The Navaho Indians, Tibetan monks, Chichimecca Indians of Mexico and the Dogon people of Mali are just a few cultures that divine wisdom from the making of temporary art in the sand and earth. The ancient "fox divination ceremony" of the Dogon people of Western Africa begins with the creation of a sand painting by the tribe's shaman. He then chants to invoke the sacred fox to come to the sand painting and leave messages for the future in his foot prints:
"Fox, tell me please is there something?
Will there be shame next year?
Fox, speak clearly.
Let the people coming to the field stand eye to eye.
Throw your traces.
Give me your nails to mark the sand.
Whatever you see, tell me
Give me your footprints."
Photo credit: Chris Rainier
The beauty of this chant acknowledges the ancient and universal human instinct to search for meaning in the natural world. And, the fact that cultures without exposure to one another often assign the same stories, themes and symbolic meaning to the objects in their worlds, is what inspired Carl Jung's theory of the universal unconscious. Jung believed that some aspect of our psyche is shared by all of humanity and that our "collective unconscious" is a source of connection and shared understanding. It is also the reason why strangers from around the world engage in similar rituals and tell similar stories. In the 1950's a Jungian psychologist named Dora Kalff was inspired by the fact that art-making in sand is universally instinctive and developed the therapeutic modality of sandplay as a way to provide children and people of all ages with a "symbolic language" in which to process difficult memories, express emotions, access the creative and healing power of the unconscious. I am a certified practitioner of Sandplay Therapy and I use it with children and families inside and outside the school setting. To learn more about it, click here.
For more information on the ancient culture of the Dogon people, read Unique Dogon Culture Survives in West Africa by Chris Rainier for National Geographic News May 29, 2003 click here.