Spirituality and the Supernatural
Friday 12th March 2021 – Saturday 13th March 2021
Spiritual Poetics of Nature Poetry
Alexander J. B. Hampton
University of Toronto, Canada
spirituality, poetry, poesis, creation, Traherne, Coleridge, Hopkins
This paper explores the inextricable relationship between poetry, nature and spirituality through three particular exemplars: Treharne, Coleridge and Hopkins. In examining the nature poetry of each, the concept of poesis in particular, is explored. Poesis is the root of the modern term poetry, but originally refers to a particular kind of making, in which something is brought into existence which did not previously exist. Hence, poesis bears a strong resemblance to the Hebrew-Christian notion of ex nihilo creation as expressed in Genesis, where creation is the result of a divine act of poesis. Whilst humans are part of creation, they also have the higher reflexive capacity to analogically participate in divine creative making through individual creative acts of poesis. Nature poetry, therefore, has a special, even privileged position, which gives human creativity and divine creativity the common object of nature.
This paper explores this relationship between creation and poetics through central concepts developed by each of the three poets mentioned. In the case of Treharne, in his Poems of Felicity, the concept of felicity is developed as a poetic capacity to see nature as the gratuitous gift of creation, as opposed to a construction of subject-centred desires. For Coleridge, the imagination is the finite individual repetition of the infinite divine capacity of creation. Therefore, poetry concerning nature, as expressed in his ‘conversation poems’, thinks and speaks in the same language as divine creation itself. Finally, with Hopkins, what he termed the ‘inscape’ of creatures, gives insight into God’s creative intention. Hopkins sprung rhythm poetry is an attempt to develop a form of speech capable of expressing the inscape of natural objects. In each case, the unique creative capacity of poetics connects the human act of creation to the divine creative act, creating in nature poetry a language of spiritual expression.
Water Spirits and the Spirit of Water
Ohio University, USA
There is something about a shapeshifter—a person who can transform into an animal—that captures our imaginations; that causes us to want to howl at the moon, or flit through the night like a bat. Werewolves, vampires, skinwalkers, and other weird creatures appeal to our animal nature, our “dark side,” our desire to break free of the bonds of society and proper behavior. Real or imaginary, shapeshifters lurk deep in our psyches and remain formidable cultural icons.
Rituals in early cultures worldwide seemingly allowed shamans, sorcerers, witches, and wizards to transform at will into animals, other people, sometimes inanimate objects, and back again. Since Neolithic times, the shapeshifter character has popped up in cultures all around the world. Its popularity is due perhaps, to our deepest desires to break free, at least vicariously, of the social, legal, moral, and religious bonds that order our societies.
Today, there are millions of people who believe that shapeshifters walk among us and may even be world leaders. History, literature, and popular culture media such as films , TV, and computer games serve up a fantastic and ghoulish array of shapeshifters, all of which explore our secret desires to become something other than human.
The Role of Culture and Beliefs in Healing: An Ethnography Within an Inner-city Pentecostal Church
Anglia Ruskin University
Pentecostalism, Culture, Embodied Healing, Locus of Control, Help Seeking, God, Devil, Ethnography.
This study investigated why people who originated from Sub-Saharan Africa came to a Pentecostal Church in London to seek help for their health concerns alongside or instead of using biomedicine. This required a deeper understanding of how cultural and spiritual beliefs influence peoples’ help-seeking behaviour and how people construct and give meaning to their experience of ill health. The study explored the beliefs, practices and types of interventions conducted during healing services.
Ethnographic methods used for the data collection included participant observation, informal conversations with church members as well as themed interviews with key informants including the Pastor of the Church who was seen as having the power to heal people from their physical, emotional and psychological distress.
The findings from the study suggest that most people in the Church attributed both physical and mental illnesses to a spiritual cause. For many people in the congregation, ‘the locus of control’ for both health and illness existed outside of their biological bodies and their own agency. The cure for such illnesses was attributed to God, whereas the cause was attributed the devil.
The study concluded that people hold an aetiological model that accounts for illness and misfortune as existing in the spiritual world. The research suggests that health and the body are multiply constructed and the congregation are viscerally involved in the healing process. Furthermore, the Church plays an important role in enhancing well-being by building a strong sense of community that helps to address some of the social determinants of health.
Archival Evidence of Exceptional Human Experience
University of West Georgia
archives, cultural property, libraries, libraries and society, parapsychology, altered states of consciousness, remote viewing, near-death experiences, extrasensory perception, hallucinogenic drugs.
Archival and library collections hold tangible documentation of the range of human experience. Diaries, letters, photographs, audio recordings, reports, and other paper and film-based materials tell the stories of people’s lives.
Using examples from the vast parapsychology archives and rare book collections at the University of West Georgia, this paper will share people’s first-hand accounts of extraordinary incidents or of their supernatural abilities, from the profound to the disappointing, and from the unexpected to the purposefully sought, including near-death experiences, extrasensory perception, and psychedelic drug use.
While the supernatural sits in the margins of acceptability in Western society, exceptional experiences and abilities are very real to the people who have lived them. The documentation created, which is proof for some readers and make-believe stories to others, nonetheless holds important human lessons: the possibility of alternative ways of knowing and enlarged levels of consciousness, that there is a range and variety of human experiences beyond the narrow scope of what is socially defined as normal or “natural,” the need to be heard and to listen, and that the search for connections with people and with the broader universe brings meaning and purpose.
This paper will begin with the concept of curiosity and the important role libraries and archives have in collecting, preserving, and sharing documents on human culture. It will conclude with an analysis of why archives pertaining to the supernatural are not collected or are undervalued in academic and other settings.
Supernatural Seduction: Female Archetypes in Supernatural
Le Moyne College
Syracuse NY, USA
archetypes, media, gender, critical media literacy
Television has always been home for series that focused on or included aspects of supernatural beings and events. From Stranger Things to the anthology series Black Mirror, people have embraced entertainment that present stories with frightening and unexplainable components.
Supernatural themes have been front and center in the aptly named television series Supernatural. The show was created by Eric Kripke and launched in 2005 on the WB network (now the CW) as the story of two brothers traveling across America hunting monstrous creatures that prey on humans. The pilot began with Mary Winchester, mother of the main characters, dying at the hands of a demon. From that first episode, female characters have been trivialized, victimized, and eliminated. This focus of this paper is ways this modern and widely popular show explores tropes and motifs that both perpetuate and subvert gender stereotypes.
Supernatural is a masculine oriented show with a host of recurring and one-shot female characters. Contradictions abound. Women are critical to the storylines, and yet never essential enough to be recurring characters. There are smart, brave and complex characters like Ellen and Jo Harvelle, Charlie Bradbury and Sherriff Jody Mills. These are juxtaposed with porn stars like Suzy Lee, Knight of Hell Abbadon and the Amazon Emma who is sent to kill her birthfather (Dean). Fans and critics have celebrated the strong women characters as well as chastised the series for its misogynistic representations.
This paper will present a matrix based on eight archetypes for female heroines and villainesses, with examples of each from Supernatural episodes. According to Carl Jung
The concept of the archetype is derived from the repeated observation that, for instance, the religious myths and fairy tales of world literature contain definite motifs which crop up everywhere. We meet these same motifs in the fantasies, dreams, deliria and delusions of individuals living today…They impress, influence, and fascinate us. (1969)
Supernatural is built around many of these recognizable archetypes. The Heroine archetypes include Seductive Muse, Amazon, Father’s Daughter, Nurturer, Matriarch, Mystic, Female Messiah, and Maiden. The Villainesses include Femme Fatale, Gorgon, Backstabber, Overcontrolling Mother, Scorned Woman, Betrayer, Destroyer, and Troubled Teen. For each example, discussion will focus on how the representations in both human and supernatural form create a spectrum of images that provide a potent vehicle for grappling with gender issues in ways that blur lines and cement traditional perspectives in our collective unconscious.
The paper will close with strategies for using critical media literacy to examine and question how creative works shape our perspective of the supernatural and why some expressions of gender related to the supernatural are more culturally acceptable than others.
Disposable Ghosts (Excerpt from full-length play)
University of Cambridge
ghosts, cemeteries, history, ghost tours, trauma, statues, memorials, slavery
In my creative work as a playwright, I frequently return to ghosts and the supernatural, and the resonances between age-old ghost stories and contemporary politics. Ghosts remind us of the histories we create and the stories we tell ourselves, and all the erasures that are left to linger in ghostly palimpsestic traces. My play Disposable Ghosts was inspired by recent protests in the American South over the presence of Confederate statues, and uses the supernatural to represent the collective trauma of a community, and I use “ghost tours” as a recurring motif throughout the play as a way of walking through the violence of local history and allowing people to grapple with the spirits of the past. In this play, Deacon’s Grove, Massachusetts, is celebrating its 350th anniversary of colonial settlement with a big Deacon’s Day celebration. Dahlia Atkinson leads the Historical Society. The day’s plans are interrupted when the young Bea Harris, a recently-returned resident of the town, starts a protest calling for the removal of the statue of Arthur Deacon, due to his slave-owning past. This protest unleashes ghosts and half-buried secrets from all the residents. In the excerpted scene I have included from Act I, the sighting of a ghost, and the subsequent discussion of it and whether the ghost can be “believed,” becomes a representation of unspoken/unspeakable historical and personal trauma.
Július Koller aka UFO-naut JK searching for the spiritual transformation through art and play (Workshop)
University of Glasgow
Scotland, United Kingdom
Július Koller, play environment, culture of play, games, ritual, transformation, spirituality, art, post-modernism
I propose to create an interactive space for play and discussion that will allow the participants to understand the potential of spiritual transformation through play as utilised by Slovakian artist Július Koller (1939-2007) to reach the freedom of transcendence. The session will start with a traditional children’s game ‘Wink Murderer’ in which everyone can take part. A short discussion will follow, where we reflect on the personal experience of playing – assumption of a role (murderer/victim/detective), rhythm, tension, rules.
Consequently, we take more scholarly perspective to scrutinise the experience of play. Based on the work of pioneering authors in this field (Johan Huizinga and Roger Caillois), we will examine the significance of play as a cultural phenomenon. Particularly the play’s transformative potential which allows players to assume different identities, which creates equal environment with identical rules for everyone, and includes everybody in the shared desire to succeed in fair play.
Július Koller appropriated the play environment as the chief tool in his work to transcend the disorderly nature of reality. In the post-modern world ruled by the chaos, where the meaning or the metanarrative of life has been lost (J.-F. Lyotard), Koller dedicated his energy to finding the means to deploy the transformative potential of play environment into the mundanity of everyday life, and thus to bring the ‘order’ of play to the ‘chaos’ of life. Koller’s work centres around the transformation of ‘culture of play’ into the ‘culture of life’. The goal of modern art for Koller was not to create an object, but to facilitate the spiritual transformation of human. This session will aim to recognise the transformative potential of play and to learn from Koller how to let it in to our everyday experience.
Occult Ideography in German Expressionist Cinema
University of Missouri
Over the past century, the groundbreaking cinematic legacy of German Expressionism has inspired filmmakers and scholars alike with its special effects, visceral characters, and fantastic plotlines. In the Weimar Republic, the strangely stylized sets of what became known as German Expressionism captivated audiences worldwide with movies such as Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari in 1920, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens in 1922 and Faust: eine deutsche Volkssage in 1926, and Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen in 1924 and Metropolis in 1927. Though scholars generally agree that no Expressionist movement ever existed in cinema, I assert that the directors, screenwriters, and set designers of movies now called “Expressionist” maintained among themselves a common ideographic blueprint based on the sidereal zodiac of Western astrology, and, within its twelve houses, 66 cards from the standard tarot deck by Arthur Edward Waite (published originally in 1910), while basing their characters on planetary archetypes represented by the sipherot of the Hermetic cabbala. This schema, which they implemented in all their so-called Expressionist movies, might most aptly be called an occult blueprint.
I present this material in order to set forth the argument that the subtlety, the shrewdness, and the subliminality of occult ideography in German Expressionism has been ignored, neglected, and downright unnoticed in the whole of film and historical scholarship. But it is a field that demands to be taken more seriously by professionals and requires the attention of those familiar with the occult publications, arcane practices, and esoteric schools of and around Weimar Germany. My paper seeks to analyze this occult blueprint cinematically, giving primacy to the visual experience of the movies in question, and to contextualize it hermeneutically, delving into occult doctrine prevalent between the 1910s and 1920s.
Durational Film and Spiritual Reflection
Artist, Dumfries and Galloway
Scotland, United Kingdom
I am a visual artist working in artists’ moving image. My work is durational, detailed and based in the natural world.
Durational or ‘slow’ film is a serious attempt to counter the speed of everyday life, to offer an opportunity to relax the pace of both thought and action and move solely into the present, a process somewhat akin to gentle meditation. As this process happens, heart and pulse rate slow, pressing thoughts recede and the viewer is able to enter more fully into the images, giving them depth and meaning. This allows a different interpretation, what Brakhage (2001) would call ‘the untutored eye’:
“Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception.”
The choice of nature as subject resonates strongly with spirituality. In early times socalled ‘primitive’ religion allowed natural forms to take on the mantle of sacred objects. They were used to represent deeply felt beliefs in something greater, unknown and beyond everyday life, deserving of significant respect. They enabled man to engage more strongly with the material world and to use what Abram (2013) describes as ‘the acute levels of more-than-human communication’. In current times those who see the environment as something special and in need of protection, who walk in nature to recharge their batteries and to feel closer to the more-than-human world because it possesses something man’s made world cannot provide, seem to be expressing similar spiritual beliefs.
In film, close-up, detailed images take this process one step further. Corredor (2006) describes it thus,
“Artists are extracting fragments of reality from the chaos of nature and are transferring and setting them in artistic visual frames charged with patterns, facts, logic of ideas, flow of emotions or flights of the imagination, and thus intensifying our experience of awareness of nature.”
These three factors – the natural world observed at an unfamiliar level of detail and at a durational pace – successfully combine to offer the viewer an opportunity to consider life from a very different perspective. One which could either engender personal spiritual reflection or provide an opening for spiritual discussion.
Spectral Dramaturgy: Mary Shelley as Gothic Dramatist in Rona Munro’s adaptation of Frankenstein
Gheorghe L Williams
University of Birmingham
Frankenstein, Gothic, theatre, culture, supernatural, dramaturgy, Mary Shelley, performance, authorship, progress
Drawing together the edges of creative arts and radical sciences, Frankenstein has held an archetypal position in the traditions of Science-Fiction, Posthumanism, and the Gothic across more than two centuries. However, recent research has begun to re-assess its inherent theatricality, as scholars like Richard J. Hand (2015), Dennis Cutchins and Dennis Perry (2018) identify the crucial significance of dramatic adaptation to Frankenstein’s legacy. Kelly Jones (2018), for instance, observes that Frankenstein’s ‘liveness’ makes it particularly suited to modern theatrical innovations, citing Frankenstein’s Wedding…Live in Leeds (2011)—a large-scale techno-spectacle streamed live from Kirkstall Abbey—as her example. Clearly, Frankenstein’s theatrical spirit continues to offer unique approaches to understanding the resonations of the supernatural with the contemporary moment. This paper aims to argue that the most recent addition to this legacy must be Rona Munro’s re-working of the novel in late-2019, in which Mary Shelley herself is brought into the narrative. As her character moves between numerous dramatic dimensions, Shelley constructs, comments upon, and is consumed by the events of her creation in real-time; her authorial endeavours and Victor’s experimental labours are intertwined as a single process of Gothic cultural production. Presenting an analysis of the innovative theatrical strategies at work in this production, I argue that Munro, and director Patricia Benecke, demonstrate how the sheer contrariness of supernatural representation underscores its timely potency as a mode of social and cultural progress; it speaks especially to current feminist movements which work towards narrative reclamation and equal distributions of social power for and among women. By emphasising the role of the supernatural in Shelley’s creative process, this production ultimately illustrates how staging the supernatural remains a uniquely effective rhetorical mode of our time, bringing the historical into the contemporary, whilst also embodying and articulating present anxieties by giving shape to potential futures.
Dracula, Freud and Sherlock Holmes: the dialectics of the supernatural
Rainer M. Koeppl
University of Vienna, Austria
Stoker’s Dracula was published in 1897, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams in 1899/1900, two years later Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles scared the readers, however, my presentation is not so much based on the obvious temporal proximity but on the common theme, the struggle with and against the supernatural in a time of faith in science.
For centuries, the supernatural was accepted as reality. When the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears, it is not his presence that is uncanny, but his behaviour. According to the Zeitgeist, Shakespeare’s “scholar” Marcellus, who thought that the spectre was “but a phantasy”, accepts its reality. Likewise, the world view of Goethe’s Dr.Faust is confirmed and not shaken, when the poodle turns out to be Mephisto.
When Dr. Gerard Van Swieten was asked by Empress Maria Theresa to prove to her uneducated subjects there were no vampires in her Empire, he could not dare to touch the dogma of Jesus’ resurrection or the idea of an almighty God. A century later, however, the supernatural seemed to have completely disappeared from the enlightened world view. “Spectres” and “vampires” still appear in Karl Marx’s writings, but only as metaphors. But at the climax of radical materialism the supernatural resumes the fight against reason. Sherlock Holmes may have achieved his greatest success by unmasking the hellhound of the Baskervilles, reducing the metaphysical to genetics, but Stoker’s polymath Prof. Van Helsing succeeded to convince the readers of the reality of supernatural bloodsuckers. Between these extreme poles of acceptance and rejection of the supernatural, Freud develops his psychoanalysis, relocating the metaphysical in the inaccessible interior of man. But even if our dreams are no longer understood as messages from the metaphysical but as wishes from the unconscious, which can be scientifically analyzed, according to Freud, the question remains why man is not master in his own house and who holds the key to the scary basement.
A moral ferment; an exploration of how the existential value of spirituality provides a counter-measure as a metaphysical force to combat the power of alcohol addiction
Waterford Institute of Technology
spirituality, addiction, alcohol, treatment, recovery, life meaning, purpose
This paper explores the role that religion and spirituality play in alcohol addiction issues in contemporary Ireland. The methodology includes a literature review, theoretical framework and in-depth interviews with a cross section of sample involved in spirituality, alcohol addiction treatment, religion, AA fellowship and policy making. Alcohol policy formation and addiction treatment has for the previous number of decades been in a process of secularisation, as religious institutions and concepts continue to lose legitimacy. The paper provides an overview of how these issues are reflected on by key figures in alcohol policy making and addiction treatment provision. The findings suggests that the majority of alcohol addiction treatment therapists do not see religion as a resource to break addiction. However, the concepts of spirituality and a ‘higher power’ hold significant value in addiction treatment, as the role of the concept ‘spirituality’ not only remains central but for many, it is the key tool in recovery in the search for life’s meaning and purpose. Religion has very weak purchase on policy makers, however, there are often unacknowledged philosophical moral foundations to policy recommendations. Further, a broader moral malaise rooted in a neoliberal approach to alcohol policy prioritises support of the alcohol industry over health goals and the recommendations of those at the coal face addressing the negative impacts of alcohol abuse. Nevertheless, thinking related to the regulation of consumption is always philosophically grounded, with many concerned with how the particular form of alcohol consumption manifests to current malaises. Thus, a space presents itself for continuing exploration, reflection and discussion of how the existential value of spirituality provides a counter-measure as a metaphysical force to aid those afflicted by the power of addiction.