In the Womb of the Grail: Parzival and the Fisher King
The story of Parzival is intricately woven with that of the wounded Fisher King, and in this paper I am presenting them as parts of the same image, held by the vessel of the Grail. After many healings had been tried and fail for the Fisher King’s wound (they are not the “elixir”), the message arrives that a knight (Parzival) will come and only he has the capability of healing the Fisher King. Even the Grail itself doesn’t heal him, it just keeps him painfully alive. When Parzival is questing the Fisher King is suffering, and the fate of the Fisher King is bound up in whatever Parzival does.
The container which holds both the Fisher King and Parzival is the mother’s branch of the family, the feminine vessel which is all but dying and collapsing. Paradoxically, Parzival must leave his mother at the beginning of the story to pursue the life of a knight, from which his mother has protected him. Alchemically, to break out of the old container or vessel is a necessary movement in order to prepare the material for a new operation: The unsatisfied longing of the son for life and the world ought to be taken seriously. There is in him a desire to touch reality, to embrace the earth and fructify the field of the world. But he makes no more than a series of impatient beginnings, for his initiative as well as his staying power are crippled by the secret memory that the world and happiness may be had as a gift--from the mother. It makes demands on the masculinity of a man, on his ardor, above all on his courage and resolution, when it comes to throwing his whole being into the scales. For this he would need a faithless Eros, one capable of forgetting the mother and of hurting himself by deserting the first love of his life. The mother, foreseeing the danger [of forgetting her], has carefully inculcated into him the virtues of faithfulness, devotion, loyalty, so as to protect him from the moral disruption which is the risk of every life adventure. Jung Aion (11-12)
Parzival is initially faced with this quandary of separation from the mother, although he carries the rag-tag ends of her teachings to grotesque extremes. The separation operation in alchemy is a necessary cutting into parts, in order to distinguish, discriminate and isolate the constitution of the material. It is as if he has to go through these alchemical operations to actually be coming into himself. He is the material being worked on, the prima materia, which is the first thing handled in alchemy. In a sense he must break through this initial container of the biological mother, in order to enter it on another level through the Grail Castle.
After leaving the mother, there is a premature reddening, an alchemical description which implies that the prize is grabbed for before it’s time, when he molests and robs Jeschute and kills Ither (much to be regretted later as he is another “relative”, of his own blood). He dons the red armor with much difficulty, as he is inexperienced, and is later to be dubbed the Red Knight himself. Alchemy, which values cosmetics and “gilding”, holds that to change the surface quality of a thing is to change its nature, so by virtue of the armor, Parzival is the Red Knight. He does take on many of his qualities, of impulsivity and attractiveness to women. He also forces his attentions on Jeschute, misconstruing his mother’s teachings.
It is interesting that Condwiramurs is never a part of the Arthurian court; she seems very self-contained at Belrepeire until Parzival summons her to the Grail Castle. This places her outside of the knightly realm, and possibly on a level more closely linked with the territory and values of the Grail. The fact that she has been assailed by suitors (very much like Penelope in the Odyssey) also speaks to the plundering and neglect of the soul area. In her realm it has been shown how Parzival can render a “devastated” land...
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