During the first half of the twentieth century, it was an orthodoxy among British archaeologists that the New Stone Age peoples of the island had worshipped an Earth Goddess, in chambered tombs, and then been conquered by foreigners who ushered in a Bronze Age, characterised by circular temples dedicated to a new religion focused on the heavens. In the second half of the century, belief in this sequence collapsed, and experts more or less abandoned attempts to reconstruct religion during this period of prehistory. At the same time it remains true that many of its monuments have clear alignments on heavenly bodies. What now, then, can be done to bring together this evidence with prevailing scholarly attitudes?
Archaeological remains and an essay by the third-century philosopher Porphyry show that the meeting rooms of the Roman cult of Mithras were designed and furnished as ‘images of the universe’. The design was functional: to enable in imagination and ritual the ‘descent and return of souls’. The underlying principle is one of common sense: if you want to be a cosmonaut but lack an actual space ship, build a model cosmos, not a model space ship. The illustrated lecture explains the mini-cosmos of the mithraeum, essentially an instantiation of the classic Ptolemaic model, and how it works.
Time is arguably the most fundamental purely abstract part of our daily lives. Astronomy provides the most visible, and in our terms timeless, expression of that abstraction: the day, the night, the month, the year - all are ageless parts of our lives. Mankind's attempts to express our changing reactions to and understanding of this abstraction challenge all the arts. Five millenia ago serious engineering was invested at Newgrange, Maes Howe, Stonhenge... to show (to whom?) life and death were part of Universal cycles. In many societies that tradition continued until western religious civilisation arrived. Over time, as religions usurped control of the imagining of time, artistic representations became more formulaic, some think beautiful. In the sciences, time became truly formulaic, as mathematics, some think beautiful mathematics, arose. Time became represented and presented through mechanical clocks, leading eventually to railway time, and Greenwich Mean Time. Scientific advance yet again challened imagination, with realisation - and representation - of previously unimaginable geologic timescales. Mechanical time continues increasingly to be divided into amounts too small to visualise, and a challenge to represent. So did society return to astronomical time - beautiful, changeless, cyclic time? Nope! Now we even see the Universe expanding, changing before our eyes. So to speak. Relativistic time permitting. How all that is represented, through art and architecture, and how that representation itself affects what we think we see, is the theme of this brief occupation of our time.
Gillian Clarke was born in Cardiff, Wales. She is a poet, playwright, editor, translator (from Welsh), President of Ty Newydd, the writers´ centre in North Wales which she co-founded in 1990. She has been a tutor on M.Phil. course in Creative Writing, the University of Glamorgan, since 1994. She is also a freelance tutor of creative writing, primary schools to adults. Her poetry is studied by GCSE and A Level students throughout Britain.
The wild blue yonder, the black canopy of night, the transcendental territory of celestial gods—for the ancients the sky was all of these things. It provided access to power and an ordered world. Our ancestors saw a celestial anchor in a cosmic axis that linked heaven to earth and saw divine access in celestial ascent. This conduit was revealed in the fundamental character of the sky—its appearance, its motion, and its content. Ancient and traditional peoples all over the world incorporated these images into their traditions—from the Sacred Pole of the Omaha Indians of Nebraska to ancient Mesopotamia’s myth of Etana’s flight through the gates of the sky. The ways in which people have manipulated the concept of celestial ascent reveal, in part, the meaning and importance behind a simple notion: going "up." These same themes persist in our own era, for we are "folk," too. They are now expressed, however, in the vocabulary of the exploration of outer space, in our attraction for worlds beyond our own, and in the iconography of the space age. In the era of human spaceflight, inaugurated 50 years ago by Yuri Gagarin’s orbital milestone, our monuments to cosmic access are the spacecraft we launch, not pyramids and temples bound to the ground, and our tales of celestial ascent are told in advertising, entertainment, and unsubstantiated rumour of extraterrestrial contact.
Adjunct Professor David Malin: “A Universe of Colour”
Before photography, the human eye was the only way to perceive the stars, and those tiny points of light often prompted profound questions of origin and destiny, and an abiding feeling of wonder. A large telescope vastly increased the eye's light grasp but even the most dedicated sky-watchers saw only stars and faint, colourless and mysterious clouds they called nebulae. This changed about 120 years ago when photography began to displace the human observer from the eyepiece of the telescope and the misty nebulae were resolved into distant galaxies and star-forming regions. Publication of these early photographs marks the beginning of a broad public interest in astronomy which grew rapidly after the first colour pictures were made in 1958. Today's astronomical imagery combines art with science and is accessible to everyone, making astronomy one of the most conspicuous of the fundamental sciences, and still capable of inspiring a sense of wonder. In this talk I will explore some of the more interesting highways and byways of this imaging revolution, which began with Louis Daguerre, John Herschel and François Arago in the 1830s and continues today with the Hubble Space Telescope.
I remember very vividly the news of the first Soviet sputnik in 1957. Satellites very quickly began to make an impact on astronomy, opening up X-ray and ultraviolet astronomy. But the first astronomical measurements in space had in fact been made in the late 1940s using captured V2 rockets. I describe some of the landmark space astronomy missions: Uhuru (X-ray), Copernicus (ultraviolet), Cos B (gamma-ray), IRAS (infrared), COBE (microwave background), Hubble Space Telescope (optical, uv and ir), Compton (gamma-ray), ISO (infrared), Chandra and XMM (X-ray), Spitzer and Herschel (infrared and submillimetre), Planck (microwave background). The key impact of space was the opening up of wavelengths like X-ray and infrared, which are inaccessible from the ground. These have yielded completely new areas of astrophysics, from black hole physics to the details of galaxy, star and planet formation, and have revolutionized our understanding of cosmology.Human spaceflight, inaugurated by Yuri Gagarin fifty years ago, has had a much more limited impact on astronomy compared with robotic missions, but Compton and Chandra were launched by the Shuttle, and above all there was the Hubble Space Telescope and its four refurbishment missions.
Professor Elizabeth Archibald: "Becoming a Star: Some Post-Classical Names and Narratives"
The names of constellations can be descriptive merely in terms of shape (the Swan, the Lyre), but many of these names have stories attached about mythical or historical figures. Often we have forgotten the narrative relating to the name: we can all recognize Orion’s Belt ( a name famous enough to play a key role in the hugely successful film Men in Black), but what do we know now about Orion? For western stargazers, most of the names and stories that are widely recognized relate to classical mythology: other cultures could supply twins for Gemini, but for us they are Castor and Pollux, brothers of Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. In some cases the story is related to the resolution of a problem (for instance, Ariadne’s crown is made a constellation when Dionysius married her after her abandonment by Theseus). In this paper I shall consider some post-classical names and stories attached to stars and other heavenly bodies in literary texts. One striking example is Ursa Major, the Great Bear. We might recognize it under another name, the Plough: in the Middle Ages it was associated with both Charlemagne and Arthur. These associations were serious, in that both Charlemagne and Arthur were much admired – and the stars named for them actually existed. A more tongue-in-cheek example is provided by Pope’s mock epic ‘The Rape of the Lock’, in which the disputed tress of hair stolen from Belinda by the Baron becomes a dazzling (if fictional) comet.
Dr Liz Greene: "Heavenly Host: Angelic Intermediaries as Soul-Gates"
Angelic beings have formed part of the human religious imagination for at least two millennia. They still provide many modern individuals of both orthodox and unorthodox religious and spiritual persuasions with a sense of comfort, contact, and communication with heavenly realms, as well as a source of arcane secrets. Angels are often understood as ontologically autonomous entities who serve a presiding divinity and act as messengers – the word ‘angel’ is derived from the Greek angelos, meaning a messenger. However, angels have also been understood from late antiquity onward as dimensions of the inner soul-life of men and women, reflecting in imaginal form the innate divinity of the human being. Even when adjured in magical rituals, angels were sometimes understood to symbolise a gateway not only to astral and celestial worlds, but to the interior dimensions of the individual and even of the collective or national soul. This paper will explore the evidence for an interiorised perception of angelic intermediaries that has persisted from late antiquity to the present day, challenging the pervasive scholarly assumption that psychological insight is limited to that period following the invention of the term ‘psychology’.
Dr Nicholas Campion:“Messages from the Sky”
Dr Nick Davis: "The Heavens and King Lear"
Full eclipses of the moon and sun often used to date King Lear occurred on 17th September and 2nd October 1605. Their possible significance had been discussed in England since the 1580s. In the play characters adopt differing attitudes to what Gloucester calls ‘these late eclipses’. For Gloucester they have predicted recent discord in the realm, including two major disruptions of the parent-child relation. Edmund, meanwhile, privately scorns the claims of astrology. But Edmund is also the play’s cynical villain. The earlier version of the play has Cordelia bring Lear back to sanity partly through the force of music which, operating alongside medicines, retunes him to the order of the cosmos. But in the later version the music is dropped, giving more importance to the influence of Cordelia herself. The period’s uncertainties and oscillations of view concerning the relation between the human scene and the heavens are, in other words, replicated in the action of the play and its composition history. In banishing Cordelia Lear attempts to give his action a cosmic inevitability, identifying with the astronomers’ dragon or serpent (draco), the advance of whose head and tail in the celestial sphere marked the periods of eclipses’ incidence. The Lear-Cordelia action can be seen as mapping an ‘eclipses’ plot, in which they darken one another in turn. When finally seen dead and dying together they present to onlookers the image of a terrible cosmic dissolution, of a ruling sun and moon heading towards extinction.
Dr William Gombash: "2001: A Space Odyssey- In the Heavens We Are Weightless"
The posters for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey declared it to be “The ultimate trip.” But this was a trip to where and by what means? For Ulysses, in Homer’s epic poem, the destination of his odyssey was home by way of the sea. The destination in Kubrick’s science fiction epic does not exist on a map but the means of getting there was through the medium of the sky. 2001 is a film where destiny and salvation are not located on earth but far above it. From the opening title where the sun, the earth, and the moon align to the image of the Star Child floating above the earth to herald a new order this story is not about terra firma but that which is extra terrestrial in the vast sky that is the universe. Kubrick’s celestial narrative struck a responsive chord to a generation who wanted to see rather that read, experience rather than listen. In 1968 humans were interested in the sky, probably as never before. 2001 fit perfectly for that generation that looked into the sky whether for the mystical stellar alignments in the Age of Aquarius or to watch humans rocket upward to walk on the moon. As the opening strains of Also sprach Zarathustra triumphantly open and close the narrative of 2001, God is not dead. God lives at the speed of light in the in the far side of the sky where eyes have not seen before.
Dr Kendrick Oliver: "The Seeing Eye: Spaceflight as a Religious Experience"
This paper explores expectations in the 1950s and 1960s that space flight would generate spiritual experience, drawn from precedents in exploration and aviation, as well as from the emerging field of space science, which emphasized the potential for psychosis and hallucination in conditions of isolation. It will then survey the way in which in early US space flights, those expectations/fears were generally not fulfilled, in large measure because the Mercury missions did not permit their astronauts to experience the full visual repertoire of the cosmos, but also because most of those astronauts understood that it was not in their own professional interests to appear transfixed by non-operational concerns. There were similar constraints operating in the later Apollo missions, but for a few astronauts at least, these missions did occasion a sudden profundity of mood, prompted by exposure to new sensory information about the earth, the universe, and the moon, and about the contingency of man amidst the perfect indifference of infinity. The paper considers the cases of Bill Anders, Russell Schweickart, Edgar Mitchell and James Irwin, and the effects that their experiences in space had upon their subsequent lives and careers. The paper will assess the extent to which spiritual experiences in space could be attributed simply to what C.S. Lewis called ‘the seeing eye’, a pre-existing interest in questions of God and mind, or whether the cosmos worked an independent effect upon those who ventured into it.
Bernadette Brady: “Solargraphy: a view of time”
Sunlight will burn a path across a piece of photographic paper, if this is done using pinhole photography then the paper can be exposed for a period of days or mouths. This will eventually produce an image of rings of light that are simultaneously logical and mysterious. The image is logical in that the arcs will reveal the movement of the sun for that location for that period of time and the varying position of sunrise or sunset in the landscape. But they are also mysterious as they provide a view that is normally only seen in our mind’s eye. For solargraphy is not slow motion, nor time lapse photography but instead it is a view of across time but held in a single frame – a version of tenseless time. This presentation is visually driven by solargraphy images created by a global campus of the students of the MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David from December 2010 to March 2011.
Darrelyn Gunzburg: “The Changing Faces of the Heavens”
The exhibition in The Bristol Gallery shows us the heavens as we have come to expect it – images from deep space yet which appear to reflect the world around us, from horses heads to foxes, from cigars to eyes. However, images of the heavens were there from at least since Mesopotamian times. This talk will compare and contrast images from the exhibition with the way that the Mesopotamian world, the Hellenistic world, and the Italian/French medieval world saw the heavens.