The parallels between the Star woman, the Parsifal and Iron John story.
Why would this be important? Why start with the Parsifal story before Iron John? Because one predates the other, but more importantly, If we want to understand the vertical the “Axis Mundi, the world tree” we need to understand the Grail story. The other four directions are much more easily accessible. I hope by the end of this when we speak of the vertical axis we will nod sagely, roll our eyes, and say in the north………
In metaphor these two stories describe how we arrive at the beginning of the Iron John story. “Once upon a time there was a King who lived in a castle next to an enormous forest sometimes a hawk and an eagle flew over it.” The Hawk and an eagle in shamanic world indicate two similar aspects of pure sprit who watches over the forest, two Masculine energies that balance the feminine of Below, the enormous forest.
Our state of collective duality, The very beginning of the Iron John story describes for us our state of collective duality, the juxtaposition of Ego and Soul. So that is all fine but how did we get here? How we got to this point and perhaps its purpose is what I will try to explore here.
The quest to find who we are. By way of explanation while these stories seem to describe how a boy, or a man might go on such a quest and ending in the mystical marriage the marriage between Soul and Ego. This would seem to exclude women and girls unnecessarily and is false in my understanding.
The Ego quest of both men and women Here is how I see it now; both men and women have Ego and Soul. It is the Ego that needs to go on the quest for the Soul. This quest culminates in the mystical marriage, the union of Ego and Soul. To the extent that we describe Ego as He, we are referring to the energetic nature of Ego. Goal-directedness, penetrative, risk-taking, curious and hungry for experiences and adventures of all sorts. Women go on this journey as well and while the original narrative refers to males, boys, and young men, it is the Ego that they are attempting to describe, not the sexual orientation or plumbing of the protagonist.
Kingship The use of the word King here refers to a sovereign or regent and is an asexual term like teacher. I have thought to replace the word with other words but it makes clumsy reading, so please infer from the context what is meant.
In the Star woman story we find the young uninitiated boy living alone on top of a garage at somebody else’s house. This implies not his own family who are never mentioned in the story. Indeed, the only people mentioned in the beginning of the story are the young man and the landlord, in this case, a lady. Remembering that whoever is mentioned at the beginning of a story describes the psychodynamic that the story will deal with.
The beginning of the story describes the alienation of the young man from the community and family and the domain where he finds himself. He has bound himself to the status quo living alone. The story also identifies with the dreams and aspirations of the young man for love and connection across the contra sexual divide, in order to complete himself.
His dreams and aspirations draw the star woman to him across the divide of time and space and while the relationship begins well, it’s as though he has stumbled into the Grail Castle, Like Parsifal he didn’t ask the right questions. He wasn’t ready for the quest. He got a “Not now” The opportunity offered so early on in life is to open a window into our mission for this life.
In the Iron John story, we spend three days at the golden pond. The young man is unable to grow into the potential the relationship offers and the questions it raises at that time, so eventually, he loses the relationship due to his own inability to transform himself within that relationship. Perhaps that last sentence describes the state of modern marriage and our high divorce rate. it is too soon it’s a “Not Now or Not Yet”.
What is this Mission, this destiny we talk about?
Gifts, destiny, mission. The old idea is that every child that is born into this world brings gifts into the world. Solutions to today’s problems, gifts of individual genius and specialties in all endeavours of life. Therefore we welcome the birth of a child with such celebration; even a subconscious level we understand this. The old idea was that we all carried medicine for each other.
Victor Frankl expressed it thus: Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is specific opportunity to implement it.
The ending of the Star Woman story is most poignant. The feminine leaves the untenable relationship, invokes the power of the triple blood mysteries of the feminine, and causes a giant tree to grow whose top touches somewhere where humans cannot go. Echoes of Jack and the bean stalk story and the Parsifal story. Also, the first image of the axis mundi, the axis of the world stretching from deep roots in the earth to somewhere transcendent. Something happens and we are thrown out into life to find our purpose and our mission in this world.
The young man now fully awake to the moment, realises he is about to lose the most precious thing in his life, and like all humans tries to bargain. We have some options here, to go the sour grapes route and denial, or pursue what is lost. There are other options we employ of course. In the story we refuse to hear the last advice of our Soul and attempt to follow it on its journey without the necessary preparation for that journey. In the story we fall to our death unable to traverse to the next levels of consciousness. In a story there is no physical death only the end of an unsuccessful initiation process.
The waste lands. The pursuit of what is lost is the basis of the Hero cycle. What is lost creates an internal wasteland and ultimately an external wasteland in this world. All those post apocryphal movies are preoccupied with the wasteland, laid out and recapitulated in most of our stories, plays, movies and indeed life.
The quest for the solution to the wasteland is the hero cycle or monomyth of Joseph Campbell’s work “The hero with a thousand faces”. Also, there is the sour grape story, one of the other choices where we deny and attack that which we originally loved. This plays itself out through our divorce courts. Such acrimonious divorces and battles using our own children’s love and affection as weapons against each other. Once where there was love there is now seemingly endless enmity.
The unresolved shadows, in these relationships like Grendel in the Beo-Wolf story, come and destroy the illusion of perfection, the destruction of the Meade hall. There are other choices we may make here and a combination of many other choices. Withdrawal, disassociation, bitterness, and addiction among them.
Women in the bottle. In our culture we relegate women to the bottle of the star woman all the time, we capture her for pornography, use her body to sell all sorts of stuff. Generally, we treat her badly with prejudice of all kinds around body functions, positions in society, religions et. The list is endless.
The irony of women’s place in our culture. At the same time, it is given to women to conceive, to carry a child to term and be a mother. A strange contradiction in a male dominated society which needs women for its very renewal.
Why then would I want to go back to the Parsifal story? The Parsifal story carries for us a deeper version of the creation of duality described in the beginning of Iron John. Indeed, the Parsifal story happens pre incarnation in some realm of consciousness to which we only have access through stories, art, music, trance and dance.
Now to the Parsifal story. I have chosen the Fisher king version of the story and am guilty of cherry-picking bits of the wider story which suits my purpose. There is a whole preamble of how Parsifal gets to meet the Fisher King. The name Parsifal can also translate as Fool, not stupid as it has come to mean but rather young, innocent full of awe and wonder but little discrimination and what we would call life experience. In our world we call that “still wet behind the ears”, small puppy-like.
The Fisher King story begins with the young boy (us) questing for the Holy Grail, having been sent out by King Arthur from Camelot in reparation for the death of the red Knight. The killing of the red Knight heralds the first appearance of the spear, Parsifal takes the red Knight’s own spear and throws it at him striking him in the eye through the slit in his armour, killing him.
Parsifal, after killing the red Knight, puts on his armour over his homespun clothes. Much like us in our world. We put on new ideas over the top of the old ideas we learnt at home on our mother’s knee without integrating them into our being. Much like the ideas we are introduced to at high school and university. This lack of integration becomes part of our shadow and comes back to bite us… as we will see just now.
The warrior and one pointed attention. Much can be said about one pointed attention in throwing the spear in such a way. It seems to be something the youth of our world are naturally capable of, in the same way. Young people seem to have the unerring ability to see through their parents’ masks and expose the parents shadow. As a metaphor parents are the red Knight and our children, not knowing any better, take our armouring and masks; putting them on, over their own being.
The sins of the fathers and so, the sins of the father are visited on to the children even unto the seventh generation. Therefore, in our world, family reunions are fraught with such danger. The children complete, with their red armour, come to the parent’s house. The parents are not happy to see themselves reflected in their own children, especially the worst bits. The children have axes to grind about hurts and injustices of the past, real and perceived, for which they blame the parents. The whole thing is fraught with tension.
Our Fisher king story. We all have a fisher king experience when we are about 13 years old even if we don’t recognise it for what it is. We have a glimpse into the Grail Castle. What we need to do to make ourselves whole. How to get rid of the armour of the red night. What are the gifts we bring into this world and how we can share them? We will meet this idea again at the edge of the Golden pond later in the Iron John story
Our first meeting with Fisher King. The young man (us) arrives at a stream where there is a man sitting in a boat, fishing. A conversation begins the man in the boat (the King of the Grail Castle, Amfortas) who is wounded in the thigh, a wound which will not heal. He sits in the boat in the stream fishing because this is the only place where his wound does not ache.
While there are whole books written about the symbology of this fishing and women at wells – Jonah’s whale and Moabi Dick, suffice it say that while sitting in the stream of the feminine, fishing brings up from other worlds, from other levels of consciousness, small manageable amounts at a time into this world. This process brings the King relief. Which tells us of the nature of his wound and its implications. One of the implications is that while he is sitting in the boat, he is not fulfilling his kingly duties,
The kingdom is a wasteland. No seasons cross the land, only winter, no fruits, no newborn animals. The kingdom is locked in death. It also implies that while sitting in the stream of the feminine, the King’s wound does not ache, so a separation from the feminine at once the cause of his discomfort and the cause of the wasteland.
The meeting with a mentor and the mentoring moment. In the story the king asks us to grill the fish so that we can both eat. The King is unable to cook the fish and perhaps we are unable to fish in those waters. Either way, the relationship between the old king and youth begins, and so each helps the other. The story tells us that in cooking the fish we burn our fingers. Often, we see an older man, seemingly doing nothing (or not much anyway) only to find that he has a very hectic and courageous life, explored uncharted places, etc. Now once we begin to connect with the person the King is, he is quite happy to talk to us about what he did; but has no interest in doing it himself. This is the mentoring moment. He will share his knowledge, but we must do it. If it is for us, we will burn our fingers, literally and figuratively.
Wounds to an extremity of the body. This wound to an extremity of the body tells us that an initiation is coming. The king invites us back to the Grail Castle to attend to our wound, the young man is greeted with great joy and expectation
The Questing Ego.
On entering the castle Parsifal is well and truly fêted. There is a prophesy that says a young man (us) pure of heart will be able to lift the curse of the land, and, the wound of the King. In this way this story is a father redemption story and much more. The inner wasteland is always awaiting a redeemer. The Ego is eternally questing to heal the wasteland. It is an eternal cycle endlessly playing its self out in every geography, culture, language and people.
Fêted. His horse is stabled, brushed, fed, and watered. Parsifal is bathed and given fine clothes to wear. We are invited to dinner and observe the Grail procession. I am only going to give an outline here of the procession which will serve our purpose. A fuller description is in many other texts. The deeper meaning of this procession covers all the esoteric parts of us that create an individual incarnation and their interrelationship.
The procession The Fisher king is seated on his throne in pain and agonising discomfort. Blood drips from his wound into a cup. A procession of Maiden’s appear (aspect of the pure feminine – not human) a spear which is placed in the wound of the King bringing instant relief. Following the spear comes maidens carrying the Grail, a platter, a cornucopia, and a broken sword on a cushion. The cornucopia feeds everybody in the hall with food and drink as they desire. The Grail heals everybody as required individually. The sword of discernment remains broken and awaits a knight “of pure heart” to re-forge the holy blade. For without the balancing Masculine of discernment and differentiation the Grail Castle remains unhealed and obscured through the mists of antiquity and the punishments of time. This is the sword work of an I group within Mankind Project which we will re visit later.
Punishments of time. As we explore the idea of the axis mundi, we see that there is a vertical component of above, below and centre. The Middle is uniquely occupied by mankind. This is an expression of the eternal and is outside of time. When we say “find your centre” this is where we mean, and what we mean. As we move away from the vertical axis outwards towards the four directions, North South East and West, we begin to experience time. Indeed “Soul creates time by the first separation from pure sprit, time is required for incarnation.” (Michael Meade quote.)
Punishments of time happens when we lose or forget our connection to the eternal. We become “flat worlders”
The macrocosm crashes down on the microcosmos, obliterating the mesocosm where the human experience should live. We run out of time. We look left and right to check what everybody else is doing. We watch our backs to see who is going to stab us. We study the past which we see as behind us. We keep our eyes and attention on the horizon, the future our focus is there. Soul however begins with the breaking of eternal into time. Soul then seeks initiation into life and into the core of the great Self this is the project of a human being’s entire life. The great opus.
Initiation is the constant breaking open of new areas of life for the Soul and Self to experience, and this must happen within Time. This Self is incarnating through us, this is the grand mystery and the grand opus of life itself. The Soul is deeply internal but at the same time connected with all outside events. (James Hillman, Soul attributes meaning etc.)
At the moment of birth we float out of the mother’s womb on or in the waters of chaos and one of the cords is cut to the Eternal We are now bound in time and the Soul and the Great Self begins the opus called life, through a deepening process of incorporation of Soul into matter. A person’s life is a combination of being bound in time and the eternal. Ego and Soul combining in the Great Self and the heroic journey that it is.
Imagine our two feet. One dancing to the rhythm of the eternal one dancing to the rhythm of matter, life becomes a dance between these two. Which is why in any shamanic practice or healing work dance, is used to flex the physical and the eternal to create flow of divine energy back and forth. Healing only takes place in ritual space, Only in the presence of the divine. This is how we enter the march of history, our personal experience of our part in history may be markedly different from other people’s perception of your contribution to that same history.
The Soul is teleological has purpose—Victor Frankl
When we do not grasp our destiny like “the drowning man” we will become doomed to our fate.
EE Cummings To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
Michael Meade expresses it thus. The ground of myth is the field of imagination the ground of the Soul, the flights of sprit.
Symbols so far in the Grail story. (there are others)
- Wounded King. The non or undiscriminating ruling Masculine principle.
- The stream of Feminine consciousness where the wounded King fishes
- The Grail Castle. The container of the literal truth at this level of consciousness.
- The procession of the Feminine who are the guardians of the deeper mysteries of the Below direction.
- The Cup
- The cornucopia
- The spear
- The broken sword
- The platter
- The Grail
- The Ego questing to repair the wasteland
What’s missing ???
- The direction of above
- The balancing Masculine force. (bring balance to the force LOLS)
- The direction of the middle the place where mankind stands between the other two poles.
Parsifal. The child. was instructed by his mother to be polite and not to ask too many questions (to be seen and not heard, in my experience to be invisible until we want to show you off) so, in our childlike innocence we fail or are unable to ask the meaning of what we saw in the Grail processions, and in the healing of the king. As a adolescent we have no context to put it in. The ability to question what we saw would be a step into adulthood and requires some life experience. Many times in our world, things happen or are said that we never question. Only later does the full import of that moment or that remark strike home; leaving us wondering why we never asked for clarity at the time. “Oh, I never understood that.” Like the list of symbols, above it takes a lifetime of experience to unravel these threads and we need the help of those who went before us.
The traditional questions for the Grail experience are “Who does the Grail serve and what ails thee”?
Let us begin with the last question first. What ails thee? Part of the answer to this question comes from understanding the nature of the Grail Castle and the Grail ceremony. The Grail ceremony represents undifferentiated unity of the masculine and the feminine. In the Grail space there is a constant flow of energy between the feminine and the masculine in both directions simultaneously, and so fulfills the requirement of creation and healing as an energy. Once again, we need to remember this is happening at other levels of consciousness than we are usually aware off.
When I saw this image, I knew what it meant for me, if we could see the connection between Masculine and Feminine, with mankind standing between the poles, it would look something like this.
What ails the King? He is wounded in the thigh or his testicles, a males most tender part. The kingdom is a wasteland. Only when the spear is replaced in the wound does the wound stop hurting. In our world this is like when a lover leaves us and hurts us, through betrayal or abandonment. Only the reconnection with that lover will heal that wound that hurts so much. So too the replacing of the spear in the wound brings relief but not permanent healing.
Judgement There are lots of judgmental descriptions of how the king was wounded I do not think that helps in our understanding. However, going back to the Star woman story, we see that we as the young man were unable to make a healthy sustainable relationship with our Soul, with the obvious consequences. a form of death. A life without Soul and the beginning of the eternal quest. We can also intuit that the Fisher King somehow lost the true connection to the feminine, the sword is broken. This is at once the sword of discrimination, discernment, decision making and truth speaking. The secret of relationships is intimacy, the ability to speak the truth to each other. Without discernment and differentiation this is not possible.
Second time around. In other images of our later adult we return to the Grail Castle. We see we must crawl across from our world to the Grail world along the sharp edge of the great sword. This sword, like discernment, cuts both ways. Its edge is always sharp and demands we stay in the moment. Like speaking truth there is a need to remain conscious and in the moment. In the last episode of “Lord of the rings,” “The return of the king” the sword of the true king is reforged and ultimately after the last battle with attackers from the shadow realms, the land is healed. We will visit this theme again in Iron John.
Intimate relationships, and the way back to Soul. Intimacy is about speaking the truth to each other and to ourselves. In MKP’s (Man kind Project) I groups, this is one of the practices where we get an opportunity to speak the truth and to explore how deeply the truth is buried in the stories, we tell ourselves. This is the way back to personal intimacy, and how we cross the sword bridge of discernment on our return to the Grail Castle.
The spear or lance is another symbol altogether. While Christianity claims the spear to be the same spear that pierced Christs body on the cross, this story predates Christ and exists at other levels of consciousness, rather than our physical world.
The symbolism of the spear is that it is a stabbing weapon, a piercing weapon. We could imagine that the King was caught “Inflagrante delicto” and was speared through that offending part of the body…. or we can leave it as a metaphor.
Either way, it is like falling out of the tree for the young Ego in the star woman story; or falling from the grace of the axis mundi tree. The result is the same. Paradise is lost, the feminine and the masculine are split. As Socrates says, the two-backed beasts of man, which caused the gods so much trouble, the gods split them apart. The two separate parts now constantly quest for each other and leave the gods in peace.
Returning to the second question may help us here: “Who does the Grail serve?”. Going back to the Star woman story may help us with the answer. Firstly, the relationship with the Star woman was most likely sexual in nature. She was relegated to the bottle except for the time when she was released into the young man’s room – his private space. It is as though he was ashamed to own up to a Soul connection.
When the King sits on his throne (the four-legged throne being a symbol of the feminine), the divine energy flows through him and out into the land through the four aspects of the feminine: the four quarters; the land is healed and nourished, the land and its inhabitants, animals and people, all prosper through the right flow of energy.
The Grail is not so much an object but the dynamic flow of energy between above and below, the conduit for this is the Grail Castle in the other world. Like the symbol of a well, the Grail Castle is built of stone. The castle itself serves to insulate the flow of divine energy from the other world. The castle like the edges of a well and keeps the divine energies free from contamination. The divine energy is directed through those structures that can contain and direct it. The castle in the Iron John story also carries the same image as a container for the divine energies, not to be defiled or contaminated, until released in safe quantities by the reigning sovereign into the land for the good of the land.
The King’s son (which we all are) of the Iron John story, needs to prepare for these divine energies to flow through us. This is the bone of the hollow bone. The bone deals with issues of containment and insulation while allowing the free flow of divine energies. This process of strengthening and hollowing is what the Iron John story is about, and describes in metaphor how we might get there, to honour our birth right, as the child of a King, and a King in waiting.
Now we have arrived at the beginning of the Iron John story, just one world removed from our own. There is a castle representing Ego and the literal truth, and a container for the divine energies that need to flow into the land. There is a dark forest with eagles and hawks flying over, representing undifferentiated creativity. Soul and of course the third leg of the stool, which is us. We are all of us, men and women, the boy in the story, searching for the missing mystery, our Soul.