The Creative Project is the heart of the MA. It engages the students’ imagination in creating an artefact or other output which reflects their engagement with the programme material, and also their critical intellect in writing about their creation and creative process. This is both unique and personal, but also touches on archetypal and communal themes. The Creative Project can take the form of a play, musical composition, video, artwork, personal narrative, case-study, written text, ritual or other approved item closely relating to the course material. Here are a selection of some projects, demonstrating the creative skills and transformatory experiences developed and experienced by the students.
This creative project was inspired by a trip to Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island in Northumberland . It was here that Eadfrith created the Lindisfarne Gospels, ‘one of the world’s greatest masterpieces of manuscript painting’, around 698 CE (Backhouse, 2014 p.7). The Gospels were created in honour of St. Columba who having died in 687 CE, was formally declared a Saint when it was found his body had not decayed on its exhumation in 698 CE. After a walk around the Lindisfarne Priory ruins (which date from 1093 on the site of the earlier monastery), the project to ‘do some Celtic artwork’ was hatched in a café on the island and I went home clutching a copy of ‘The Celtic Design Book’ (Meehan 2007).
Can we access the archetypal ideas via the practice of painting. Does “being in the world” have an effect on the soul of the artist, by retreating into a world of interiority but remaining wholly present can we access the soul?Can we create a dialogue with the imagination which is reflected in the strokes the artist puts upon the page? How does active imagination equate to this. Can we see through our projections? Can we see the “gods” in the landscape and if so, how does the painter interpret this? Is this Alchemy?
I already possessed some artwork, a painting which I produced several years ago on a short course in Visionary Art. I was interested in exploring the metaphorical significance of the images which had emerged. The painting was full of meaningful symbols in terms of my personal life at that time, and had been a helpful companion since then. Now I was in a position to revisit the picture with fresh eyes, and found that this was giving rise to even more possibilities and questions. I realised that, as well as looking at how an image emerges, I also needed to consider how the onlooker “reads” an image as symbol, and how meaning may arise from a completed piece of work when it is “out there” in the world.
The creative project has been an extremely valuable part of the MA course for me. Within the confines of academic demands it is often difficult to move out of the head, indeed this has been one of the very unique challenges of the programme. The degree has offered a number of wonderful opportunities to tackle this issue by actively encouraging a more heart centred and intuitive approach to the content that we are facing here as students. To become more “…consciously aware of our intuitive process…” (Anderson, 2004, p.70) is a refreshing challenge to the more traditional approaches of academic research and engagement. But to be able to open the heart and engage our intuition in a manner that retains a level of conscious awareness and an ability to ‘see’ this process critically, is the real nature of the challenge we face as students. This represents new ground.
The idea for this project was rooted in Marie Angelo’s imaginal inquiry. According to Angelo, imaginal inquiry means trying to look at “the image as a living presence, entering its mythos and cosmos (narrative time and ordered space) and learning of it through participating in it” (2005, p.13). She argues that “if we allow the image to teach, to educate the eye, then we are gradually led to its heart, from the general to the particular, rom the outside inwards” One of the main objectives of my creative project was to create a piece of visual art that could have the transformative function that Angelo talks about. For me this meant conjuring a project that in some way codified a symbolic message that I wanted to convey to the world. In other words, an image with which one can engage and create a living bond, and not only look at.
One particular atrophied ‘not I’ that was calling for my attention was related to making art which I denied myself very early, as it was owned by my mother. She was the artist and she tried to ‘teach’ me to make art. I rejected her tutoring and instead learnt that what I already produced was not good enough, nor was it art, and that she held primacy over what art truly was. This assumption encouraged me to reject this aspect of myself and relegate it to ‘not I’, and so I have always blamed my mother for my fear of this particular type of creativity and the shame that goes with it.
After reading about the Flower of Life for several months from a wide range of authors from the ancient Greeks to the modern new age, I felt ready to draw my own Flower of Life symbol. I wanted to try and put myself in touch with Jung’s collective unconscious through the practice of scared geometry, using it as a metaphor for universal order, where in his book Sacred Geometry Lawlor advises us that “it is the approach to the starting point of the geometric activity which radically separates what we may call the sacred from the mundane or secular geometries” (Lawlor, 1987, p16). In his dialogue ‘The Republic’, Plato said that “God is always doing geometry”, and it is said that above the door to the Academy in Athens which he founded as the first institution of higher education in the Western world, the words were inscribed “let no one ignorant of geometry enter”. It was with some trepidation, and a feeling of pressure to do justice to my attempt, that I sat and started my first Flower of Life symbol.
Learning is my life passion, much of my recreational learning arising from a desire to maintain a creative balance with a career that has been in information technology and latterly lecturing in business management. In 2015 I attended a one-day woodcarving course learning the basics of the craft. Having a lifelong love of trees and wood, the smell of sawdust is evocative of my childhood as the daughter of a carpenter. The idea of carving a finger-labyrinth in the classical 7-circuit style kept re-surfacing in my consciousness. But would this provide sufficient scope for a creative project? Although simple in style, this carving was to present unforeseen challenges.
In astrological parlance I suffer from the affliction of a Saturn/Mercury conjunction. In layman’s terms, joining together Saturn (contraction) and Mercury (communication) may make oneself very uncomfortable in one’s expression. Indeed, I have always been bad at telling stories – be they jokes or life stories – always feeling that I was losing people’s attention half way through, always having difficulties to really embody the story and own it. A cruel lack of confidence in the delivery, especially when the audience exceeds four people. The Creative Project was therefore a perfect opportunity to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone. Tell a story and learn a little bit about yourself, I thought.
In deciding what to do for my creative project I was torn between doing something purely ‘personal’ and perhaps trying to express myself through a new medium and doing something connected to my professional life as an RE teacher. I chose the latter because I wanted my creative project to have implications wider than just the personal, and I wanted to explore ways in which my work on the MA could influence and transform my life and teaching. One of the areas of RE that I had been feeling increasingly passionate about since starting the MA was the issue of female spirituality and the divine feminine. I increasingly noticed a disconnect between my own understanding of spirituality and the experiences of the women around me, and the ‘religion’ I was teaching in the classroom. I was also inspired by the work of Kripal and McGilchrist in particular in their understanding of education and the learning process, and how in our institutions it has been increasingly dominated by empirical enquiry to the exclusion of the archetypically feminine qualities and processes like intuition, embodiment and creativity. I wanted my project to develop my understanding of female spirituality, as well as integrating it with my professional life. I also felt strongly about the representation of women in the RE classroom and wanted to address this as well.
For the creative project I chose to compose a collection of poems to present to the class and wider program community as a recital and a printed booklet. During the course of the year I have written about two dozen pieces, more or less related to materials ad ideas explored through the MA. I selected eight that were the most direct responses and memorised them for the presentation. In terms of creative praxis, the process can be expressed as comprising two parts: the act of composition and the reflective tropos, bringing the poems from the realm of the subjective to the ‘universal’ audience.
This project was a creative process that crystallized in my endeavour to attempt to momentarily create a soul connection with my fellow students through the theatrical production of a sketch titled “Speaking from the Heart”. I wanted to corroborate the idea of the value of self judgement through the act of heart-felt confession. In order to combine these two practices in an artistic fashion I had to connect the concept of the soul to an instantly recognizable cultural image that served both as a visual and empathic bridge between myself and the group; while at the same time connecting the soul to the cosmos. It was for this reason that I chose the symbol of the heart. For is it not the heart and the expression of its intentions that influence our behaviour towards others? The ‘Upanishads’ write of the supreme Cosmic Spirit, Brahman, “He is the bridge of immortality. Where all the subtle channels of the body meet, like spokes in the centre of a wheel, there he moves in the heart and transforms his one form unto many.”
Following the aims of transformational learning theory and using art as a means of expression I have attempted to do an exercise that showed how I have engaged with the materials presented in the MA course. At the beginning of my studies I was not familiar with most of the themes that are at the core of the MA programme, such as symbolism or divination. During these years of learning I have discovered and rediscovered different areas of knowledge that have impacted me in many ways and that have contributed, and will still be adding, to my growth as a person. Therefore I wanted to create something that reflected what the MA has meant for me. In my essay I will present a review of the process that lead me to create the collage I entitled “Looking out of my window”, attempting to explain its symbolism and the challenges I have faced while doing it.
The poem ‘Shards of Glass’ expresses the fragmented post-modern experience of both the sacred and the mundane, seeing if it is possible to go beyond the mere expression of this experience and find some kind of unity, at least on a personal level. It explores how our personal myths and stories may interact with ‘established’ myth, and how objective reality may function as a gateway to the sacred.
The inspiration for my creative project arose out of an essay on the role of symbolism in the Dionysian rites. I developed a very personal connection to the material, trying to imagine what the rites may have felt like for those who participated – the essay was formal, but as I wrote my head was filled with spontaneous images and lines of poetry. I wrote the poem in four sections to reflect the Four Levels hermeneutic (also the idea of cycles of life and death, and of seasonal flow) but allowed the work to grow organically. With Dionysus as the narrator, I hoped to capture some idea of this deity’s compulsive attraction and beyond that to contemplate what ‘deity’ might signify in the first place. My professional work involves teaching and practising astrology, at the centre of which are the gods of classical antiquity – for some astrologers these represent psychological drives or Jungian archetypes; for others there is a more overtly spiritual or religious connotation. Although Dionysus is not included in the astrological pantheon, the creative project was a way for me to question myself on my own understanding of deity.
This projects weaves together a family tradition of crafting with various elements of the MA that were meaningful to me, to create a tapestry of ’emblems’.
“At the age of 45 my heart literally broke. A boyfriend finished a relationship unexpectedly and a few days later I suffered a heart attack. My understanding as an Arts Psychotherapist is that there is no delineation between mind and body, so it did not surprise me that my heart physically mirrored my actual emotions of grief and abandonment.”
An exploration and development of some of the images and dialogues that have emerged from practicing Active Imagination
Miriel’s Threads: Recovering Portals to the Perilous Realms in Pendle’s Temple of the Stars – Julie Ross
This project charts the creation of an embroidered veil. A veil is a liminal item, well placed to convey the ‘in-between places’ that can be discovered but are more difficult to describe. The design was inspired by encounters with Tolkien’s Elves in the enchanted realms that can be perceived in the sacred Pendle landscape. Does the sacred art of sewing help us to bring these realms and the material world closer together? This is a mythopoeic journey where Elves and the Silmarils are interwoven with the Pendle Zodiac.
My creative project explores “the fecundating, magical action of the symbol on the mind” (Pietro Negri, 2001, p 91). In a sense this phrase perfectly encapsulates the aims and effects of the transformative material we have encountered on the MA, as the creative project is noted as ‘the heart of the MA’.
My creative project is called Zodiac, music composed and performed with additional poetry on the twelve star signs, presented on the 27th of September 2014 in St. Gregory’s church in Canterbury.
In this review I will set out my starting thoughts, hopes and values. Then there are two journeys that follow. One is through the ideas gleaned from my sources, in particular the Corpus Hermeticum, Ficino’s Three Books on Life and the thought of Ibn ‘Arabi. The idea of the soul making a journey from the divine realm to earth and back…
Alchemy is not merely a laboratory process to discover the elixir of life or the Philosophers’ Stone but was understood to also be a metaphysical process, concerned with the development of the soul. For my CP I decided I wanted to do a series of paintings working with the rich symbolism of the alchemical process that would lead to an appreciation of the stages of alchemy as stages of the souls journey to wholeness – of becoming a fully realised human being. In the course of doing this project I wanted to let chance happenings or synchronicities guide me to a certain extent. I found this approach to be liberating in that I could allow the paintings to come through me rather than from me. The paintings are meant to be meditated upon.
I’ve been interested in the relationship between these two concepts for some time – chakra therapy as a form of bio-energetic healing and the imaginal as a realm in which we can locate symbolic images that also have the potential to transform and heal us.
Petite Pandora - An Archetypal AdventureI wrote and illustrated a children’s story based on the ‘Fool’s Journey’ of the tarot cards, which sees the main character Pandora embark on a quest for self-realisation by facing the archetypal forces of the psyche and...
The inspiration for my creative project came when Angela Voss introduced Ficino’s ‘Book of Life’ and the idea of creating an image of the cosmos to contemplate in your home. I had a powerful reaction and decided to create my own version:
Dreams are strange things. Whether we regard them as prophetic, psychoanalytic or merely as the reorganization of cognitive material during sleep, the truth is that they affect us. We wake up drenched in cold sweat, laughing, panting or crying because of dreams. Once I was so scared during a dream that I woke up to the sound of my own voice praying a Hail Mary.
The inspiration for this Creative Project snuck up on me quite unexpectedly – rather like a wild beast in the forest creeps up on its unsuspecting prey. I’ve never thought much about masks before – other than being slightly alarmed by them as a child – so the unprecedented notion of doing a whole project on them took me by surprise.
“Sophia herself is not fourth to the Holy Trinity, but rather is the matrix of the divine creative power and as such is the bride of Logos or bridegroom.
A psycho-spiritual self-reflection tool that started the essential conversation that I needed to prepare for my own death.
The vesica piscis is an ancient symbol with many meanings in cultures all over the world. It often symbolises a portal or bridge between between earthly and transcendent realms. I decided to explore this symbol for my creative project, and made a painted, printed and sewn cloth with vesical designs for contemplation and meditating on. I also some other art works – they were quite different from anything I’ve done before. This was truly a journey of creative discovery and ’embodied spirituality’ for me, which was very healing.