King, Shaman, Hero

A talk on motivation and meaning

The dictionary says that motivation is that which causes us to act in a particular way. These are different reasons for acting in a particular way, but I want to look at what lies behind these reasons, to try and examine something more fundamental - the kind of motivation that guides our lives.

What I want to do is to try and give a shape to motivation, with some labels that we can use when we talk about it. In the same way that a child forms a picture of the surrounding world, it is helpful for us to have a simple map in our minds when we try to look at motivation. It helps us to organize and abstract our experience and build up a view of the real world. The map itself is un-important compared to the actual observations we make, and like all good scientists, we must be prepared to revise the map to fit experience.

We are going to look at six basic roles, or types of person, and see what kind of things might motivate them. We can then refer back to these archetypes for our understanding of the map, rather than relying on slippery words.

The six are: Hero, King, Shaman, Householder, Councillor and Storyteller. I'll say a little bit about each of them so that you can imagine them for yourselves, and then we'll try to guess what motivations they may each have.


The hero is a young man, a farmer's son. He sets off for strange lands looking for adventure. On his journey he challenges those who block his way, fighting monsters and enemies. He laughs in battle, fierce but light hearted, his sword flashing back and forth. Death and life are one to him, his ideal is honour. Eventually he comes to a land ruled by an old King and he asks to marry the King's daughter. The King sets him impossible tasks, which he nevertheless carries out. The King sets him traps which with cunning he escapes. Finally he kills the King and marries the princess.

Who is the hero today? Explorers? Sportsmen? We see them in films and on TV.

What motivates the hero? Desire, challenge, honour?


The King rules his country well. He is not a tyrant, but a steward charged with responsibility. If things go bad, the King must answer for it. He must have wisdom and good judgement, showing mercy as well as justice. He has energy and power, but not for himself. His power is his obligation. His duties are to control the strong, aid the weak, nurture the land and to defend the people against invaders. The King loves his people, and they love him. Without this, he becomes a tyrant and is destroyed.

Who is the King today? The great leaders? Captains of industry?

What moves the King? Love, responsibility, being in charge, having the power to do?


The shaman is an old man. He lives apart from the tribe, in a cave on the mountain. Sometimes people come to him, sometimes he walks among them. They go in fear of him, because he is different - he sees more than they do, he looks on the face of darkness. He knows the hidden worlds, the realities behind appearance and can trace the ways of power in the world of men. A word here, a word there, the shaman guides and warns. He stands apart to see what the people need, where they are going, and what is coming to them.

Who is the Shaman today? People like Einstein? Futurists? Religious founders?

What moves the shaman? Passion, secrecy, looking beyond what people see, being different to the herd?


The farmer ploughs the fields and his wife milks the cows and gathers in the apples. Before the farm, the land was wild, but now it bears fruit. At harvest time they celebrate, the wife bringing out food, the farmer pouring ale for the workers. In the evening the farmer and his wife sit watching the sun set over their land. She feels the baby move inside her. They sit and watch, tired but satisfied with the home they have made.

Who are the householders today? As always, most of the people. The wage earners, the house owners, the gardeners.

What moves the householder? Owning things, achievement, security?


They gather every evening and dispense the law. Sometimes people come with questions, or with arguments to settle. The elders hear the problems and search their memory, like tides going in and out. They murmur among themselves, reminding and remembering - judgements they have heard, things they have seen. Soon they give their judgement, and then always the seal on it: "Thus it has always been."

Who are the councillors today? Judges? Bureaucrats?

What motivates the councillor? Order, consistency, tradition?


On feast days the people gather by the fires to eat and drink together. When the fires die down and the company quietens, the storytellers begin their art. They tell old stories of days long past, and make new stories from recent happenings. The children listen wide eyed to the talk of monsters and heroes. The adults listen quietly to familiar stories, and intently to the new ones. Sometimes a story of great deeds, sometimes funny, mocking pretensions, warning and teaching, disarming conflicts, bestowing honour and blame. The King listens closely to the stories, listening for the voice of the people, for the stories are always tuned to the listeners concerns, expressing and giving form to their feelings.

Who are the storytellers today? Television? Magazines? Novelists? Pop stars?

What motivates the storyteller? Art, giving form to feelings, sense of community?

Reading the map

This is my arrangement of the six:

                (Individuality )
Householder                           Councillor
(Achievement)                         (Order)
King                                  Hero
(Power)                                (Challenge)

Other attributes or names can be used, but the point is that the associations behind each of the six should be the same, even if we choose different labels. For example, the householder is also concerned with security, and with owning things. The King is concerned with love, responsibility and direction. When we talk about them, we need to remember that we're talking about the meaning behind the words - the householder or King, not just achievement or power.

As you can see, the six are arranged in a particular way, and now I want to talk a little about the arrangement. About the two triads marked, the opposites and the centre point. These are not just accidental!


Let us first look at the triads. There are two:

The first is based on integrity. They maintain the status quo. They are motivations and roles which hold society together and give stability in our own lives.

The householder works to achieve something, and having achieved it wants to hold on to it. The farmer, builder and engineer produce good things. They are skillful and hard working, but not inventive.

The councillors seek order, governing by precedent. They are the judges or bureaucrats, implementing the law but not making it.

The storyteller's role may seem less important, but it is crucial, having to do with the world view - showing how things should be seen, what attitudes we should have. They create co-operation and the 'family feeling' that a society needs. We see them in the newspapers and media, interpreting events and the communal feeling, but not guiding them.

A society with these three can last for thousands of years unchanged. The householders work to keep everyone fed and housed, the councillors keep the law, and the storytellers bind the people into a clan. The "model" citizen of today is based on this triad: hard working, law abiding, keeping up with fashions. The corresponding weaknesses are greed, lack of responsibility and suggestibility.

The other triad is based on will. They bring change, direction and movement. The hero is not interested in farming, he wants to do things that haven't been done before - to explore and conquer. What he does can change the society, expanding its limits - new land, trade routes and alliances.

The King sets the law and has the power to change it, to override the council's judgements. He takes the reins of power, and leads the people as he sees best. He has this freedom, but responsibility falls on his shoulders.

The shaman is the one apart, who looks deeper into life than others. The shaman thinks independently, introduces new gods, new rituals, new taboos. Seeing new things, he can change the way everyone thinks, in the way that Christ or Einstein changed the world.

The personifications of the will triad are individuals, whereas those of the integrity triad are collective. The King is famous, unique, but the councillors work in the background. The will triad is short lived, and having moved, is absorbed back into integrity. The King's new laws are followed by the council; the hero's conquest is farmed by the householders; the shaman's new gods become stories.

Before we leave the triads, there is one other interesting feature in the triplicity - the relation within the three. The will triad of hero, King and shaman seems to be a progression. The hero is young, a famous son; the King is middle aged, a father figure; the shaman is old, a shadowy figure half out of this world. There is a correspondence here with the triple goddess. She is maiden, queen and old crone, and in this triple aspect is served by the hero, King and shaman.


The diagram has three axes to it:

The householder-hero axis is to do with the satisfaction we get from accomplishment. We can do a job that uses our skills and get satisfaction, or we can do something that is a challenge, and get satisfaction from that. In doing either we affirm our abilities. From a challenge we learn new skills, find new abilities, and by acquiring skills, we can meet new challenges. On the level of society, this axis is clearly seen in war time. Earning money and producing goods suddenly takes second place to defence. The householders take up the challenge.

The councillor-King axis is to do with governing. The councillor in us wants the security of rules and procedures to be followed, the security that comes from knowing what is right. The King wants to be in charge, needs to break the inflexible, unjust rules. Sometimes even when we don't want to, our conscience tells us that we must take responsibility and become the King. The King can give mercy, but the councillor only justice. In society, we can see this axis as the tension in governments - legislature against executive, the checks put in to prevent power becoming too great, or order becoming too fixed.

The shaman-storyteller axis is to do with interaction, and is harder to see in operation than the other two. It works in a more subtle way. At its most basic it is the polarity between "I want to belong" and "I gotta be me", between following trends and setting them. At its extreme, affiliation becomes giving up to the mob mind, whilst individuality becomes self-absorption.

The Centre

We've looked at the two triads and three axes, trying to see what meaning they might have. There are many other relationships that we could look at, such as the triangle of order, challenge and affiliation - basic to most military organisations, or the tension between power and individuality seen in many dictatorships. It would also be interesting to see the way that the will triad arises and is absorbed, but this must all be left to you, because I want to finish off by looking at the centre point.

The three axes meet at the centre, which also ties together the two triads, making them mirrors of each other. The centre is the origin of the six, and is quite different in quality.

I would call it "choice". It represents the choices we have made that lead to dominance of some motivations, and it also represents the choice that we can have. When we stand at the centre, we are not under the spell of any of the six, so we are free to do as we choose. The centre point is a creative moment - a balancing act full of possibilities. We can choose to move into the sphere of one of the six, or maybe we can choose something else. Coming back to our definition of motivation as that which causes us to act in a particular way, I want to leave you with a final question:

At this moment of choice, with no motivation driving us, how do we choose to act? What is it in us that chooses?

© 1995 by Saros. The material may be used freely providing the source is acknowledged.