10 Jul Parzival a new dawn rises
It is from the writings of one of the great magi of the Renaissance, Trithemius, that we learn the strange story of the Holy Vehm, the Secret Tribunal of Free Judges, founded by Charlemagne in 770. Secret ciphers and signs excludes the uninitiated. Trithemius was the abbot of Sponheim. Those initiates sometimes known as the secret Soldiers of Light. Those masked men would nail a summons to the gates of a castle whose owner thought he could live above law.
Some disobeyed the summons. They would try to protect themselves with bodyguards, but inevitably they would be found stabbed to death with the cruciform dagger of the Holy Vehm. A noble who chose to obey the summons would arrive late at night, alone at the designated place, sometimes a deserted crossroads. Masked men would appear and place a hood on his head, before leading him off to be interrogated. At midnight the hood would be removed and the nobleman would find himself facing the Free Judges, dressed in black. Sentence would be passed.
You might assume that the story of Parsifal is an allegory, but in the secret history he was a man of flesh and blood. Though he didn’t know it, he was also the nephew of Charlemagne’s paladins, William of Orange, who fought against the Saracens at Carcassone in 783. This battle cost the Muslims so dearly that they withdrew from France to Spain.
Raised to be a forester, Parsifal lived with his mother deep in the woods, far away from the glamour of court life and the dangers of chivalry. He never knew his father or his famous uncle. He was never to be a knight like Roland, famous in his own day, a knight whose deeds were blazed across the sky and celebrated in the official records, but his local deeds, his private battles, would change the course of history.
One day Parsifal was playing by himself in the woods, when a troop of knights rode by. The episode is described in a passage by Chretien de Troyes:
Trees were bursting into leaf, the iris blooming and the birds singing when the son of the widow went out into the wild and lonely forest. He was practicing hurling spears when he heard a clashing, thumping, jangling sound. Then suddenly he saw five knights ride out from among the trees in full armour, their helmets shining in the sun. The gold, silver, white and blue of their liveries danced before his eyes. He had never seen anything like this before and thought he was being granted a vision of angels.
Parsifal’s imagination was fired. He left his mother, heartbroken, and set off in search of adventure. For all his ideals Parsifal was a foolish knight and his missions were often fraught with misunderstanding and accident. A journey of loneliness and failure.
Then one day, as dusk approached, he was riding by a river and asked 2 fishermen if they knew where he could find shelter. They directed him to a great castle, set on a high hill. This turned out to be the castle of Anfortas, who had been wounded and was bleeding from his thigh. It seemed that Klingsor, an evil king sorcerer had laid a trap for Anfortas, involving some kind of sexual temptation, and had succeeded in inflicting this wound.
While Parsifal was sitting at dinner, a wonderful procession appeared, page boys carrying a bleeding spear and a shinning bowl. After dinner Parsifal fell into a deep sleep. In some versions of the legend he also faced series of trials. He was menaced by wild lions or beasts and was tempted by a beautiful demon. He also had to cross the Bridge Perilous, a giant sword that spanned the moat. When he awoke he found that the castle was deserted. He rode out to find that the crops failed and the country become a wasteland.
Parsifal was later accepted at court and received his spurs. But one day an ugly witch, accosted him. She said that the country was suffering because, when presented with the vision of the Grail, he had failed to ask the question which would have healed the Fisher King Anfortas, and restored the kingdom’s fortunes.
On Parsifal’s second visit to the Grail Castle, he asked Anfortas what ailed him, and he succeeded in the quest for the Grail, where all other knights had been denied.
At the climax of his quest, Parsifal sees first the spear, and then, finally, the Grail itself.
Of course, the fact that events are symbolic or allegorical does not mean that they are not to be understood as literally true, too. The visionary element could certainly be understood as an account of an initiation ceremony. And his trials as mentioned in different versions of the story took place in a trance like state.
In the early German version of the story, and in Esschenbach’s poems, the Grail is a stone, and has properties of the philosopher’s stone of the alchemists. A shiny object that regenerates, makes flesh and bones young again and offers as Esschenbach wrote, such sweetness and delight that is seems like the kingdom of heaven. A stone that fell out of the forehead of Lucifer and shaped into a bowl.
In his deeply meaningful second encounter with the wounded Fisher King, Parsifal asks the question, What ails thee, brother? This exhibits a combination of selfless compassion and most of all a free, enquiring spirit, which was new in the eight century. Here, then is the beginning of a new impulse era towards freedom of thought that marked the beginning of the end of the age of imposed authority. – src. Jonathan Black.