Published on March 11, 2014
Text Source: ALEXANDRIA, The Journal of the Western Cosmological Traditions, Volume 1, pp. 187-227 COVER IMAGES: “Parsifal binds his horse to a tree in front Gurnemanz’s castle” [top] and “Parsifal enters the Grail temple” From a codex copy of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival at Universtaatbibliothek Heidelberg. Parzival is entranced by the three drops of blood on the snow outside Arthur’s encampment. He falls into a love trance, for the rosy drops remind him of his beautiful wife Condwiramurs, and in this reverie he becomes totally oblivious to his surroundings.
ERHAPS THE SUPREME RELIGIOUS SYMBOL of the Middle Ages, the Holy Grail, still exerts a powerful fascination on the European imagination. Yet, while we in the twentieth century possess a stereotyped notion of the Grail as the chalice used during the Last Supper, the early literary accounts are not so unanimous in their portrayal of its nature. In fact, most scholars believe the Grail to be ultimately of pre-Christian, Celtic origin. The earliest surviving literary account of the Grail quest is the well-known Perceval, or Story of the Grail by Chrétien de Troyes. Chrétien states that the story was given to him by his patron, Count Philip of Flanders, in the form of a book. While it is true that Count Philip participated in crusades in the Holy Land there is nothing to suggest any Middle Eastern influence in Chrétien’s tale, while, for example, there is a large amount of material indicating Arabic sources in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, composed some 45 years later. It would be beyond the scope of this paper to recapitulate the entire plot of Chrétien’s Perceval, but, in brief, it concerns the story of a rustic Welsh simpleton who is protected from knowledge of the outside world by his mother. Much to his mother’s dismay, however, he encounters some knights, and decides that he would liketobecomeaknightinArthur’scourt.Hesetsoff,leavinghismotherbehind,who faintsathisdeparture.ThroughvariousadventuresPercevaldevelopsasanindividual andeventually,inaremarkabledream-likeepisode,gainsentrancetothecastleofthe mysterious Fisher King where he witnesses a bizarre ceremony involving the Grail, [in the form of] a large dish, and a mysterious bleeding lance. Perceval, alas, does not ask the question ‘Whom does the Grail serve?’ a question which would have healed the maimed Fisher King. As a result, he returns to the ordinary world the next day and eventually realises that he has erred and that he must now go in search of the Grail, both to heal the King and to right his wrongs. Chrétien’s tale is remarkable for its extremely organic, numinous structure. It reads like a fairy tale, or as though someone was recounting a profound, symbolic dream.InthehandsofChrétien,thestoryoftheGrailobviouslyremainsquiteclose to its origins as an orally transmitted legend. There are, in fact, many links between his account and Celtic myth. In broad outline, the story seems connected to certain typical accounts of an individual’s journey to the Otherworld. The Grail, in turn, is related to the Celtic dish of plenty, a mysterious vessel, and obvious symbol of fertility,whichmiraculouslyprovidesanunlimitedsourceofsustenance.Thispower is a main characteristic of the Grail in Wolfram’s Parzival. While in some French romances the Fisher King is named King Bron, the Welsh Mabinogion tells of the wealthy King Bran, known for his feasts and hospitality, who was wounded by a lance in the foot. In Chrétien, the Fisher King is wounded by a lance which passed through his thighs. P Hear now age-old tales as if they were new, that they may teach you to speak true. -- Trevrizent in Wolfram’s Parzival The Path Toward the Grail: The Hermetic Sources and Structure of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival DAVID R. FIDELER The Path Toward the Grail:
4 The Path Toward the Grail Notes Chrétien’sstorygivestheimpressionthatitisonlyverysuperficiallyChristianised. At one point Perceval learns that the Grail contains an eucharistic wafer, destined for the father of the Fisher King. Yet R. S. Loomis, the great scholar and defender of the ‘Celtic hypothesis’ suggests that the Christianisation of the legend may have originated from an etymological misinterpretation by Chrétien. Discussing the legendary King Bran, Loomis notes that Hepossessedahornwhichproducedwhateverdrinkorfoodonedesired,acounterparttothe dish of plenty. Translated into French, the word horn in the nominative case would be corz or cors, and since drinking horns were not common in France, it would suggest cors, ‘body’. The Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, was credited in Chretien’s time with miraculous nutritive powers.Oncemiraculousdishandmiraculouswaferwereassociated,nowonderthatonebecame areceptaclefortheother,evenindefianceofecclesiasticalordinanceandgoodsense.1 On the other hand, there are certainly Christian elements in Chrétien’s story of the Grail, and it is quite possible that he was consciously striving for a dynamic synthesis of ’ ‘pagan’ and ‘Christian’ elements. By taking this approach, medieval Christianity was thereby vitalised and brought into harmony with the soul of Celtic culture;italsoallowedtheancientmythstoliveonbyadaptingthemtothenecessities ofthetime.Unfortunately,however,Chrétien’sstorywasnevercompletedduetohis death. The explicit Christianisation of the Grail itself began with Robert de Boron inhisJosephd’Arimathie,perhapswrittenasearlyas1190,wherehestatesthatthe Grail was the chalice used at the Last Supper and that it was brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea. The bleeding lance, in turn, was identified with the lance of Longinus which pierced the side of Christ. WolframvonEschenbachinhisgreatepicParzival(c.1207)consciouslyavoids the explicit Christianisation of the Grail by portraying it not as a dish or chalice, but asthePhilosophers’Stone.Wolframandhissourceswillbediscussedatsomelength inthefollowingpages.AfterWolfram,however,theGrailwasentirelyassimilatedas a Christian symbol even though the writers continued to draw upon ancient Celtic loreandlegend.ThechartbelowprovidesachronologyofthemostimportantGrail romances and the form which the Grail takes in the respective accounts: DATE WORK FORM c.1181 Crétien Conte del Graal Large Dish c.1190 Robert de Boron Joseph d’Arimathie Chalice of Last Supper c.1207 Wolfram von Eschenbach Parzival Philosophers' Stone c.1210 Vulgate Cycle Dish or Bowl c.1225 Perlesvaus Possesses five shapes, the fifth of which is a chalice c.1270 Albrecht von Scharffenberg Der Jünge Titurel Chalice Naturally, it is possible to focus on the symbolism of the Grail itself, and its historical antecedents, as opposed to focusing on the various narrative accounts of the quest. However, a careful reading of Chrétien and Wolfram von Eschenbach convinces me that the real significance of the Parzival romances lays not so much in the nature of the Grail itself as in the transformations and personal development of Parzival. Therefore I felt that it would not be valid to focus on the symbolism
5 The Hermetic Sources and Structure of Parzival Notesof the Grail exclusively in a study of Wolfram’s Parzival, as that would remove the Grail from its legitimate, meaningful context; moreover, an excellent symbolic phenomenologyoftheGrailalreadyexistsinJohnMatthews’bookTheGrail:Quest for the Eternal.2 I have decided, then, to concentrate here on some fascinating aspects of the ParzivalstoryaspresentedbyChrétienandWolframwhilenotlimitingmyselftothe symbolism of the Grail itself: these aspects involve the Parzival story as a paradigm of psychological and spiritual development, the seemingly tripartite structure of Wolfram’s Parzival, and the Hermetic sources of Wolfram’s Parzival as set forth in a fascinating study by Henry and Renee Kahane.3 In conclusion, I will discuss some of the interesting, broader implications of the Grail romances in general. Unavoidably,thisessaypresupposessomeacquaintancewithWolfram’sParzival, the most important literary work of the Middle Ages, second, perhaps, only to Dante’s Divine Comedy. But for those who have not personally experienced the depth and well-crafted intricacies of Wolfram’s tale, I hope that some of the points raised herein will provide ample inspiration to study this magnificent epic of the Grail quest first hand. The Three Realms in Wolfram and the Ascent to the Grail Parzival advances toward the spiritual treasure of the Grail by passing into and through three separate realms of being and experience. While never specifically alluded to by Wolfram in the course of his narrative, this threefold structure is so clearlyimplicitintheParzivalthatitisdifficulttoimaginethatthestructurewasnot intendedbythepoet.Moreover,eachrealmisassociatedwithaparticulargeographic locale, character and stage of Parzival’s personal and spiritual development. As we shall see later, Parzival is initiated into the mysteries of the Grail by Trevrizent,whosenamemostlikelymeans‘triplewisdom’.ItismybeliefthatWolfram based his work itself upon a form of ‘three-fold wisdom’, a way of perceiving the ‘three worlds’ in both man and cosmos. In Wolfram’s Parzival these three realms of being and experience are represented by the realm of society, the realm of love, and the realm of the Grail. I. The Realm of Society The first realm is that of the Round Table, the Court of Arthur, symbolising the realm of polite society into which Parzival was initiated by his teacher Gurnemanz, who rescued him from his rustic attire and boorish ways. Gurnemanz bestowed upon Parzival a ‘code to live by’ which included the injunction to stop talking about his mother, at least ‘in his speech, but not in his heart, as is still a true man’s way’.4 Having been brought up by his mother, sequestered away in a forest and protected from essentially all knowledge of society, Parzival is aptly described by Wolfram as an ‘orphan of wisdom’.5 While Parzival’s mother had given him some advice to follow, her underlying motive was to sabotage the possibility of his entrance into courtly society; hence she dressed him up as a fool before his departure so that no one would take him seriously. Given the fate of her husband, who died as a knight, and her consequent grief, one cannot doubt the underlying purity of her intentions. Nonetheless, her intentions could not but help stand in the way of Parzival’s own personaldevelopment.Gurnemanzremediedthisparticularsituationbygivingthelad proper attire and by lending Parzival instruction in the chivalrous arts of knighthood for which he had a strong, natural aptitude. Since Parzival never knew his father, GurnemanzrepresentsParzival’sfirstmale‘rolemodel’.Gurnemanzhencestandsasan important symbol in Parzival’s personal evolution from the matriarchal realm of the nursery into ‘the realm of the fathers’, the world of the court and male society.
6 The Path Toward the Grail Notes While Parzival took easily to the instruction and excelled at the tasks he had been given, eventually he would be forced to transcend the teachings of Gurnemanz in the same way that he necessarily had to leave his mother behind. After all, it is Gurnemanz’s injunction ‘Do not ask too many questions’6 which causes quite a bit of trouble down the line in the Grail castle, in the same way that his mother’s advice encouraged Parzival’s misfortune in his encounter with Jeschute of Karnant in her tent. While Gurnemanz’s instructions are sound at a certain level, and while they are certainly the most important thing Parzival could learn at the moment, they are ultimately a means to an end, rather than ends in themselves. While at this point in the story Parzival knows nothing of the Grail, he is nonetheless involved, perhaps notconsciously,inwhatamountstoaquestfortranscendence.Thisisnotnecessarily something that he has chosen; it has been essentially ordained by his own personal Fate, symbolised by his ancestry of which he is also unconscious. Gurnemanz took a liking to Parzival and offered him the hand of his beautiful daughter Liaze; yet Parzival realised that he must move on, for ‘He wanted to have fought better before enjoying the warmth of what they term “a lady’s arms”. He felt that noble striving was a lofty goal both in this life and yonder. And that is still no lie.’ 7 EventhoughParzivalisportrayedasaninnocentfool,heisdestinedtoexperience successinspiteofhimself,dueinlargeparttohisinnatenobilityofcharacter.Parzival has entered society, the realm of the Round Table, in a very roundabout way: having stormed in to see Arthur like a fool, he was nonetheless granted permission to win the armour of the Red Knight, which he achieved more through innate skill and cunningthanthroughacquiredtechnique.AfterParzivalhadwonthearmourinthe unusualencounterwhichcosttheRedKnighthislife,hereceivedtraininginknightly combatandthelike.Theorderofevents,therefore,isexactlythereverseofwhatthey should have been, for the proper sequence would have involved being initiated into the ways of the court before engaging in such serious combat, let alone approaching the King. While nonetheless a ‘fool’ in the sense of being socially awkward, Parzival unmistakably possesses a natural grace. His defeat of the Red Knight is an act of self-initiationintotherealmofknighthood,evenifaccomplishedinanunorthodox fashion. His subsequent encounter with Gramoflanz is also initiatory, in terms of learning the proper technique. Equipped with his natural grace, and now equipped with the proper knowledge of societal conduct, Parzival has properly won his place in the realm of the Round Table. Combining his newly acquired knowledge of effectivetechniquewithhisbynomeansmeagreinnerresources,Parzivalisdestined to become nearly invincible. He will discover, however, as he already knows in some sense, that further initiations lie ahead. II. The Realm of the Soul Having achieved a place in Arthur’s court, Parzival set out lamenting the loss of the beautiful Liaze, only to be initiated into the mysteries of courtly love. He came upon a besieged castle where all of the inhabitants looked pale and sickly from lack of food, a place where misery hung in the air. He was there introduced to the fair Queen Condwiramurs, who made Liaze’s beauty look pale by comparison: ‘in her, God had not omitted any wish, she was the mistress of the land, and like the rose washed with the sweet dew that from its bud sends forth its new and noble glow, red and white together.’ 8 FollowingtheadviceofGurnemanznottospeaktoomuch,Parzivalludicrously sat with the Queen in silence, not saying a word. Condwiramurs finally broke the silence, however, and learned of Parzival’s travels. A special feast was planned, although Parzival suggested that they share their food with the starving citizenry. Night fell and Parzival was shown to an exquisite chamber where he fell asleep after his long day’s journey. He was awakened by ‘the rain of heart’s tears from bright
7 The Hermetic Sources and Structure of Parzival Noteseyes’,9 thetearsofCondwiramurswhohadstolenintohisroom,wearinganightgown of white silk. Assuring us that the proper limits of womanhood were not broken, the poet explains how she crawled into bed with Parzival and started to explain the devastation which had been inflicted on her people. Condwiramurs related that her castle had been under siege by King Clamidê and his accomplices, with the intention of making her his wife. She further explained that she had reached the point where she would rather kill herself before surrendering both body and soul to the would-be suitor. Hearing of this Parzival vowed to protect fair Condwiramurs and the next day he defeated Kingrun, a seneschal of Clamidê who had killed many a knight, sending him as a prisoner to Arthur’s court. Learning of his victory, the citizens rejoiced and Condwiramurs exclaimed, referring to Parzival, ‘I shall never be the wife of any man on earth unless it be the one I have just embraced’.10 At this point, a ship laden with food arrived miraculously at the castle. The citizens feasted and Parzival once again shared a bed chastely with Condwiramurs. The two fell deeply in love and the Queen bestowed her castles and country upon Parzival, as well as her love, in the following days. Clamidê,however,heardofhisseneschal’sdefeatanddecidedtoattackthecastle himself.Abattletranspiredbetweentheopposingarmies,andClamidêsuggestedthat the outcome be determined by one-on-one combat between himself and Parzival. Parzival emerged victorious and sent Clamidê as well to Arthur’s court as a prisoner. ‘Out where Parzival was wearing the crown,’ Wolfram tells us, ‘the country was being rebuilt and joy and jubilation were to be heard.’11 Parzival and his beautiful wife dwelt together a number of months, and ‘their love stood in such strength that no wavering could affect it’. Then one morning Parzival asked his dear wife for permission to leave her for a while to check on the condition of his mother. This she granted, and Parzival rode off on his mission. *** Under the guidance of Condwiramurs, Parzival’s soul has been touched by the power of love. This, in fact, is implied in the name of his wife, based as it is on the old French conduire-amours, ‘to guide love’.12 Having left behind the negative effects of his caring but ultimately destructive mother, Parzival was initiated into the realm of male society by Gurnemanz. But having been accepted into the masculine world, Parzival must next come to grips with the nature of the feminine. Courtly love enters into Wolfram’s Parzival with its doctrine of performing knightly service for one’s lady. In the actual world of courtly love, however, the object of one’s attention was usually another man’s wife, and the love relationship was never physically consummated, at least in theory.13 This particular aspect of the courtly love relationship comes across quite clearly on those occasions when Parzival and Condwiramurs share a common bed without engaging in any physical intimacies. Wolfram is able to accept the courtly love doctrine of performing service under the inspiration of a noble lady, but he is not able to accept the convention of having another man’s wife as one’s beloved, for marital fidelity is one of the supreme virtues for Wolfram. In any event, Wolfram is not at all squeamish about sex, and happily allows the couple to physically consummate their profound, heartfelt love after exchanging their own personal vows. The emergence of courtly love in medieval France is to be associated with a corresponding valorisation of the feminine principle. At this very time, when the myths of the Grail were circulating and being given literary expression by the likes of Chrétien and Wolfram, the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary was in its ascendency and the great French cathedrals were being erected, usually in her honour. The lyrics of the troubadours celebrated the service one might perform for an unobtainable love interest, and there is more than one occasion where troubadour lyrics blur the
8 The Path Toward the Grail Notes distinctionbetweenthebelovedindividual,anactualperson,andthedivinefeminine principle of the Blessed Virgin. There has been much talk of the Renaissance of the twelfth century, but while renaissanceliterallymeans‘rebirth’,andrefersinthecaseoftheItalianRenaissanceto therediscoveryofclassicallearning,Idonotfeelthatthetermcanproperlybeapplied to this movement of the twelfth century. That is because in the twelfth century we donotwitnesstherebirthofsomethingwhichpreviouslyexisted,buttheemergence of a totally new phenomenon: not only do we see the emergence of romantic love, a concept which is unique to the West, but we also witness the emergence of what we now take for granted as the fundamental psychic and social dominants of European civilisation. With the development of romantic love we also encounter an increased emphasis on the role of the individual: the quest for the Grail is an individual quest, and the story of the quest, in Chrétien and Wolfram, is the story of one individual’s personalandspiritualdevelopment.Moreover,theGrailitselfisamysteriousobject, obviouslysacred,yetitisinnowayassociatedwithtraditionalecclesiasticalauthority. These are problems to which we will return later. The great mystery of the birth of romantic love in the twelfth century, and the birth of what we realise to be the unique temperament of the European soul, lies in thefactthatthereisnospecificfactorwhichcanaccountforit.Thetroubadoursdid not invent the Grail, nor did the devotees of the Blessed Virgin create the psychic dominantswhichstandbehindthedynamicstructureofthecourtlyloverelationship. We can easily see that these various expressions are related to the emergence and increasedvaluationofthefeminineprinciple,buttheactualcauseremainsmysterious. That a profound transformation occurred is beyond question; a spontaneous flowering of tremendous energy which resulted in the revelation and emergence of what we now take for granted as the cultivated and cultured European soul. Iftheoriginsofthisrevelationremaininscrutableandperhapsultimatelyacausal, the effects are much easier to gauge. The idea, so forcefully portrayed in Wolfram, that each knight should be in the service of a lady had a tremendous civilising influencewhichcanscarcelybeunderestimated.Thishighidealhelpedtotransform the average knight, who more often than not was a loathsome character ready to kill, rape and pillage, into someone who might pass as a decent human being.14 The ultimate Arthurian symbol of this cultivated ideal is Sir Gawan (or Gawain). He is notedforhiscourtesy,awordderivedfromtheFrenchword‘court’.Heiseverpolite, ever caring, absolutely trustworthy, the best friend one could ever wish to have, and also something of a lady’s man. Gawan’s grace, in contrast with the average knight, is splendidly portrayed in the episode where Parzival is entranced by the three drops of blood on the snow outside Arthur’s encampment. Parzival falls into a love trance, for the rosy drops remind him of his beautiful wife Condwiramurs, and in this reverie he becomes totally oblivious to his surroundings. The first two knights who attempt to take Parzival to the encampment are portrayed as hostile brutes; they disturb Parzival’s contemplation, attempt to take him by force, and are ruthlessly defeated. After their failure, Sir Gawan, who ‘possessed all the virtues’ heads out to question Parzival in a gentlemanly fashion. As he arrives, the snow is melting and Parzival is emerging from his trance. A polite conversation ensues between the two of them and Parzival heads back with Gawan to meet with Arthur. Gawan can of course sympathise with Parzival’s love trance; he himself is described by Wolfram as ‘a man quite helpless against love’15 and his well-developed traits of sympathy and courtesy may be seen as ‘feminine virtues’thathehasbeenabletosuccessfullyintegrateintohismasculinepersonality. Gawan, in fact, is the symbol par excellence of the soul transfigured by courtly love, for the chivalrous quest of the soul’s transformation through amor necessarily leads toward the integration of feminine values into the male personality. The
9 The Hermetic Sources and Structure of Parzival Notesrealm of amor, and also the realm of the feminine, is symbolised by the Castle of Wonders, and it is quite amusing (and not coincidental) that Gawan nearly loses his life while battling on a magic bed. It is also highly significant that the four queens of the castle are related to Gawan: Arnive is his grandmother (and Arthur’s mother), Sangive is Gawan’s mother, and Cundrie and Itonje are his two sisters. The obvious message behind all of this is that for the questing knight to ascend to a higher level of being there is a necessity to be personally transformed through a relationship to the feminine, through a transforming love relationship. It is precisely Sir Gawan, moreover, who represents the highest achievement in this realm. Thefeminineguideleadsthemasculinepersonalitytothediscoveryoftheinner world, to the discovery of the soul. This is an archetypal motif: the feminine guide leads one to the spiritual treasure, or even carries it, as Repanse de Schoye carries the Grail.AccordingtotheinsightsofJungianpsychology,theanima,themuseorsource of inner inspiration, leads one to the treasure of the Self. But the anima is generally only encountered after one has encountered the personal shadow, that part of every individual’spersonalitywhichisself-centred,dark,essentiallynegativeandignorant. TheParzivallegendverywellsubstantiatesJung’spsychologicalinsights,forParzival starts out as a self-centred, social dimwit, naively molesting a woman in a tent. After partially coming to terms with his personal ignorance through the assistanceofGurnemanz,ParzivalthenencountersCondwiramurs,theguidetolove. In other words, he works with the shadow before coming in touch with the anima. After becoming happily married, Parzival decides to return home and check on the safety of his mother. This could be seen as a desire to return to the unconscious, but it is not a negative desire. The anima has a relation to the mother complex; it might be said that the maternal complex is the psychic foundation on which the higher spiritualmanifestationoftheanimaisestablished.16 Thenegativesideofthemother complex is associated with the personal shadow, but Parzival has already dealt with thenegativeaspectsofhismother’sprotectiveschemingsthroughhisencounterwith Gurnemanz. Parzival’s desire to return to his mother is not so much based upon a personaldesiretoregressasitisonhiscompassionforhismother,acompassionwhich was noticeably absent when he left her behind, fallen in a swoon, and, unknown to Parzival, actually dead. On leaving Condwiramurs to check on his mother, Parzival encounters the FisherKingandtheGrail,inWolfram,thePhilosophers’Stone,whichisthesupreme symbol of earthly perfection. As Jung has shown in his Psychology and Alchemy, the Philosophical Stone is the alchemical symbol par excellence of the inner Self, the foundation stone and quiet centre in the midst of the soul. As such it has many analogues, ranging from the diamond body of Buddhism to the Islamic ‘Ka’aba of the Heart’. Also related is the Oriental and Gnostic symbolism of the ‘pearl of great price’ surrounded by a dragon which refers to the same psychic structure, while metaphysically it refers to the timeless centre surrounded by the coils of time and manifestation.17 As is so often the case, Parzival’s glimpse of the Grail is just that, a glimpse. His approachtotheGrailcastleinChrétienisincrediblydream-like,repletewithunusual time distortions and a nearly palpable aura of surreality; the following day everyone has disappeared as if a phantasm had evaporated. In the vision of the Grail, Parzival had caught a glimpse of perfection, yet, due to his failure to ask the appropriate question (due to his lack of intuitive spontaneity) the treasure-hard-to-attain has escaped his grasp. Instead of relying upon his inner resources, Parzival is thwarted by following the conventional dictums of Gurnemanz. This is, of course, just as well for the development of the story, as well as for his personal development, for now he must search for the Grail. He has been touched by a higher vision. While Parzival’s father had lived to experience the honour accrued through love and war, Parzival mustpursuethepathofaspontaneouslyrevealedspiritualchivalry;thequestforthe
10 The Path Toward the Grail Notes Grail.Toconfirmthis,onproceedingfromtheCastleoftheGrailheencountersthe maiden with the headless knight who informs him that his mother is dead and that he ‘must seek something else’. That something is, of course, the Grail. Significantly, in Chrétien’s version, it is only at this point that Parzival learns his own name. This signifies that through his previous adventures, and now having caught a glimpse of the Grail, Parzival is gaining a certain degree of self-knowledge. Having stumbled almost by accident upon the Grail, Parzival is now firmly engagedontheinnerquest.Hisnextencounterisrelatedtoanepisodefromhispast; it is a ‘karmic’ meeting with the woman he disturbed in the tent. She is now attired inscantragsandridinganearlycrippledhorsebecauseofherhusband’spunishment, based upon his unfounded suspicions that she had sexually given herself over to Parzivalinthetent.Parzivaldefeatstheknightanddriveshomethefactthatnothing happened between them, but the entire event emerges like a distant, yet significant, happening spewed forth from the unconscious in the course of psychoanalysis. Parzival still obviously needs to work with his shadow. After that situation is resolved, Parzival encounters the three drops of blood and falls into the love trance. This is an important event, for Parzival at this point, perhapsfortheveryfirsttime,discovershissoul;hisowninferiority.Thisisnaturally accompanied by recollections of his beautiful wife, Condwiramurs. On being taken to the encampment by Sir Gawan, Parzival is joyously welcomed by King Arthur and his court. It would seem that this is Parzival’s finest hour, but all is not well. The loathsome hag appears, uttering her oracular proclamations that, because Parzival failed to ask the proper question which might heal the Fisher King, lands will be laid to waste and much calamity will ensue. At this point, when Parzival has been truly accepted into the Arthurian circle, he realises that he must leave it behind and search for the Grail. Having become a part of the Round Table, a part of society, Parzival must strive beyond the conventions of society and pursue an individual, ‘metaphysical’ quest. Insummary,wecanseehowalloftheprecedingeventshavebeenlinkedtogether in terms of Parzival’s unfolding personal development. Gurnemanz helped Parzival overcome the negative influence of his mother, thus allowing him access to the worldofsocietyandtheexperienceofcourtlylove,buthisliteralisticinstructionled Parzival to rely too much on societal convention. Condwiramurs initiated Parzival into the mysteries of love, and, significantly, it was immediately after his encounter with this feminine guide that he was led to view the Holy Grail. The vision of the Grail evaporated due to Parzival’s shortcomings, but, because of the consequences resulting from his failure to ask the appropriate question, he at least became aware of them. As if to remind Parzival of his foolish past, he encounters the maiden he accosted in the tent, and he is fortunately able to bring the suffering he naively inflicted upon her to an end: this restores the balance of ‘karma’ and also reflects his increased maturity. The vision of the three drops of blood seems to signify a deepeningofhischaracter,adeepeningwhichwouldnothavebeenpossiblewithout the inspiration of Condwiramurs and his experience of the Grail. Now that Parzival is in a position to realise his personal shortcomings he is also in a position to set forth upon his metaphysical quest. III. The Realm of the Grail In each of the three realms there is a particular figure who acts as a psychopomp, guidingParzivalintothatparticulararenaofhumanexperience.Gurnemanzinitiated Parzival into the realm of the Arthurian circle, the realm of society; Condwiramurs, theguidetolove,initiatedParzivalintotherealmofthesoul;itremainsforTrevrizent, Parzival’s uncle, to initiate him into the society of the Grail. As Hugh Sacker points out, it is Parzival’s maternal lineage which compels him
11 The Hermetic Sources and Structure of Parzival Notesto seek the Grail since he is, unknown to himself, related to the line of the Grail Kings.18 In terms of his paternal lineage, like his father Parzival has achieved honour in both war and love. His second meeting with Arthur represents the culmination of what most of his peers could possibly hope to achieve in life; yet precisely at this moment of societal triumph is Parzival denounced by Cundrie. Parzival realises that he cannot merely rest content with his social achievement. While the others present at Arthur’s court cannot fathom Cundrie’s bitter denunciation of Parzival, he realises that he must correct the situation which has arisen. While he leaves the Arthurian circle with a sense of shame, Parzival nonetheless fails to honestly admit that he has deeply erred; in fact, Parzival becomes angry at God for allowing these things to happen to him. Parzival wanders in search of the Grail for a number of years without success having, all that time, not once thought of God or attended a religious service. RunningintoagroupofpenitentsonGoodFriday,Parzivalreflectsonhishatefulness toward God for abandoning him. But his hatefulness gives way to repentance and he wonders ‘WhatifGodwillgivehelptoovercomemysadness...Ifheeverwishedaknightwellandifever aknightearnedHisreward,ifHedeemsshieldandswordandtruemanlycombattobeworthy enough of His help that His help may heal my sorrow, if today is His day for helping, then let Himhelp,ifhelphecan!’19 Parzival then releases the reins of his horse so that he may be led by the will of Godor‘intuition.’Asitturnsout,thehorseleadsParzivaltothehomeofTrevrizent, an anchorite, who welcomes Parzival and grants him shelter. Parzival’sconversationswithTrevrizentconstituteaturningpointofWolfram’s Parzival.SeeingthatTrevrizentisaholyman,Parzivalrealisesthatheisbeingoffered divine assistance; he immediately tells Trevrizent that he has sinned and asks for his counsel. Parzival confesses his sadness to Trevrizent, saying ‘only now do I perceive how long I have ridden unguided and bereft of joy... To me joy is a dream, and grief the heavy burden that I bear.’ 20 Trevrizent explains that God will help Parzival and then lapses into a rambling theological discourse about the nature of God. After explaining the nature of God, Trevrizent asks Parzival about the source of his sorrow, and Parzival replies that his greatest grief is for the Grail, and after that for his own wife. Trevrizent explains that he had been at Munsalvaesche and starts to initiate Parzival into the secret history of the Grail and its keepers: ‘...manybraveknightsdwellwiththeGrailatMunsalvaesche.Alwayswhentheyrideout,asthey often do, it is to seek adventure. They do so for their sins, these Templars, whether their reward bedefeatorvictory.Avalianthostlivesthere,andIwilltellyouhowtheyaresustained.Theylive fromastoneofpurestkind.Ifyoudonotknowit,itshallherebenamedtoyou.Itiscalledlapsit exillis. By the power of that stone the phoenix burns to ashes, but the ashes give him life again. Thus does the phoenix moult and change its plumage, which afterward is bright and shining and as lovely as before. There never was a human so ill but that, if he one day sees that stone, he cannotdiewithintheweekthatfollows.Andinlookshewillnotfade.Hisappearancewillstay the same, be it maid or man, as on the day he saw the stone, the same as when the best years of his life began, and though he should see the stone for two hundred years, it will never change, save that his hair might perhaps turn grey. Such power does the stone give a man that flesh and bonesareatoncemadeyoungagain.ThestoneisalsocalledtheGrail. This very day there comes to it a message wherein lies its greatest power. Today is Good Friday, andtheyawaitthereadove,wingingdownfromHeaven.Italwaysbringsasmallwhitewafer,and leavesitonthestone.Then,shiningwhite,thedovesoarsuptoHeavenagain.AlwaysonGood
12 The Path Toward the Grail Notes Friday it brings to the stone what I have just told you, and from that the stone derives whatever good fragrances of drink and food there are on earth, like to the perfection of Paradise. I mean all things the earth may bear. And further the stone provides whatever game lives beneath the heavens,whetheritfliesorrunsorswims.Thus,totheknightlybrotherhood,doesthepowerof theGrailgivesustenance. Hear now how those called to the Grail are made known. On the stone, around the edge, appear letters inscribed, giving the name and lineage of each one, maid or boy, who is to take this blessed journey. No one needs to rub out the inscription, for once he has read the name, it fades away before his eyes. All those now grown to maturity came there as children. Blessed is the mother who bore a child destined to do service there. Poor and rich alike rejoice if their childissummonedtojointhiscompany.Theyarebroughttherefrommanylands.Fromsinful shametheyaremoreprotectedthanothers,andreceivegoodrewardinheaven.Whenlifedies forthemhere,theyaregivenperfectionthere.’21 ParzivalinterjectsthatifknighthoodcanwinonerenowninthislifeandParadise in the next, and that if God is a good judge of fighting, ‘He should summon me by name to the Grail so that they may come to know me. My hand shall not fail me there in battle.’ 22 This statement of Parzival’s personal pride gives Trevrizent an opportunity to alludetothesufferinganddownfallofAnfortas,thewoundedGrailKing.Trevrizent exhorts Parzival to adopt the virtue of humility, for ‘your youth could all too easily tempt you to violate the virtue of moderation’.23 A similar pride resulted in the grievous suffering of Anfortas. Parzival explains his lineage to Trevrizent, as well as the fact that he was responsible for the slaying of Ither of Kukumerlant, the Red Knight. As I pointed out, the slaying of the Red Knight was, at least in Chrétien’s version, an act of self- initiation. Parzival certainly acted like a fool and went about things in a backward manner, but he nonetheless triumphed in the ‘David and Goliath’ type of scenario, demonstrating that his innate ability was capable of bringing him success even against overwhelming odds. Wolfram, on the other hand, makes the slaying of the Red Knight into a major sin. Not only did Parzival show total disregard for human life, but he actually killed one of his own relatives! Parzival’sfirstmajorsin(andhissinparexcellenceaccordingtoChrétien)isthat he was responsible for his mother’s death. As he rode off to quest for knighthood in Arthur’s court, Parzival’s mother fell in a swoon. In a self-centred fashion, demonstrating a rather insolent lack of compassion, Parzival paid no heed to her distress and continued on regardless.24 As noted, Parzival’s second sin, according to Wolfram, was his slaying of the Red Knight for the mere sake of his armour. Parzival’s third major sin occurred at the Castle of the Grail. As Sacker points out, this sin was not so much a failure to ask a particular question as it was to show compassion for the suffering Grail King. As Sacker observes, Wolfram is ‘really criticising in Parzival the courtly obsession with outer form (zuhut, fuoge) at the expenseofinnerfeeling’.25 Hegoesontonotethat‘conventionalbehaviourisaquality demanded equally in the Arthurian and Grail societies, but in both, as anywhere else, it is not always in place. Parzival’s mistake is to worry about the superficialities of convention when they are inappropriate.’ 26 In fact, all of Parzival’s sins as portrayed by Wolfram, ultimately spring from Parzival’s narcissistic self-centredness and lack of compassion. In the episode at the Grail castle Parzival wished to look good rather than to show some humane interest and compassion in his suffering host.27 Parzival has been allowed by God to sin and has been also allowed to suffer for his sins. Only through his interaction with Trevrizent, the mystagogue, does Parzival realise the full ramifications of his self-centred behaviour. Moreover, in his
13 The Hermetic Sources and Structure of Parzival Notesself-centred actions, Parzival has unconsciously sinned against himself. I believe that this sinning of Parzival against himself is symbolised by the fact that he has really sinned against his own family: his mother, the Red Knight (a distant relative), and Anfortas the Grail King, an uncle of Parzival on his maternal side. In the same way that Parzival has been allowed to sin and allowed to suffer the consequences, so too has Anfortas, whose suffering was brought on by the sins of pride and incontinence. After the death of Frimutel, the preceding Grail King and fatherofbothAnfortasandTrevrizent,Anfortaswaselectedtofilltheposition.But as Trevrizent explains to Parzival, ‘If any Lord of the Grail craves for a love other thanthewritingontheGrailallowshim,hewillsufferdistressandgrievousmisery.’28 Anfortas, however, chose and fought for a love that had not been approved by theGrail.Hewasavaliantwarriorand,asTrevrizentrecalls,‘Amorwashisbattlecry. Butthatcryisnotquiteappropriateforaspiritofhumility’.29 Anfortas’shortcoming, apparently, was that the fire of love led him to fight for his own glory, and the glory of his lady rather than for the glory of the Grail. AsdivinepunishmentAnfortaswaswoundedinthetesticlesbyapoisonedspear in a joust. He returned home with the iron spearhead still in his body. A physician removed the spearhead and part of the shaft. Trevrizent, then a member of the Grail Templars, prayed that God would heal his brother and renounced the things of the world at that time. Anfortas was carried to the presence of the Grail, but this only caused him grief owing to his pain, and the fact that he could not die because of the presence of the Grail. Anfortas’ wound, explains Trevrizent, started to fester. All available books of medicine were studied and any number of remedies was attempted, all to no avail. Theattemptscontinued.Trevrizentexplainshowthebloodofapelicanwasapplied, due to the loyal love exhibited in the bird’s legendary self-sacrificing behaviour. Next, the magical stone of a unicorn, which grows beneath the unicorn’s horn, was appliedtothewound,alsowithouteffect.Otherremedies,includingherbalremedies correlated with astrological transits, were similarly tried without success. Wolfram’s narrative turns truly arcane when he explains that the state of Anfortas’ wound is influenced by astrological factors. Referring to the time period that Parzival visited theGrailCastle,TrevrizentdetailshowthepositionofSaturnwasinferredfromthe condition of the King’s wound (!): ‘WhenthestarSaturnhadreturnedtothezenith,weknewitbythewoundandbythesummer snow.Neverhadthefrostcausedyoursweetunclesuchanguish.Thespearhadtobethrustinto thewound;thenonepainhelpedtheother,andfromthisthespearbecameblood-red. On days when certain stars appear, the people of Munsalvaesche have reason to lament their woe. These are the stars whose course run parallel, one high above the other, and which move irregularly, in contrast to the others. And the change of the moon also hurts the wound sorely. AtthetimesIhavenamed,thekingcanfindnorest.Agreatchilltormentshimsothathisflesh becomes colder than snow. At such times, since they know the poison on the iron spear point ishot,theylayitonthewound.Thatdrawsthefrostoutofthebody,andithardenstoglass,like ice, around the spear. But no one was able in any way to break this ice off from the spear. Then Trebuchent, the wise man, forged of silver two knives which could cut through it. A charm engravedontheking’sswordhadtaughthimthisskill.Therearemanywhoclaimthatthewood aspindê[probablyasbestos]willnotburn,butifabitofthisglassfelluponit,aflameoffireshot up,andtheaspindêburned.Whatwondrousthingsthispoisoncando!’30 Moreover, referring again to the time of Parzival’s visit... ‘...never before nor since has the king suffered such pain as then, when with a hard frost, the star Saturnheraldeditscoming.Itdidnothelptolaythespearonthewoundashadbeendonebefore;
14 The Path Toward the Grail Notes they had to thrust it right into the wound. Saturn climbs so high aloft that the wound knew of its coming before the other frost arrived [i.e., the frost outside]. The snow was in even less of a hurry. It did not fall till the following night, but still during summer’s reign. When in this way theywardedofftheking’sfrost,thepeoplewererobbedofjoy.’31 And the devout Trevrizent added ‘From sorrow they received their wages, for the spear which pierced their hearts to the core carried away their joy. Then in the constancy of their grief they were baptized anew.’32 *** Parzival’s meeting with Trevrizent, and Trevrizent’s revelations to Parzival about the nature of the Grail and those who serve it, mark a decisive turning point in Wolfram’s epic. In fact, the action thereafter relating to Parzival’s quest for the Grail is anticlimactic, at least in a dramatic sense: Parzival fights with Gawan by mistake, then intentionally with Gramoflanz. He sets out again in search of the Grail. Then he fights with Feirefiz, not knowing that Feirefiz is really his own brother. Had Parzival killed Feirefiz, one presumes that his sin would have been much greater than his defeat of Ither the Red Knight. Fortunately, Parzival and Feirefiz discover each other’s identity and Parzival takes his brother to Arthur’s camp. At that point Cundrie appears and announces that Parzival has become the lord of the Grail. Parzival returns to the Grail Castle, heals Anfortas by asking ‘What troubles you?’, and assumes the status of the Grail King, with Condwiramurs his wife as Queen. Feirefiz becomes baptised and marries Repanse de Schoye; together they travel to India and spread the good news about the Christian life. Parzival’s meeting with Trevrizent is crucial because it is only at this point that Parzivalrealisesthetrueextentofhissinfulness.ItissignificantthatParzival’ssudden burstofself-knowledge,broughtoutbyTrevrizent,isalsorelatedtoasuddenincrease in Parzival’s ‘spiritual knowledge’ about the Grail. Only by coming to grips with his owninadequaciesandpersonalshadowdoesParzivallearnabouttheGrail.Trevrizent fulfilsthepurposeof‘gnosticrevealer’bybothinitiatingParzivalintothemysteriesof his personal Fate (ancestry, actions, etc.) and into the cosmic mysteries of the Grail. I believe that Wolfram’s Parzival is based upon a threefold structure which might be summarised as follows: The Three Realms in Wolfram’s Parzival THE THREE REALMS SYMBOLIC CHARACTER LEVELS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE PARZIVAL’S TEACHERS LEVELS OF BEING THE GRAIL CASTLE PARZIVAL COMPASSION ILLUMINATION KNOWLEDGE OF JOY TREVRIZENT SPIRIT THE CASTLE OF WONDERS GAWEN INDIVIDUAL TRANSFORMED THROUGH LOVE CONDWIRAMURS SOUL THE ROUND TABLE ARTHUR AND GAHMURET SOCIETY GURNEMANZ BODY Thethreelevelsare,inasense,symbolisedbythreeseparatelocales:theRoundTable, orArthuriansociety;theCastleofWonders;andtheCastleoftheGrail.Theselevels DECREASINGRELIANCE ONSOCIALCUSTOM ANDCONVENTION
15 The Hermetic Sources and Structure of Parzival Notesin turn are typified by certain characters and levels of human experience. As I have pointed out in the preceding discussion, Parzival is initiated into each successively higher realm by a particular teacher: Gurnemanz initiates Parzival into the realm of Arthurian society; Condwiramurs, the ‘guide to love,’ initiates Parzival into the mysteries of love which abide in the realm of the soul; while Trevrizent initiates Parzival into the mysteries of the Grail, the realm of the spirit. I have not discussed the adventures of Sir Gawan in the Land of Wonders, but these adventures deal with the nature of love and courtly service. Wolfram places much emphasis on this particular level, for it is only possible to catch a glimpse of the Grail after moving through the realm of love. Finally, it should be noted that the three levels are linked together through the principle of continuity: there is an interpenetration of levels and characters. The Castle of the Grail may be hidden, but its messengers and envoys secretly ride forth into the realm of everyday affairs. In fact, one of the most remarkable things about Wolfram’s epic is its lack of dualism between the ‘worldly’ and the ‘spiritual’. Hermetic Sources of the Parzival Interestingly, the ‘cosmic mysteries of the Grail’ as presented by Wolfram are not without their historical and symbolic precedents. In a very important study, The Krater and The Grail: Hermetic Sources of the Parzival, Henry and Renée Kahane convincingly demonstrate that Wolfram based portions of his work on certain writings of the Corpus Hermeticum, in particular on the writing entitled ‘The Cup (Krater)ortheMonad’.BecausetheKahanes’studyisbothfascinatingandsignificant yet not very well known, I would like to summarise some of their findings. Before undertaking this, however, I’d like to make a few general observations on the relationship between Hellenistic Hermeticism and the Hermetic art of alchemy. The Hermetic corpus, probably written during the first three centuries of this era, is a group of writings associated with, and sometimes attributed to, Hermes Trismegistus: ‘Thrice-Greatest Hermes’, a semi-divine, mythical, Egyptian sage. Through ‘his’ writings and discourse with his disciples, Hermes Trismegistus reveals teachings of a spiritual and cosmological nature, concerning the nature of God, the soul,theoriginandstructureofthecosmosandthepaththroughwhichthesoulmay experience its divinizing re-generation in the divine principle of Mind or Nous, the principle from which the soul originates according to the teachings of Hellenistic cosmology In addition to this form of ‘high Hermeticism’ portrayed in the Greek writings of the Hermetic corpus, there also existed another form of ‘technical Hermeticism’ centred around the ideas of popular magic. Hermes Trismegistus, as the inventor of all the arts and sciences, was also the ‘patron saint’ of alchemy, still known today as the Hermetic art. Interestingly,WolframportraystheGrailintheformofthePhilosophers’Stone, the central symbol of alchemy. Likewise, the phoenix, the pelican, the unicorn and thewoundedkingarealchemicalsymbolsassociatedwiththe lapisphilosophorum.33 ThealchemyofthemiddleagesandthehighHermeticphilosophyofantiquitydiffer insofaraspracticalalchemyis‘existential’andsymbolic,relatedtothetransformations ofmateriaandsoulintheincarnaterealm;classicalHermeticism,ontheotherhand, is more theoretic and intellectual, dealing with celestial geography of the pneumatic cosmos and the ‘conversion’ of the soul back to first principles. While alchemy is incarnational, Hermeticism is transcendental in character. In other words, alchemy dealswiththemanifestationofuniversalprinciplesintheworldofbecomingwhereas Hermeticism deals with universal principles as principles-in-themselves. Nonetheless, there is an overlap between Hermeticism and the royal art of alchemy. They both are part of the same Hellenistic tradition, and the practice of
16 The Path Toward the Grail Notes alchemy is based on the fundamentally gnostic idea that there is a divine principle of Spirit hidden or trapped in matter. It is the task of the alchemist to liberate this imprisoned spirit, the alchemical process mirroring the adept’s own inner transformation. WhiletherewaslittleknowledgeoftheGreekHermeticaintheLatin-speaking world of the Christian West, the Hermetic writings became the veritable scriptures ofthepaganHarraniansorSabiansinnorthernMesopotamia.34 TheSabianreligion centred on the worship of the planetary gods, and the Greek Hermetica were translated into Syriac and Arabic by the Harranians. It is even probable that when the Greek Hermetica resurfaced in the Renaissance to be translated into Latin by Marsilio Ficino, that the manuscripts he used were based on those preserved by the Harranians.35 The most illustrious of the Harranians was Thabit ibn Qurra (835-901 C.E.) who became the leader of a group of Sabian intellectuals in Bagdad. Thabit was very learnedandversedinGreek,ArabicandSyriac.Heissaidtohavewritten150works in Arabic, 16 in Syriac, and is known to have made translations from the Greek. As Walter Scott points out, the school at Bagdad probably resembled the Neoplatonic SchoolatAthensunderProclus.ScottalsolistsanumberoftidesofThabit’swritings in Latin which includes Liber de legibus Hermetis, ‘On the Ceremonial Regulations of Hermes’.36 That Wolfram had some knowledge of Thabit is demonstrated by his reference in the Parzival where he numbers ‘Thebit’ amongst the ‘wise men and all who had ever sat and pondered the hard questions of knowledge’.37 Wolfram,ofcourse,incorporatesavastamountofArabicloreintothe Parzival. At one point he even gives the names of the planets in that language. Many of the unusual names that he uses are also probably corruptions of Arabic words. This and other evidence suggests that we should accept Wolfram’s statements that he learned about the history of the Grail from Kyot of Dolet. Whereas most scholars interpret Dolet as meaning Toledo, the Kahanes argue that it refers to Tudela in Spain and they cite a number of linguistic arguments for this conclusion.38 Kyot is Wolfram’s form of ‘Guy’ (a diminutive form of Guillame, the French equivalent of ‘William’). Therefore the Kahanes identify Kyot of Dolet with William of Tudela.39 Infact,WilliamofTudelawasascholarandclericcontemporarywithWolfram, and living in northern Spain. According to Wolfram, William knew Arabic (heidensch), as well as Latin and French. Moreover, William explains in his own writings that he was a student of geomancy, a form of divination practiced by the Sabians which incorporated a wide range of astrological symbolism. In other words, William was a practitioner of at least one of the ‘Hermetic sciences’. Finally, it is interesting to note that ‘Kyot’s Tudela, which lies close to Saragossa, belonged to the bishopric of Tarazona… one of the great centres of the transmission of Arabic culture of the West’.40 AccordingtothefourthHermetictreatise,TheCup(Krater)ortheMonad,the world creator (demiurge) while giving each person a share of reason, did not bestow on every soul an equal portion of divine Mind. The Hermetic writings are set up as initiatory dialogues between Hermes, the mystagogue, and his spiritual son Tat, the myst [sic] seeking initiation. Tat asks ‘Why then did God, O father, not on all bestow a share of Mind?’ The dialogue continues: Hermes:Hewilled,myson,tohaveitsetupinthemidstforsouls,justasitwereaprize. Tat:AndwheredidHehaveitsetup? Hermes: He filled a mighty Cup with it, and sent it down, joining a Herald to it, to whom He gavecommandtomakethisproclamationtotheheartsofmen: BaptisethyselfwiththisCup’sbaptism,whatheartcandoso;youwhohavefaithcanascend toHimwhosentdownthecup,youwhoknowwhyyouhavecomeintobeing!
17 The Hermetic Sources and Structure of Parzival Notes As many then as understood the Herald’s tiding and doused themselves in Mind, became partakersintheGnosis;andwhentheyhad‘receivedtheMind’theyweremade‘perfectmen’. But they who do not understand the tidings, these, since they possess the aid of Reason [Logos]onlyandnotMind[Nous],areignorantofwhyandhowtheyhavecomeintobeing.41 ThediscussioncontinuesandTatexpresseshisdesiretobeimmersedintheCup of Mind. Finally the dialogue ends with what I feel to be one of the most remarkable passages of the entire Hermetic corpus. Describing the divine source of the cosmos, Hermes explains: TheOneness[monad]beingSource[arche]andRootofall,isinallthingsasRootandSource. WithoutthisSourceexistsnothing;whereastheSourceitselfisfromnothingbutitself,sinceit isSourceofalltherest.ItisitselfitsSource,sinceitmayhavenootherSource. The Oneness then being Source, contains every number, but is contained by none; it engenderseverynumber,butisengenderedbynootherone. Nowallthatisengenderedisimperfect,foritisdivisible,andsubjecttobothincreaseandto decrease;butwiththePerfectOnenoneofthesethingsdohold.Nowthatwhichisincreasable increases from the Oneness, but succumbs through its own feebleness when it no longer can containtheOne. Andnow,OTat,God’sImagehasbeensketchedforyou,insofarasitcanbe;andifyouwill attentively dwell on it and observe it with your heart’s eyes, believe me, son, you’ll find the Path whichleadsabove;nay,thatImageshallbecomeyourGuideitself,becausetheSightDivinehas thispeculiarcharm,itholdsfastanddrawsuntoitthosewhosucceedinopeningtheireyes,just as,theysay,themagneticstonedrawsiron.42 The Kahanes have convincingly shown that the word ‘grail’ is derived from the Latincrater,itselfatransliterationoftheGreekkrater.43 Whatisespeciallyfascinating isthatintheHermeticpassagejustquoted,God’simageissymbolicallyrelatedtothe powerofthemagneticstone,thePhilosophers’StonebeingWolfram’srepresentation oftheGrail.Moreover,whiletheHermetictractateidentifiestheMonad(=Krater/ Grail) as the Source and Root of all, Wolfram describes the Grail as ‘the perfection of Paradise, both root and branch’.44 Another strong parallel is that the Grail, like the Hermetic Krater, has an astral or heavenly origin: in the Hermetic account, it is sent to earth by the Creator; in Wolfram, ‘a host left it on the earth and then flew up over the stars’.45 Moreover, in the same way that a Herald was associated with the Hermetic Krater, Wolfram reports that ‘Since then the stone has always been in the care of those God called to this task and to whom He sent His angel’.46 According to Wolfram, Kyot learned of the Grail from a mysterious personage named Flegetanis: A heathen, Flegetanis, had achieved high renown from his learning... He wrote the story of the Grail...TheheathenFlegetaniscouldtellushowallthestarssetandriseagainandhowlongeach onerevolvesbeforeitreachesitsstartingpointoncemore.Tothecirclingcourseofthestarsman’s affairsanddestinyarelinked.Flegetanistheheathensawwithhisowneyesintheconstellations thingshewasshytotalkabout,hiddenmysteries.He said there was a thing called the Grail whose name he had read clearly in the constellations.[Myemphasis.]47 As the Kahanes point out, the last line can only refer to the constellation of the Crater. If this is indeed the case, Wolfram is implying that the Grail is both a Cup or similar vessel (as it is usually portrayed) and the Philosophers’ Stone. And it is preciselyinthefourthHermetictreatisethatbothkraterandlithossymbolismappear together as well. It is also of interest that the name of Flegetanis, who divined the history of the Grail in the stars, is based on the Arabic word falakiyatu, ‘astronomy’, or falakiyatun, ‘astronomer’.
18 The Path Toward the Grail Notes WhiletherearenoknownexistingArabictranslationsoftheCorpusHermeticum, itisvirtuallycertainthatsuchtranslationsdidexistaccordingtotheopinionofWalter Scott.48 Moreover, there do exist Spanish translations of Arabic Hermetic writings made around the time of Wolfram’s Parzival.49 Wolfram, through the intermediary of Kyot, obviously had access to Arabic sources, and the Kahanes reasonably suggest that one of these sources was an Arabic writing related to Corpus Hermeticum IV, The Krater or Monad. The Kahanes, moreover, present a large amount of further evidence for Hermetic influence in addition to that cited above. A few more points of interest include the following: Trevrizent:TheKahanessuggestthatthisnameisbasedupontheFrenchTreble Escient,‘ThreefoldWisdom’.50 Inotherwords,Trevrizent,whoimpartstheknowledge of the Grail to Parzival, is the personification of Thrice-Greatest Hermes, Hermes Trismegistus,thegnosticrevealer.Parzival,theaspiringmyst,therebycorrespondsto Tat. The Kahanes suggest that the atmosphere of the exchange between Trevrizent and Parzival is highly reminiscent of the dramatic atmosphere of the Hermetic dialogues,anopinionwithwhichitisdifficultnottoconcur.Thrice-GreatestHermes was known in Arabic as the Thrice-Wise, and the famous alchemical document known as the Emerald Tablet, the Tabula Smaragdina, contains the line: ‘For this reason I am called Hermes Trismegistos, for I possess the three parts of wisdom of the whole world.’51 The Kahanes also believe that Hermes makes another appearance in Wolfram’s Parzival. They argue that while Trevrizent the mystagogue corresponds to the Hermes Trismegistus of Corpus Hermeticum, that the character Flegetanis is based upon the Arabic (and Greco-Egyptian) view of Hermes as culture hero, revealer of all the arts and sciences, especially those involving celestial secrets and arcane knowledge.52 TheGrailProcession:TheKahanesrelatetheGrailprocessiontothegeocentric cosmologyoftheHermetictradition.53 BeforetheappearanceoftheGrailaseriesof maidens appear: first a group of four maidens, then a group of eight maidens, then a group of twelve maidens, and finally Repanse de Schoye appears alone bearing the Grail.InWolfram’saccount,eachsuccessivegroupofmaidensismorebeautifulthan theprecedingandisdressedinincreasinglybeautifulfineryuntilthefinalappearance of Repanse de Schoye: Afterthemcamethequeen.Soradiantwashercountenancethateveryonethoughtthedawnwas breaking. She was clothed in a dress of Arabian silk. Upon a deep green achmardi she bore the perfectionofParadise,bothrootandbranch.ThatwasathingcalledtheGrail,whichsurpasses all earthly perfection. Repanse de Schoye was the name of her whom the Grail permitted to be its bearer. Such was the nature of the Grail that she who watched over it had to preserve her purityandrenounceallfalsity.54 The first four maidens, dressed in brown wool, represent the four elements of earth, water, air and fire. The eight maidens, dressed in green samite, represent the seven planetary spheres and the sphere of fixed stars. The twelve maidens dressed in silkinterwovenwithgoldandpfellel-silkfromNineveh,representthetwelvezodiacal signs, while Repanse de Schoye, glowing like the sun in Arabian silk, represents and bears the Grail, the divine Monad. The procession, therefore, relates to the soul’s ascent through the cosmic spheres, the soul’s movement up the celestial hierarchy towards the One, its divine source and goal; a central doctrine of the Hermetic writings. Moreover, the old French repense means ‘knowledge’ and the Kahanes suggest that Repanse de Schoye means ‘knowledge of joy’, the knowledge of the Monad.55 Both ‘the geography of the celestial ascent’ and the name of the Grail bearer are in fall accord with the Hermetic tradition.
19 The Hermetic Sources and Structure of Parzival NotesAnfortas:Anfortas,thewoundedking,personifiestheHermeticsinofakrasia ormoralincontinence.TheKahaneslinkhisnametotheoldFrench enfertes,related to the Latin infirmitas.56 Wolfram’s astrology: Wolfram is familiar with the Arabic names of the planets; the lunar nodes; the doctrine of the microcosm; the idea that the stars exert an influence on terrestrial life; and the planetary houses. This is the type of knowledge that one might not typically expect of a Medieval German poet, yet Wolfram repeatedly emphasises astrological symbolism in his work, particularly in connectionwiththerelationshipbetweenastrologicalphenomenaandthecondition of Amfortas’ wound.57 Feirefiz and Geomantic Symbolism: Geomancy was a divinatory science cultivated by the Sabians and practiced by Wolfram’s source, William of Tudela. Basically, the technique of geomancy involves making a series of marks in the earth or on sand. These are then reduced to form a figure consisting of one or two points on four levels as depicted opposite. Each one of the 16 geomantic figures is associated with particular astrological phenomena, terrestrial correspondences, a physiological type, and so on. The Kahanes believe that the character of Feirefiz is associated with the geomantic figure of Acquisitio, shown above.58 Astrologically this relates to the Sun in Aries. This makes sense in terms of Feirefiz’s character, because Aries, the vernal sign, is associated with valour, love and war; characteristics also of his father. In a book on geomancy written about the time of Wolfram’s Parzival, this geomantic sign is also associated with Kings, the East, Wealth, and Precious Stones. Physiologically, it is related to people with speckled faces. Clearly all of these attributes apply to Feirefiz. The Kahanes also suggest that Feirefiz is associated with King Hammon in the Hermetic writings.59 In some of the Hermetica, notably the Latin Asclepius, Hammon appears as oneoftheindividualsreceivinginstructionfromThrice-GreatestHermes.Hammon is a thinly disguised version of the Egyptian divinity Ammon in the same way that TatisathinlydisguisedversionoftheEgyptiandivinityThoth(=Hermes).Ammon had a famous oracle in Libya known throughout the ancient world. It was visited by Alexander the Great who conceived of himself as being the child of Zeus-Ammon. Ammon was amalgamated with the Egyptian sun god Ra, and was usually depicted in Egyptian and Greek art with the horns of a ram. That is why Alexander the Great is frequently represented in the same manner on Greek coins. The Kahanes present evidence that Feirefiz’s land Zazamanc may be identified with Libya, the land of Ammon. This would fit well with the idea that Feirefiz represents the sun in Aries, for Ammon-Ra links together both Aries (the ram) with theSun(Ra).Thismayseemli
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