Symbiosis 2002

Symbiosis: Institute for Comparative Studies in Science, Myth, Magic and Folklore





Emeritus Professor Godfrey Tanner Welcomes and Inaugurates Symbiosis, March 27th 2002.


Symbiosis: Institute for Comparative Studies in Science, Myth, Magic and Folklore is a collaborative venture of the Faculty of Education and Arts’ School of Liberal Arts and the Archives Rare Books and Special Collections Unit of the University of Newcastle. The University’s new re-structure has combined a number of disciplines and re-arranged others into schools that were previously individual and/or distinct units. We have sought to create an institute that seeks to identify and discover new opportunities for collaboration and interdisciplinary research among scholars.We wish to be a catalyst in permeating the University with a sense that the arts and sciences can blend as mutually important and necessary ingredients in the pursuit of a happy life.

The inspiration to form such an institute dedicated to the humanities and sciences was born out of the veritable ‘silence’ that was emanating from the Universities during the Tampa crisis around the Federal Election in November 2001, and its effect upon the minds of the Australian population. I wondered about the plethora of medical institutes dedicated to the study and cure of cancer in the body, but what of cancer of the soul? I felt that the country had been sliding into an intellectual abyss and it was time to bring people together across the University’s disciplines from academic, general staff and local community to discuss such stories and investigate their mythic foundations.

To get the ball rolling, we set up a night on 27th March 2002, upon the neutral ground of the Rare Books Reading Room, and called for a set of papers to start discussions. The papers on the evening covered a wide terrain e.g., Rosaleen Norton, artist and witch of Kings Cross, Aboriginal Bora rings and serpent symbols, opposed world views and philosophies, the shape of the universe, art of memory and origins of the tarot cards, Arabic stellar magic and astronomy, beauty in human experience and the mythic use of cannibalism motifs. The event attracted around 40 scholars campus wide and from all reports was enjoyed by all, sparking some conversations and discussions that continued well into the early morning.


27th March 2002
Inaugural Evening
Marguerite JohnsonMarguerite Johnson
Rosaleen Norton: The Witch of Kings Cross and the Australian Media.Rosaleen Norton, dubbed ‘The Witch of Kings Cross’ was an artist, writer, philosopher and practitioner of esoteric arts from the 1930s until her death in 1979. Her treatment by the Australian media was nothing short of outrageous as they sought to chronicle her life via distortion and sensationalism, revealing either deliberate misunderstanding or blatant ignorance. The media coverage of Rosaleen Norton is examined to unearth the prejudices inherent in Australia during her lifetime, the manipulation of the female as the witch and the deviant as opposed to the artist and intellectual, and the role Rosaleen herself played in these (essentially) tabloid dramas.Dr Marguerite Johnson ‘s main research interests are the literature of Greek and Roman antiquity, with particular attention to the representation of women. She is currently researching the literary portraits of women as witches in both classical and early modern European texts. She has recently begun study on Rosaleen Norton, the ‘Witch of Kings Cross.’
Katherine Sullivan
“Mythical Transformations Through Time: Creation and Destruction.”Katherine SullivanIn my paper I will be presenting aspects of my research project, in relation to mythology, its associated belief systems, rituals and symbolism, interconnected with creation and destruction, life and death. I will be discussing my sculptural art practice in relation to the chameleon role of the serpent and other universal symbols.Katherine Sullivan BAVA (Newcastle), Grad. Dip.ART (Newcastle), Candidate for MA Fine Art-Research (Newcastle).
Diane Donovan
A Rational Disposition: the internalised world of the medieval scholar and the pack of paper tokens.Diane DonovanIn the world of late medieval Christendom, when and where the western card-pack of numbers and pictures emerges, the perceptible world was still considered a rational and conscious construction. Order and meaning was assumed inherent in history, in the regularity of the heavens and in the nature of earthly phenomena. Pictures were assumed to embody words and perceptible reality itself was thought to ‘speak’ to humankind about the nature of God.In this short talk, we look at the card-pack as an aid to encyclopaedic memory. Its mathematical grid, emblems and imagery are briefly explained. The pack’s structure is shown to represent the world as it was apprehended in ordinary, everyday usage.Illustrations and examples are drawn from monastic and from secular works of the tenth to sixteenth centuries, their once well-understood reference shown in relation to the pack as a conceptual model.Particular emphasis will be laid on the role of moralised astronomy in the three encyclical subjects.Diane O’Donovan read Syriac and Near Eastern history and mythology under Professor Bowman in Melbourne before travelling to Japan, where she studied Japanese and Persian miniatures for two years. Upon her return to Australia, she studied Fine Arts (including semiotics), Near Eastern Studies (including Classical Hebrew), Industrial Archaeology and Ethics of Politics and Science (with emphasis on formal techniques of mass oratory and visual propaganda) at the University of Sydney. Her postgraduate research topic – ‘The Host of Heaven in pre-exilic Israel’ – led to a continuing interest in the religious and other popular uses for astronomy. She has worked at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney and in Administration at the University of Sydney. Happening on an image of the ‘Charles VI’ card ‘Le Fou’ in a bookshop in 1990, and recognising it as a mnemonic image for Orion, she began a ‘weekend’s” essay on the subject. Twelve years later, the area still offers new insights into medieval history and culture.
Gregg Heathcote
“…all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” : Truth and beauty coming out of the anaesthetic?‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” These famous lines by English Romantic poet John Keats typify the great tradition of thoughtful sense and expressive intuition, which has long stressed the integral relationship of the good, the beautiful, and the true. Yet despite excellent evidence of the merit of such a holistic view, the central role of the aesthetic in human experience has been marginalised in much of the modern world, to markedly anaesthetic effect. This paper conjectures what difference it might make to the conduct of modern life, at both deeply individual and broad institutional levels, if the evidence of beauty’s true value is now being sufficiently heeded, and this process of disconnection reversed.Gregg Heathcote is an honours graduate of the University of Newcastle, having submitted a research thesis examining the cultural geography of the cemeteries and crematoria of the Newcastle-Lake Macquarie district. He is now an employee of the University, working in the Auchmuty Library, formerly in its Archives section, and presently in its Bibliographical Services unit. Gregg is a Shin Buddhist, and sometime poet, with a longstanding interest in the religious dimensions and global relevance of aesthetic experience.


If you need more information or wish to contribute to future seminars please send an email to Gionni di Gravio or ring ext 15819 (or 02 49215819).

As a possible next seminar topic we are thinking of examining the Drive for the Creation of the Perfect Human. We are interested in hearing from scholars working in the fields of human cloning, genetics, artificial intelligence, literature relating to the Frankenstein myth, historical researches in the homunculi in alchemy, people concerned with the interface between human and machine, effects on how humans are being influenced by the machine age etc.

Symbiosis: Institute for Comparative Studies
in Science, Myth, Magic and Folklore

Our sincere hope is for the re-invigoration of all arts and sciences with imagination, creativity and a devout twist of the mysterious.

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