Heavenly Discourses, edited by Nicholas Campion

Heavenly Discourses


Proceedings of the 2011 Heavenly Discourses: Myth, Astronomy and Culture conference, Bristol, UK

Editor: Nicholas Campion

Series: Studies in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology, Vol. 7

Publisher: Sophia Centre Press 2016

Price: £40.00 Paperback, 410 pp.

ISBN 978-1-907767-07-4




Life on Earth would not exist without the brilliant objects we see in it; we would not be here without the light and heat of the Sun, and the rhythmic, tidal, biologically-vital, influences of the Moon. From earliest recorded history and in all societies the stars and planets, indeed the entire sky, have been a source of meaning for human affairs. In many cultures the heavenly bodies speak to humanity and, often, humanity talks back. Sometimes the stars speak for themselves as divine entities. In much western art and literature they become metaphors, underpinning narratives – and discourses – which explore or dramatise the human condition, as in the epic narratives of modern, cinematic science fiction. And for millennia human beings have imagined a journey to the heavens. This dream finally became a reality on 12 April 1961 when Yuri Gagarin made his single, historic orbit of the Earth. This date inaugurated the period of human space travel, and has a claim to be one of the most significant moments of human history.

The Heavenly Discourses conference was a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Gagarin’s achievement, held at the University of Bristol and sponsored by the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. This volume brings together selected papers from that conference and provides a valuable resource in the emerging discipline of Cultural Astronomy.


Praise for Heavenly Discourses
More than half a century after Yuri Gagarin’s historic orbit of the Earth it’s easy to take the technological trappings of the Space Age for granted. But, in Heavenly Discourses, we’re reminded that humanity’s exploration of the universe beyond our home planet has always been a cultural as well as a technical endeavour.


This book marshals a sweeping survey of these cultural impacts, from science to poetry, via art, religion and popular culture, and sketching a history that includes Roman cults, Japanese folktales and English cathedrals as well as NASA’s Apollo programme and the contemporary search for extraterrestrial life.


As editor Nicholas Campion observes, space exploration is a psychological enterprise, and one which carries with it many of our greatest hopes and aspirations. By giving us an overview of our age-old obsession with the skies, Heavenly Discourses hints at a truly cosmic vision of what it means to be human.


Dr Marek Kukula
Public Astronomer
Royal Observatory Greenwich

Dr Nicholas Campion is senior lecturer in Archaeology, History and Anthropology at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, director of the Sophia Centre, and course director of the MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology. His books include What do Astrologers Believe? (Oxford: Granta, 2006), the two-volume A History of Western Astrology (London: Continuum, 2008-9), Astrology and Cosmology in the World’s Religions (New York: New York University Press, 2012) and Astrology and Popular Religion in the Modern West: Prophecy, Cosmology and the New Age Movement (Abingdon: Ashgate, 2012).

A Letter of Welcome:
Yuri Gagarin Russian State Scientific Research and
Experimental Cosmonaut Training Centre


Introduction: Discourse with the Heavens
Nicholas Campion


On the Exhibition
Darrelyn Gunzburg


Part One: Heavenly Discourses


Into the Blue: Transcendental Access and Celestial Ascent
E. C. Krupp


The Ancient Mithraeum as a Model Universe, Part 1
Roger Beck


Under a Star-Spangled Banner: Politics and Astral Religion in the Roman Empire
Shannon Grimes


Celestial Vaults in English Gothic Architecture
John Hendrix


They Were Like Them: The Stars in Mesoamerican Imagery
Stanisław Iwaniszewski


Three Russian Cosmists: Fedorov, Tsiolkovsky, Chizhevsky
George M. Young


Part Two: Discourses in Words


Man, Mystery, Myth and Metaphor: Poetry and The Heavens
Gillian Clarke


The Stars’ Earthly Mirror: Heavenly Inversions in the Oresteia of Aeschylus
Ben Pestell


Travelling the Cosmos: Celestial Journeys in the Japanese Stories of ‘Urashima Taro’ and ‘Night of the Milky Way Railroad’
Steven L. Renshaw


Space for Uncertainty: The Movement of Celestial Bodies in the Exeter Book Riddles
Jennifer Neville


Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy as Reference Point for Federici Zuccari’s Later Oeuvre (1575-1607)
Simone Westermann


Celestial Bodies in the Writings of Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499)
Valery Rees


The Heavens and King Lear
Nick Davis


Spiritual Symbolism in W. B. Yeats’s ‘The Phases of the Moon’
Faisal A. W. Hayder Al-Doori


Septentrion: Ursa Major in the Fin de Siècle
Leon Burnett


To the Stars and Back: The Influence of Manned Space Flight on Soviet Science Fiction
Natalia Karakulina


Interstellar Messaging: An Embodied Perspective
Carrie Paterson


Fictional Explorations of Astronomy: How to Reach the Parts Other Narratives Miss
Pippa Goldschmidt


Part Three: Discourses in Sound


Heavenly Discourses: Myth, Astronomy and Culture
June Boyce-Tillman


Astrosonic Edutainment: Or, Tales from a Dark Sky Park
Chris Dooks


Part Four: Discourses in Images


Seeing Earth: Transformational Representations of the Universe in the Stars
Jürgen Heinrichs


Astronomy and Cosmology in Byzantine Art: Bringing Byzantine Art into the Twenty-First Century
Valerie Shrimplin


Giorgio Vasari’s ‘Sala Degli Elementi’ in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence: The Symbolism of Saturn as Heavenly Air
Liana De Girolami Cheney


Holbein’s Horizons: The Cosmos of a German Artist in the Age of the Reformation
Jennifer A. Morris


Lost World: Images of Mars Before the Space Age
Clive Davenhall


Cosmic Stutters: Anselm Kiefer’s Search for Redemption in the Stars
John G. Hatch


Melancholy and Beauty in Danny Boyle’s Sunshine and
Julia Kristeva’s Black Sun
Ruth McPhee


Illustrated Sky: Contemporary Depictions of the Classical Constellations
Melanie Schlossberg


The Cosmos from Outside: Views of the World and Cognitive Cobwebs
Michael Hoepfel


Ethical Implications of Astrophotography and Stargazing
Dietmar Hager


Revealing a Universe of Colour
David Malin