Welcome

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 | 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.

(more…)

TCS Talk | Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines | January 31st 2020

G.01, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  17:00-19:00 (roughly)
Friday 31st January

Antonio Tempesta, pl. 75 from the series Ovid’s Metamorphoses, 17th century. Courtesy: Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

As January rolls towards its end, the Traditional Cosmology Society returns from the winter break with a new, and already rich season of talks. First to the dances is James Parkhouse, an Oxford postgraduate student who, on Friday 31th, will deliver a lecture, excellently titled Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, to TCS members as well as members of the general public:

Mr Parkhouse is a a fourth-year doctoral student in the English Faculty at the University of Oxford. His doctoral research project is provisionally entitled ‘Preliterary Classical Influences on Early Germanic Heroic Legends’. He completed his undergraduate degree in Classics at Oxford in 2015, before ‘going medieval’. His wider research interests focus on Old Norse mythological and heroic poetry; the nature of Old Norse oral traditions and performance contexts; and the extent of Classical learning in medieval north-western Europe.

In his talk, Mr Parkhouse will take into account the myth of the revenge and escape of the master smith Wayland, attested in medieval literature and iconography from England, Scandinavia and Germany. The myth has been noted for its striking resemblance to the Graeco-Roman myth of Daedalus, the architect of the Cretan Labyrinth, who, like Wayland, escapes from captivity by building a set of mechanical wings. Indeed, the similarity was not lost on medieval Icelanders, who translated the term ‘labyrinth’ as Vǫlundarhús (House of Wayland) in vernacular adaptations of Classical texts.

The question of a genealogical relationship between the two stories has been hotly debated, and details of the date and means of horizontal transmission remain elusive. Mr Parkhouse, however, proposes to sidestep the issue of genealogy, to focus instead on how the two myths may be read against each other, from an historicist and culturalist perspective. In his talk to the Society, therefore, he will focus on the presentation of the respective myths in the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses VIII (c. 8 CE) and the Old Norse Eddic poem Vǫlundarkviða (c. 900 CE), situating each text in its own broader cultural context before considering the theme of dynastic collapse which is common to both traditions.

(more…)

TCS Talk | The Case of the Water-Woman | November 29th 2019

G.01, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  17:00-19:00 (roughly)
Friday 29th November

Louise_MILNEFor our third talk of the season, the Traditional Cosmology Society presents a lecture by our own Louise Shona Milne, entitled Metamorphosis, Myth, Dream-cultures and Desire: The case of the Water-woman.

In addition to her current position as President of the Traditional Cosmology Society, Dr Milne is Lecturer in Visual Culture at the Edinburgh School Art and Associate Professor of Film at Edinburgh Napier University. She is also a writer, critic, film-maker and visual anthropologist, and a leading scholar in the history of dreams and nightmares. She is currently working on an experimental film trilogy shot on Super 8 film, as well as on a number of documentary projects including, most recently, Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev: A Journey (2018).

In her TCS lecture, Dr Milne will address the imagery and mythos of the water-woman, a dense figure in dream-culture across different traditions, and one marked by the transformative power of desire (love, lust, fear, grief, hatred, vengeance). The basic image of a female spirit attached to a place of water has endured for millennia in Western literature, legend and the visual arts, but this image can and has taken an enormous variety of forms, from ideal female nudes to monstrous hybrids. Supernatural water-women in myth and folk culture –the mermaids, nymphs and nereids of river, spring and cave –are marked as daimonic by their double nature: they shift from one form to another. Mortal women in extremity may also undergo transformation into watery forms, as punishment or reward; when their situation matches certain conditions, metamorphosis is the mythic substitute for death.

Dr Milne argues that traditions concerning metamorphic water-women are mobilized, historically, to express changing cultural protocols about how desire works and how it should be harnessed. As the latter are redrawn and over time –notably under pressure from Christian authorities –people can be seen to adapt and alter water nymph visualization, as well as visualization of desire-driven metamorphosis in general: a process which we can follow in dreams, texts and art. The inexhaustible potential of the water-woman for every kind of metamorphosis propels an evolving repertoire of forms in art and literature. Arguably, moments of concentrated collective attention to this figure (e.g. in the permanent artistic media) signal that changes in the protocols of desire are underway.

(more…)

Minutes from 2019-20 AGM now available

At the end of August, the Traditional Cosmology Society held its 2019-20 Annual General Meeting and elected a new Committee. As was announced in the original notice, the minutes from the meeting are now (finally) available for those who could not attend. We especially invite all e-members, as well as those who could not make it to Edinburgh, to take a look, and let us know if they have any comments/suggestions/opinions/cosmological musings!

Please follow this link to access the .doc transcript of the minutes.

TCS Talk | Narratives of Bewitchment in Scotland | November 15th 2019

G.02, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  16:15-18:00 (roughly)
Friday 15th November

For our second talk of the season, the Traditional Cosmology Society presents a lecture by Julian Goodare, Professor of History at the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Goodare was Director of the online Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, and has published widely on witchcraft in Scotland. His most recent book is The European Witch-Hunt (London: Routledge, 2016).

In his TCS talk, Professor Goodare will review statements contained in Scottish witchcraft trial records, given by people who presented themselves as victims of witchcraft. As recounted in these statements, bewitchment could take many forms: it sometimes affected the victims’ own health; at other times it was the health of a child or other family member, or the health of their farm animals, or their dairying, ale-brewing or prosperity generally. The bewitchment itself was placed within a wider narrative of community relationships, often involving quarrels, and sometimes including threats or curses.

Professor Goodare will focus on how the narrators explained the concept of bewitchment. The key legal point at issue in their testimony was: were these events caused by the suspect’s witchcraft, or not? On this point, the reported accounts varied greatly: some of the supposed victims explained the bewitchment in detail; others told of misfortune, but avoided saying anything about bewitchment. Some victims seem to have been reluctant accusers. At the other extreme, some victims told stories of their own experience of magical events, or even of having encountered the Devil. Seen together, these narratives reveal much about witchcraft victims’ beliefs, and about the remarkable spectrum of nuances they encompassed, a spectrum in which we come to glimpse a connection between the quotidian and the uncanny.

 

(more…)