Astrological Imagery and Rulership Propaganda' in the time of Cosimo de' Medici and Dr Liana De Girolami Cheney's interpretation of 'The Zodiac Signs of Otranto Cathedral, Puglia: Signification of Vice and Virtue'. Following a tea break, Eva Young and Gaia Somasca gave brief talks on their photographic exhibition and Dr. Reza Assasi revisited Mithraic art in images of the bull-slaying Mithras encompassed by zodiac signs.
After lunch, Professor Annette Lee presented 'Native Skywatchers - Reach for the art in the sky', with images (and sounds) of star charts of the Dakota and Ojibwe; Dr. Suzanne Nolan discussed her research into 'Dwarfs as an Ancient Maya Metaphor for the Stars'; and Dr. Christel Mattheuuws spoke of the complex skills of astrologers in West Bezanozano, Central East Madagascar. Three more presentations followed the short tea: Dr. Spike Bucklow discussed 'Lower Astrology and Silent Poetry'; John Meeks explored 'Astrological Symbolism in Wolfram von Esenback's Parzivāl', and Dr. Martin Gansten reflected on astrology as art in 'Ars, techne, sastra, 'ilm: What's in a name?'.
The day wrapped up with an amiable evening of wine, drink and nibbles, in celebration of the publication of the latest book from the Sophia Centre Press, The World of Astrology: An Ethnography of Astrology in Contemporary Brazil, by Luis Rodolfo Vilhena, and Skyscapes: The Role and Importance of the Sky in Archaeology, edited by Fabio Silva and Nicholas Campion and published by Oxbow.
Sunday's presentations opened with Dr. Catherine Blackledge on 'Lilly and Art', followed by Barbara Dunn on the visual and linguistic artistry of early modern astrologer-physicians. After a tea break, Dr. Richard Dunn explored the use of visual and literary iconography as evidence of astrological practice, focusing on European representations of astrologers between 1550 and 1800, and Dr. Bernadette Brady followed with a talk on the role of the horoscope in the practice of astrology.
After lunch, Ruth Clydesdale presented 'Seeing the World Soul: Ficino and Talismanic Art', Micah Ross told 'A tale of Two Tails', and Dr Darrelyn Gunzburg closed with 'Motif and memory within the zodiac constellations in art: a 'pitture' franca'.
The discussion continued during an evening of post-conference relaxation at the ever-popular All Bar One, before delegates and attendees dispersed, refreshed and enlightened after two days of stimulating presentations.
Kathleen White Namous
All photographs: Gaia Somasca. Images from the conference which illustrate its theme, Art Into Astrology
Sophia Centre Summer School 2015
Once again this summer an eclectic group of scholars from around the world converged on the elegant and historic city of Bath Spa in England's West Country for the annual Sophia Centre Summer School. The week kicked off with the traditional gathering at All Bar One on Monday evening, bringing together old friends and welcoming newcomers into the fold.
This year's programme included an inspiring menu of lectures, presentations, exhibitions and excursions designed to showcase the work of students, lecturers and alumni. Student presentations, ten in all, offered a window on the diverse scope of research being undertaken within the MA, and a much-appreciated opportunity for students to hone their presentation skills and offer and receive critical feedback.
Paula van Kersbergen gave us highlights from her dissertation, the 'Divine Feminine and astrology against the background of the New Age in the Netherlands', followed by Eva Young on her proposed topic, the origins of constellations, and my own presentation detailing my exploration of ritual chant as a way to engage with the cosmos. Tuesday's presentations included Jonathan Jones on financial astrology, Janet Carrol on utopias and golden ages in modern astrology, and Anna Estaroth on the Bronze Age Clava cairns of Scotland. Gaia Somasca and Eva Young gave superb talks on their joint photographic exhibition, 'A Celebration of Light and Landscapes', which was on display throughout the week. On Friday, Neslihan Ayanoglu asked for feedback on three potential dissertation topics centered around Turkish astronomy and astrology, followed by Akindynos Kaniamos on his findings on theurgic magic and astrology in late antiquity, and finally Morag Feeney-Beaton talked about her research on cosmic aspects of spinning and weaving.
Tutors' lectures shone a spotlight at yet more thought-provoking themes within cultural astronomy, including a talk by Dr Nicholas Campion (right), on the importance and intricacies of primary sources and a look at ancient Egyptian astronomy by Dr Bernadette Brady.
Dr Dorian Greenbaum (left), offered a preview of her new book, From Love to Desire: the lot of Eros in Hellenistic Astrology. Meira Epstein discussed issues of translation in her work on the astrological writings of Ibn Ezra whilst Anthony Thorley gave a talk on Katherine Maltwood and the Rose Stone Vigil. Dr Darrelyn Gunzburg drew parallels between Medieval mapping techniques and those of the London Underground.
Interspersed with lectures and presentations were several superb excursions, all graced by superb English summer weather. On Tuesday afternoon everyone made their way to the Herschel Museum to explore the work of William and Caroline Herschel, founders of modern stellar observational astronomy. A sumptuous High Tea at the Pump Room followed, after which a small but intrepid group, replete with tea and sweets, joined Anthony for a walking tour of historic Bath.
Thursday's field trip included a tour of Old Sarum (pictured), Salisbury Cathedral and St. Thomas Church under the extraordinary tutelae of the Medieval scholar Jon Cannon (right). In between lectures, there was an opportunity to see the Magna Carta Exhibition, take a private tour of the Cathedral spire, and sample the home-cooked food in the Refectory. After ascending a total of 330 steps (mercifully accomplished with several rest breaks on the way up), we were rewarded with stunning views over the Salisbury countryside and a glimpse of newly fledged Peregrine hawks practicing their aerial displays.
It was a week of friendships made and renewed, of ideas exchanged and debated, of new and existing students and alumni embraced into the Sophia family. All present left renewed, recharged and inspired... and looking forward to meeting again next year!
Kathleen White Namous wrote this article and is pictured here with Chrissy Phillip MA
The Alumni Association congratulates all recent graduates and welcomes you to the Alumni Association. You will find your MA Dissertation title listed on the Alumni Association website: www.sophia-project.net/alumni
If you do not see your dissertation listed there and would like it added, please email me at: email@example.com with the details.
We also welcome graduates Rod Suskin, Ada Blair and Paula van Kersbergen to the Steering Committee.
Dr Darrelyn Gunzburg
On behalf of the Alumni Steering Committee
MAC 4A Steering Committee
from left: Darrelyn Gunzburg, Nicholas Campion, Faye Cossar, Hannah Skagen, Steve Judd, Jennifer Fleming, Chris Mitchell, Ada Blair, Paula van Kersbergen, Rod Suskin
Where are they now?
Bernard Eccles is a founding member of the Sophia Project and the MA programme in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology, and was one of the first group of students to graduate in the MA in 2004. He has taught and lectured on astrology for over 25 years, and is a life member of the Astrological Lodge of London, having served as president between 1988 and 1994. He holds a Classics degree and currently teaches A level Classical Civilisation at a secondary school.
Bernard Eccles talked to Kathleen White Namous about the impact of the MA on his life and work.
KN: Why did you do the MA?
BE: At the time, the Sophia Project committee was planning the MA - but there was nobody to take it, and without students there could be no course! So I said I would do it and then several more people joined in, and that first-ever intake formed a very memorable group.
KN: What modules did you find most interesting?
BE: It's easier to say which one I didn't enjoy, and that was the methodology one. The one on the History of Astrology was good, as you would expect, but the content of all the modules has changed quite a bit since those early days. I would have been very interested in the ones on sacred space, but they weren't available at that time.
KN: How did the MA affect your attitude to astrology?
BE: In some ways it spoiled it completely, because after looking at the philosophy of astrology, and its history, it became impossible to 'believe' in astrology in a naļve way, as many people did in the 1970s and 80s. On the other hand, there was a huge gain in cultural and historical context, which would have been very difficult to achieve before.
KN: What did your dissertation focus on?
BE: The precarious position of astrology in England at the dawn of the 21st century. After its boom in the 1960s counterculture, it was difficult for many to imagine that it would collapse; yet it had done so before, at the end of the seventeenth century, and there was every reason to suggest it would do so again. Within the terms and arguments of the dissertation itself, I think I've been proved right.
There is much less of it around than there was. It used to part of everyone's cultural baggage; now, a lot of people don't know their sunsign, and don't even read their horoscope. The new generation is more technological; they think inner happiness comes through retail therapy. They don't believe in a fate, or in anything higher than themselves. People still need the reassurance they always did, but they are not getting it from astrology, because it's not being made available to them. And astrology is not precise enough for them - everything now is very precise, we believe technique can improve everything from exam grades to love life. Astrology is by its nature warm and fuzzy, and people don't live warm fuzzy lives, they live bite-size multitasking lives. Astrology is contemplative; you have to work with it, explore it, and take it into yourself.
KN: What doors have opened since doing the MA?
BE: No physical doors, since I'm not involved with University-level education at all now, but some cyber-portals have opened. A few of my essays ended up in academic journals, and that has enabled me to be on the web-based circulation list of new academic papers which feature my areas of interest, which is astrology's history, of course, plus anything to do with the Ancient World. Quite often there is considerable overlap, and there is a great deal of work being done on the astrological content of various cults from the Greek and Roman world. Thirty years ago researchers would have been very cautious about using the word 'astrology' in anything intended for serious academic use, I think. It's much more open now, and maybe the MA course has played a part in that.
KN: What books are you reading now?
BE: Lots of Ancient History and Classical literature, but that's because I'm teaching A Level Classical Civilisation at a secondary school.
KN: Any new projects in the pipeline?
BE: Nothing other than some vague ideas, but I seem to find myself taking an interest in Mithraism, whose influence lasts a lot longer than I had thought; you never know, that might see print at some stage.
Many thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Bernard, and we wish you all the best with your teaching and any future writing.
Bernard Eccles graduating in 2004
Photo: Michele Eccles
Bernard in 2014
Photo: Catherine Eccles
F. Pimenta, N. Ribeiro, F. Silva, N. Campion, A. Joaquinito and L. Tirapicos (eds):
Stars and Stones: Voyages in Archaeoastronomy and Cultural Astronomy - a Meeting of Different Worlds
(Oxford: British Archaeology Reports)
The European Society for Astronomy in Culture (SEAC) holds its annual conference every year in a different European city, usually around the time of the vernal equinox. The 2011 conference was held in the beautiful Portuguese city of Evora, and the proceedings have just been published by British Archaeology Reports.
This is a valuable addition to the literature on Cultural Astronomy, a discipline which (and this is no different to many others) is attempting to establish itself. The discipline's breadth is defined by Vito Polcaro in his paper 'The Role of Cultural Astronomy in Bridging C.P.Snow's "Two Cultures": Some Italian Experiences': 'Cultural Astronomy is an interdisciplinary science, needing the knowledge of astronomers and the one of human scientists, such as, according to the specific topic under study, archaeologists, historians, linguists, anthropologists and sociologists'.
The volume itself is divided into sections dealing with topics, such as navigation, regions, such as the Americas, and, of course historical periods. Rosa Doran's paper on the Galileo Teacher Training Project is an important addition, tackling issues of education and outreach. Four Sophia Centre staff are included (Bernadette Brady on horizon astronomy, Nick Campion on defining astrology, Fabio Silva on Portugal and Kim Malville on the Americas) and three students (Liz Henty on Scotland, Tore Lomsdalen on Malta and Andre Henriques on Plato's Cosmic Theology).
Religious Statues and Personhood: Testing the Role of Materiality
Amy Whitehead is one of the most important young academics working in religious studies. After taking her MA in Contemporary Religions and Spiritualities at Bath Spa University, Amy gained her PhD at the Open University, working under Marion Bowman and Graham Harvey. In addition to her work as a tutor for the Sophia Centre, Amy lectures at the University of Winchester and has recently been appointed series editor for Bloomsbury's 'Studies in Material Religion'.
Religious Statues and Personhood is Amy's first major book. Taking two important case studies, one the contemporary Pagan Glastonbury Goddess religion in the Southwest of England, and the other a cult of the Virgin Mary in Andalusia, Amy asserts that objects can be more than representational or symbolic. Icons and images may be inert in some senses, but this is not how they are perceived within religious experience. Amy argues that, from an academic perspective, it is not enough to regard such objects as merely representational or symbolic, because the human relationship often depends on the experience of them as alive.
As Bloomsbury's description reports, 'Both theoretical and descriptive, the book illustrates how religions and cultural practices can be re-examined as performances that necessarily involve not only human ersons, but also objects'. This is cosmology in its widest sense, but Amy's work is also important for the study of cultural astronomy. After all, the sky, stars and planets are material, but in many traditional cultures are experienced as alive.
The exhibit 'Celebrating Light and Skyscapes' curated by Dr Darrelyn Gunzburg, featured photographs by recent graduate Gaia Somasca, and current student Eva Young, winner of the Inspire competition at TSD (2014).The exhibition ran at Bath this June as part of the Summer School for the MA CAA with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and the Sophia Centre Conference 'Astrology as Art: Representation and Practice'. The photographs immediatly below represent just two of the images exhibited.
Eva decribes the moment she took hers: 'I exit the house in hope of the Moon - the days before the full rising - one of my favourites in observational times. It's warm but fresh, those Virgo days - Sun in descent at 14 Virgo and the Moon reflecting those rays from 12 Aquarius. There, distant pearl in an astonishing eastern ocean, impossible blue. A chance glance of planes, advancing oppositions - tracing orbit lacing eye. Which way is up when all circulates around?'
Gaia writes of her image: 'A view of the Moon and its perennial interaction with the city where it is so often forgotten. A moment when it is possible to rekindle the relationship with Nature in an urban environment.'
Both Gaia and Eva were glad to have the opportunity offered by Dr Darrelyn Gunzburg and the Sophia Centre to show their photographs. It allowed them to share their visions and raise funds for the Alumni Association.
They describe what it was like to exhibit their work: 'As we progressed, the title A Celebration of Light suggested itself along with the emergent term Skyscapes, which comes from archaeoastronomy. We wanted to draw attention to the 'life world' from landscape to that of the sky.
The interest and support from everyone at summer school and after our presentation at the conference was just wonderful with many heartening responses that reframed our journey towards and at our exhibition destination. We had passed through some intense moments, particularly editing and translating deeply personal inner journeys and experiences that we attempted to express through the selected photographs. They show our enchanted encounters with sky and earth, some intimate and some ripe with subjective meaning but all carrying our sense of awe and wonder for the beauty and relevance of the planet we inhabit.'
Eva and Gaia
Below: Gaia, Eva and Darrelyn installing the exhibition, with early visitors Dorian Greenbaum and Garry Phillopson.
New Sophia Online Gallery Photo Editor
We are all grateful to Gaia Somasca who has been comprehensively photographing our community ever since she joined the Sophia Project as an MA student. Her constant presence as a photographer of such sensitivity and excellence has meant that we have collected a fine photographic record of many of our gatherings over the years. Gaia has just been formally designated the 'Sophia Centre Online Gallery Photo Editor,' so this record of communal images will be now be safeguarded and continue to grow as a resource which chronicles of our faculty across time. Our thanks also to Poul Madsen who is setting up the webpage.
The most important gathering in the Cultural Astronomy calendar for the remainder of 2015 is the annual conference of the European Society for Astronomy in culture, to be held in Rome in November:
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