Wagner, Parsival, and the Grail

Posted June 1, 2011
Wagner knew his mythology. Mythology was used in ancient times, before the advent of intellectual thinking. It focuses on oneness and unity, through images. Intellectual thinking focuses on details and language.

The story of Osiris and Isis is a mythological tale that Wagner was very familiar with. There are many renditions of it, but the basic story is that the god Osiris was cut up into several pieces which were scattered throughout the world. Osiris’ consort, Isis, then had to find the pieces and put them back together. This is another way of explaining what the Bible calls the “fall” and “resurrection.” What was oneness and unity before the fall was divided up into isolated bits and pieces which make up the material world in which we live. Now humanity, like Isis, has the task of finding the pieces and putting them back together again.

Richard Wagner dedicated much of his life to uniting what had become isolated parts and pieces. He wanted to unite the arts so that the total would be greater than the sum of their parts. Thousands of years ago, the various arts had been united, but as the “fall” continued, the arts, along with everything else, became divided. Wagner loved Beethoven’s music and Shakespeare’s plays; however, he felt that, by themselves, they were incomplete. By combining the arts practiced by those two masters, Wagner created an art form which had not been seen since the age of the ancient Greeks.

One of the victims of the “fall” was a certain type of energy which was separated into male and female components. In the Bible this was represented by the creation of Eve. In das Rhinegold, the first of the Ring operas, the early stages of separation are portrayed. Humanity’s struggle to reunite these pieces are shown during the rest of the Ring cycle. In Parsival, they are finally united. Today it is common to hear about the need for men to develop their feminine traits and women their male qualities, but in Wagner’s time it wasn’t.

In the first Ring opera, das Rhinegold, Wagner used two giants as an example of separation. At first they had been unified in their desires and actions but when they had to make a choice between the feminine, spiritual gifts of Friea (goddess of youth and beauty) or the physical, masculine gold, the giant Fasolt chose the feminine. His twin, Fafner, chose the masculine. To get his way Fafner killed Fasolt. This is reminiscent of the Bible story of Cain killing Abel. Using it was Wagner’s allegorical way of explaining the origins of male domination in the world in which we live.

In The Valkyrie, the second Ring Cycle opera, Siegmund and Sieglinde were brother and sister. They wanted to get married, which, taken literally, meant incest. However, as an esoteric allegory, the sibling relationship refers to the time before the separation of the sexes, when they were one with both male and female attributes. Now, they wanted the freedom to unite in a new, loving relationship. Siegmund and Sieglinde failed. There was no such thing as freedom in the third cultural epoch. But they opened the door. Future generations had something to build upon.

Siegfried, the hero of Siegfried, the third Ring Cycle opera, was brought up in a totally male world. His only clue to the fact that there was such a thing as a female was the result of his observation of animals. He is the ultimate male. By searching for higher consciousness he eventually met his higher, spiritual, feminine counterpart, Brunnhilde. But he was so consumed with his maleness that he could not accept her as anything other than a physical being. For him love was synonymous with lust. He could not bridge the divide that separated the sexes. Nor could he recognize the threshold to the spiritual world; he never realized he had crossed into a higher realm when he found Brunnhilde.

In Twilight of the Gods, officially the last Ring Cycle opera, Siegfried’s ignorance was taken advantage of and he was manipulated into delivering Brunnhilde, his higher, spiritual side, to his adversaries.

Not until the opera Parsival does Wagner show the sexes successfully reuniting, and he does it very subtly. Not as boy and girl falling in love, but as the result of an individual working hard to acquire both masculine and feminine soul traits in a state of higher consciousness.

In the story of Parisval, Titural was the guardian of both the Holy Grail and the Spear. He aged, and relinquished his responsibility to his son Amfortas. The first thing Amfortas did was to take the Spear and set out to defeat Klingsor, the representative of evil. He failed, Klingsor was too strong for him. Not only did Klingsor inflict a wound on Amfortas which would not heal, he captured the Spear as well. Now the side of evil had another powerful weapon.

Esoterically speaking, the Holy Grail represents feminine forces and the Spear represents male energy. Traditional, astrological, and present day gender symbols reflect this. The Spear is, indeed, a phallic symbol. The feminine gender symbol can be compared to a receptacle such as the chalice used at the Last Supper. It is also connected to the Easter moon which is a horizontal, golden crescent at the bottom, with backlighting from the sun around the dark portion, which creates a halo effect above the crescent.

Together, the feminine Grail and the masculine Spear are all-powerful. But the nature of their use is subject to the whims of their custodian. Rhey could be used for good or evil. Under Titural, they were united and used for good. Amfortas separated them, as he attempted to use the sacred Spear (i.e., male energy) without female energy, to harm another person. This was a step backwards. Once Klingsor had the Spear, he set out to capture the Grail. If he could capture the Grail he would control both masculine and feminine energy and be invincible.

Along came Parsival. By confronting the trials he encountered during daily life in a positive way he was continually purifying himself morally. His exceptional purity gave him great strength that made him the only barrier between Klingsor and the Holy Grail. To defeat him, Klingsor ordered his slave, Kundry, with all her charms and cleverness, to seduce him. She failed. Parsival was too strong. But Kundry did put a curse on him.
As a last resort, Klingsor threw the Spear at Parsival, but, unlike Amfortas, Parsival was stronger than Klingsor. He caught the spear in mid-flight. He then used it to bless Klingsor and his domain, at which point Klingsor died and his castle crumpled. Parsival was now the bearer of the higher male energy, symbolized by the Spear.

This was not the end. Due to the curse, Parsival had to wander for years, continually being tested and abused. He knew the Spear was sacred and must not be profaned. It must not be used to injure. He used it only in a way that was consistent with higher feminine values.

Many years later, Parsival again came upon the Grail castle. A rock wall allegorically opened up and he passed through it into the spiritual realm. As he did, he received the Holy Grail. He had united his maleness, symbolized by the Spear, with the feminine power, symbolized by the Chalice. He was now King of the Grail.

Why was Parsival able to do this when Amfortas and Siegfried had failed? They attempted to get their way by bullying their enemies using male energy only. Parsival, on the other hand, constantly let himself be guided by his feminine side. After he caught the Spear he had to master it and prove his worth beyond question. This had to be done passively, he had to be the light shining in the darkness. He did not receive the Grail until he had done this for a long time.

The feminine is passive and receptive, the male side is assertive. Logically speaking it makes sense that the feminine side should lead since it “sees” the big picture. The male side is concerned with parts and pieces and is better at carrying out actions, something the feminine side cannot do as effectively. Uniting our masculine side with our feminine side is a major step in the evolution of consciousness.

Mozart, in his opera The Magic Flute, taught this same lesson. As the hero, Tomino, and his higher, feminine side, Tamina, were going though an initiation test that could result in death, she states, “I will be your guide.” Mozart did not pick these words lightly. He, like Wagner, was trying to teach us a profound lesson.
This article may be reproduced in full or in part, as long as credit is given to the author as follows:
George Hastings is the author of Richard Wagner, Rudolf Steiner, and Allegories of the Ring: From the Mundane to the Esoteric. Bennett & Hastings Publishing, Seattle, 2011, http://www.AllegoriesoftheRing.com.


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