Thursday, May 27, 2010

Killing the demon parrot

As demons go, one of the scariest (because most likely to turn up any day, recognized or not) is one of the most unlikely: the parrot. Why? Well, if you think about what you most associate with parrots, other than bright colors and finger-nipping, you may have the answer. But let's hear a story first, because a story is the shortest way to get to a truth.

The story comes from Persia, and it is about a hero on a quest. The hero's name, some say, is Hatim, and he is a prince. The prince is summoned by his king and given an interesting assignment. He is to search for a mysterious castle known as the Bath Badgerd - the Castle of Nonexistence - and find out what is there. He sets out on a long journey, where he must battle with monsters and face every kind of hardship. Everyone he meets gives him a reason to abandon his mission. People are unanimous on one point: no traveler who reached the castle has ever returned.

The hero is not dismayed. At last he comes to a round, domed building that must be part of the Bath Badgerd. He is greeted by a hairdresser who is carrying a mirror, and invited to wash off the dust of the journey in a beautiful pool. As soon as he enters the water, there is the roar of thunder, and the water level starts to rise. He thrashes about in the pool but can't escape. The water is rushing him up towards the ceiling. He's going to drown. But with his last breath, he cries out for divine help, and grabs for the keystone above him.

This changes everything. There is more rolling thunder, and the hero is transported, quick as thought, to the middle of a hot desert. His ordeals begin again, and it requires much wandering, on dragging, bloody feet, before he comes to a beautiful garden. He is now at the very heart of the Bath Badgerd, and about to face the greatest of his challenges.

In the midst of the garden is a circle of stone statues. They are very lifelike; each figure looks like a person frozen in the midst of a cry or a violent motion of the upper body. At the center of this circle is a parrot in a cage. Under the unfriendly eye of the parrot there is a golden bow, and a golden arrow chained to the cage.

A voice from above explains the scene. "What you are seeking is here, but you won't live to see it. The stone men are those who tried before you, and became petrified. The treasure of this place is a diamond beyond price that was hidden here by Gayomart, the First Man. In order to claim it, you must kill the parrot. The bow and arow are your weapons. You have three chances to shoot the parrot. If you fail, you will be petrified."

How hard can it be to shoot a parrot at close range? The state of the stone men is not encouraging, but the hero takes up the bow and lets fly. The arrow flies wide, the parrot cackles - and the prince is turned into stone, from his feet to his crotch. He takes extra care with his aim, before shooting the second arrow. He misses again and is turned to stone, up to the base of his heart. Now he remembers how he escaped being drowned in the flood, by invoking a higher power. He shuts his eyes, calls on his God, and fires without calculation. The arrow finds its mark. With a boom of thunder, the parrot vanishes. In its place appears the great jewel of the First Man, the diamond of the greater Self, and the petrified men are released from the spell.

Marie-Louise von Franz found in this old Persian fairy story a parable of "individuation" - the Jungian term for the process by which an individual advances towards the embodiment of his or her true Self [1]. All of the symbols are rich in meaning: the round building, the barber (or hairdresser), the mirror, the fast-rising waters. But let's stay with the demon. Of all the adversaries and obstacles the hero must overcome on his journey to find the jewel beyond price, the most formidable is a parrot in a cage. We can now answer the question, "Why"? Because we can never get to the greater Self by copying other people or by repeating ourselves. The parrot is famous for doing both: for imitating others and for endless repetition. When we fail to kill the demon of imitation and repetition in our lives, we consign ourselves to the petrified human forest.

[1] Marie-Louise von Franz, “The Process of Individuation” in Carl G. Jung, Man and his Symbols (New York: Doubleday, 1964) and Individuation in Fairy Tales (Boston: Shambhala, 2001).


Anonymous said...

That's a great story. I'm beginning to learn of the power of story in healing. I find its important to let patients tell their stories during visits so as to release the stress that's cause of many of their complaints. Anchoring the adjustment with the their story seems make care much more effective. While reading this story, I thought the parrot represented my ego-mind, the one that doesn't like to shut-up. And that the way to transcend it was through surrender to God/Higher-Self.
Great Stuff
Mike Soucy

Robert Moss said...

Thanks, Mike. You are absolutely right about the healing power of letting people tell their stories. That can serve not only to release te old story - and the stress and symptoms it may have stored in the body - but to open the way to claiming a bigger and better story.

R said...

I love legends, folktales and stories from around the world- and this was a new one for me! It made my day to read it.

Robert Moss said...

Thanks, R - There'll be more! We humans live by stories, and it's grand to find new stories to open and guide our paths. Among the workshops I offer, one of my favorites is titled "The Healing Power of Story".

Alla said...

Thanks, Robert! It reminded me of my early years, when I was mesmerized by the 8 volumes of "The 1001 Night". I couldn't get enough of it. Absolutely charming, flavorful and profound - same to what I feel now. (Poor bird... :-))))))))) )

Nancy said...

Robert, thanks. To me what's scary about birds is that they only have a reptile brain, instinct and survival, despite appearing "warm and fuzzy" with their feathers -- they have no Heart (emotional brain) in the way a mammal does. I once dreamed of a large menacing figure and wrote in my journal that she looked at me like a bird looking at a bug, no feeling, no warmth. I was just prey.

The ability to do something contrary to our instinct, to ask for help from a wiser Source, is what will save us.

Robert Moss said...

Alla - Yes. there is magic in stories and the lesson of the One Thousand Nights and One Nights is that stories can save our lives and put soul back into the soul-gone. Sheherezade accomplishes both things. In earning her right to live another day, and another, by telling stories that make the listener eager for more, she also changes the heart of the woman-hating tyrant and converts hiom into a halfway decent husband and father. While children love such tales, they are not only for children, and there are some rather adult messages to be garnered.

Robert Moss said...

Ah, Nancy - It's the parrot in US that has to be slain, not the bird itself! I love birds (and have nothing against parrots;I feel sorry when I see them in cages). When you think about it, the bird is such a triumph of evolution - the serpent that sprouted wings and got airborne - that it's no surprise to find that the bird is such a persistent symbol of soul and spiritual ascent.

Cynthia said...

For my own story I perhaps reframe this: "When I fail to free the demon of imitation and repetition, I will remain caged with it. In seeking freedom my aim is steadied by keeping open to possibilities with each breath."

What a powerful story. Thank you.

Janice said...

Hi, Robert,

This is a great story and one that I can relate to.

When I was a little girl, I attended a fair. There were many fairbooths with lots of prizes to win.

I had my eyes on a big stuffed animal. So, I took my three-ring chances. The first two rings that I tossed missed the mark. All hope seemed gone. BUT, I closed my eyes and with a bit of faith, I threw the third ring and BINGO! I won!!

I imagine that sometimes one must close their eyes in faith to move forward.

Thanks for sharing this story.

Sara said...

This story reminds me of my own experience with ignoring the repetitive voice of "you can't" and doing something I would have said was impossible for me.It was the end of a long night out.I found myself a team member for a game of darts.I'd never played and had no idea of the rules and procedures of the game.Each time my turn would come,I'd ask where the dart needed to land on the board and then tell myself to become one with the dart,trusting the universe would assist. Much to my surprise and everyone else around me, I hit the mark every time.
Thank you for the story and the reminder that at times the only thing standing in the way is the voice of doubt represented by the parrot in the cage. In my dream, the parrot in the cage challenges all comers to solve his dilemma and their own. With the success of the prince the parrot is freed from the unnatural it's prison.