Background to dissertation - research driven by personal experience

In The Wounded Researcher: Research with Soul in Mind, Robert Romanyshyn writes that the researcher is always implicated in his research, and that an important dialetic is often set up between the work and the researcher that drives the project onwards. According to Romanyshyn, “Re-search” is a vocation, one in which the topic often 'chooses' the researcher through a type of sympathetic resonance, or in Jungian terms, because of the nature of one's unconscious complexes.

Romanyshyn also emphasises the importance of an imaginal approach to the research process and the primary role of symbolic and poetic language in connecting with one's subject matter. Further on, he describes how this can often lead to an internal struggle as one attempts to turn intuitive insights into academic writing. All of which I can identify with quite strongly!

My dissertation began with an intuition that the Sun can't all be just about light. This gut feeling was based on several strange and synchronous personal experiences, which seemed to be reflected in my astrological chart. I developed a bad case of SAD during the winter of 2007, which led to a bout of depression and an inversion of my sleep-wake cycles. All this made me intensely aware of how much our bodies depend upon sunlight to function and for the first time, I felt that I understood, on a very visceral level, how our ancestors must have felt during the winter months and why they made such a big deal of celebrating the return of the light at the winter solstice.

Secondly, I began to experience cardiovascular problems - my blood pressure shot up and I was forced to begin a course of Beta Blockers - all of which I thought was a bit serious and dramatic for someone in their thirties. Of course, a part of me was fassinated by the fact that the heart is of course, ruled by the sun astrologically, so I couldn't help wondering if there was a connection.

For me, the symbolism of astrology is a poetic language that I feel very comfortable with, and so it was natural to consult my chart, particularly solar symbolism, during this period. Several important progressions and transits were happening in my horoscope, which incidentally, is ruled by the Sun. My progressed Sun had moved to a conjunction with my natal IC in Scorpio, the darkest part of the chart (symbolically representing midnight) if one assumes that the angles represent the four main phases of the sun during the course of a day. According to one astrologicaly glossary,the IC or Immum Coeli is:

The lowest point in the sky that a planet can travel relative to the horizon. If you are born at midnight, the Sun would be found around the IC of the chart. "IC" stands for the Latin Imum Coeli which means "bottom of the heavens."

Astrologically-speaking, then, my light and vitality was metaphorically journeying through the underworld, which matched the physical and emotional experiences I was having and seemed to explain why I was so drawn to dark solar symbolism at this point in time. On top of that, transiting Pluto, the ruler of my IC was in a square to its natal position, as was natal Saturn...Both planets have been mytholically connection with the Underworld, Pluto being the Roman god of Hades, and, prior to that, the planet Saturn being associated with death and old age, as well as the march of time. Musing on the symbolism of that led to my research into the Sun's connection with the underworld in Greek, Mesopotamian and Egyptian mythology and cosmology. Here, the work of Peter Kingsley was an important catalyst, as was an essay written by Maggie Hyde.

It therefore became clear to me that death and the realm of the dead was a theme that was constellating for me. Given that the focus of my course was divination, I began to see my experience as a form of initiation, similar to Jung's 'creative illness' which he describes as a descent into Hades. Interestingly, his journals from this period, compiled in the infamous Red Book, were recently published, the first run becoming available shortly after I handed in my dissertation.

A lecturer, who is also a specialist in the writings of Marsilio Ficino, also pointed me to his writings concerning the effects of black bile, supposedly related to Saturn, ruler of religious contemplation and serious studies, as well as the planet responsible for inducing melancholy and a thickening of the blood, especially in scholars. And this, together with an introduction to Egyptian alchemy by Alison Roberts, forced me to consider the relationship between Saturn and the Sun, especially the nigredo phase and the dark solar images surrounding the image of sol niger or the black sun, written about extensively by Jung, as well as the Jungian analyst, Stanton Marlon.

But behind all of this, I was also very inspired by the work of Henry Corbin, the French Islamic scholar whose writings on the midnight sun within the context of the Persian Platonic and Hermetic tradition, really helped me to begin to consolidate my thinking and begin to put all the pieces together. His conception of the imaginal world, not as a place of fantasy and escape, but as a very real place filled with spirit and light-beings, was also key, as was his notion of orientation and geosophy. Tom Cheetham, a scholar of Corbin's work, was also very usual, especially his conception of black light. However, ultimately I did find myelf differing with the 'heroic' emphasis on transcendence no doubt informed by the Islamic-Christian background of Corbin, and the dualistic interpretation of darkness and materialism, which is ultimately portrayed in negative terms.

In relation to Neoplatonism and the solar symbolism, I was also very inspired by the work of Gregory Shaw, whose interpretation of the writings of Iamblichus is truly inspirational.

Now that the dissertation has been submitted, it will be interesting to see what happens to me health-wise. Psychologically, I do feel as though I have turned a corner - for the first tme in almost 5 years, I found myself able to cope with winter and not end up sleepless, disconnected and filled with panic, terrified on some level that I was going to die. Attending my graduation ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral felt like I was officially acknowledging this process on some deeper level, as though my struggle with Saturn and Pluto was also bound up with the certificate I carried away with me after everything was over.

Of course, creative soul-gratifying work like this is never completely finished and I continue to refine and build on my ideas in the hope that they will lead me to greater insights and perhaps, by sharing them with others, I may inspire them too.

For those interested, some of the ideas to emerge from my research can be viewed in introduction to my work which can be viewed at: http://www.scribd.com/Dissertation-Introduction/d/21113607. Hopefully at some stage, I will be able to pool all my ideas and research into a book. But for now, it is back to the world of commerce and the grind of chores.

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