Dr. Nicholas Campion

Dr Nicholas Campion. Director of the Sophia Centre

Welcome to this issue of the Sophia Project News. The Sophia Centre at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David continues to thrive. In the MA Cultural Astronomy and Astrology this term we are teaching three modules; Researching Contemporary Cosmologies, Astral Religion and Skyscapes, Cosmology and Archaeology, all with online webinars and discussions. Our next London Study Day is the Medieval Cosmos day on 9 April: we explore how people in medieval Europe aimed to live in harmony with the cosmos. On 14 May we are organising an event with the University's Institute of Sustainable Practice, Innovation and Resource Effectiveness to promote the new Harmony Initiative. Rather than looking skywards we are considering how we actually live on our home planet. The annual Sophia Centre conference will be held in Bath on 25-26 June and we will be announcing the programme next week. If you are interested in our work, please get in touch.

Dr Darrelyn Gunzburg

Heavenly Discourses

Our conversation with the sky

Dr Darrelyn Gunzburg

The Heavenly Discourses module of the MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology is team-taught every year in the May-August semester by Bernadette Brady, Nick Campion, and Darrelyn Gunzburg. Although all of the modules consider the sky to be a cultural resource, Heavenly Discourses is the only module in the MA where students actively engage with the sky as a primary document through documenting what they see, hear, and experience in what is the heart of the module, the sky journal. The sky journal research is undertaken over the course of a month. Students formulate a question and then 'interview' the sky in a variety of different ways. They may observe clouds and cloud shapes, take note of the nature, colour, visibility and/or horizon location of sunrises or sunset, take account of the nightly shifts of constellations or planets, or perceive the sky via its relationship to the landscape, the trees, water, hedges, fields, or lighthouses that visually connect sky with earth.

The notation of this month of observation occurs through writing, drawing, and/or photography and this then creates the students' field notes, and becomes their primary source. Using this raw material, the students then draw out themes from what they have observed and felt, all the time situating these themes within the context of other literature. Some students use a reflexive methodology; others approach it ethnographically by talking to others about their responses to the sky. Whatever method the students choose to take, one thing emerges for all of them: they are all deeply changed by the experience of connecting directly with the sky in this way.

Here are two examples, whose text and photographs, used with each person's permission, show the extent of that transforming sky conversation journey.

Grace Cassar chose to use her sky journal as a qualitative, reflexive exploration of clouds. She considered her essay under four themes: the phenomenology of land- and skyscapes; the power of colour; assigning meaning to light; and sacredscapes and animism. Grace was clear to note that her location was the Mediterranean Maltese Islands and the time of year was July, yet despite her willingness and her sharp-eyed surveillance, the harsh reality of the Maltese summer brought its own agenda.Armed with pencil, notebook and mobile phone for taking photographs, on 1 July, Grace wrote in her sky journal:

Summer and July. Summer is July! The sky seems to welcome its arrival with wide open arms. A cloudless sky. (Fig. 1). Actually, I was not prepared for this, but I am glad to notice the different layers of blue. They all dovetail into each other, gradually, smoothly. Devoid of clouds, the sky feels pure and timeless, grounding me to a peaceful now. It is special to be here. The moment is infinite.

Grace Cassar

Figure 1. The cloudless sky. Wednesday 1 July, 18.27 - on a rocky beach. Photo: Grace Cassar

On 9 July, 6:38 pm, Grace wrote in her sky journal:

I am lying on my back on smooth clay rocks, sky-bathing; I would say cloud-watching if there were any! Watching the sky from this horizontal position alters my manner of observation. I realize I cannot see the horizon as I am only looking upward, seemingly deeper. Thoughts of distance and journeying cross my mind. The clouds seem to have evaporated. Is it the heat? There is a thick haze, it must be the humidity. I wait and take some photos, and soak up the beauty.

Grace Cassar

Figure 2. A road in the Mdina, the Silent City. Saturday 18 July. Photo: Grace Cassar.

Grace Cassar

Figure 3. The hues of dawn. Wednesday 8 July, 5.38 a.m. Photo: Grace Cassar.

Over the course of her month, the clouds continued to elude her. On 29 July- 8:03pm Grace wrote in her sky journal:

Another crystal-clear evening. I decide to observe the sky from the pontoon of a yacht marina. I look up and scour the sky; I see nothing that resembles feathers or tufts of curls. I seem to be focusing on what is missing rather than what is. I take a deep breath and take in the sight of the boats and the reflection of squiggle-curved masts floating on the blue of sky and sea.

Grace Cassar

Figure 4. Reflections. Wednesday 29 July, 7.55 p.m. Photo: Grace Cassar.

This lack of clouds lead Grace into a different discovery. Situating her thoughts and reflections of blue in the sky into the literature, Grace concluded this section of her paper with the following insight:

To summarize this part of the essay which deals with the phenomenology of the land- and skyscapes, in my sky journal I noted the following realizations: first, that a cloudless sky is full of different layers of blue; and second that the sky feels pure and timeless, and infinite; and third, that this timelessness grounded me to a peaceful now. In seeking secondary support for these realisations in the works of Lane, Renfrew and Bahn, Eliade, Lawrence, Benke, and the artworks of O'Keeffe, I become aware, that while anticipating clouds, I was actually 'attending' to what Lane described as a 'phenomenological reality' of the here and now.[1]

Grace had further insights as she wrote up the other themes of her paper. Above all she realised that, whilst she had been approaching her sky journal with one focus - the desire to document clouds - through real time experience something else was occurring due to the time of year (summer) and her location (Malta). This opened her eyes to the reality of her clear blue Maltese sky and, by situating those realisations into the literature, she obtained a deeper comprehension of what she had been experiencing.

Grace Cassar

Figure 5. Grace Cassar's Sky Journal. Photo: Grace Cassar.

Not everyone, however, revels in the clear blue. A second sky journal example, also using a reflexive methodology, highlights this contrast. Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Teresa Alfonso recognised that she had a personal resistance to engaging with the sky:

Keeping my sky journal, my first realization of this behaviour came in the form of my dislike of blue skies. On 6 May 2015 I wrote: 'Blue skies in Johannesburg (Fig.6)... like almost every day in late autumn and winter. It reminds me of Irving Berlin's Blue Skies. "Blue skies smiling at me, nothing but blue skies do I see." I never liked that song. And neither do I like blue skies.

Photo: Teresa Alfonso

Figure 6. Blue skies above my garden in Johannesburg, 6th May 2015. 8.07 a.m. Photo: Teresa Alfonso

After similar observations a few days later, Teresa gained an understanding that this dislike came from a younger self, one who was six years old and living on the family farm in the Karoo:

I have a clear picture in my mind of my father squinting his eyes against the sun in search of clouds. At night I would lie in my bed listening for the first whisper of wind in the drooping branches of the peppercorn trees near the house. Because the wind meant clouds. And the clouds the hope of rain. But mostly the last sounds I heard were my parents' distressed discussions about their poor prospects and the dry barking of baboons in the deep ravines to the west. In the end the clouds never came and we had to abandon the farm and move to the city where my father carried engine blocks in a car manufacturing plant and we lived in a small flat where my room had no windows... This is why I hate blue skies.

Image: Teresa Alfonso

Figure 7. A digitally adapted drawing from my Sky Journal of our farmhouse in the Karoo at night. A peppercorn tree is to the right of the house and the water tank I mention in my journal entries is to the left. My bedroom window was the first one to the front of the house. Image: Teresa Alfonso.

Added to this harsh childhood environment, Teresa came to recognise that her culture as an Afrikaner also played a significant role in her estrangement from the sky, that Afrikaner culture contained little if no sky lore, since heaven was God's domain and not to be intruded upon with sky stories or folktales.[1] As Teresa observed, 'the Afrikaner's Calvinistic variety of Christianity compounded an inherent Platonic dualism, whilst also discouraging projection onto the heavens.'

With such insights Teresa sought, through her sky journal, to understand how she could became an inhabitant of what Tim Ingold called the Weather-World where, rather than feeling separate from the earth and sky, she could feel woven into it by sun, moon, stars, rain, thunder, and wind.[2]

The phenomenological approach my journal facilitated, allowed for greater self-awareness and new perspectives with which I could, as Levine says, 're-insert [myself] into the sensible world'.[3]

By situating her findings into the literature, Teresa gained a deeper understanding of where that journey had led her. She wrote: 'I realized the courage needed and the difficulty of developing a new cosmological approach to an interconnected life.'

Photo: Teresa Alfonso

Figure 8. My own drawing inspired by Selina Wagner's Walking into the Wind to illustrate the personal difficulty and mental struggle and perhaps even fear I have in my departure from dualistic thinking to immerse myself in the weather-world. Image: Teresa Alfonso.

The Heavenly Discourses module and its sky journal component is the only place in the world that we know of where in an academic situation, a student can explore their personal relationship with the sky. These heavenly discourses are both an active engagement with phenomenology, as expressed by Aristotle, and ekphrasis, found in poetry as far back as Hesiod with his Shield of Achilles, and thus they fit into a long tradition of sky-watching. As noted above, this gives students of the MA a first-hand experience of seeing and working with the sky as a primary document.

[1] Britta Benke, Georgia O'Keeffe: 1887-1986: Flowers in the Desert (Köln; Los Angeles: Taschen, 2011), p.55. Belden C. Lane, Landscapes of the sacred: geography and narrative in American spirituality, Expanded ed. ed. (Baltimore, MD; London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), p.ix.
[2] Pieter W. Grobbelaar, (ed.), Die Afrikaner en sy Kultuur, (Cape Town: Tafelberg-Uitgewers, 1974).
[3] Tim Ingold, 'Earth, sky, wind, and weather', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13(2007), S19-S38, p.S20.
[4] Paolo J. Knill, Ellen G. Levine, and Stephen K. Levine, Principles And Practice Of Expressive Arts Therapy: Toward A Therapeutic Aesthetics (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2005), pp.22-23.


Benke, Britta. Georgia O'Keeffe: 1887-1986: Flowers in the Desert. Köln; Los Angeles: Taschen, 2011.
Ingold, Tim. 'Earth, sky, wind, and weather.' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13 (2007): S19-S38. Knill, Paolo J., Ellen G. Levine, and Stephen K. Levine. Principles And Practice Of Expressive Arts Therapy: Toward A Therapeutic Aesthetics London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2005.
Lane, Belden C. Landscapes of the sacred: geography and narrative in American spirituality. Expanded ed. ed. Baltimore, MD; London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Photograph of Dr Gunzburg courtesy Dr Bernadette Brady

Alumni News

Alumni News

The MA Alumni Association is deeply appreciative to Bernard Eccles for presenting the first of the Alumni free lectures in the 'Continue Your Education For Free' series interspersed with the Fund-raising short courses. Jenn Zahrt has written a short review which sums up the evening and I want to add a second heartfelt thanks to Bernard, who travelled down from his home in Stroud to sit in my study to present the lecture as we knew the bandwidth from Stroud would not make the distance. This is above and beyond the call. Thank you again, Bernard.

Details of the next free lecture to be given by Rod Suskin follow below. Remember also the next short course on Hellenistic Astrology with Dr Dorian Greenbaum begins in late March and we already have a solid enrolment. There are still places, so if you are a current student, Alumni or staff, do consider joining us. Details below.

I would also like to welcome Janet Carrol to the tech team for all of these Alumni lectures and short courses. Although some of these events are free, they require a degree of behind-the-scenes administration and I am delighted that Janet has come on board to help handle that side of things.

Wishing you all blessings of the Vernal Equinox,
Dr Darrelyn Gunzburg
On behalf of the Alumni Steering Committee

Dr Jenn Zahrt

Review of the Alumni Association wine
and cheese discussion with Bernard Eccles

By Dr Jenn Zahrt, pictured left.

On Thursday, February 11, Sophiaristas from around the globe gathered for the first wine and cheese discussion with alum Bernard Eccles. Graduates from as far away as New Zealand and Jamaica were on board to hear this fascinating lecture. Eccles shared a brief but poignant presentation called 'Judgement Without Consideration' about the effects of revolutions in media on astrological practice. His compelling thesis argued that the media that transmit astrology - ancient (oral/revealed), Enlightenment (printed/discovered) and digital (screen/consumed) - change how we practice astrology. In practice, oral and digital streams crossed, as we all contemplated the ramifications of how we engage with astrological information and what that might mean for the future of astrology.

Eccles provided ample material for a fruitful dialogue, and an even balance was struck between his presentation and time spent discussing. Nearly everyone who attended had a chance to chime in, and it was refreshing to see so many familiar faces again. I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon (well, for me, I logged on from in Seattle!), and I cannot wait for the next session. Thanks to Darrelyn and her Alumni Association Steering Committee team for organizing such a delightful event, and stimulating continuing compelling dialogue among the Sophia Centre community.


Dorian Greenbaum

Spring 2016 Alumni Short Course - (fund-raiser)
Dr Dorian Geiseler Greenbaum (pictured right)
Cosmos and Character: Topics in Hellenistic Astrology

Lecture 1: Wednesday 30 March 7:00 - 9:00 pm
Philosophy and Fate in Hellenistic Astrology
How philosophy informs Hellenistic astrology. The problem of fate in astrology: or is it?

Lecture 2: Wednesday 6 April 7:00 - 9:00 pm
Endowment and Chance: The Lots of Fortune and Daimon
Nature versus nurture. Body and soul. A look at how Hellenistic astrology works with these in a mostly forgotten doctrine.

Lecture 3: Wednesday 13 April 7:00 - 9:00 pm
Love and Compulsion: The Lots of Eros and Necessity
A look at love, desire, force and compulsion: two sides of the same coin?

A separate email will be sent to current MA students and Alumni re costs and registration.

Continue Your Education for Free
(for Alumni and present MA students only)
Thursday 14 July 2016 - 5:00 - 6:30 pm BST

Rod Suskin: 5:00 - 5:45 pm BST

White Sangomas in the Post-Apartheid South Africa: Has Freedom Changed Bantu Shamanism?
Followed by Wine and Cheese discussion (BYO Wine and Cheese) until 6:30 pm BST.

Rod Suskin MA

Rod Suskin

MAC 4A Steering Committee

from left: Darrelyn Gunzburg, Nicholas Campion, Faye Cossar, Hanne Skagen, Jennifer Fleming, Chris Mitchell, Ada Blair, Paula van Kersbergen, Rod Suskin

Alumni News

Where are they now?

Tore Lomsdalen

Tore Lomsdalen Graduation 2013

Graduation 2013. Tore and his two supervisors Bernadette Brady and Nicholas Campion. Photo: Patricia Korsgaard Orrell.

Tore Lomsdalen

Researching at Tarxien Temples in Malta. Photo Fabio Silva

Tore Lomsdalen began the Cultural Astronomy and Astrology MA programme in 2008 and graduated in 2013. His MA dissertation, Sky and Purpose in Prehistoric Malta: the Sun, Moon and the Stars the Temples of Mnajdra, was recently published by the Sophia Centre Press. Since then Heritage Malta have bought 300 copies which are now for sale at bookshops at all their archaeological sites. Tore also lectures on archaeoastronomy and cosmology at conferences and universities, and has recently been accepted to start a PhD in 'Cosmologies of Prehistoric Malta' at the University of Malta.

Tore also runs a private astrology practice, en.astrolom.no, and writes articles and interviews for magazines and journals, and horoscopes for newspapers and websites. His interest in astrology began 20 years ago after he retired from a successful career in hotel management, although his fascination with the night sky began in his childhood in Norway, where the northern night sky offers luminous and clear views of astral phenomena.

Tore talked to Kate White about the impact of the MA on his life and work.

KW: Why did you do the MA?

TL: I came across the MA when I was studying at the Faculty of Astrological Studies in London. I also attended the Sophia conferences in Bath, where I talked to Nick Campion about the programme. I didn't have an undergraduate degree - I'd done business administration and finance studies in Norway - but that proved not to be a problem. It's very good the MA is open to taking people without standard undergraduate degrees. My main reason I decided to do the MA was the history. I've always been fascinated with the history of astrology.

KW: What modules did you find most interesting?

TL: Obviously, archaeoastronomy! But all the modules were very interesting - the history of astrology was a favourite. The archaeoastronomy module brought me into something new, and Kim Malville and Nick Campion inspired me to do the fieldwork. I am more hands-on rather than being academic and into books, so I wanted a practical application for my studies.

KW: How did the MA affect your attitude to astrology?

TL: I became a better astrologer. It widened my point of view to include the historical, cultural, and cosmological. Although the MA doesn't teach the practice of astrology, it gives it depth and substance. It's also taking cultural cosmology to a higher level through academic education.

KW: What did your dissertation focus on?

TL: The archaeoastronomical alignments of the temples of Mnajdra in Malta. I wanted to know if the alignments were intentional, and found they were intentionally built to receive illumination at the solstices and the equinox. My theories are based on statistical and empirical evidence, as the temples date to the Early Neolithic through the Early Bronze Age (4100-2500 BCE) and thus there are no written records - the structures predate Stonehenge and the Pyramids by 1000 years. The majority of the temples in Malta are aligned to the winter solstice, and at Mnajdra, the alignments are very precise. This is what I find fascinating about prehistory: without written language, you have to dig in and find evidence.

KW: What doors have opened since doing the MA?

TL: Quite a lot, but Nick did say that my life would never be the same after finishing the MA! I've been invited to talk at conferences, both astrological and academic, at various universities. I joined SEAC (the European Society for Astronomy in Culture) and then organized the 2014 SEAC conference in Malta in collaboration with University of Malta. I've also had my dissertation published as a monograph by the Sophia Centre Press, which is now being sold in bookshops on Malta, and contributed articles to edited books. It's also been amazing to be able to put on my CV and website that I have an MA in this subject. On a purely business level, for people looking for an astrological reading, it gives them confidence.

KW: What books are you reading now?

TL: The Early Mediterranean Village: Agency, Material Culture, and Social Change in Neolithic Italy by John Robb. It doesn't cover Malta specifically, but in Neolithic times Malta was closely connected to Italy and Sicily. I'm also reading An Ethnography of the Neolithic: Early Prehistoric Societies in Southern Scandinavia by Christopher Tilley, which is helping me put Neolithic Malta into a larger context.

KW: Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?

TL: The big thing is the PhD. It took me some time to decide if I wanted to do this. Eventually, due to my strong interest in prehistoric Malta and its cosmologies, I decided to proceed. Nick Campion, Bernadette Brady, and Fabio Silva were all inspiring me to do a PhD, and Fabio is actually one of my supervisors. I like the idea of bringing in new knowledge; no one has put the cosmologies into a holistic view - most archaeology studies don't include the sky. For ancient people, half their world was the sky; earth and sky were integrated in their lives.

Many thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Tore. We wish you all the best with your PhD studies and look forward to hearing how it evolves in the future.
Kathleen White

Tore Lomsdalen

Tore at the Entrance to the Mnajdra South Temple. Photo: Clive Cortis.

Tore Lomsdalen

Fabio Silva and Tore preparing for alignment measurements at a Maltese temple site. Photo Grace Cassar.

Professor Kim Malville

Skyscape Archaeology
SEAC 2015 and SEAC 2016

Kim Malville is Professor Emeritus, Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Science, University of Colorado and he lectures on the MA's Skyscapes, Cosmology and Archaeology Module. Here he chooses his personal highlights from SEAC 2015 - the five day archaeoastronomy conference held in Rome last November.

Professor Malville in Chaco Canyon

Professor Malville in Chaco Canyon pointing out a pecked basin, part of a possible signaling network. Fajada Butte is in the background.

Professor Kim Malville who lectures on the MA's Skyscapes, Cosmology and Archaeology Module chooses his personal highlights from SEAC 2015 - the five day archaeoastronomy conference held in Rome last November.

The conference took place at La Sapienza, the University of Rome. Besides the meetings themselves, we had tours of the Roman Forum and the Coliseum plus post conferences tours of Pompeii, Herculaneum, the Catacombs, and the Vatican. We had a wonderful conference banquet on Friday night. For me the high points were smaller banquets organized to honor and fete Tore for his acceptance into the PhD program at the University of Malta with wine, laughter, and great food. I am so grateful to be a member of the Sophia community.

There were some 60 papers during the four and a half days. I'll review a few that caught my attention. The only invited research paper of the conference was presented by Juan Belmonte, reviewing the remarkable variety of research in cultural astronomy performed by the team of Spanish astronomers over the past 10 years. The investigations cover the Mediterranean, including the Hittites, Iron Age civilizations, the Roman World, Egypt and extends to Easter Island and India. The major thrust of their field work has been to obtain measurements of alignments of ancient monuments, which now number in the thousands. In this conference Juan Belmonte and/or his colleague Cesar Gonzalez-Garcia were listed as authors of a remarkable collection of seven papers. Dare I point out that there were eight papers by Sophia folk!

Cesar Gonzalez-Garcia presented the results of field studies in the Levant by him and Belmonte. Of particular interest in their studies at Petra, was the dramatic illumination at December solstice sun set of Ad Deir (The Monastery). This building has been interpreted as either a temple for the gods Dushara or AL-Uzza or as a Cenotaph for King Obodas II.At this site there is a double sunset event, perhaps indicating the resurrection of the god. Their interpretation is that on the shortest days of the year, the illumination of the image of the god Dushara is born from the goddess Al-Uzza, when illuminated for a short period of time at sunset. Finally, the geographic feature where the sun sets, is reborn and then sets resembles a lion's head, which is the totemic animal of Al-Uzza, the goddess that gives birth to Dushara.

December solstice sunset at the Monastery of Petra. 
					Photo: Cesar Gonzalez-Garcia

December solstice sunset at the Monastery of Petra. Photo: Cesar Gonzalez-Garcia

Davide Nadali and Andrea Polcaro, described the orientations of the immense ziggurats of Larsa and Uruk, oriented respectively to summer solstice and major lunar standstill. Their paper was entitled 'The sky from the high terrace: study on the orientation of the ziqqurat in ancient Mesopotamia.' Built around 2100 BCE, these massive mud brick platforms, established connections between heaven and earth. Rituals in the temples may have been periodic, perhaps performed on solstices and lunar standstill. If their interpretations are valid, the ziggurat of Uruk would be one of the earliest known structures associated with major lunar standstill, all the more remarkable considering the 18.6 year lapse between major standstill events.

Ziggurat of Uruk. Photo: Wikkipediacommons

Ziggurat of Uruk. Photo: Wikkipediacommons

I presented a paper on animism in which I considered rethinking on much of the standard fare of archaeoastronomy, namely horizon calendars and stoes that establish astronomical alignments. To call these combinations of skyscape and landscape simply calendars or alignments may be overly Eurocentric and mechanistic. To many ancient eyes, the sun was not a thing, an inanimate object, or a ball of hot gas in the sky, but a living and powerful being that could engage in reciprocal relationships with people on earth. Likewise, horizon features or standing stones may have been not just inanimate rocks, but also living and powerful beings. The lines of megaliths in Nabta Playa, for example, were oriented toward the brightest stars of the Neolithic skies: Arcturus, Sirius, and α Centauri. These stars, so vital to the nomadic pastoralists for guiding them to bodies of water, may have been people, with their own stories, personalities, and desires; the megaliths may have been ancestors who came alive when their feet were submerged in the flooded playa.

The archaeologist's camp beyond one of Nabta Playa's megaliths. 
					Photo: Kim Malville

The archaeologist's camp beyond one of Nabta Playa's megaliths. Photo: Kim Malville

Estille Orrelle suggested how female ritual power oriented to the moon, underpinning the hunter-gatherer social structure, was appropriated by male solar religion. She based her ideas on Knight's theory that women engaged in sex strikes to obtain high protein food in the form of large game animals procured by male hunters. This flawed theory has led to arguments in cultural astronomy about the importance of the dark moon. Many ethnographic and ethnohistoric investigations show that Knight's theory is outmoded and generally incorrect. Studies of hunter-gather populations indicate that women can readily obtain high protein food on their own by catching small animals such as moles, mice and frogs or collecting insects and hence do not depend on men for food.

Roz Frank discussed the broader implication of the sky bears in the field of cultural astronomy, emphasizing the consideration of different ontologies. Roz pointed out that among circumpolar people as well as in Europe, there was a belief that humans descended from a bear ancestor who dwelled in the heavens. The world view of these cultures can be described as embodied reciprocity, in which animals, humans, and nature are bound together in reciprocal relationships. This viewpoint has been variously described as relational ecology, relational epistemology, relational ontology, and relational archaeology. She encouraged us to place more emphasis on the relational nature of human interactions with the environment in its broadest sense, engaging with other-than-human animals, which like bears were in the past more numerous than their human offspring.

Bear Dancers celebrating Fat Tuesday. Feb 9 2016. Mamoida, 
					Sardinia. Photo: Carlo Arigiolas

Bear Dancers celebrating Fat Tuesday. Feb 9 2016. Mamoida, Sardinia. Photo: Carlo Arigiolas

Marianna Ridderstad discussed the so-called 'Giant's Churches' of Western Finland, which were the subject of her thesis, for which she has recently received he PhD. These Neolithic stone structures, date from 2500-2000 BCE, and are concentrated on the ancient seashore. Most of them were built on islands or drumlins on the coast, but they are now situated as far as 30 kilometers inland because of the post-glacial rebound. There are 40 to 50 of them, depending on the definition, which is not clear, as their function is not yet known. The Giant's Churches are large, the length of the long axis differing from about 60 meters to 12 meters, and most often rectangular. Most of them have "gates", which are lowerings in the walls, suitable for entering the structure. Some of them also have so-called "sacristies", which are stone cairns either constructed as parts of the walls or situated immediately outside of them. The function of these huge, silent structures is a continuing mystery and has been a matter of scholarly debate for over a hundred years. They have been burial sites, temples, or fortresses. Some of the smallest constructions may have been dwellings, but the largest ones would have been impractical for that purpose.

A Giant's Church in western Finland. Photo: Marriana Ridderstad

A Giant's Church in western Finland. Photo: Marriana Ridderstad

The triumvirate of Bernadette Brady, Darrelyn Gunzberg, and Pam Armstrong gave a lively discussion of their pilot project studying Welsh monasteries, sharing the microphone with aplomb and poise. Fabio was a member of the team, but was unable to attend the conference. Their presentation included high quality field measurements of orientations, good statistics, and a wonderful discussion of the symbolic power of light in these now-ruined monasteries. The buildings had a general westward orientation. Variations between the monasteries may reflect different intentionalities as well as the landscape, implying the importance of sunlight entering the structures.

Nick Campion gave a splendid paper on the social and political consequences of Newtonianism. Newton's invention of the law of gravity provided the world with a single rule that governed the universe; it promised order, lawfulness, stability, predictability, and equality for all. Nick explored the consequences in politics and sociology. His discussion brought home the significance of Special and General Relativity in removing Newtonian physics as the supreme law governing all of the cosmos. Listening to Nick, one can understand a little more about why Einstein was condemned by German and Italian fascists who loved law and order. German Nazis, in particular, disliked him for his friendship with British scientists, who ironically should have been more interested in protecting the legacy of Newton.

Dr Nicholas Campion giving his paper

Dr Nicholas Campion giving his paper 'Astronomy and Culture in the Eighteenth Century: Isaac Newton's Influence on the Enlightenment and Politics.'

The final session of the conference was a round table discussion which emphasized the need for cultural context in the discipline: alignment studies are important but it's necessary to understand why alignments were important to the people involved. The panel suggested collaboration between groups be encouraged using Academia, and the publishing of ongoing discussions in the field in the Journal of Skyscape Archaeology. Emphasis was put on the need to consider the agentive attributes of non-human subjects (objects and phenomena acting as agents or doers of certain actions) as part of our interpretative tool kit in cultural astronomy. It was also suggested that we consider relational ontologies, i.e. relations between entities are ontologically more fundamental than the entities themselves.

Max Weber

Max Weber. 1894-1920. Photo: wikkipediacommons

Max Weber. 1894-1920. Photo: wikkipediacommons Lastly the panel focused on the ideas of the German theorist Max Weber were raised as further issues to be explored in trying to understand the meaning of astronomy in other cultures. For Weber it was important to consider the "enchanted" world of the past, in which spirits roamed and magical beliefs were a part of peoples' routine experiences. He argued that premodern societies were more "enchanted" than modern societies, with more experiences of "transcendental mysteries", such as wonder, fear, the sublime. I believe we too, as modern researchers, can be touched by those transcendental mysteries. It can happen when we are in the field, watching the sun and moon, rising and setting above the same ancient horizons, just as they did for those people in the past whom we are trying to understand.

La Sapienza. The University of Rome

La Sapienza. The University of Rome

When the discussion was opened up to the audience it was pointed out that cultural astronomy can be employed to counteract the theme of Snow's Two Cultures, in which science and the humanities do not interact and pass like two ships at night. Following that discussion, there was, it seemed to me, excessive splitting of hairs about the various names of that area of research that has brought us together: are we engaged in astronomy in culture, cultural astronomy, archaeoastronomy, astro-archaeology, cultural anthropology....etc?

I suggested we should be focusing on two important aspects of cultural astronomy: goals and balance. What are the basic goals of our studies? Certainly it is not to acquire more and more alignment, more and more measurements of solstice sunrises, which were common goals 30-40 years ago, when there seemed little interest in seeking cultural context or meaning. I recommended we follow Clifford Geertz's admonition to pursue thick descriptions, collect all that we can about the culture, and use astronomy to try to "figure out what the devil they think they are up to" (Geertz's words). We need to find a balance between alignment studies and interpretation. They do, of course, go hand in hand; interpretation without quantitative measurements is as dangerous as excessive collection of alignments without interpretation. Interpretation does require an anthropologist's knowledge of culture, an interest in collecting details about the culture that may not, at as first, appear to be related to astronomy, as well as a genuine affection for that culture and its people.

As you all know, the next SEAC conference will be Bath from September 12- 16,2016. This year's title is 'The Marriage of Astronomy and Culture: Theory and Method in the Study of Cultural Astronomy.' It is always exciting at these meetings to hear some new ideas, learn more of the astronomy of other cultures, finding out what our old friends have been doing for the past year, and, not the least, observing how our field of cultural astronomy continues to redefine itself.


Link to SEAC 2016

Petra du Preez

The veld in Springtime. Petra de Preez at Oudrik on the Doring River.

Petra du Preez

'The Afrikaner and the Sky'

Our congratulations to Petra du Preez who has just been accepted as a PhD candidate at Trinity St David the University of Wales. Petra's proposed title for her PhD: The Afrikaner and the Sky: an investigation into the views held by South Africa's Afrikaans-speaking people - of the sky, the heavens and astrology: during the apartheid era (1948 to 1994) and in the post-apartheid era (after 1994). Her research will be ethnographic in nature and her target group will be the Afrikaans speaking people of South Africa. It will also investigate how religious affiliation, in particular Calvinism, may have influenced the Afrikaans-speaking people's wider beliefs.

As an Afrikaner herself, she is an insider, but as a professional astrologer, she would have been viewed an outsider during the Apartheid era. Such was the Apartheid Government's fervour for orthodox Calvinism, that the Witchcraft Suppression Act 3 was written into law on the 22nd of February 1957. The Act has subsequently been amended, but the purpose of the Act is 'To provide for the suppression of the practice of witchcraft and similar practices.' Paragraph 1 (f) of the Act reads: 'Any person who for gain... pretends from his skill in or knowledge of any occult science to discover where and in what manner anything supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found.' Under such a definition, horary astrology, whereby, amongst others things, questions of lost or stolen belongings are addressed, as practised by some modern South African astrologer, would have contravened the law.

At the helm of the Afrikaner's protestant religion was the Dutch Reformed Church, with its roots deeply embedded in conservative Calvinism. It has been argued that during the apartheid years, Christianity was a master narrative to the Afrikaner , whose religious devotion is most notable in the Apartheid Government's national monuments, of which the Voortrekker monument in Pretoria is a prime example. To the religious Afrikaners, the sky was an uncontested and literal symbol of the heavenly abode of their Christian Trinitarian God. Of such importance was this notion, that the Afrikaans national anthem during the apartheid era started with: 'Uit die blou van onse hemel...' (From our blue heaven). Membership of the Dutch Reformed Church is said to be on the decline, with one source reporting that in 2012 alone, thirty five thousand people left the church.

There is evidence of the development of an alternative Afrikanerdom though, especially amongst the younger generation in the post-apartheid era. This has been described as: 'the development of novel, divergent, postmodern, non-hegemonic and multiple forms of identification outside any reconsolidated Afrikaner establishment or community.' Petra's research endeavours to establish if and how attitudes have changed towards the sky, the heavens and astrology amongst Afrikaners in the post apartheid era.

View of Oudrif, which is in Cerderberg, one of the most remote 
					regions of the Western Cape

Another view of Oudrif, which is in Cerderberg, one of the most remote regions of the Western Cape. Petra's Photos.

Medieval Cosmos

The Medieval Cosmos:

Living with the Sky in the Middle Ages

Dr Nicholas Campion and Dr Darrelyn Gunzburg

Saturday 9 April, 2016. weblink

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