The Fifth Door and the Seven Sisters

• ‘Hear now age old tales as if they were new,

that they may teach you to speak true’

• (Trevrizent to Parzival in Book IX)

Having gotten Parzival into the Fish’s Mouth (click here) and set the container for his inward journey, the next big question is what is the point, the intent, and the repercussions of his efforts? As Parzival learns of his lineage and his duties from Trevrizent, he realizes he is far from being in the right place to fulfill them. He has lost his way, and cannot regain it until he learns to recognize both his outer path and his inner soul guide.

One of the more peculiar and widespread conceits of neo-shamanism is the idea that just having a recreational vision is the peak experience (click here) when cultures all around the world agree that this is clearly not so. The challenge and reward comes from bringing the visionary and the ordinary into alignment. Carl Jung, one of Wolfram’s more contemporary students and a fellow Germanic, wrote in his book Memories, Dreams, and Reflections:

• “I took great care to try to understand every single image, every item of my psychic inventory and to classify them scientifically -far as this is possible- and above all to realize them in actual life. This is what we usually neglect to do. We allow the images to rise up and maybe we wonder about them but that is all. We do not take the trouble to understand them, let alone draw ethical conclusions from them. This stopping short conjures up the negative effects of the unconscious. ”
• Page 192-3

He, of course, is not alone in this. Anthropologist Barbara Tedlock’s Mayan shamanic teachers explained to her that:

• “…we all dream many times each night – and for that matter in the day also. When we do not remember our dreams and thus do not complete our dreaming we are “being dragged down into muddy water”. One must struggle hard not to allow this to happen.”
• Page 128 The Woman in a Shaman’s Body

While the Tibetan Buddhist tradition instructs us to remember that:

• “% Now, that I have once attained a human body,
• there is not time on the path for the mind to wander.%

• %Now that the bardo of dreams is dawning upon me
• I will abandon the corpse-like sleep of careless ignorance
• and let my thoughts enter their natural state without distraction;
• Controlling and transforming dreams in luminosity
• I will not sleep like any animal but will completely unify sleep and practice. %”
• Page 99, Tibetan Book of the Dead, by Chongyam Trungpa

Parzival has definitely experienced the muddy waters of the negative aspects of his unconscious, and this fifth doorway into the starry realms that may illuminate both his life-path and his errors opens in early May when the Moon occults the Pleiades, a world-renowned cluster of stars in the constellation of Taurus.

The Pleiades have long been known as Fates and Weavers as they are the lynch pin of many indigenous calendars that track and reconcile the movements of the heavens and the relationships between the celestial bodies. The Galactic Year is also known as the Pleiadian Year in many such cultures and they seek out ways to reconcile the differences between the solar and lunar counts using this star cluster as a guide. Intercalation is the term now used, and the Pleiades hold the key to harmonizing movements of the heavens.

For Wolfram, it is Lady Adventure who weaves the fabric of his story and sets the timing of his revelations, but we now know the stars of the cluster as the Greeks named them. Only six of these seven named stars in the primary cluster are readily visible to the naked eye, but there are two more bright stars nearby that are actually part of the Pleiadian cluster:

• Atlas
• Pleione

These two stars are set slightly apart from the other six stars. Although Greek mythology tells us that these are the parents of the seven sisters, the much more widespread and perhaps more astrologically accurate account of the origin of the cluster is of the brightest star, Halcyon, bursting apart, creating the cluster of sisters from her fragments. Pleione is a variable star that brightens and fades while Atlas is usually seen as male. They are the most plausible candidates for the pursuing suitor and the fleeing maiden in most of stories about the star cluster. Pleione is then the sister that falls behind the others as she is pursued by and often marries Atlas, the mortal man.

The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades are often described as wise allies, coming to earth to aid and teach those on the mortal plane but they may also be seen as lazy or foolish and end up fleeing to the heavens. In their wise role as mentors, the Sisters aid in reweaving the patterns of our lives, returning us to wholeness and to mystery. In their lazy foolish form, they embody the Seven Deadly Sins that separate us from our soul path.

The idea of Deadly sins might appear archaic and irrelevant at first glance, but Jealousy and Wrath are still quite recognizable if somewhat sanitized therapeutic terms while Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, Greed, and Pride in their more modern manifestations of Obsession, Addiction, Depression, Hoarding, and Narcissism devastate individuals, families, and communities. While these sins may not immediately or primarily physically deadly, they are deadly soul-sicknesses that destroy the intricate web of relationships that sustain life.

The idea that there are supra-natural entities whose powers manifest as either beneficent or malevolent depending on how we as humans relate to them is as old as the concept of the animate elements. Water, for instance is a necessity. However, water can both sustain life and take it. Drought and drowning are equally deadly results of an imbalance in our relationship to water. So it is with the inner waters of our emotions as well. In moderation and right order, our emotions and appetites serve to sustain our lives and our relationships, but if suppressed, distorted, or unchecked, they can also devour us and all we hold dear.

Most importantly, the original word we translate as sin actually meant something closer to error or mistake. To confess your sins was to admit you had made a mistake, which implies the ability to see yourself clearly enough to correct it. One of the bardo prayers associated with the Tibetan Book of the Dead describes these spiritual poisons and their illuminated state:

  1. Desire into discriminating wisdom
  2. Jealousy into action-accomplishing wisdom
  3. Unconscious tendencies into innate wisdom
  4. Ignorance into dharmadhatu ( true-reality) wisdom
  5. Confused projections into fearless wisdom
  6. Aggression into mirror-like wisdom
  7. Pride into the wisdom of equality

While Trevrizent appears content in his solitary hermitage, most of us are more like Parzival, reluctantly engaging in short-term retreats from our ordinary lives. Unfortunately, our ignorance of how to go about changing our Sins into our Sisters not only leaves us subjugated to our neuro-biology. our efforts to substitute pharmacology for the spiritual technology of the ancients that allows us to become aware of and direct our inner chemistry all too often simply serves to feed the demonic. There has to be a means of precipitating his inward journey in order for Parzival’s brief stay with Trevrizent to be so profoundly transformational.

Looking for the wisdom of the ancients on Parzival’s path to clarity brought me to the oldest most renowned image of the celestial bull and the Pleiades in Europe found in the painted cave of Lascaux. The star cluster sits in the shoulder of the heavenly bull and archeo-astronomists have interpreted the seven dots just above the cave-bull’s shoulders in the painting as the Pleiades. The widely accepted interpretation of the reclining figure drawn just below the bull’s nose is a dying man who has been gored by the bull. Realistically, while some spinal injuries can result in erections, the trauma and blood-loss from being tossed by a bull are unlikely to.


Moreover, among all the strikingly realistic animals painted on the cave walls, this is a single static rigidly posed stick figure that is also wearing a bird mask and has a bird-headed staff standing close at hand. Bulls and birds are intricately intertwined and widespread in ancient imagery with the bull representing the fertile earth and the bird the spiritual flight. Chances are that this very male individual is busy transmuting the enormous subterranean power of the earthy bullish drives for sex and survival into the ability to soar into the visionary realms. Not only is this entirely appropriate to the task of transmuting the poisons of the Deadly Sins; those who have experimented with the Lascaux cave posture as a visionary guide (click here) do tend to have similar experiences. Intense energy in the lower abdomen that rises up through the body bursting forth through the top of their heads as a soaring flight in the open skies is common.

I have also come across a hint that shamanic activities involving such caves and horses may have survived well past Wolfram’s times as in 1458 Pope Calixtus III was troubled enough to forbid the Spanish locals their rites in caves that were painted with horses (click here). While I haven’t found details of exactly what rituals were so perturbing to the Catholic Church of that time, in this section Wolfram does make sure his readers are aware that:

• Parzival’s mother is a Spanish Queen,
• that Parzival’s mount is a Castilian, one of the highly prized spiritual guides descended from the finest Spanish horses that know the way to the Grail Castle (click here)
• and that the true author of his tale is Kyot, a poet from Toledo, Spain who claims that his source is a son of (King) Solomon who was the first to read the story in the stars

The Seven Sister are Parzival’s allies and his taskmasters in transmuting his poisons and recalibrating his inner and outer journeys, his lunar and solar selves, and in revealing his individual resolution to the greater social conflict between the calling of his ancient lineage and the novel demands of Christianity. This clash between the indigenous soul and the demands of society is still gnawing at roots of our efforts to create and sustain healthy communities, and perhaps the Seven Sisters can still aid us on our own life paths. As I write a post for each sister you will be able to find them by clicking on the names below:

  1. Lust and Pleione the Pursued
    2. Jealousy and Meriope the mortal bee-eater
    3. Gluttony and Halcyon who averts evil
    4. Sloth and Amber-faced Electra
    5. Greed and Maia the Increaser
    6. Wrath and Taygete the golden hind
    7. Pride and Celeano the melon

Meanwhile I’ve posted  thoughts on:

just how Trevrizent might have introduced Parzival to his lineage here.

or click for the beginning of Parzival’s journey or

for the full story of  the Fisher King’s Wife

(Attentive and knowledgeable readers will notice that I have left Asterope out of the reckoning here. Asterope means Star-faced or the Starry One and the Pleiades is actually a cluster of many more than seven stars. Clear skies and high altitudes allow those with good eyesight to see as many as thirteen sisters. Asterope may be applied to any of the half dozen fainter stars as well as the brighter ones that are so well known. For now, I leave the adventures of these lesser stars to your imagination.

I thank Munya Andrews for her aboriginal southern hemispheric insight into the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades.
And, being neither male nor Christian, I have turned to herbalist Matthew Wood’s book “Seven Herbs, Plants as Teachers’ for help in illuminating Parzival’s task. Nearly a thousand years after Wolfram’s Parzival was faced with integrating his native lineage with Christian practices, Matthew Wood has found that his experience of the spiritual knowledge of the indigenous realms could be illuminated through examining the shamanic roots of the Old Testament. )


2 thoughts on “The Fifth Door and the Seven Sisters

  1. Such a complex, thoughtful post!
    I try to remember that as much as I would like to make things about me, they mostly aren’t. Thinking they are stops me from doing whatever work is to be done. Then again, I do have my experience of things, and that is very much about me, except when it isn’t….. Oh, my!

    • Complexity might be why it has taken me over a year to get this much of it put together… I tend to think of my writing process as a bit like composting, take in a whole bunch of information, make a big heap, let it cook a while, and see what jewels are left. And then see how I can string them into words and sentences….
      The conflict between self and community is so pervasive in Western thought, I find the metaphor of community as a Tree very helpful. A healthy tree is covered with healthy leaves, each doing what it needs to thrive. If a leave drops, the tree is still fine, but if many leaves are unable to grow and thrive, the tree sickens and may die…

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