Homo Ludens

Now, here’s a myth I heard somewhere long ago. The story came back into memory today when I found an article in the newspaper (print version) about the philtrum. The philtrum is the groove that runs from the base of the nose to the upper lip. This is the place where the three main sections of the human face come together in the womb during foetal development. I never knew this but it segues very elegantly into the myth.


The myth, as I remember it, goes like this. In the moments before a baby is born, an angel holds the infant and, with a soft finger, gently presses the spot between the nose and the mouth. “Hush, baby,” says the angel, “All that you have seen and heard in the time before you go into the world is sealed with my touch.”You won’t be able to remember or to speak of it until you return to the light.” The mark I leave on your dear face is the seal of silence. You will remember for a little while but you will soon forget.” The angel continues, “People will remark on the wise look in your eyes; an old soul.”

Some years ago, I was at a party and chatting to a friend who had a lot to say for himself. After a while I gently and playfully touched his face on the seal of the philtrum. He stopped talking. He looked at me, surprised, and his eyes became soft. I told him the myth I’ve just told you. We sat for a few minutes in silence.

Homo Ludens is a book by Johan Huizinga (1872-1945). Like Sapiens means ‘knowing’, Ludens means ‘playing’. Huizinga was a philosopher and historian of culture. The achievements in philosophy, poetry, and in the arts are profoundly nourished by the instinct of play. If you can get a copy of this book, I encourage you to read it.

Please stop me if I get too pompous.



Homo Ludens