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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Neptunian Playground

Disneyland has been called heart-shaped (Marling, 1997).  I envision it more of a womb.  Disneyland’s shape is like an inverted triangle, the symbol used to represent the feminine in many different symbol systems.  In China, the triangle is a water symbol, pointing the direction of the falling rain, and is a symbol of the feminine.  In Hinduism, the triangle is the life-giving form of Durga, an aspect of the goddess Parvati—Shiva’s partner.  For the Hindus, the yoni, which is the Sanskrit for womb, is symbolized by the downward-facing triangle and was associated with the vulva and the pubic triangle (Biederman, 1994, p. 394). For the Pythagoreans, the triangle itself means cosmic birth (p. 353--354.). The symbol delta [∆], which looks like a triangle is the fourth letter in the Greek alphabet and is shorthand for change in modern mathematics. Donaldson (1993) in discussing the womb in relation to original play notes:

We all begin life in the same way, playing in the dark, as a sphere nestled within another sphere.  The womb is our first playground, mother is our first playmate and play is the energy source offering us live, support, trust, energy and possibility. For the next nine months, we snuggle within our mother’s body. We share her body, food, blood and feelings.  More “in touch” than we will ever be, we feel the sense of oneness inherent in original play. The womb is a matrix of being that bridges the gap between individuals.  The result is a powerful, instantaneous, synergistic and harmonious rhythm . . . . The womb is our earliest matrix of life.  Besides nourishment it provides other truly basic life skills: trust, balance, kindness, touch, blending and love. This is life’s play.  In play workshops adults often tell me that playing was a profound experience that has brought them to tears, but they cannot say why.  I believe in such cases we have a fleeting recognition. What we sense is original play, that sense of oneness, before we were conscious. (pp. 25-26)

Disneyland, too, is an amazing playground that is designed to evoke precisely the same feelings that Donaldson describes.  Disneyland is also a very touchy place, and lavish attention is paid to texture and feel.  Harmony abounds.  [In the "Art of the Show" excursion, located in Fantasyland you can how Disney creates this harmonious feeling—what has been called “the architecture of reassurance.”]  Let us look more generally at how the womb and Disneyland might be similar and see if this description of womb applies to Disneyland.

The womb is a very structured place, where activity is highly regulated.  There is one way in and one way out, and the womb is specifically designed not to let the outside influences impinge.  As we will see in our discussion of Main Street USA, there is only one way in and one way out of Disneyland.  The park was specifically designed this way, to prevent guests from the disorientation they might feel if there were multiple entrances and exits.  Disruptive elements are kept out through security screening at Disneyland’s entrance, and visual disruptions are kept to a minimum—including height restrictions of neighboring properties, so that they do not impinge on the view inside the park.  Control is a major part of Disney’s magic. ∆RC[dl4] [The "Art of the Show" excursion located in Fantasyland and says more about the role of control.]

Disneyland is a bounded space, separated from the outside world by the berm, just as paradise is separate from the outside world and, as paradise's original meaning of a “walled garden” suggests. [An excursion into Disneyland’s associations with paradise, nostalgia and utopia can be taken in Tomorrowland on the "Looking-Back, Looking-Forward" excursion.] Marin (1984) notes that the berm and the railroad are circular, linear, continuous boundaries that enclose Disneyland.  The Disneyland Railroad, one of the initial inspirational features of the park, encircles Disneyland, eternally returning to the same stations. Marin notes that “one neither enters nor leaves Disneyland by means of it” (p. 244).

Joseph Chilton Pearce (1980) notes that “the womb offers three things to a newly forming life: a source of possibility, a source of energy to explore that possibility and a safe place within which that exploration can take place” (p. 18).  Disneyland, as we will see on the course of our journey, offers exactly this.

When the womb is functioning as intended, and the mother is in a safe, peaceful environment, and wants the baby; the womb is experienced as a safe, harmonious, paradisial place, where all the growing fetus’s needs are met.  In Grof’s cartography, this would be BPM I, the womb before the onset of birth, associated with the planetary archetype Neptune.  Disneyland meets all of these descriptors and Walt specifically designed the park with the needs of his guests in mind, often changing things to reflect this responsiveness.  Walt met the guests where they were, and did not speak down to them, or go over their heads: 

Disney had the uncanny ability of providing people with the kinds of things which set them at ease.  “Walt never wanted to change anybody,” says John Hench.  “he always figured that people were great just the way they were.  We were always attempting things that would force people to move around somewhere or other, and he would say, “look, if they walk through there, you pay them for it somehow.”  He never developed the kind of contempt you sometimes find in people in the advertising and publicity business.  The concept of giving people what they want is often held up to ridicule, but the truth of the matter is that we rarely get an opportunity to see this kind of philosophy in action.  More often we are confronted with the notion of giving the people what someone thinks they want.  Disney never consciously played down to the public, treating it instead, as deserving of lavish attention (Finch, 1983, p. 421-422) ∆RC[dl5]

Schickel called Disneyland an “atmospheric park” (King 1981a, p. 119).  Not only is Disneyland a Neptunian place, because it is all about the imagination, but Disneyland has a rather watery nature physically, too.  There are a large number of man-made lakes and waterways in the park, which aside from providing a park-like atmosphere, have a cooling effect, which is important during the warmer summer months.  Many of the rides also use water as a medium of transport or have water involved in part of the ride: the "Matterhorn Bobsleds," "It’s A Small World," "Splash Mountain," "Pirates Of The Caribbean," "Storybookland," and the "Jungle Cruise," as well as the now defunct "Submarine Voyage" and motor boats all include water.  And there is watery transport available on the Rivers of America; the "Indian Paddle Canoes," "Mike Fink’s Keel Boat," and the giant paddle wheeler "Columbia."  The landscaping and plantings also help provide a park atmosphere as well as separating the crowds into smaller groups (King, 1981a).  While we are on the subject of atmosphere and harmony, let us go to one of the most harmonious of all of Disneyland’s creations, Main Street USA, as we begin our grand tour of Disneyland to get the lay of the different lands. 

A few pre-tour announcements are in order, beyond the familiar "Keep your arms and hands inside the vehicle." and "Hold on to your hats and other belongings."  As previously mentioned, as we pass through the different themed lands, keep the different archetypes in mind, because this is not only an atmospheric park, but an archetypal park as well.  Icons will help you more easily identify which archetypes are at play and what archetypal themes the excursions will be flavored by.  A warning is in order here though.  According to Jung, the gods never come alone—they are always intermingled and intertwined with each other and it is “a well-nigh impossible undertaking to tear a single archetype out of the living tissue of the psyche” (Downing, 1991, p. xix) and John Muir (2004), as we heard back in the method section wrote: “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”  The same is true at Disneyland, so in some excursions, different archetypes tend to sneak in and make guest appearances.  The excursions have been located by their major planetary archetypal theme, and are not as disciplined as Disney employees who are never seen walking through a land in the wrong themed costume.


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