Welcome to the website of the Traditional Cosmology Society.

Founded by Emily Lyle in 1984, the Society is a scholarly association concerned with the study of myth, religion and cosmology across cultural and disciplinary boundaries, with the goal of increasing our understanding of world-views in the past and the present.

TCS Talk | Inuit Dreams of Fear and Joy: On the Nightmare and Other Doubles | November 22nd 2021

G.01, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  17:00-18:30 (roughly)
22nd November 2021

The Fall Programme of our TCS talks continues with a welcome return by Professor Louise S. Milne, newly re-appointed president of the Society and established authority on dream-cultures. In her upcoming lecture, Professor Milne will focus in particular on the Inuit people: from the late 18th century to the early 21st century, dreams and visions are represented in Inuit narratives and artworks. They often are supernatural dreams, involving strong feelings of fear and joy. Her lecture explores how Inuit peoples configure these “affect-laden” dreams using old and new mythological scripts and traditions.

Musée de la civilisation, Quebec City, Canada. Photo: Luc Blain, 2017

Professor Milne’s starting point is that dreams of fear (nightmares) share structure and imagery with other dream experiences of high emotional disturbance, such as shamanic initiation visions, or ecstatic and/or sexual dreams. The common subjective element of emotional commotion appears to be hard-wired through the physiology of sleep and consciousness. For the Inuit, as elsewhere, culture supplies a range of visual templates to envisage such experiences as close encounters with a god or spirit.

Such templates, she will argue, are part of a shared mythological system, which is interwoven with, and supported by specific elements in the material culture of sleep and dreams among the Inuit. In this situation, depending on available narratives, context and expectation, the visual rhetoric which codes the nightmare as an encounter with a demonic Other can be rearranged – even “pre-interpreted” – and the accompanying emotional arousal (re-)perceived as positive. Inuit shamanic initiation visions are among the clearest examples of how mythic narratives could be used to frame and manage “nightmarish” experience; but it seems that some modern Inuit people at least construe ordinary strong-emotion dreams in this way.

Finally, Professor Milne will note how the features of particular Christian sects active among the Inuit, from the Moravian Brotherhood to contemporary Pentecostalism, have shaped and reframed indigenous traditions of dreams and visions.


AGM 2019-2021

Members of the Traditional Cosmology society are invited to attend our Annual General Meeting on Friday November 5th at 50 George Square, Room G.05, Edinburgh, 16:00 – 17:30 GMT. Members who wish to participate remotely have been sent a Zoom invitation: if you have not received it, please contact us at tradcossoc@gmail.com

The meeting will cover the last two membership years, on account of the pandemic. Once again, many positions within the Committee are open, and we warmly invite anyone who would like to get more involved to step forward, and help us make our calendar of events more diverse and accessible to all.

Here is the tentative agenda for the meeting:

  • Welcome and Apologies
  • Minutes from the last AGM
  • President’s (Chair’s) Report
  • Treasurer’s Report
  • Election of the Committee
  • Membership Campaign for 2021-22
  • Expansion of Commitee
  • A.O.B

Minutes will be circulated after the meeting for those who could not attend.

TCS Talk | The Archaeology of a Poem: the Baal Myths from Ugarit | November 5th 2021

G.05, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  17:00-18:30 (roughly)
5th November 2021

Levant Map of Ugarit, from The Macmillan Bible Atlas. Source: https://emp.byui.edu

It is not without some trepidation that we announce, after a year-long hiatus due to the events of the past year, the return of our regular series of public talks.

For this inaugural event of our Fall Programme, it seemed apt to pause and reflect on natural catastrophes from the vantage point of deep time, to draw attention to the human ability to carve meaning, and resilience, out of cataclysms.

To do so, we have invited Nick Wyatt to address the Society on November 5th, 2021. Professor Wyatt, who is Emeritus Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Religions at the University of Edinburgh, will focus on a cycle of poems dating back to the second millennium BC in his public lecture The Archaeology of a Poem: the Baal Myths from Ugarit.

Professor Wyatt’s talk will build on a number of studies that have attempted to anchor individual myths in specific historical contexts, such as The Iliad as a memory of a historical Trojan war, or the Vedic myths of Indra in the Aryan migrations into India. Of particular interest to him are those myths which appear to preserve memories of significant geophysical events, such as ancient Near Eastern flood traditions echoing the sixth millennium Black Sea inundation.

For this TCS Talk, Professor Wyatt will will argue that the so-called Baal Cycle of myths from Ugarit, of which we can identify the author, a priest called Ilimilku, and which can be dated to ca 1210 BC, is a poetic account of a tsunami, which caused the destruction of the temple of Baal in Ugarit in ca 1250 BC, and of the subsequent reconstruction and reinauguration of the temple cult. The tsunami and its aftermath are the theme of the combat between Baal, the storm god and patron of the city, and Yam, the sea god.

A nice sting in the tail/tale, showing how the interplay of natural and political discourses goes a long way in human cultures, was the death of the reigning king, Niqmaddu IV, which happened in 1210 during the course of composition of the poems. This was the occasion for the composition of the final episodes of the Cycle, Baal’s encounter with, and eventual triumph over, Mot, the god of death.


14th Annual Conference of the International Association for Comparative Mythology

A message from TCS President Louise Milne, concerning the upcoming Annual Conference of the International Association for Comparative Mythology, which this year will take place online, August 23rd to August 27th.

Full details here.

Dear Members and Friends!

I am writing to tell you about the 14th Annual Conference on Comparative Mythology, titled Death and Migration in World Mythology, which will be held online via Zoom from August 23-27. It will be an excellent conference full of interesting and stimulating ideas.

The International Association for Comparative Mythology is the sister organisation of the Traditional Cosmology Society and both I, as current President, and Emily Lyle, as President Emeritus of the TCS, will be presenting papers at this conference. Additionally, among the people giving papers are also those who have presented at TCS events in the past. Please see the program for dates and times.

To participate as an audience member, ask questions, and contribute to the discussion, please register using this form.

The conference fee is $10 for participants from US, Canada, Australia, EU, EEA, Switzerland, Israel, and Northeast Asia; $5 for students and participants from all other regions.

If  you cannot pay the conference fee online or are unable to pay due to financial hardship and still want to participate in the conference, please write to this address: iacm.admin@gmail.com.

Please note that a Zoom link to the conference sessions will only be sent to those who register.


TCS Talk | Re-Embodiment in Early Irish Literature | February 28th 2020

G.01, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  17:00-19:00 (roughly)
Friday 28th February

Do Not Eat Beans, [fol. 25 recto], part of Speculum principis series. Pen and brown ink with watercolour on laid paper, early 16th century. Woodner Collection, National Gallery of Art, USA.

It is a coincidence, though one that is certainly rather apt, that the second gathering of the Traditional Cosmology Society for this Spring season should remind us of the deeply-rooted links between the British Islands and the European continent. In particular, the new TCS talk will explore a fascinating link between the culture of classical Greece and Early Irish literature. Daniel Watson, O’Donovan Scholar at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, will address the Society on February 28th, in a public lecture titled Re-Embodiment in Early Irish Literature: The Case of Mongán Mac Fiachnai.

The prevalence of characters that have the habit of passing from one form of embodiment to another could be said to be one of the more characteristic features of medieval Irish literature generally. In his lecture, Dr Watson will discuss how this evidence has led some scholars to conclude that medieval Irish literature bears witness to beliefs that are similar to the Pythagorean doctrine of metempsychosis. This conclusion, in turn, seems to chime with the attribution of Pythagorean doctrines to Gallic druids by Classical authors.

In trying to establish the veracity and the extent of such conclusion, Dr Watson will review the extant evidence, thus filling an important gap in scholarship. Such a comparison promises to enlarge our understanding of both the Pythagorean and Druidic traditions, however similar or different they are found to be. In this endeavour, Dr Watson will focus on the portrayal on Mongán mac Fiachani in the texts associated with Cín Domma Snechtai, which seem to provide the strongest grounds for equating equating Pythagorean metempsychosis with Early Irish stories of rebirth.