Dissertations are the culmination of MA studies. Students have developed their original research plans and implemented these in the context of the broad methodological issues and particular data/evidence gathering methods appropriate to the programme. Below are some examples of distinction level dissertations.
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The Kindness of Ravens - Dani Charis Hawkyard
I am sitting in circle of twelve, in a pretty little octagonal room with a tiled floor and a pair of double doors, beyond which lies a beautiful sunlit courtyard with its own fountain. We twelve are here on an Astrodrama retreat, and we are about to begin the exploration and enactment of an astrological natal chart. We have been here for several days, donning masks and costume, becoming planets in this ritual of embodying each person’s inner cosmos. I have never done anything like it before. It is strange and it is magic.
But each time we begin a new chart I become nervous, wondering which planet the hand of fate might deal me. Not Mercury, anything but Mercury, I plead as I reach into the blind bag
which is passed around at the start of each one.
This time, after several days of successful evasion, I look at the shred of paper I have been given and my heart sinks. Mercury.
Its archetype stands for everything that makes me want to withdraw inside of myself at this time in my life. Mercurial Mercury – loud, expressive, flamboyant, outspoken, volatile and mischievous; always wanting the last word, jostling for attention and having an opinion on everything…
Is Craniosacral Therapy Alchemical? Wisdom in Egyptian Alchemy and the Body - Donna Ward
A B S T R A C T
My dissertation explores whether the mysterious transformational healing process that can occur in craniosacral therapy can be described as alchemical. I present some of my own experience of biodynamic craniosacral therapy, a hands-on natural body therapy, and thereafter use the myth of Osiris to explore my healing journey in more depth. Osiris’ initial condition of inertia, loss of heart and fragmentation mirrored my own, and I present a series of my dreams involving alchemical imagery I believe to reflect the process undergone in my psyche. The craniosacral treatment process along with Osiris’ mythic journey is broken down into four stages, corresponding to the four colour stages of alchemy and aim to bring out the spirit of each in the ensuing reflections and discussion.
Important to me is the crucial role played by traditionally female or more yin-like elements in both craniosacral work and the resurrection of Osiris. Biodynamic craniosacral therapy, although assuming a knowledge of anatomy and physiology primarily involves cultivating a receptive awareness and a capacity to co-operate with the body’s own natural forces. Entering deeply into this process can sometimes appear to put one in touch with a mysterious ‘other’, something beyond one’s rational mind. Celebrating the body’s non-rational yet somehow intelligent and purposeful workings is another of my themes.
Many thanks to Angela for recommending the work of the Egyptian scholar Alison Roberts to me, which has wakened me to the power of Egyptian cosmology and female deities. I also rely on Carl Jung and James Hillman, two great alchemical commentators and interpreters. For the discussion on ancient incubation I rely on C.A, Meier. Of the writers on craniosacral work, Franklyn Sills, Charles Ridley and Kalinowska and Hatton were of particular benefit.
She Who of the Gods and Mortals Knows Most - Simão Cortês
In this dissertation I explore some of the most important debates in today’s astrological community, in particular its epistemological status. Using a sympathetic and imaginative approach I look at some of the arguments that have been advanced both amongst astrologers and in academia in order to present the main dilemmas of this practice. I also advance that a focus on transformative education while teaching astrology may be a valuable tool for astrologers to develop the a priori necessary attitude to approach their craft.
Continue reading: ‘She Who of the Gods and Mortals Knows Most’
Re-visioning the myths for soul-making - In the context of James Hillman and archetypal psychology - Sawako Gomi
Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all
intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a
butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably
myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a
butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. (Wu, 1990, p.
This is a famous story from Chuang Tzu. He points out, before this part, that when we are in a dream, we don’t realize that we are dreaming. He says only when we wake from a dream, do we know that we are in a dream. Likewise, if we are in myth, is it possible for us to realize that we are in myth? Do we know whose myth that we are in? Do we live our lives, or do the Gods and Goddesses live through our lives?
Bringing Feminine Wisdom into Secondary Education - Hannah Jayne
Religion and culture are intrinsically connected. As we move towards greater equality for women in the 21st century, the study of religion remains problematic, rooted as it is in the study of texts and their interpretation. The problem is threefold: Firstly, the majority of texts were written by men, so by their nature they express male perspectives. Secondly, the texts were written in patriarchal societies; contexts in which the oppression or subjugation of women was acceptable and expected, and these views are sometimes contained in the text, implicitly or directly. Thirdly, the ways of thinking that have dominated the study of religion and philosophy, especially in the West, have been archetypically masculine; logic, order, categorisation, critique. And yet, women are often in the majority when it comes to faith and religious practice. Women of faith subvert these texts, reclaiming them, discovering female voices within them, and rereading them as the stories of their own lives.
Shattered Mirrors: Initiation, Death and Rebirth in the Encounter Experience - Tarquin Rees
A B S T R A C T
This study will be, in part, an examination of what may be uncovered if we approach mystery with no imposed desire for coherent resolutions that ‘make sense’ of it all. Of what we may be able to see if we resist the call to literalise and let mystery speak and unfold on its own terms, much in the manner we would if we were watching a theatrical drama. We’ll focus on what has been termed ‘Extraordinary Encounter’ experiences by folklorist Peter Rojcewicz – i.e. encounters with apparently non-human entities – and suggest possible readings of such experiences which sees them as offering the potential for transformation, both in relation to the initial percipient and, in a wider context, to a secondary audience.
Hermeticism and astrology: What is the relevance of hermetic astrology for modern man? - Janet Saunders
According to the hermetic sources the cosmos is a living sacred being mixed out of body, soul and spirit. The human has a special place in it due to the soul’s mediating role and our paradoxical nature. On the one hand we are able, through reason, to negotiate our way through the material world and on the other, through nous, we have qualities of imagination and intuition and so are able to appreciate love and beauty as intrinsic to the spiritual life of the cosmos. The qualities of nous can be cultivated via reverence and initiation and enable man to see the world symbolically and so divine the course of best action, in line with God’s will. The recovery of these ideas in the Renaissance by Marsilio Ficino, was central to his spiritual work and astrological practice, which was a daily preoccupation for him.
In our time there is a tendency to prioritise the material world, manipulated by science and technology, accompanied by the loss of soul or spirit. These factors contribute to the loss of the presentiment of astrology as described by Geoffrey Cornelius. In the twenty first century, Iain McGilchrist argues from material science, that we do indeed have two ways of engaging with the world built in to the two hemispheres of our brains. These two modes show illuminating similarities to the hermetic reason and nous. From a practical and philosophical perspective McGilchrist sees us as dangerously left sided, losing touch with soul and spirit and therefore with our moral compass. McGilchrist shows us that seeing past the immediate facts, to a wider world of life giving possibilities, is a right hemisphere contribution. Jake Chapman teaches this wider seeing by way of soft systems thinking, questioning the left hemisphere application of machine metaphors to living systems and opening a path to adaptive responses to problems. The psychologist C. G. Jung saw the world as full of paradox and reasserted soul as a mediating factor via the study of psyche. This paper explores the hermetic tradition and Ficino’s astrological hermeticism. It argues that, in our time, the symbolic seeing and divination of Ficino’s hermetic astrology are tied in to the reestablishment of a hermetic perspective in the world at large, drawing on the work of figures such as McGilchrist, Chapman and Jung.
The Falcon and the Falconer: Personal and Universal Bird Symbolism in the Poetry of W.B. Yeats - Marcus Sly
There are myriad birds scattered throughout William Butler Yeats’s plays and poetry. In the lyric poems alone there are over 90 references to birds of one type or another, ranging from familiar native wildfowl—jackdaws, ravens, doves, sparrows, moorhens—to the famous golden bird of Byzantium that was “Planted on the starlit golden bough” to “scorn aloud / In glory of changeless metal”. There has been a good deal of scholarly attention paid to the golden
bird, and the famous swans that are particularly associated with Yeats’s verse, but less has been written about many of his other symbolic birds, and I have not found any broad survey of the place of birds as a whole in his symbolic system. This is a shortfall I seek to make up in this dissertation. I ask why birds appeared to him as such promising symbolic material: Yeats tended to draw from a relatively small stock of primary symbols which he used over and
over again, and these symbols—rose, stone, tower, bird, mask, tree —consequently came to carry an enormous and evolving weight of mean- ing within his work. What was it about birds, and bird imagery, which appealed to him enough for them to be given a central place among these other prominent symbols? And how did he make use of bird symbolism to illuminate the personal and universal issues that concerned him?
Imagining the World - Carole Taylor
My aim is to reflect on the ‘reality’ of the astrological horoscope and the order of knowledge offered by it. Because the question strikes to the heart of astrological practice, the endeavour is potentially huge – I have chosen to focus on the broad division between literal and imaginative ways of viewing astrological information and to follow the views of a few notable writers in respect of the horoscope as imaginal landscape.
I will first explore a few key strands in the early development of the horoscope. From there, I will look at how Western astrology reflects the dichotomy in the Western mind between mythos and logos, symbolic and scientific modes of thinking, resulting broadly in two perspectives within its practice – the chart as an objective body of knowledge versus the chart as a device to engage the symbolic imagination of the astrologer.
I will consider a significant, but still somewhat controversial, viewpoint in contemporary astrology, which is the idea that all judicial astrology is a form of divination. Pioneering this approach have been Geoffrey Cornelius, Maggie Hyde and Patrick Curry, who have all questioned the Ptolemaic inheritance of astrology as a form of natural science.
I will also explore an idea suggested by Nicholas Campion, that Baudrillard’s ‘simulacrum’ might be a useful image in understanding the horoscope as an imaginary realm, created by human consciousness, which then obligingly ‘works’ in line with the expectations of the viewer. Although not a practising astrologer, James Hillman too questioned the objective status of the horoscope, offering an alternative image of it as a ritual container for psychological work.
 The astrology referred to in this essay is what is usually termed Western astrology, to distinguish it from Jyotish astrology, Chinese astrology, and the wide number of astrologically-related indigenous practices which grew up independently of the Western tradition. Wherever the term ‘astrology’ or ‘astrologer’ is used, this refers to Western practice.
 ‘Judicial astrology’ is distinguished from ‘natural astrology’, the former being the application of astrology to human affairs in which some kind of interpretation or judgement is required.
Continue reading: ‘Imagining the World’
The place of poetry in wisdom tradition and its role in the re-enchantment of modern cultural vision - Judith Way
In this enquiry I will begin with looking at wisdom traditions in which poetry is regarded as a means of spiritual transmission, to discover what these reveal about poetic and mythic nature, and their interconnectivity. In order to narrow the case when referring to modern cultural vision, I will look specifically at the modern definition of poetry, to gain a sense of the changing view of poetry through time. The definition of poetry in the Oxford online
dictionary is :
“a literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given
intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm”
(Oxford Dictionaries, 2016).
In order to understand the evolution of the modern cultural narrative with regards to poetry and myth, I will draw on the work of Ian McGilchrist The Master and his Emissary; and the recent publication of Beyond Allegory by Bernado Kastrup. Both these writings provide fruitful and refreshing observation, and offer insight into the possibility and necessity of reenchanting the modern view. Through looking at the place of poetry within a wisdom
tradition, and the aspects of preservation of wisdom within a tradition, I hope to bring forth the salient connections which create the relationship of enrichment between poetry and wisdom.
The Sacred Embrace of Placebo - Victoria Young
A B S T R A C T
Drawing on a historical scope from early medicine to the current day, this essay explores the role of placebo in healing, homoeopathy, narrative, and alternative medicine. By examining placebo studies and ritual theories in order to deepen our understanding of the value of this often-misunderstood aspect of our humanness, I suggest that placebo is not only a sacred dimension involving the modulation of symptoms through neurobiological mechanisms, it
also enables a deeper critique of Cartesian mind-body dualism. A philosophy that is both sacred and genuinely holistic allows a system of medicine that is dynamic rather than static and emergent rather than linear. Reinterpreting placebo offers interpenetration between left and right brain modes of knowing, and from this elevated position, placebo has the capacity to both evolve human consciousness and resolve symptomology.