Other Articles by Chris Walsh

No Paradigm

This article displays something about Chris Walsh's attitude to psychotherapy.

Therapeutic Alliance

The Therapeutic Alliance with Those Having Both Substance Abuse & Major Mental Illness.

Mindfulness In Individual Cognitive Therapy

Taking advantage of the recent acceptance of mindfulness meditation by cognitive therapists, Chris presented this paper to the 28th National Conference for the Australian Association for Cognitive and Behavioural Therapy in April 2005.

Chris's Mindfulness Site

Carmen's Dream

A case study integrating contellation work with ongoing therapy.


Bert Hellinger

Constellations for Organisations

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The Wizard and the Alchemist
By Denis Ladbrook

Once upon a time, far away in the South Seas, there was a big island with only a few people living on it. People ventured from their home countries to live in this enticing place, and settled in villages. One village near the seaside was called Threp. People from many places lived there quite contentedly, but strange things happened to them. Children suddenly died. Some decided to venture back over the seas, set sail and were not heard of again. Others had dark secrets that they never spoke about. The children weren't told about these, but they sensed that something terrible had happened in the past, and were afraid. But they weren't allowed to ask about it. So they grew up not knowing, but fearing. Some families said, 'There's a curse on us. These bad things keep on happening.' Others said. 'We feel we're living under a spell. We don't know why, and we don't know what to do about it.

One day a Wizard visited Threp. He came with his wife, who was an Alchemist, and a young apprentice. The Wizard was a wise man from an old country, and he knew many things. He knew about family secrets, and how they worked. He had silver hair and a happy smile and was kind to people. His name was Bokaj, and he spoke wizard language. The Alchemist knew how to change things. She could change herself into a dragon. She could show other people how to change themselves too.

The Wizard and the Alchemist went to all parts of the world showing people how to understand themselves and get free of curses and spells so that they could live in peace.

When the people of Threp heard that the Wizard and the Alchemist were to visit their village, they went out to a beautiful grove in the middle of the forest and prepared a feast for them. Strange animals roamed the forest, but none entered the sacred grove, which seemed safe and protected. The Wizard and the Alchemist came and met the villagers. They liked each other. 'I wonder if they can really lift curses, and dis-spell bad feelings', one said to her friend. 'My heart grieves for my lost child every day', said the friend, 'yet I can't find peace. I hope they can help.'

The Wizard stood up to address the villagers. 'My friends,' he said, 'these curses come from way back, from your ancestors. We can show you how you can lift the curse, but you must be brave enough to explore the dungeon of dark secrets.

'The curse starts with an injustice in the family, long ago, and is hidden from the children, who start new generations. The curse stays on the family until someone is brave enough to go back and put the injustice right. Would anyone here like to learn how to do that for their family?

So, one by one, the villagers went up and began to tell of the dreadful and mysterious things that had happened in their families. The Wizard asked about their ancestors. They recounted what they knew. Many didn't know much. Their parents seemed to have left their family stories behind in their old countries, before they sailed to the South Seas. 'But they weren't left behind', said the Wizard, 'they were buried deep inside you, and that's where the curse lives now.

'Do you want to learn how to free yourself from the curse which has its deep roots in the generations that preceded you?' When the villagers said 'Yes', the Wizard took them by the hand and led them through a maze in the densest part of the forest. He also took other villagers with them, so that they could help the person unravel the mysteries of their age-old story.

Many were terrified, and cried out in pain. But the Wizard wouldn't let them rest. 'There's further to go', he would say. On the journey through the maze, the Wizard brought the person in imagination to meet the ancestors, who appeared in the form of other villagers. He taught them to speak frankly and kindly to the ancestors. Sometimes the ancestor told how it was for him or her.

Usually a great injustice had occurred, and someone had paid an enormous price. Some had been robbed of their heritage, and pushed out of the family, as though they didn't belong. Sometimes a person had been enslaved and forced to do the work of the more privileged ones. Sometimes a child had been sacrificed.

When they reached the eye of the maze, they found themselves in a quiet, cleared space. Soft, green grass and a deep pool of crystal water radiated calm. The sun slanted through into this magic spot of tranquillity. The persons' terrors subsided and peace filled their souls. The accompanying villagers also felt the peace. They relaxed and stood close to their friend. Together, they shared bonds of love and support.

The Wizard said, 'the curse came from the unheard soul-cries of the ancestors who had been robbed, enslaved, or murdered. Now that you have revisited these, spoken with them, thanked them for what they did for the family, left them gently with their Fates, asked them to look kindly on you in your life, and restored their rightful place in your hearts, the family is reunited, and you can live in peace. Those who are dead can also rest in peace. The curse need no longer have power over you. So go now, and live in peace.

One of the villagers was an oldish man called Sinéd, who lived by the seaside with a beautiful woman called Rethaeh. He said, 'I seem to be living under a spell. For many years, something has been draining my energy. It takes a lot of effort for me to just keep alive. Yet inside me, I still feel young and vital. The spell was on my father too. The learned men of the village call it 'setebaid'. They say this sort of spell lasts all your life, and it gets passed on to the children. When my father died, the spell left him and came on me, as though it was my inheritance. But I don't want it. Can you help me find a way through it?


The Wizard thought for a long time, and asked Sinéd some questions about his ancestors. Then he said 'come, bring some friends, and let us go into the maze in the thick forest.' So Sinéd went with him. There, in the darkness, he spoke with his dead father, who said 'I give you my blessing, my son. Go now, and live your life.

Sinéd's friends, who were the wise men of the village, talked with each other, then comforted their friend. 'You have your father's blessing, Sinéd, so you are free, but the years of the spell have left a mark, which remains with you. Yet you can befriend your setebaid. Make it a companion. Talk with it and play with it, as though it were your little brother. And be who you can be.

Bokaj then said, 'look for how the blessing and the setebaid can be together. You can live with it without it being a spell that binds you.

So Sinéd received both peace and an agenda. His alchemy would be of a different sort - a changed pattern of living that balanced blessing with the drain on energy. He decided to see the setebaid as a litle dog, that needed feeding and attention and exercise, and that would wag its tail and be friendly to him and to everyone he met. Rethaeh joined with him in adapting their life to live with blessing and setebaid, and they too came to peace.

So the villagers waved goodbye to the Wizard and the Alchemist and their apprentice, who went to the wilderness to restore their energy before returning to their home country. And the villagers of Threp had a new purposefulness. The bad things stopped happening. They made peace with ancestors and offered a place to those who had been pushed out. The curses fell away. The spells subsided. And they sought to learn more of the mysteries of families, and got together to tell the stories of how they had been helped through their meetings with the Wizard and the Alchemist.

Perhaps, one day, they will meet again.


About Denis Ladbrook

Denis tells me that early on the morning after the Perth workshop with Jakob Schneider (Sun. August 18), he woke up with 'the Wizard and the Alchemist' in his mind. He came downstairs and by 10.00am it in its completed form. He says "Years ago, I used to write the minutes of board and committee meetings. Now my right hemisphere translates the events of the day into a metaphoric language."

Denis has worked in the family field for 28 years. It started while he was researching his doctoral dissertation in sociology at the University of Wisconsin. When examining the relationship between marital status and mortality he found dreadfully elevated risk among divorced people, compared with married people. This held up for all the major causes of death, and was particularly marked in violence (suicide, homicide, and accidents), where the death rates were 7 times those of the married population for both women and men. So he began a journey into what was happening for divorced people, and became fascinated by the separation process.

In 1977, when he finished his thesis, he built a group work program for people going through separation. Then he says "The problems in my own marriage threw me into the zany turbulence of separation, which plunged me into an intricate odyssey through the underworld of my soul. I wish I had had Hellinger's concepts then - there's enormous scope in his work for people seeking a wider and deeper framework for experiencing their lives in transition. Perhaps I can, in a small way, start applying constellation method to the tangles of separation."He reluctantly gave up the group work in 1986 when I became Head of the School of Social Work at Curtin University.

He led the School through sundry academic and administrative revolutions over the next six years, then undertook to create a 3-year BA degree in Family Studies. It commenced in 1995, and has since been merged with the Bachelor of Social Work program.He has long emphasised the connections between family and community, and have co-led two Australian Government-funded community-building projects with my partner, Heather, who took the initiative in conceptualising and directing them. The first was in the Great Southern Region of Western Australia (1992 - 96) and the second in South Africa (2000 - 02).He retired from Curtin in mid-1997 and am currently co-completing the South African project and also working half-time on a research project on fathers' roles and involvements in families with children under two. He says "I find myself using some of Hellinger's concepts in this work, particularly with Dads in the minefield of separation."

Currently, Denis is Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Westerm Australia's Discipline of Social Work and Social Policy. Academically he holds BA,UED from Rhodes University (South Africa), Dip RE from the University of London, and MS, MSSW and Ph D degrees from the University of Wisconsin.