This week is Halloween, but it’s also All Saints Day and the Day of the Dead. Traditionally this is a time to let all our ghouls and ghosts and skeletons out, celebrate them (and give them sweets) and lay them to rest.
I have a lot of ghouls, ghosts, skeletons and coffins in my sandplay collection, which often perplexes clients and students on my sandplay therapy training. The adults I work with often shudder when they look at these symbols of death; the children of course love them. Death in this ‘modern technology can do anything’ age remains the last taboo. If our smartphones can be brought back to life with a charger and upgraded when Santa comes, why can’t we? We are animals at heart, our breaths are finite and accepting that can be an enormous challenge.
It’s important when building up a collection of sandplay figures to have some that represent death for two main reasons. First of all, obviously we can represent our losses, our bereavements, in a very poignant and often visceral way by using a headstone and putting some flowers or a crystal on it. We can show our feelings in sand (or art) in a way that suits us and goes to whatever depth we want to go. There’s no need for a brave face, to be grateful for the time we had or to count our blessings in this kind of work. We can just go for it and express whatever sadness, anger or fear that loss has left us with.
But there’s another reason to have skulls on your shelf: a more symbolic one, which I think is a deeper meaning behind Halloween or the Day of the Dead. In every life, there are times of growth and times to say goodbye to old patterns and ways of being. Especially when we are in therapy, there are times to ‘shed a skin’ and to let go of adaptive and superegoic ways of walking this planet. As we begin to find our own voice, not that of our parents or the one we pretended to have in order to fit in, there are often feelings (and dreams) around dying or killing someone, sometimes accompanied by signs of new life, such as an egg or an acorn.
These life and death cycles can be very alarming to clients and students, but they are a sign of psychic health. To Carl Jung, and especially in the process of alchemy, a mortificatio is simply an end to one way of being and the start of another one. This is shown in sandplay by, you guessed it, things like corpses, skeletons and gravestones. Children can ‘kill’ or ‘be killed’ over and over in a sandtray as they move through that process of ending something and beginning a new one (adults take more persuasion to just go with this). Eventually, Batman will survive that car crash in the sand and find something else to do. It just takes time.
I teach these many potential meanings of symbols on my Introduction to Sandplay, Certificate in Integrative Sandplay and the Diploma. Sandplay figures can connect us to something very powerful, archetypal and eternal: a longing for connection, feelings, emotions and memories that transcend time. Human beings have always lived and died, seasons have always turned and we have always sought to mark that by painting figures on cave walls, making death masks and carving pumpkins. As society moves further away from allowing us time to process, swiping left past difficult emotions, the quiet space of sandplay and those ghoulish figures can help us to breathe, connect to the earth and mourn. Please God let no-one create an app for sandplay.
We are now taking bookings for our Introduction To Sandplay Weekend Course on 9 & 10th February 2019 – click here to find out more and book.