7. BATTLE OF SOULS
The flower maidens evoked all their charms and wiles to seduce Parsifal, but despite a lingering temptation he finally rejected them, and entered the castle in search of Klingsor. Here he immediately encountered Kundry, lying on a divan in a lushly-appointed chamber, with the heady scent of incense in the air and rare wines and sweetmeats laid out on a table. Of course he did not recognize her as the wild woman he had met, but saw her instead as an angel come down from heaven. “Linger with me awhile,” she said.
Parsifal walked slowly toward her, as if in a dream, or trance. He sat down on the couch, and as his hand brushed her leg such a thrill went through him that a million inner battlements and barriers crumbled at once into dust. She stroked him; he returned the caress, and felt himself go flush with the flames of newly awakened passion. She twined her arm about his neck like a serpent, and drew him into a kiss.
Long was that kiss -- and it stirred in Parsifal a memory of his glimpse of the Grail. He pulled away disturbed, clutching his heart. And then he cried: “Amfortas!”
“What!?” said Kundry, shaken out of her practiced role by this inexplicable outburst.
“I feel his pain!” said Parsifal. “It burns in my heart. It’s terrible! It must be healed, and the Grail Order redeemed.”
“Here is redemption,” she said, opening her arms, and her garments.
“In the same way was Amfortas beguiled,” he said, rising up in anger. Then he fairly shouted: “Avaunt, harlot! Get thee gone, so that I may find thy unholy lord and deliver him his due.”
“You dastardly, cruel man!” said Kundry. “If you are so attuned to others’ pain, now feel mine! If you are such a savior, start with me! I, too, am under a curse, and suffer the fate of the damned. Long have I waited for one who could release me from the power of darkness. Dally in my embrace for just one hour, and then I’d surely be reborn.”
“The cost of that hour’s bliss,” said Parsifal, “would be endless cycles of doubly-damned torment for both of us.”
“You fool!” she screamed into his face. “You are damned already and know it not. Nothing and no one can save us from the horrid pain of existence! Our only solace is the brief but blessed redemption in which our minds and hearts dissolve into one another in the ecstasy of love, and for a fleeting moment we are gone. Then the memory of this joyful instant of non-being stays with us and redeems the dreary days of self-awareness, as we look forward to the next precious episode of dissolution, and the next.
“But you,” she said, “are so damnably innocent of the ways of love and life, that you know not that the same Godhead whom the Grail serves opens to us also in carnal embrace, and makes its presence felt, and sanctifies the act.”
Now he looked at her not in anger, but surprise. He searched her eyes, then said: “I doubt it not. Though you seek to deceive me in many ways, I see that this is a truth enthroned at the very heart of you.”
She exulted, thinking she had swayed him back to her will. She embraced him and said, “Then let us not tarry, my love! Let us storm the heights of heaven right now, in each other’s arms.”
He cast her off again, to her great dismay. “The sin is not in the act,” he said, “but in the actors. If the heart and the motive are pure, the love is blessed. If not, there will yet be the Devil to pay.
“I know this,” he continued, “for I am innocent no longer. The light of the Grail blazes inside me. I am now a deliberate and willful agent of the salvation it brings to humanity, which suffers in ignorance of the Grail’s existence and blindness to its light. And so it is that now I know what I must do.”
“Then do it with me!” she cried, beside herself with frenzy. She ripped off her flimsy raiment and spread her arms and legs wide, offering herself desperately for a thrust and a penetration that did not come. Parsifal only stared at her in pity, his fool’s look gone, though not his compassion.
“I offer you redemption,” he said, “but you must repent your ways and wiles.”
“Never!” she said. A terrible curse rose to her lips, but before she could utter it, her eye caught a movement in the shadows behind Parsifal. It was Klingsor, stealthily creeping up with the Spear in his hand, and now preparing to heave it with all his might into Parsifal’s back.
“Look out!” shrieked Kundry.
Parsifal swiveled around. It appeared to be too late, for the spear was already in full thrust, and now it was aimed at his heart. But the white light of the Grail flowed out of that heart, and in less than a single beat it had enveloped the whole chamber, thus transplanting the scene into its own realm, beyond space and time. To Parsifal’s eyes it appeared indeed that time had stopped -- Klingsor was frozen like a statue in mid-thrust, with a look of such venomous hatred on his face that Parsifal shuddered at the sight of it. But now it was easy for him to defend himself -- he merely reached out and wrenched the Spear from the grasp of Klingsor.
At that instant time was set back in motion. Klingsor stumbled forward, then looked up in startlement to see the Spear in the hand of his foe. Parsifal held it aloft, and the entire castle vanished. It simply disappeared into the black night, leaving the three figures suspended for a split-second in the empty air. The Spear immediately emanated a magical mist which swirled around Parsifal and Kundry, buoying them up as if they floated upon a cloud. But Klingsor plummeted like a stone, down, down into the watery Abyss, and was seen no more.
The mist floated them to the pasture atop the cliff, where Parsifal’s horse faithfully waited. Kundry fell unconscious to the ground at Parsifal’s feet. He tried to revive her and could not; he feared she was slipping away into death.
He discerned that there was still a spell about her, which must be removed. He leaned her body in a sitting position against a tree trunk, then took her hands in his and allowed the light of the Grail to suffuse her. Slowly the long-entrenched illusion melted away, and the features of the woman were totally transformed. All darkness faded -- she was now an exceedingly fair woman of medium age; verily, a golden glow appeared about her as she began to moan and return to life. Finally she sat before him as she truly was -- and Parsifal, the warrior whose mettle had just been proven in battles of body and soul, was so astounded that he almost swooned. He said: “Mother!”
And in sooth, the woman who now opened her eyes and looked at him was his mother, Herzeleide.
For her part, she too seemed astonished to see her son. After the first shock, she burst into tears of joy, and they embraced vehemently. Then she beheld him at arm’s length and said: “You’ve grown up and are a man! Miracle upon miracle!”
“Mother,” said Parsifal gently, “don’t you remember what’s happened to you?”
She sat back and thought, and great perplexity came over her face. At length she said, “I remember that some months after you left, I could bear it no longer. I set off to try to learn something of your fate, and how you fared. I had not traveled far when I arrived at a great castle. I could not understand how it came to be there, for I had passed that way less than a year before, and it was only an empty field; and so large and magnificent a structure could not have been built in such a short a time.
“A young knight addressed me respectfully and invited me inside; and thither I went. A merry feast was taking place, and I was given wine and fine viands. Then the lord of the castle appeared, and he looked exactly like your father! My mind must have been befuddled, for I became convinced that he WAS your father, and allowed him to take me down into a secret chamber in the castle. And alas, that is the last thing I clearly remember before you awakened me at this moment.”
“It was Klingsor!” said Parsifal; “the dark lord whom we have just overthrown. So he ensorceled you and transmogrified you into the being called Kundry.”
“That name sounds familiar,” she said. “And oh! My mind swarms with dim images from the strangest dreams. And some are nightmares, terrible beyond belief!”
He hugged her again, and reassured her that now, at last, all was well. And though he spoke not a word to her about it, he shuddered inwardly at how monstrous his sin would have been had he succumbed to the seductions of Kundry!
They found lodging with some local folk for a day and a night while Herzeleide recovered her strength. Then together they rode on Parsifal’s white horse, he before and she behind, and made their way back to the Grail Castle. It was the first day of May; all things were in bloom, and the Sun was brilliant upon them.
The castle was there, in plain sight now, at the same spot where Kundry had first brought Parsifal to it. There was not a soul about in the courtyard, and thus they knew that a rite must be in progress to celebrate the holy day.
No one noticed Parsifal and his mother slip in through the door of the Great Hall, for all were absorbed in the scene now unfolding at the altar. Amfortas lay on his litter, pale as a shade and clearly sick to death. The ritual had reached the point where he must expose the Grail, and the collective heart of the throng seemed to freeze between beats, as all looked to see whether the Guardian would fulfill his role.
They were shocked then as Amfortas, who had seemed to weak too lift even his head, struggled to his feet with an enormous, excruciating effort. His face wrenched with pain as he spread out his arms and said in a loud voice: “Tetelestai!” This means: “It is finished”; it was the last word spoken by Christ on the Cross ere he died. Thus every soul in the chamber knew that they had reached the end of their way.
“Knights of the Grail,” said Amfortas, “you have demanded that I do my duty. Now I beg you to do yours. Unsheathe your weapons! Plunge every blade deep into my heart. Come, you heroes -- slay me now, the sinner, and end my pain! Only then will the Grail shine again.”
Before anyone else could react in any way, Parsifal stepped forth and said: “One weapon alone will serve: the Spear that made the wound must heal it.” The crowd gasped as he held it aloft. “The Spear!” they said in wonderment -- “it’s the Spear!”
Parsifal stood next to Amfortas, grasped firmly his hand, and settled the hilt of the Spear upon his wound, with the blade pointing up toward heaven. A glow from above flowed into it like silent lightning, and engulfed Amfortas. There were cries of awe and joy as the pain-wracked face of the Guardian was transfigured into ecstasy.
Then Parsifal removed the Spear and proffered it to Amfortas. “You are healed,” he said, “and forgiven. You sinned, for flesh is heir to transgression. But the memory of your sin, and the merit of your suffering, have brought you many leagues closer to perfection.”
Amfortas took hold of the Spear and raised it toward the ceiling. He said: “I swear by this holy instrument and by the life it has renewed in me, that I will never again willfully renege upon my duty, nor rest in my efforts until that perfection is attained -- even if heaven and earth must pass away before it happens.” A spark of light flashed upon the point of the Spear.
Now Amfortas addressed Parsifal. “I owe you my life and my salvation,” he said. “Clearly you are a divine being or messenger, and I am ashamed that I know you not, and must now ask the name of he who has wrought this miracle on my behalf.”
Gurnemanz spoke up from his place in the assemblage. “I know him,” he said. “He is the pure fool of the prophecy. And I, too, am ashamed, for when he came hither the first time, I turned him away.”
“You, too, are forgiven,” said Parsifal, “for you unwittingly did what was needful for the fulfillment of the prophecy.”
Suddenly the voice of Herzeleide resounded loudly and proudly through the Hall: “His name is Parsifal,” she said, “though he is a fool no longer. And he is my son.”
Parsifal looked around and saw to his surprise that his mother had mounted up to the place at the altar behind the Grail. He felt a twinge of concern that the celebrants might find this disrespectful. Instead, he heard the throng exclaim with one voice: “The Grail Queen!”
Great was the amazement on the part of all, and most especially of Parsifal. “Mother!” he said, “how has all this come to be?”
Her smile glowed with mystery. She said: “We must put aside our questions and astonishments until later, because now we must finish the ritual.”
Amfortas said, “I willingly yield my place in the rite to my Lord Parsifal, who by winning the Spear has proven his right to be its Guardian.”
Parsifal bowed slightly, as if to accept the honor. But his mother, the Grail Queen, said: “No. Amfortas is still the Guardian.”
“If this is the will of the Grail,” said Amfortas, “then so mote it be, and I accept it with gratitude. But what of your son, Milady? Surely he must needs be an officiant of the ritual?”
“Yes,” she said, “for the ritual has changed. Please assume your place, Milord Amfortas.”
He complied, standing in his traditional place to the Grail’s right, the Spear in his right hand. Herzeleide now moved slightly to the left, leaving Parsifal at the exact center of the altar. The glow of white light appeared again near the ceiling, and the knights and ladies began softly singing the hymns.
The Queen picked up the chalice, and proffered it not to Amfortas, but to Parsifal. He touched the lid to lift it, but she shook her head and withdrew it slightly. Then she presented it again, indicating that he should take it wholly into his own hands. He did so, and then lifted the covering.
The light of the Grail resplendently shone forth, as it always had. But now another astonishment occurred, as it floated up out of the chalice and hung suspended in the air before Parsifal’s wondering eyes. It was a multifaceted gem, sparkling in all the colors of the rainbow, and more besides. To look upon it was to know the infinite and everlasting love and mercy of God, and the unity of all things.
The Queen reached into her bodice and pulled out a brooch, or rather the empty mounting for one, suspended on a chain. This she now placed around the neck of Parsifal. A moment later the Grail floated toward him and affixed itself into the brooch, so that he now wore the Grail itself as a medallion.
At this moment the voice of the Grail King spoke from above, saying: “Let the Grail nevermore be concealed, but borne openly by the Pure One, who is now my Regent. In him is united the unconditional mercy of the Queen and the unflinching valor of the Guardian. Let the twain be one; let there nevermore be a separation between the agencies of life and of death, for both are holy, and needful for the propagation of the world and the fulfillment of universal destiny.
“The Universe is my creation, and mine is the power to give life and to take it. I now invest this power in my Regent, because his purity will assure that the power will never be abused; and his embodiment as a single being will allow the implementation of my will in a manner much nearer to perfection.
“Furthermore, the light of the open Grail shining forth in the Regent can unite the souls of the Order in a way not possible before. And in this unity there will be found the strength of purpose and action enabling the veritable New Order to serve as the bulwark and foundation-stone for a new Outer Order as well, and many will be the souls who are led to redemption thereby.
“If you falter and err, remember that every day is a new redemption. And verily I have given you a new day.”
Then the voice faded, but the light of the Grail shone over all.
Readers familiar with the legends of Parsifal may question some of the new twists and wrinkles I have added to the story; I can only reply that I intend them to provide new layers of symbolic richness, which merely reflect and clarify the core meanings without substantially changing them. Only the members of the Inner Order are qualified to judge whether I have succeeded in this.
Indeed, my primary intent is to further the purposes of the Order by continuing the work of Richard Wagner in adapting and reinvigorating the Parsifal myth for modern times, and in taking this project to the next active stage. All who are familiar with his operatic “Parsifal” will recognize that he is my primary source, though I have also drawn on the original Medieval sources, viz. Wolfram von Eschenbach and Chrétien de Troyes, as well as other modern adaptations.
At the end of my new rendering, some might wonder about the identity of Parsifal’s father. The answer to this is difficult to determine with certainty. Most members of the Grail community assumed that the Queen had been pregnant by the Grail King before she left the castle for her voluntary exile. To a few, however, it was not unthinkable that there may have truly been a knight on his way to the Crusades, whom she had selected as a likely sire for a Prince and future Regent. To no one, of course, was it conceivable that the father could have been Amfortas, given his condition at the time of the Queen’s flight.
One question many will ask concerns the Grail Queen herself -- a new element in the story -- and her identification as both Parsifal’s mother and Kundry. That Herzeleide could “turn into” Kundry, the good mother into the dark, devouring Kali-Ma, is clearly indicated in Wagner’s version. There, when Parsifal encounters Kundry in Klingsor’s castle, she tells him that SHE named him “Parsifal” while he was yet in the womb. She says that she SAW him on his mother’s breast, and goes on to give an eyewitness account of many intimate scenes between Parsifal and his mother. The strong hint is that she IS his mother, though this is apparently contradicted when she then tells him that Herzeleide died; for it’s well within the symbolism to imagine that Herzeleide “died” only to be “reborn” as Kundry.
An interesting but questionable treatment of the myth is given in the movie version of Wagner’s “Parsifal” created by the German filmmaker Hans-Jurgen Syberberg. The point in question is underlined here by the fact that the same actress plays both Herzeleide and Kundry. And, appropos to the next point, in the final redemption scene in the movie Kundry is given a crown, and is elevated to equal rank with Amfortas.
Why does there need to be a Grail Queen? Is she integral and necessary to the import of the myth, and the playing-out of the drama in real life?
In a popular book titled “He”, Robert A. Johnson presented a Jungian study of the masculine psyche utilizing the Parsifal myth. He identified the Grail as the anima, the female aspect of the man’s soul. It’s clear that this interpretation has a strong resonance with the Medieval cult of courtly love, which was one of the dominant elements in European culture when the Parsifal myth arose. Indeed, the myth itself can be taken as an expression of this belief-system, in which a chaste knight idealized a lady he loved as a physical embodiment of heavenly grace. It’s a recorded historical fact that THIS was literally the Grail that many knights went in quest of.
In actual practice, then, there were MANY “Grail Queens” in the Age of Chivalry; and the only reason this archetypal figure was not enshrined in the myth was that the all-male pantheon of churchly dogma had no place for her. In sooth, her place was taken by Christ -- or at least the merciful, loving, FEMININE aspect of Christ. This was the being loved and worshipped by countless generations of Christians as their Savior. Thus in the “mainstream” myth we have not a Grail Queen but a Grail Savior, with the image of Jesus offering the chalice of his blood to God at the Last Supper.
In many of the enactments of Wagner’s “Parsifal” over the past century, the title role has been played by some very Christly-looking tenors. So a certain irony carries over to Syberberg’s postmodern prank of having two performers alternate as Parsifal in his film, one of them female. On my first viewing, I imagined that the producer was simply another agent of decay, out to defame Wagner and deconstruct his work. Then I looked back at “He”, and realized that in the movie, the male and female players of Parsifal switched places at exactly the moment that Johnson would describe as the attainment of union with the anima. According to this analysis, if Parsifal had been seduced by Kundry, it would’ve resulted in “anima possession”, a pathological state. So by spurning her, he set the stage for the true apotheosis of the anima, which Wagner symbolized by the active presence of the Grail within Parsifal. Syberberg augmented this with a much grosser symbol, that of Parsifal turning into a woman; yet this, too, has a mytho-psychological validity.
Another ancient mythic symbol for this same transformation is the “alchemical marriage”, often graphically portrayed by a hermaphroditic figure, half man and half woman. This is not the pseudo-androgyne of postmodern decadence, which idealizes ambisexual creatures who are NEITHER male NOR female. Rather, the attainment of the Grail in the alchemical marriage makes one fully male AS WELL AS fully female, at least in the sense of the spiritual essence of the two poles.
Thus in this newest updating of the myth, I have fleshed out the polarity by positing on one side a Queen embodying unconditional mother-love; on the other side an uncompromising male warrior ready to deal death to the enemies of the Grail; and then emblemizing their alchemical marriage and union in the figure of Parsifal as “Regent” of the Godhead.
At the end of the story in all versions from Wolfram to Wagner, Parsifal heals Amfortas and thus reinvigorates the Grail Order. I have indicated that it is thus transformed into a “veritable New Order”, which can impact actual events in the affairs of the material world. This should not be confused with the so-called “New World Order”, for in fact it’s the antithesis of this, and works for its overthrow.
Wagner was exquisitely aware of the degenerate forces tending to consolidate their dominance of civilization, and he symbolized these in the figure of Klingsor. A hundred years later Klingsor rules the world, and the only thing threatening him is the possible internal breakdown of his own necromantic castle, i.e., the global technostructure. Where’s Parsifal now that we need him? I have written this story in an attempt to find out.