Dr Jenny Butler -Lecturer, Study of Religions
With Halloween approaching, we speak to an alumnus with a special interest in the traditions surrounding the holiday. Dr Jenny Butler is a lecturer in the Study of Religions Department, UCC with an interest in Paganism and folklore.
Jenny is an expert on Celtic festivals such as Samhain (which became Halloween) and is the founder of the Irish Network for The Study of Esotericism and Paganism.
Course/subjects studied in UCC
BA (Joint Honours) in Philosophy and Folklore and MPhil and then PhD in Folklore and Ethnology.
Best memory of UCC
One of my best memories of UCC was my BA graduation as I was the only one in my family to go to university, apart from my uncle Don who graduated from UCC but unfortunately died young.
How has your time at UCC helped you to get to where you are now?
My time at UCC has most definitely helped me to get where I am now. I studied Folklore and Ethnology at BA level and then did an MPhil which was upgraded to a PhD programme. For my doctoral research I conducted the first longitudinal ethnographic study of Irish Contemporary Paganism. I became a lecturer in that Department for over a decade before joining the Study of Religions Department. The Folklore Department, and the university, could see the value of such research and had the foresight to support my work – since then Pagan Studies has emerged as a subfield in itself. Similarly, the Study of Religions Department has fostered and encouraged my research and I was enabled to teach the first ever module within an Irish academic institution on Western Esotericism and New Religious Movements to undergraduate students – the field of Western Esotericism is growing and in 2015 I founded the Irish Network for the Study of Esotericism and Paganism (INSEP) which is a Regional Network (since July 2016) of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE).
What is your advice to current UCC students?
I would advise always following your passions and doing what you most want to do, regardless of what your parents/partner/children/friends think or advise you to do. Many people nowadays, largely due to the economic recession, aim to get a skill or degree that will directly result in employment and that is all fine and well as long as it is what they want to do in their heart. There are so many people who do degrees in things in which they have no real interest simply because it suits a trend in the employment market and they end up either with no work (and with a degree or skill-set they don’t really even want) or making money in a job they dislike. I believe that if people pursue their interests, it will never be a waste of time. I think life is long enough to keep learning about things you love and adding skills along the way, but far too short to spend on achieving goals that others expect. I would add that being at university is a great opportunity for self-development and to easily explore avenues that are not so easily accessible in later life.
Favourite UCC legend or superstition
I like the legend that the O’Rahilly Building is haunted by the ghost of an English Major who died there. I like even more that this was supposed to have made up in frustration at how confusing the building is. My office is in the ORB.
Were you involved in any Clubs or Societies?
In the academic year 2002-03, I was the Organiser and Auditor of UCC’s Folklore Society.
What person/people at UCC had the most positive influence on you?
Professor Emeritus Gearóid Ó Crualaoich, Head of the Department of Folklore had a big influence on me and my career path in that he actively encouraged me to continue my studies at postgraduate level and shares many of my interests in myth and the ‘supernatural’. Also, Dr Mark Rowlands, who taught Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Animals and the Environment modules, had a big impact on me as a very inspiring individual and excellent lecturer who had a wolf companion named Brenin with him in Cork. Dr Rowlands later wrote about this in his book, The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness.