Jungian sandplay therapy and alchemical transformation

bookcover,new“A testament to the healing capacities of the imagination, the humble “star in man” that connects us to the unconscious: to unknown and unexpected developments in ourselves.” –Literary Aficionado

“Valuable above and beyond being a case study because it remarkably grounds what can be very illusive alchemical imagery into psychological experience.” –Margaret Johnson, editor, Psychological Perspectives

 

 

About War of the Ancient Dragon

Six-year-old Randy conducts bloody wars in the sandtray, calling them “World War One,” World War Two, and “The War of the Ancient Dragon.” He burns fires and bombs helpless victims, killing some and saving others. What could possibly be going on in his imagination?

The contents of his imagination—what the alchemists call the “realm of subtle bodies”—are revealed in his sandplay from one session to the next, and there we see the raw, autonomous dynamism that motivates Randy, already branded a bully and nearly expelled from first grade. We see fiery, destructive conflict, part his, part his culture’s, part lived, part projected, a conflict of archetypal opposites that engulf Randy’s personality and fuel his violent behavior.

But also from Randy’s imaginal world, out of the very war between opposites that drives him, the unknown third possibility unfolds.Allowed to exist and be seen with a paradoxical healing aim, the war fights itself out over time in the safe container of the sandtray, finds its unpredictable resolution, and gradually releases Randy from its grip. He finally emerges, calling himself “king of the bloodfire,” returned to the rule of his own emotional life. He has adapted to school, proud of his achievements, a star student in math.

Randy’s lively narratives animate his dramas and reveal the distinct hallmarks of an alchemical opus over the course of 24 therapy sessions. He remarkably echoes the words of the ancient sages such as Zosimos, who centuries ago in his own imagination witnessed the “torture” of transformation in fire.

Randy’s process is thoroughly documented and amplified, unveiling the alchemical stages of transformation—nigredo, albedo, and rubedo—in a way that helps us relate to those chapters in our own individuation struggles. Psychological Perspectives editor Margaret Johnson writes that the work is “valuable above and beyond being a case study because it remarkably grounds what can be very illusive alchemical imagery into psychological experience.”

War of the Ancient Dragon guides us through the gritty realities of the alchemical process, helping us realize how they can manifest in everyday life, dream images, and fantasy. Above all the book is a testament to the healing capacities of the imagination, the humble “star in man” that connects us to the unconscious: to unknown and unexpected developments in ourselves.

 

Left and Right United?

One of my favorite quotes from Jung’s Collected Works Vol. 16, from the essay “Psychology of the Transference” describes the longterm goal of achieving a working balance between the left and right, or between unconscious and conscious aspects of ourselves.  Once in a while we may achieve a balance that feels blissful, especially when it is new. But if we hold on too tightly to that bliss, we end up tipping one way or the other and disallowing meaning in any other experience, or in anyone else’s experience. Overall, the bliss of wholeness is “important only as an idea; the essential thing is the opus…” And the opus is an inner work, one that our world needs from each of us.

“Is there anything more fundamental than the realization, “This is what I am”? It reveals a unity which nevertheless is—or was—a diversity. No longer the earlier ego with its make-believes and artificial contrivances, but another, “objective” ego, which for this reason is better called the “self.” No longer a mere selection of suitable fictions, but a string of hard facts, which together make up the cross we all have to carry or the fate we ourselves are. These first indications of a future synthesis of personality, as I have shown in my earlier publications, appear in dreams or in “active imagination,” where they take the form of the mandala symbols which were also not unknown in alchemy. But the first signs of this symbolism are far from indicating that unity has been attained. Just as alchemy has a great many very different procedures, ranging from the sevenfold to the thousandfold distillation, or from the “work of one day” to “the errant quest” lasting for decades, so the tensions between the psychic pairs of opposites ease off only gradually; and, like the alchemical end-product, which always betrays its essential duality, the united personality will never quite lose the painful sense of innate discord. Complete redemption from the sufferings of this world is and must remain an illusion. Christ’s earthly life likewise ended, not in complacent bliss, but on the cross. (It is a remarkable fact that in their hedonistic aims materialism and a certain species of “joyful” Christianity join hands like brothers.) The goal is important only as an idea; the essential thing is the opus which leads to the goal: that is the goal of a lifetime. In its attainment “left and right” are united, and conscious and unconscious work in harmony.” (Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 16, para. 400.)