Friday, October 19, 2012

Parzival and The Fool's Journey, Part 4- Journey's End

The story of Parzival goes on to cover the Castle of Wonders, finally coming back around to Parzival, and it's that part of the story I'll focus on now. We find Parzival continuing to wander, still searching for Munsalvaesche without success. Later, we learn that Parzival has been forced to wander to atone for not relieving the suffering of Amfortas the first time he was there, when he failed to ask the all-important question. So Parzival has wandered for four and a half years, lamenting his failure and always seeking to get back to the Grail Castle. Meanwhile, Amfortas is still alive and suffering due to his wounds, which, we learn, he recieved due to the fact that he loved a woman that the Grail did not prescribe to him- we learn also that on occasion writing will appear on the Grail, and that this has indicated that Amfortas fell for the wrong woman, and in fighting for her, was injured, yet remains alive due to the influence of the Grail.
This section of Amfortas' story is a telling one also. We see shades again of the Devil here, as Amfortas probably could have let this woman go and would have been fine. We aren't given too many details, only that Amfortas acted in defiance of what he knew the Grail was telling him to do, and not to do. So this being the case, it went the worse for him. Perhaps also Amfortas knew this, but nonetheless wanted to put his own interests first, despite it being not remotely in his best interest, similar to the Devil's principle of self-destructive or counter-productive designs.
After his time of wandering, Parzival is finally directed to seek out Trevizent, a hermit and more or less a monk. Parzival does this, and tells Trevizent everything- his heartbreak at feeling abandoned by God, and the desires tearing him apart- first, to get home to his wife and children, and second, to seek out and find the Grail. Trevizent here shows some good Hermit-ly advice (the 9th card of the Major Arcana I mean) by telling him to have faith, and follow through. Go find the Grail, do what you need to do, and put aside doubts. The Hermit represents the wisdom of solitude, and Trevizent demonstrates this here. Having essentially withdrawn from service to the world (Trevizent himself is a former Knight), he now has developed both life experience and an outside, impartial perspective on the situation. Trevizent finds a way to reconcile Parzival's conflict and doubt, which is one of the functions of the Hermit figure in the Tarot- a wise teacher, not necessarily one coming from conventional wisdom, as would be the case with the Hierophant, but rather based on life experiences and on contemplation of the world from as outside a position as can be held in this world.
Glossing over a bit of the story at this point, the story concludes with Parzival once again meeting Cundrie the sorceress, who kneels before him and tells him he is to be the new keeper of the Grail. His wife and children are escorted to the castle, which Parzival has once again found, and Amfortas dies in peace, having been relieved of his burden. Parzival assumes his place, and is now the new keeper- remember that the Grail grants eternal life, but can't cure gray hair. This is why Amfortas did not die, despite his injuries and pain.
Having come to this point, I find the Grail itself bears examination. First, what is the Grail? The Grail, to a large extent, is defined by what it does. It preserves life, grants healing and sustenance to everyone who uses it out of a pure intention. It's a force, perhaps the force in the world. To find it is to find one's true calling in life- a largely symbolic object. Yet also, this is why Amfortas was injured, or allowed to be injured, while in posession of the Grail. The Grail represents an underlying order and purpose to the universe- finding our place in the grand scheme of things, in other words.
Another question raised by this story is why do we need the Grail? It seems like Parzival could very well have abandoned his quest for the Grail that winter morning when the blood on the snow reminded him of all he had left behind. Yet he did not- why? Is it typical Parzival Fool-ishness? Rather, Parzival knew that, having had a glimpse of the Grail and all that it represented, things would never be the same for him. Once you see it, you can't un-see it. Perhaps, like Parzival, we all are called to some higher purpose. But before you go saddling up your horses and donning your armor, remember that it's not so much a journey as it is a viewpoint.
And this is what needed to change for Parzival- the viewpoint he had of himself and his role in the world. Munsalvaesche doesn't disappear, like Brigadoon or anything like that- it was always where it was. The problem was that Parzival spent four years running to find his legs. Not that this time was wasted, because we have seen that experience and learning are necessary to understand this- it's not an objective truth that can be learned from a book, but rather needs to be developed from within our own understanding. Once this happened, Parzival was able to go back to Munsalvaesche and claim the Grail- to demonstrate his own understanding, and ultimately to make use of this understanding.
In the final chapter of this story, we see the World card- completion and fullness. Parzival has reconciled the world of his own ambitions and that of the higher world, making them one. This too is a message of the World, wherein all the parts of the whole are reconciled, coming together- the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
So from this, we can see that much like both Parzival's story and the Fool's journey, that life is an upward process. We start perhaps not at ground zero, naive as the Fool, but as time goes on we find that every experience, including heartbreak and sorrow, can be turned to a good end. It falls to each of us to figure out what that purpose is. We're not thrown into the mix without clues, although the way is sometimes unclear for a reason- not that the universe needs to get its act together, but rather because there's something there that we need to uncover and figure out- not only for our own benefit, but also to pass it along to others. Could there be another Grail keeper in Parzival's future? It could well be, after all, the Fool's journey is indeed a circular route.

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