Shamanic Satyrs on the Parsifal Path
At the high point of Medieval culture in Europe, there arose out of the tradition of the troubadours the tale of Parsifal. As related in the 12th Century by Wolfram von Eschenbach, it was the story of a young man who took an unconventional path in life.
In the story, Parsifal is a poor country boy who sets off to become a knight. Armed with homemade weapons, and dressed in a fool’s costume, he travels to King Arthur’s court. On his way there, he marks himself as someone special by slaying an enemy of Arthur’s. He doesn’t become a knight of the Round Table, however. Instead, he goes his own way, letting his horse—a symbol of his instincts—lead him.
As a result, Parsifal has uncommon experiences, through which he develops powers and sensibilities others don’t have. These include the ability to heal the emasculated Grail King. By putting his warrior spirit in the service of love and compassion, and “piercing the vale” between the figurative hills of the Material and the Spiritual, the Civilized and the Wild, the Established and the New, Parsifal learns things that enable him to improve his world.
The Parsifal story remains relevant today because it outlines the path a person must take to create or recover an idea or perspective that their society needs to progress in a positive way. The sort of person who takes this path is a Fighting Satyr shaman: a man of the Fighting Satyr personality type whose Feminine energy is unusually intense.
The Parsifal story describes a particular life path.
In the modern era, Joseph Campbell retold the story of Parsifal to illustrate the theme of one of his lectures. He described a distinction between what he called the right-hand path and the left-hand path, saying:
The right-hand path is that of living within the context of the ideology and persona system of one’s local village compound. The left hand path is that of the individual quest.
The term “left hand path” has some negative connotations that Campbell seems to have been unaware of, so we’ll call these paths the Conventional Path and the Parsifal Path. When a man takes the Conventional Path, he observes the conventions of his culture. On the Parsifal Path, he ventures beyond the conventional and accepted.
What does this mean in practical terms? Men on these paths live their lives in divergent ways:
Describe yourself in terms of social role and group affiliation: I’m a professional, a father, a Mopar man, a Steelers fan.
Define yourself in terms of personal difference: I’m a person who doesn’t really fit into common roles and groups.
Institutions impart a sense of who you are: The Marines made a man out of me. My church is the rock of my life. College is where I came into my own.
Exploration makes your inner nature known to you: I tried new things, made mistakes, and learned a lot from both. My journey showed me who I am.
Work in an established profession or trade that’s known and respected: Law, plumbing, military service, education.
Work in a new, emerging field or discipline that’s unfamiliar or esoteric: Holistic ecology, comparative mythology.
The Parsifal Path involves creativity and uncertainty.
Joseph Campbell described this path as one on which:
You follow the way of your own bliss, and you are in a realm for which there are no rules. And since your bliss is not mine, you don’t know where you’re going. Here you will live a life of danger, creativity…perhaps not a respected life, but certainly an interesting one.
In other words, you’re free to develop your unique gifts, and explore what the philosopher Alan Watts called “ultimate things.” The price you pay for that freedom is personal risk, considerable uncertainty, and separation from the sort of social support that sustains most people. You’re often perceived, like Parsifal was, as a misfit or a fool, and as the Beatles noted about the Fool on the Hill, “Nobody wants to know him / They can see that he’s just a fool.”
It’s no mistake that Parsifal has a warrior spirit, because his “foolish” path of exploration requires the warrior virtues of confidence and fortitude.
The Parsifal Path is about independence and discovery.
The Parsifal Path is akin to the Hero’s Journey in that they both involve travel into the fertile world of the unconscious. They differ in that the Hero’s Journey represents a temporary struggle to win subjective knowledge, whereas the Parsifal Path represents an enduring effort to discover it.
It’s telling that in the tale of Parsifal, he grows up without his father present. That’s an important detail, because it illustrates the fact that Parsifal is free from the constraints of authority, symbolized by the father. The fatherless child becomes his own authority, an independent spirit who can go beyond the conventional wisdom and champion The New.
Very few people are drawn to this path.
Taking the Parsifal Path isn’t so much a choice as a calling. If you’re on it, you’re not so much pursuing what you want as expressing who you are. And who are you? A Fighting Satyr who’s exceptionally strong-willed, independent, sensitive, and bright. In other words, you’re a Fighting Satyr shaman.
A good example of this personality type is provided by Albert Einstein, a rebellious child who didn’t much like his teachers or they way they taught—and told them that. He was also brilliant, creating new proofs for mathematical theories at the age of 12. Militarism was all the rage in Europe during his youth, but he, unlike almost all of his peers, saw it as pernicious.
Other men of this type on the Parsifal Path, such as Carl Jung, have displayed similar qualities. As a child, Jung had a mystical experience that presaged the spiritual exploration he would undertake later in his life. In mid life, he asserted the validity of his own ideas over Freud’s, which made him something of a pariah in the psychological community of his day.
Ken Wilber provides perhaps the best example of a Fighting Satyr shaman taking the Parsifal Path. Captain of his high school football team and student council president, he went on to Duke University, the next step on an apparent path of high achievement. Except he didn’t stay on that path: deeply unhappy at Duke, he dropped out to study Eastern spirituality on his own.
We’ll need new contributions from the Parsifal Path.
The “American way” that’s been in place since World War II is becoming increasingly dysfunctional, and can’t continue for much longer. We’re going to need new ideas and new perspectives to inform the creation of a new social order. They’ve always come from the Parsifal Path in the past, so we should heed the Fighting Satyr shamans on that path now.
One of them is John Michael Greer, an author and scholar who writes about post-industrial society. Growing up in the suburbs during the 1970s, he sought what he called “magic and enchantment” in sci-fi and fantasy books. As an adult, he developed an interest in nature spirituality, and embarked upon a career as a writer.
He eventually became the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, and the author of over 20 books. Mr. Greer’s blog, Ecosophia, attracts over 50,000 readers every week by providing trenchant analysis of our society’s fundamental problems, along with good ideas about how we can solve them.
There are other Fighting Satyr shamans grappling with the need to change our society, men such as Chris Martenson. Because they’re not emotionally or intellectually invested in the status quo, they can suggest fresh alternatives to it, which, when you get right down to it, is what the Parsifal Path is all about.