The Sacred Passage Inspired by the Legend of Parzival

By Betty Staley   |   Rudolf Steiner College Press   |   2006

Using images from the medieval legend of Parzival, we gain insights into the stages of the teenagers’ contemporary journey and the awakening of their higher self.

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“The community of adults in a high school environment is a community of trust in which we need to foster hope, belief in positive change, and commitment to serve the highest good. This is our charge and we must never forget it. We have the responsibility to  believe in the capacity for change, for maturing, for transformation in every young person we serve. When these qualities live in the souls of the adults in a high school community, adolescents can thrive, can meet their own dark night of the soul and come through it into the light.

Fairy tales, myths, and legends express deep truths. This is also true of the story of Parzival. . . . By unpeeling the layers of the story and opening them up for examination, I hope the reader will gain insight into the teen age years.” – Betty Staley

“This compelling book shows us how Parsival, as the archetypal hero, undertakes the challenges of initiation. He suffers through and learns from his ordeals and failures, as we all must. Initiation is an ongoing life process beginning at adolescence and re-emerging at significant turning points. This leads to greater human consciousness and transformation of the self, if we are willing to take the risks it calls for. It is crucial to introduce adolescence to its meaning. Betty Staley’s book successfully points the way.” – Elisabeth Bower, Jungian Psychoanalyst

“In Adolescence, The Sacred Passage, Betty Staley brings many useful insights into understanding adolescence. The juxtaposition of the story of Parzival and contemporary adolescent issues is stimulating and adds a new dimension to my on-going work with teenagers.” – Catherine Vigran, M.D., Kaiser Permanente

Setting out on the journey of adolescence is like taking a boat into turbulent waters, not knowing where you will end up. Will the boat capsize or find its bearing? Where is the rudder? . . . .  In this book we will be exploring the nature of adolescence. However, it is important for us to see it in the context of the whole voyage of life.

In early adolescence, or puberty (roughly 11-14), childhood is still present even though the child is going through physical and psychological changes. The child’s angel is still present.

Middle adolescence has two stages: 14-16 and 16-18. In the first stage, we have the image of the youth pointing to the castle in the air, full or promise, but not much consciousness. He or she wants to do many things but doesn’t yet know how to or what capacities are necessary. At this stage, the youth is very unstable. In the second stage of middle adolescence great changes are happening inwardly. The youth carries the forward motion of pointing toward the castle in the air, but now he is beginning to sense rapids ahead. Danger lurks, but there are also possibilities. In the growing inwardness of middle adolescence (16-18), the world becomes filled with both dark and light.

Where is the rudder? It is the Higher Self or Ego, which will begin to steer the boat when the parents and other guides have said goodbye or been left behind.

During late adolescence (roughly 18-21), there is a peacefulness within the excitement of the journey. Adolescents, or young adults, have a better sense of where the rocks and whirlpools are, where the water is stagnant, where the waterfalls come pouring down in torrents, and where the cool, clear, deep water flows. This knowing culminates around age 21. The youngster has the rudder and is ready for the next stage of the journey.

I call the journey through these stages of adolescence The Sacred Passage because it is the time of life when the sacred element is expressed in the unfolding of the Higher Self of the  young person. No matter how chaotic this period can be, there is a sense of something intangible, mysterious, and divine working through it. The people who guide the teenager, significant meetings, feeling a sense of purpose  — all these are also representative of the sacred in life.

The story of Parzival is a medieval legend describing the development of a boy from his very protected childhood to the highest position as King of the Grail The spiritual truths embedded in this legend are universal and illuminate many aspects of life When we explore some of the major themes in Parzival, such as family relationships, love, reconciliation, betrayal, impulsiveness, and loyalty, we find echoes in our own lives and in the lives of teenagers.