The Healing Art of Nursery RhymesPosted by Suzanne, on December 29th, 2009
Suzanne Down is researching the healing power of Nursery Rhymes and Puppetry. Here is an introductory peek into this vast and wonderful world. The hope is that this research will grow and eventually be made available in book form. Workshop offerings on the therapeutic art of Nursery rhymes will be available this year.
As the soul descends from spiritual worlds to be born on earth, there is a sacrifice of the cosmic rhythms of planets and stars to enter earthly chaos. The newborn arrives with no rhythm, the first breathing is chaotic. The baby needs this inner rhythm restored from the outside life by the parents, especially the mother. The mother begins to establish a daily earth rhythm of feeding, sleeping, rocking, and soft lullabies.
All through the early years, parents and first teachers work to bring this spiritual support on earth – Rhythm. A rhythmic life from this new beginning helps build the forces of inner strength which later form the moral forces for the soul’s future. This is essential today in a world which lacks rhythm and lacks morality. The prime gift of the nursery rhyme is in this power of rhythm. Rudolf Steiner states that “rhythmic processes are nothing physical whether in nature or in Man. They might be called semi-spiritual. The physical as a ‘tang’ disappears in the rhythmic process, rhythm replaces strength”. We can see the incredible spiritual support to the young child when we work with rhythm.
The meaning of the words in the nursery rhymes takes a back seat to the possibilities of rhythm and repetition to help establish a clear healthy breathing, circulation, and immune system, throughout the body, right down to the toes! The nursery rhymes work right into the heart beat and circulation, not into head thinking. They mirror the cosmic rhythms for the young child finding their way on earth. As timeless world rhymes, their language has become lifted and alive rhythmically in the world ether. This means they have an added etheric quality to them.
We can say when we speak or sing them, we do so with a more etheric breath. This nourishes the physical and emotional breath bringing order and balance to the etheric/physical/emotional circulation. Nursery rhymes take the power of rhyme, repetition and rhythm which together heal inner chaos and make order within the cellular level. These qualities go right into the body, into the circulation and releases the child of chaos. Nancy Mellon, therapist and therapeutic storyteller, emphasizes that “70-75% of the power of the nursery rhyme is in the rhythm and repetition.
The picture and images provide the other 30%. The real work is the etheric rhythmic element helping the clear breathing and circulation go through the body. We don’t want to dwell on their meaning. It is the delicious rhythmic that strengthens and helps the physical and emotional circulation. All comes into order and balance”. We can think of speaking the nursery rhymes with a ‘lifted language’ parallel to singing in the mood of the fifth. In this way the speaking is truly the rhythm of the heart and pulse, not a beat which has more the hard physical quality of a hammering. This differentiation between bringing the nursery rhymes rhythmically instead of with a beat is key to it developing a healing potential.
If we begin to look at the rhythm ‘long – short’ as in Cobbler, cobbler mend my shoe, Have it done by half past two, or: Humpty dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty dumpty had a great fall as well as: Rock a bye baby In the tree top When the wind blows The cradle will rock. We see in this long/short a gentle incarnating rhythm. The long/short rhythm is not spoken in a syllabic way, but with a flow in the words. Imagine a mother rocking her baby or young child, and crooning ‘rock a bye baby’. She is creating an etheric rhythmic substance within and around the child, which is working deeply on the inner life of the child, bringing order with right rhythm.
One way a teacher can support the healing rhythmic work of the young child is to bring the nursery rhymes with puppetry. When we imbue our puppets with an etheric substance, making the nursery rhymes visible in this refined semi-physical way, we deepen the healing quality we offer the child. Here is an example of using puppetry with the nursery rhymes. I have developed a mother rod puppet which holds a puppet baby – the archetypal mother, a model imperative for the child. The puppet sings ‘rock a bye baby’, lovingly holding the baby and rocking the baby in a gentle lemniscate.
The lemniscate as a form is the doorway to the etheric realm, a potent choreography for puppetry. The observing child inwardly mirrors the rhythmic quality and movement/gestures of the puppet, all created with intention and consciousness to offer a healing experience. The child breathes rhythmically and deeply when watching, inner order is being established. This lullaby can be repeated three times (or more!) , then mother puppet puts the baby in her cradle for a nice sleep. Teachers can greet the day like this, or use it at rest time.
Parents can do this for a peaceful bedtime ritual. Children are desperate for these healthy rhythms. Nursery rhymes and puppetry are one of the joyful rhythmic and etheric supports available to us. The visual pictures of the puppetry holds the child in the imaginative space while the nursery rhyme rhythms do their deep and wise work.