Birth Imagery in Sandplay
by Jeane Rhodes Awareness of possible prenatal and birth (natalistic) imagery in sandplay can be very expansive. As we sit with a client and hold their reality as brought forth in the tray, our work is deepened by the inclusion of this dimension. With so many other aspects to hold in awareness, this may seem an additional burden. However, keep in mind that natalistic symbols may be the basis for many of the mythological symbols with which you are already familiar. This simply adds another perspective from which to view these symbols. For example, the tree as a symbol of life is common to most cultures. When one views inter-uterine photographs of the placenta and cord, it very clearly resembles a tree with its many branches and trunk (cord). This, very literally, was our source of life in the womb, our life sustaining connection with the nurturing mother.
The sand itself has been connected with the uterine lining and water with our original home in the amniotic sea, adding to the importance of including this perspective in our work as sandplay therapists. The very materials of sandplay evoke natalistic connections at a deep, unconscious level. It is my feeling that much unconscious material consists of pre-verbal experiences, chief among these our prenatal and birth experiences. Research in the field of pre- and perinatal psychology has produced volumes of material connecting these early experiences with unconscious decisions and "life scripts." Our language contains many references to this experience.
"I'm stuck, I just can't seem to get moving,"
"I feel as if I'm banging my head against the wall,"
"The light at the end of the tunnel."
Natalistic symbols in dreams, myth, and fairy tales have been widely investigated. The following brief list has been assembled from the works of Otto Rank, Nandor Fodor, R. D. Laing, Terrence Dowling, Elizabeth Noble, and Michael Irving. Womb symbols include: basket, box, cave, circle, sanctuary, vessels, luggage, vehicles, hollow trees, an edible house, ravines, hallows, oven, bathtub, bed, grave, and tomb. Umbilical symbols include: Caduceus, rope, snake, ties, dragon. Placental symbols, in addition to the tree: cross and vines. The amniotic fluid, as previously mentioned, most often is represented by water and flooding. The amniotic sac (caul) is often represented by drapery, veils, crown, and hat. The birth canal may be represented by concentric circles, crown (particularly of thorns), door, labyrinths, passageways, sun, symmetrical arcs and tunnels. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but should be sufficient to begin the process of including natalistic imagery in your evaluation of work in the sandtray. As with any symbols, the context will be important, and each situation will bring its own interpretive challenges.
Reclaiming this portion of our life story is a deeply spiritual pursuit that can have profound consequences for our embodied life. Birth is a major life transition and may set the pattern for all subsequent transitions. One might expect to see natalistic symbols at times when a client is making other major life transitions. These symbols may have a literal connection to the client's own prenatal and birth experience, as well as being a metaphorical statement about the current "rebirth" taking place.
"Sandplay" is a therapy tool developed by Dora Kalff. The following description is quoted from her book Sandplay.
"Sandplay" is the method I use in therapy both with children and with adults in order to gain access to the contents of the unconscious. As the name suggests, it consists in playing in a specially proportioned sandbox (approximately 19.5 x 28.5 x 2.75 inches; floor and sides painted with water-resistant bright-blue paint). Boxes of dry and moist sand are provided. Clients also have at their disposal a number of small figures with which they give formal realization to their internal worlds. The figures from which they can choose should represent as complete as possible a cross-section of all inanimate and animate beings which we encounter in the external world as well as in the inner imaginative world: trees, plants, stones, marbles, mosaics, wild and domesticated animals, ordinary women and men pursuing various activities, soldiers, fairytale figures, religious figures from diverse cultural spheres, houses, fountains, bridges, ships, vehicles, etc.
Copyright: Dora Kalff
CH-Zollikon, July 1988
The following brief article was written following a sandplay conference at Asilomar.
Opening with Kay Bradway
Since I was late getting to the conference, Kay Bradway's talk on Friday morning was my welcoming session. She spoke eloquently of therapy and how often life proves to be a great therapist. This statement was backed up by the inspiring example of a postman in France who has left a legacy of a most improbable castle, built from his internal vision and random materials collected on his rounds as a postman. Kay's slides show us a magnificent structure, built over a lifetime of bringing an internal vision into the physical plane. The postman had no building experience and proceeded entirely by working from day to day with his "found" materials and his vision. The structure is not designed for inhabitants. It stands as a beautiful monument to the creativity and work of one obscure individual who had the will to build his vision for others to share. His world provided the sandbox of a vacant lot and his figures were items found on his rounds as a postman. His creation is magnificent and Kay's beautiful slides brought it to Asilomar for our enjoyment and appreciation.
Closing with Kaspar Keppenhauer
Seeing and talking with Kaspar Keppenhauer brought memories of our nature play in Switzerland in 1995, but this had not prepared me for his inspiring closing presentation at Asilomar. Kaspar introduced us first to his home and office with beautiful slides and his gentle humor. In introducing his garden, he stated that this is a good indication of a safe vessel "When plants grow, it is a safe place for humans." In addition to sandplay, he uses other creative methods in his work. For example, he introduced slides of tissue paper collage. These are created by tearing pieces of colored tissue and gluing them onto large white sheets of paper. When illuminated from behind, the collages become beautiful stained glass. He also provides materials for paper mache and the creations produced from this are often glazed and used as sandplay figures. One tray in his presentation included a figure he had created from clay that was a replica of ancient ruins. His creativity shows in his living space and the special work he has created. One aspect of that special work is Nature Play. This involves walking in natural surroundings, collecting small items that appeal to you, finding a special place that appeals to you, and creating a "scene" in that special place using the found items. So, Kasper's "trays" are not limited to the sandplay office. He sees "trays" as a place to give birth to the Self, creating that sacred moment when psyche manifests as soma.
by Jeane Rhodes