Here are some examples of dissertations, on topics of a student’s choice, broadly within the remit of myth, cosmology and the sacred.
Your Title Goes Here
Longing in the Landscape: an alchemical exploration of saltmarsh by C.A.
At the end of my road ‘there is a place where the line between the physical and the nonphysical blurs, where imagination and reality somehow converge, and events unfold that are not yet understood at all’ (Kripal, 2017: 283). I invite you to join me there. As we thread our passage through the marshes, or what the Irish would term an ‘eanach’, the way may be narrow and precarious, at other times it may be as if one is suspended on a thread of light between the endless grey sky and its reflection in the low-lying mudflats. There is no map, since the land shifts with each tide. It is a way that is known by the walking, the
participation, and by paying attention. You may look with sky eyes and feel with your sea skin and taste the beat of a halophilous heart.
She of Who the Gods and Mortals Knows the Most by Simao Cortes
It is a rather uncomfortable exercise to write a Masters dissertation about the subject of astrology. Despite the fact that this work has emerged in a very specific context with many like-minded people, it is almost impossible to avoid a feeling of self-onsciousness and transgression while writing it. This happens because there are many contradictory positions that must be indulged and addressed in a work of this type. It is important for the work to be fair both to academia and the astrological community, for it to present a consistent critique of both, and somewhere in between all this negotiation, for my own ideas to be clearly expressed. All of this with the looming danger of transgressing the accepted limits of knowledge too far. But the truth is that I could not have written my dissertation on any other topic. I have worked as an academic before and gave up on the career I was building precisely because I was enticed by astrological symbolism; and so, I believe this is the covenant I must above all respect in my intellectual pursuits.
Re-visioning the Myths for Soul-Making in the context of James Hillman and archetypal psychology by 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?
The Kindness of Ravens by 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…
The Falcon and the Falconer: personal and universal Bird Symbolism in the Poetry of W.B. Yeats by Marcus James
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?
Bringing Feminine Wisdom into Secondary Education by 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.
If the Body were not the Soul, what is the Soul? Questioning embodiment through the neoplatonic great chain of being by Niara Martins de Souza
One of the purposes of this dissertation is to discuss the role of the symbol and imagination and developing on the four-fold levels of interpretation as a hermeneutic way of engaging with symbolic. I will explore a mythopoetic analysis of concepts of soul and the difference between an embodied or ensouled approach to being. I will also be talking about non-discursive knowledge acquired through embodied imagination. Lastly, I will explore the
importance of performance and theatre in our daily role-making activities. The other fundamental dimension of this dissertation is that it is a work of (Neo)platonic philosophy. My main ontological stance has been deeply influenced not only by some of the writers I will be mentioning, but also by my personal religious practice and my work with Neoplatonic theology and theurgy. This being said, this dissertation does not only intend to look at Platonic philosophy (in particular in its polytheist form), but also to meaningfully contribute to forms of modern Platonic philosophy and to a re-imagining of some of its most important questions.
Amor Mundi or Wetiko? Reversing modernity's trajectory of alienation by Jill Pickering
I will be exploring modernity’s trajectory of alienation from nature. I believe that this alienation is notional, that humans are but one manifestation of creation, not a separate category of existence. The true alienation therefore is not from ‘nature’, it is from our own nature. The conceptual dichotomy imposed on reality is a function of the Cartesian subject-object split, which can only be healed by a transformation of consciousness. Ego-consciousness, which creates this illusion of separateness, must be expanded and ‘self’ must be redefined. If humanity is to solve the grave existential problems we face, we must mature and
evolve. The individual has a crucial role to play, and experiences of unitive consciousness are fundamental to dissolving this dualistic split and becoming
aware of the interconnectedness of all life. All life on the planet is from the same source, we are all made of ‘star stuff’, and we must develop a resilient worldview that holds all life as sacred.
Are we nearly there yet? The soul's longing as human/divine, and as evolutionary impulse by Katherine Pierpoint
This dissertation considers the human experience of the longing which comes from the soul, and its potency. It finds that soul-longing has a unique function, entirely apart from everyday emotional longings for this or that. This function is to have experience of ourselves in relation to divine intelligence.
Shattered Mirrors: initiation, death and rebirth in the encounter experience by 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? by 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 Red Death: Menstruation as a Symbol of Renewal by Karen Smith
How are we to understand menstruation in our modern world? Is it “like a vestigial organ, left over from an outworn evolutionary stage”, or could it be the accompaniment of some hitherto unused ability in women?” If the first option, it is little wonder that with the aid of pharmaceuticals, many women are choosing to reduce or eliminate their monthly menstrual cycle. If the latter is true, humanity is in danger of disregarding a gift, given through women, but potentially beneficial to all …
In the main, this essay is an enquiry into the recent trend towards menstrual suppression that is occurring over the western world. It is in three distinct parts: Chapter one briefly charts some of the cultural, religious, and medical attitudes towards menstruation past and present. Included in this section is a cross-cultural account of traditional and indigenous attitudes towards menstruation. In chapter two I assess the contemporary trend towards menstrual suppression and offer a critique of western science in relation to women’s bodies and reproduction. In this section I also offer a positive analysis of scientific findings that could facilitate a menstrual positive perspective. Chapter three is an analysis of the reasons why many women reject menstruation; here I present arguments for and against a female “essentialist” position, which in the context of this essay is the belief that women, on account of their biology, have an inherent and unique connection with nature.
Imagining the World: contemplating the reality of the astrological horoscope by 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’
Is Craniosacral Therapy Alchemical? Wisdom in Egyptian alchemy and the body by 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.
The place of poetry in wisdom tradition and its role in the re-enchantment of modern cultural vision by 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 by 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.