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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD Clinical Psychology, DPhil., MA (History)


Child’s Play: A Fundamental Key to Transformation

Paul Kiritsis - Friday, February 22, 2013

The third and final collection of images from the Splendor Solis series features four beautiful illustrations encapsulating the entire alchemical process: an image of the black sun (already discussed in a previous post); a scene depicting ten children engaged in free play; an outdoor scene featuring a group of women washing and putting out white blankets and bed sheets to dry; and an image of the golden sun warming a town and its surrounding countryside with its splendid, unencumbered rays of light.

In my eyes, the most puzzling and cryptic is the second which depicts children at play. A casual inspection of this picture will reveal an inner and outer state of fundamental harmony and exuberance. The first thing that becomes apparent here is the capaciousness of the room and the plentiful sunlight piercing through the windows. The prevailing feature within the room’s confines is an enormous tile stove. These features reminds us of the alchemical vessel in which the matter to be worked on is sealed before being subjected to the slow-burning and persistent hermetic fires. Seated magnanimously in front is a pleasant-looking woman decked in a black-collared red dress and a white head scarf. Incidentally black, white, and red are the tutelary colours of the alchemical phases–nigredo, albedo, and rubedo. Her maternal and benevolent nature is designated by her immediate preoccupations; she’s cradling a small infant who sits complacent on her lap and simultaneously tends to a very needy and nude toddler who’s tugging on her dress. A lustration bath or washbowl is on the floor beside them. To their right stands an open doorway; the wooden arch above it supports two stoppered flasks containing a yellow solution, emblematic of an intermediary alchemical phase called citrinitas or xanthosis. Beyond the opening is another female figure holding a minuscule lustration bath or waterbowl. She is illumined against the subtle shades of three-dimensional darkness.    

Alternatively to their left a solemn child clad in blue is in the process of assisting a smaller nude one to slide onto the wooden bench. In close proximity is another pair of children engaged in fantastical role-play; the younger of the two, a naked boy, rides a toy horse and holds a toy pinwheel whilst the other boy wears a blue outfit and vies for his attention by waving around another toy pinwheel. In the space directly between the two intermingling couples is a black bird, probably a crow or jackdaw, with its wings partially outstretched. This is a powerful symbol of the omnipresent prima materia. In the forefront of the image are five other children pretending to be charioteers and passengers; two older children, one robed in a blue garment and the other in a yellow one, are providing the physical support necessary for two naked others to lug about a nude toddler on an opulent red cushion that has imaginably converted into a chariot. The drivers seem self-absorbed; one is candidly petting the head of the other and admiring him. All primary colours–red, yellow, and blue–and the fourfold composition of matter conceived in Aristotelian terms–water, fire, air (indicated by the wings of the black bird), and earth–are present, indicating that transformation of being is imminent.

So to which stages of psychospiritual development is this plate alluding to? The best way to answer this question is to look at the entire plate from a contemporary psychological perspective. A depiction of children at play indicates that the pleromatic and the uroboric consciousness have been superseded. Both of these just mentioned stages precede the development of the ego-self; the pleromatic (before birth) is associated with the inertia of emptiness, apathy immobility, immutability, and eternal unconsciousness and the uroboric (inside the womb) with a partial differentiation from the ambient background of primordial powers. This sentiment corresponds well with the positions of the black bird, a symbol of the prima materia, and the mother figure, an emblem of primitive emotions, instinctual drives, and the will to survive. Their placement near the robust children is an apt reminder that previous phases of psychological development are always nested within and kept dormant in the memory bank of subsequent ones. At this point it might be worth mentioning that the authentic experience of innumerable persons has shown, time and time again, that one can regress back to these earlier stages when circumstances necessary for their proliferation (i.e. prolonged anxiety, phobia, and physical or sexual abuse) are rife. Hence their emblematic presence in a plate specifically orientated towards the aesthetic consciousness of a child is entirely warranted.

Now let’s turn our attention towards the overarching theme, the children. Scouring a room full of alchemical leitmotifs we realize that there seems to be three distinct subgroups or categories within the interacting family of children: the naked toddlers, the older children bejeweled in beautiful blue garments, and a sole child dressed in yellow. The first of these embody a state which transpersonal theorist Ken Wilber (1949- ) called body ego consciousness. This is closely connected to the concretization of cerebral hardware needed to survive in the sifting and sometimes very deceptive sands of the environment. Like full-grown adults toddlers can detect movement, perceive colours, shapes, and forms, discern objects in three-dimensional space, and calculate depth. They are also extremely receptive and extroverted at this stage, absorbing actions and behaviours from other selves and parent figures in their immediate vicinity in the way that the swirling sands of a desiccated desert will swallow whole the first drops of summer rain. Their head space fills with a multiplicity of fantasy images that are marginally differentiable from those that encompass an objective existence. Ones that aren’t invented are carbon copied from actions and expressions undertaken by significant others.

A toddler exposed to a clown face baring teeth will emulate that particular facial expression. Similarly, if the toddler witnesses a maternal or paternal figure striding about with a limp, he or she will probably replicate and perfect that to a tee. Irrespective of moral and ethical trajectory, everything perceived becomes part of their inner world. When vocalized enough times by parents or other children, abominable words or phrases can easily join the shortlist of their primitive vocabulary. In short, the foundational mind of a toddler is an empty slate unconditioned by the threads of religion and culture but their consciousness wishes to be filled with content that will enable the formation of cohesive bonds and relationships and hence guaranteed subsistence in the world. This statement is mirrored by the six toddlers of the plate who are stark naked. Dressing oneself or the act of being dressed is synonymous with communal values; by adhering to this coded logic, their nudity becomes an expression of the virginal, receptive, and unconditional state–the state of wishing oneself into existence. Toddlers are like little dark moons, waiting for the light of the sun to give their inherent manifold natures colour, shape, and texture.

The next group of children, the ones decked in blue, are slightly older in age and represent inauguration into a stage of development that Wilber called the membership-self. Just as the word itself suggests, the ego-self has now extended its borders beyond the skins of its own carnal body and has allowed for definition as a members of a group, usually its immediate family. Carrying on from the preceding phase, the ego-self maintains a plasticity and sensitivity that allows swift assimilation of cognitive and behavioural impressions coming from other family members. Save for the obvious purpose of imprinting, this heightened sensitivity to external influence aids in the synthesis of self-image and esteem. A child can only verbalize or express what he or she has learned from others. This is why influences demonstrated at this point should encompass love, patience, and compassion–sentiments able to equip the child with the intellectual skills and emotional understanding necessary to engage others in a wholly meaningful, purposeful, and interactive way.

Scampering about with their elaborate silk garments, these children have advanced their language, logical, and mathematical skills to a degree that enables them to express themselves more competently, concretely, and specifically, and always in egocentric terms. Spatiotemporal existence coagulates and the child’s newfound ability of measuring, compartmentalizing, organizing, and knowing what things, objects, and substances are by slapping labels or names onto them helps in the promotion and solidification of the personality. In this consequent stage, the child’s ego has fully disconnected from the maternal uroboros; it now sees itself as a dynamic, functional entity that can operate within a greater reality yet is distinctly different from other children that share similar physical and mental characteristics. The frequent use of the personal pronoun “I” or “me” vindicates this theoretical supposition. Though-forms of the membership-self are also heeded by a double consciousness perceived as fundamentally incongruous in the adult mind; children at this evolutionary stage can partake in left-brain thinking by computing times and days and following all rules and regulations of board games like Monopoly and concomitantly entertain a more image-based and comprehensive language of imagination through role reversal, mythical play, and the active creation of and participation in alternate realities without sensing the alleged paradox. A most significant feature of this stage is the blurring of the lines between fantasy and reality, and the harmonic equipoise between the masculine solar (active) and feminine lunar (passive) energies.

The third and final subgroup consists of a single individual, an older-looking boy: he wears yellow, the colour of illumination, rides a toy horse, and offers a helping hand to a naked toddler on a red cushion. Interestingly, the image of the horse and its rider has been used by many psychological schools to designate the indefinite marriage of personal consciousness, the inner realm, to consensual reality, the outer realm. Consciousness has again undergone a major evolution here and defines itself wholly in accordance to the manifold layers of illimitable darkness, the unconscious; things are perceived as being black or white, male or female, right or wrong, good or bad, sweet or sour, physical or non-physical. This permanent schism of opposing forces signals the swift ascension of patriarchal solar consciousness. Everything that the child does in this stage is goal-orientated towards the salvation and augmentation of self-esteem. Social accolades might be sought with much panache and personal crises, riddles, and major problems are shunned, sometimes to the detriment of other children and adults. For the most part the child’s personality has become deeper and more sophisticated now, espousing individual likes and dislikes, emotional bonds, a fierce sense of independence, and a healthy dose of self-control. The latter quality is sometimes symbolized by the horse and its rider; just as the rider is the master of his animal and can control it at will, so too is the intellect the exalted and sovereign entity of the mind that can pull the reigns in on the chaotic ocean of emotions and triumph over them.

Ken Wilber’s non-hierarchal map designates this particular cerebral precinct to mental ego consciousness. The mental ego is a huge fan of building giant castles with impregnable walls and motes to protect a developing stream of cognitions, acuities, and behavioural patterns that gravitate about a central pillar of psychic images and ensuring that they don’t deviate from the path being hewn. From a transpersonal viewpoint, this mental position facilitates the emergence of a fairly rigid and unquestionable worldview, a defensively tapered state that removes the child’s now fossilized memories of the interconnectivity of all things and of creation as harmonic unity. At the behest of the mental ego, the developing child fulfils his or her social obligation by constructing a conscious edifice for perpetual habitation that is substandard because it remains forever blind to the objective reality of its own relativity, to distortions of its constricted perception.

To give a more tangible example a child that has entered this phase might say, “My name is Axel. My dad is a truck driver and my mother is a tailoress. My best friend’s name is Jack. I like chocolate milk and white chocolate raspberry ice-cream. I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t like playing sports. I think that there’s a cookie monster on my roof that comes out at night and makes funny noises. When I grow up, I want to become a pilot.” Evident here is the severe stringency as well as any short and long-term repercussions that might be generated by this traditional model of encountering reality. Unlike the preceding mode of consciousness where psychic terrain remained largely unfortified and open to all influences emanating from the competing forces of the Logos-cutter (the logical) and the Eros-glue (the mythical), the mental ego state puts up thick gargantuan walls that prevents the subtle dew of mythical thinking from seeping through. The initiation of a unified perception whereby the two are no longer reconcilable means that the masculine solar energies have emerged victorious at this transitional stage of psychological growth.

In light of the just mentioned symbols and the stages of psychological evolution associated with them, the second plate of the third series of illustrations comprising the Splendor Solis alludes to three intermediary states of consciousness known as the body ego, the membership-self, and the mental ego. Collectively, these states are a fundamental key to the transformation of human consciousness. Incidentally all of them are inexplicably linked with the notion of free play. When children play, they are proactively and uninhibitedly communing with other children and adults in a manner that encourages learning. They also behold every second spent playing with little regard for social convention and for memories and feelings of the past or those that might eventuate in the future. The most important thing for them is the here, the now. There’s a genuine wonder and awe felt towards all objects and beings in the cosmos irrespective of whether they’re natural and animate or artificial and inanimate. In most cases these are only marginally defined, allowing for levels of fantastical engagement that are much more polygonal, energetic, and qualitative than the habitual or obligatory ones entertained by most mature adults. This contracted state of attention sets the stage for efficient absorption and consolidation of information. Because play is void of the fettering stress of goal-orientated behaviours, learning often occurs at an accelerated and exponential rate. By entering this ‘free play’–an interactive field of creativity, exuberance, optimism, and very high vibrations–a child begins to garner an intimate understanding of its own thought processes, predispositions, and opinions; the thought processes, proclivities, and views of its interacting peers; the variant dynamics of self-dialogue versus the deeper mysteries of human relationships; and its own natural talents.

The enactment of fantastical myths and other narratives where anything is possible through role-play helps a child connect with the basic substrate of their own being, the innate psychic traits or dowry preeminent at birth. Children are visual creatures. They create images in their mind’s eye and put these images into action (sometimes to the detriment of others) without as much as pausing to doubt their feasibility. Nothing is ever impractical, farfetched, or too eccentric and illogical in their world. One minute they’re princes and princesses stuck in medieval towers, the next they’re transforming into dreadful witches and magicians in order to cast spells upon the rude lady next door, and a little while after that they’ve become white rabbits trying to jump out of Willy Wonka’s top hat!  This temporary freedom to act, to pretend, to be what one wishes to be and perform whatever actions and behaviours one wants on the spur of the moment not only empowers children by giving them the chance to apply theatrical suppositions to specific situations and learn from them, but it also hands them a level of control that is non-existent in the more rigid structure of their everyday lives. Being allowed to think and act for oneself fine tunes the conscious will so that it becomes creative, flexible, intensely alert, and fiercely independent. Instead of becoming a cheap counterfeit of an existing individual, the child will more than likely flower into a well-balanced, measured being driven by innovation and self-creation.         

So how might we perceive this plate in light of the above discourse? What amalgamating tenet could it be alluding to? Personally, I see it as a stark reminder that by returning to and recapturing aesthetic child consciousness, we can remember how to sustain a trajectory of audited fantasy images in the subconscious for prolonged periods. By keeping that clearly defined feeling-imagery within and feeding it with the blood of action, it eventually materializes as an objective truth or feature of outer reality–something able to be seen, grasped, and savoured in time. Sometimes we dream and then the dream comes true.  Have you ever heard of the axiom, “Be careful what you wish for, because you may just get it?”



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