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MA, Myth and Ecology – Programme Structure and Content

Myth and Ecology – Programme Structure and Content

MA full-time

Taught modules, 120 credits – Terms 1 & 2
Terms 1 and 2 of this programme will be taken up with four taught modules of 30 credits each, totalling 120 credits. Each module is compulsory and includes teaching weeks with resident faculty and visiting teachers, plus a Study Week in which students will be required to complete assignments. We strongly recommend that you stay on site for all Study Weeks.

The module content is as follows:

MODULE ONE: Creation, Language, Story and Meaning
1. EROS AND RIGOUR: Re-Visioning Phenomenology
As a form of philosophy, phenomenology holds to the disclosure of a flower or a thundercloud radiating more than just the human meaning imposed upon it. So we behold the flower, not just see it. We bear witness. And what is it to bear witness to other peoples lives as they are lived by them, to see through their eyes? This way of approaching the world will be arrows and flint in our knapsacks as we go tracking through the centuries and across forest throughout the year. Once grasped we will hone this approach. We will ask the question: does it serve academic language to often be so laboured, and lacking in image, that it forces us to slow our thinking, or could poetics in fact help us be more accurate, truer to things as they are?
Originations and beginnings. A storied landscape and the awakening of awe, skill and magical negotiation. From the Permian to the Cainozoic to the Bronze age.  A walk through deep time. There will be exploration of the erotics of the hunt, the emergence of the great seed cultures, the bear-god of the caves, the archaic feminine mysteries, the emerging of ritual practice. We begin our year of hunkering down by the Mehinaku fire. We start with stories of creation and the sense of the necessity that humans work to uphold the very fabric of their landscape, which still roils with the forces of that creation. We learn of the daring and risk that is also part of this earth-sustaining labour, especially for making beauty and for ritual a sophisticated physics between the human and non-human.
3. THE NIGHT CHANT: The Storyteller and the Shaman
Image and incantation. How orality was wealth in a time of finite retention. The role of mnemonic triggers in the landscape to both root and aid the telling. The arrival of the written, the spell of the alphabet, and the move from ear to eye. Myth and its relationship to healing, spells and community. We consider telling stories after only having heard not read them, and as courtship to a weather pattern, and wonder at the secret names of a salmon and how to grasp the psychic weight of language. We come to know what it is to be a Mehinaku yatama or shaman, and how myth to these people is deep knowledge of the land they live in. We see how for the Mehinaku words are substance, things: words hang in the air for decades; can enter the body to bless or bring sickness. The words of stories require care; can be bought or even stolen. In stories words can touch and bring close the beings they describe. Solo time on Dartmoor. This will be a profoundly experiential module.
MODULE TWO: Nature, Spirit and Right Living  
1.THE SHADOWY WAY: A Cosmology of Permeability
We continue our journey far from the West in our study of the cosmology and folktales of Tungus people of a hundred years ago, the very people from whom the word shaman derives. We will encounter an otherworld within this one, and a relationship to the wild that is both sophisticated and reverent. Here we will eschew the neat cosmology normally attributed to Tungus and other shamanic cultures - of upper, middle and lower world to explore the branching paths that form the web of Tungus reality, enmeshing visible and invisible, night and day, mundane and extraordinary.
2. STAR-BIRDS AND THE LAKE OF BUTTERFLIES: Desire, Ethics and the Road of Right-Living
Across linguistic and cultural frontiers what understanding and wisdom can be gained from other peoples myths? We will approach stories with radically different narratives to typical western forms. If, as has been said by Camille Pagillia, the west is addicted to climax, we witness profoundly different orientations here. From Mesoamerica to the Arctic we explore shapeshifting, appetite as educator, shamelessness, craftiness and developing the capacity to speak truth. From the Mehinaku we witness the tempering of extremes in a life of shimmering balance, of tension between integrity and risk. Also, the cultivation of a certain kind of consciousness, one of grace, awitsiri, which intertwines deeply and lightly with ones surroundings.
Witnessing the underpinning of western mythology, the characterisations of the gods; their inconstancies, vengeful tendencies, generosities, and how they move through human lives and the wider earth. Stories of complexity, triumph and a changing relationship to the earth. Particular attention will be paid to the relationship between soil, seed and deity; how certain deities match the fertility or scarcity of a landscape. We also learn of the non Western panoply of the Mehinaku spirits or gods, the apapanye, of a landscape that breathes and thunders with the presence of these deities both immense and minute, shifting in form from human to butterfly to jaguar. How does the fact that such beings have a tangible reality to the Mehinaku affect their ordinary reality and the daily decisions that they make?
MODULE THREE: Metaphysics, Love and Soul
1. A LOVE THAT MOVES THE STARS: The Arthurian Romances, Islamic Poetry and Gender in Amazonia
The metaphysical eruption of the Twelfth and Thirteenth centuries: The Cathars, the Provencal schools of Courtly Love, the Minnisingers of Germany. We learn of the emphasis of amor, courtesy, gallantry and the great quest, the figure of The Loathly Lady as conscience of the land, the Alba (dawn) poems, how Persian poets shaped the aesthetic feel of the Arthurian romances. In the forest village of the Mehinaku, women are the true humans, and so a major element in their stories is of women as lovers to the wild beings that make up the earth. Men - as fundamentally different to women - have to work much harder to be human, but in doing so a necessary thing takes place: in usurping this primary relationship between women and the wild, a kind of courtship occurs that brings the wild into the village, which is thus is able to thrive. What are these substantial differences between women and men for the Mehinaku? And what can be learnt from such a truly tender and passionate relationship to Wildness?
 2. THE PLACE WHERE THE BLUE FLOWER GROWS: Metaphysics in the Forest and in the Fulcrum
You cant keep the Olympians down. Here we witness the revival of the pagan imagination that began in Italy in the fifteenth century and persisted for roughly two hundred years. Whilst ostensibly Christian, a longing, or what Joscelyn Godwin names as a dreaming emerges to bring back into the imagination the vitality of Arcadia, and the old, wild gods. What was preserved in this revival? what does it mean to believe in a god? (there is great change in this between ancient Greece and Renaissance Europe), what does this high tradition have in common with the low tradition in the revival of folk magic that emerged in Britain at the same time? How did the renaissance keep alive certain hermetic traditions that go back to Egypt, and some speculate, Mongolia? We also track an intense development in Sufi traditions around the same period, percolated in the later writings of Henri Corbin. We will also be studying the work of the medieval alchemists, especially the Rosarium Philosophorum, and the ten stages of the Coniunctionis. The influence of both Christianity and the Kabbalah, and beliefs concerning the soul will be addressed. In the forest we encounter a Mehinaku metaphysics, where souls are made from desire, a spectrum of gentle and tempered, to rampant and world-destroying. We will see how the flows of desire flow within certain boundaries, and how these borders and shapes make up the various worlds that exist for the Mehinaku: the human, of the forest, of the dreaming and of the dead.
MODULE FOUR: The Mythic Ground We Stand Upon
1. THE SHOE MAKERS DAUGHTER : Approaching The Fairy Tale
Here we amplify the continuing importance of the folk, fairy of wonder tale. As a kind of song-line back to the narratives and magical reasonings of earlier modules. Could it be that there imagined lack of literary prestige has actually preserved their vitality in some way? We meet spirits, witches, hidden treasure, crossroads, animals that speak, the one that bends their head to the dwarf: the need for charity and humility. We will also continue our practice of the students telling the stories themselves to small audiences and the natural world. We will also look at the work of W.B. Yeats and Augusta Gregory in their preservation of the Irish fairy tradition. We hear all kinds of Mehinaku story from ancient myth to tales of the everyday. We also come to understand their story-telling relationship to all experience, including joy, trauma, omen and the handling of grief.
2. SCATTERLINGS TO WONDERLINGS: The Mythic Ground You Stand Upon 
This module is both a demonstration of a robust comprehension of the many modes of story explored, the students growing ease with actually telling a tale, and the associative skills required to relate many of the motifs and ideas into the telling of family or ancestral narrative. Roughly ten minutes in length, this involves an approved supervision with the course tutors, an oral telling and a written reflection on the process to be handed in one week later. This seemingly simply exercise without fail proves to be a high point in the arch of the years study. This will also be a period to look at how the explorations throughout the year can be integrated into daily life.

Myth and Ecology Dissertation: Research and dissertation, 60 credits – Term 3

In their dissertation, students have the chance to apply their knowledge of myth and ecology and its methodologies to an individual research question.

As a new type of postgraduate degree which blends together deep experiential learning with rigorous academic study, we are expecting holistic investigations for the dissertation which may result in different outcomes to traditional styles of research and reporting. The dissertation can involve the use of alternative creative formats such as personal narrative, artwork and experiential material alongside those normally used in academic writing in order to integrate intuitive insights and feelings that arise during the course of the work. Students are encouraged to blend the analytic-synthetic and the narrative-experiential as extensions and complements of each other in a coherent, holistic manner.

MA part-time

The MA may also be taken on a part-time basis over two years.

In the first year the student would complete the taught modules over Terms 1 and 2. In Year 2, the student will complete their dissertation during Term 3 of that year.

PG Dip

Students studying the PG Diploma programme will take all four taught modules in Term 1 and 2.

Masters and PG Diploma students will live and study together, so there is no separation between the programmes. There is no part-time option for the PG Diploma.

Full details of the course and how to apply can be found on the course details page here ›