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.

COSMOS #33-35 Hot Off the Press

Hooray! The Traditional Cosmology Society is delighted to announce the upcoming publication of the latest, triple issue of our scholarly journal! COSMOS vol. 33-35 is in the final stages of typesetting, and will soon be available for print-to-order for everyone.

It is fair to say that this issue has been long in the making, but we are proud that it is finally about to see the light.

On the occasion of tomorrow’s one day conference, we have decided to make available a free preview of the issue for 24 hours only: COSMOS-33-35.

After the launch, a dedicated private page will appear here on this website, in the COSMOS section, for those members who want to access it.

TCS Conference | William Robertson Smith | May 13th 2022

The Traditional Cosmology Society, in partnership with the School of Celtic and Scottish Studies, has organised a one-day conference to celebrate the legacy of Scottish orientalist and biblical scholar William Robertson Smith (1846-1894).

William Robertson Smith’s influence on anthropology ranged from his relationship with John Ferguson McLennan, to advising James George Frazer to write about “Totem” and “Taboo” for the Encyclopaedia Britannica that he edited.

Through his discussion of myth and ritual, Smith shaped the agenda for generations of scholars. His focus on connections among the people, their God, and the land they inhabited inspired many of the concepts later developed by Émile Durkheim.

Image of William Robertson Smith taken from ‘The Bailie,’ Vol. XII, No. 293, 29th May 1878. Cambridge University Library MS Add.7476/L22

The event will take place on May 13th 2022 in Edinburgh, at 50 George Square. Attendees are invited to Project Room 1.06 from 12pm to 4pm. Places can be reserved from the event page on Eventbrite, while tickets can purchased at the door for the price of £10 (concessions available for students and TCS members). Please note that the event manager will not be able to accept card payments.

During the course of the day, three scholars will address different aspects of Robertson Smith’s legacy. The panellists and their presentations are:

Professor Aleksander Bošković (University of Belgrade), ‘One of “Anthropology’s Ancestors’

Professor Bernhard Maier (University of Tübingen), ‘W. R. Smith and the Scottish Psalter’

Professor Robert Segal (University of Aberdeen), ‘Ancient Religion versus Modern Religion’

Unfortunately, Professor Segal had to withdraw from the programme. Professor Milne will read his planned intervention on his behalf. In addition, Salma Siddique (University of St Andrews) will deliver additional remarks. A draft of the full programme is available here.


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.