wolfram von eschenbach wrote parzival around 1200 anno domini, some 15 or 20 years after chretien de troyes wrote perceval, the story of the grail. to say that somebody wrote something back in them days means that they wrote it down, literacy being something of a novelty, not that they made it up. the stories of the arthurian roundtable and the grail/graal had been around for quite a while, being passed along and refined and perfected by minnesingers with good memories long before chretien and wolfram committed them to paper. the actual king arthur was alive and kicking and yanking swords outta stones around 500 apollo dionysus, so that’s about 700 years from fact to myth.
this here writer read both works oh, around 2003 artemis diana, and i’m writing this now in 2010 alexander diogenes. i read perceval first and, becos i skipped the intro, was surprised and annoyed to discover that chretien didn’t finish it. so i had to go find parzival to find out how the story ended. i liked both, but preferred the latter. they’re both dang fine, tho’ as noted, one is incomplete, but i didn’t dwell on either overmuch and went on to peruse many other fine works of myth, legend, anthropology and various other errata in the intervening years. recently, however, i’ve begun to think and reflect on the olde tale of the boy who would be the fisher king and meanings have become more important and/or clear than seemed to have been before. this sort of thing will happen if you immerse yourself in myth. something you read will settle into your brain, outta sight someplace and come floating up to the surface at a later time not unlike the body of a drowned individual. its good to pay attention to this. this is why reading or otherwise learning this stuff is important- it comes back when its wonted. and i haven’t read either or otherwise reviewed them in preparation for this writing about them now. i’m going on memory, which is the best way i can think of to get some things wrong. specifically, to confuse the two and mix them into one, possibly getting some bits out of order, maybe even incorporating pieces of other versions of the same knight’s dream or an altogether different myth even. how’s that for sloppy writing? claude levi-strauss would rip out his curls in vexation t’were he alive to hear of it, but he ain’t, god rest his monad, and anyway, with all due respect to the inventor of the blue jean, instructor of structuralism and fastidious parser of myth, i am not in the business of detailing how countless tales of south american motherfuckers relate to the establishment of the roasted sweet potato, tho’ that is important and fascinating shit. my concern is with a vaguer and greyer area: how individuals can use myths to enrich their own personal lives. its important, in a way, to know what any given myth meant to the people who made it in their own image and lived by it, but if that myth doesn’t jump and shake for me personally, then its just a brain exercise. so, for my purposes, the mostly-remembered myth that drifts to the surface when it appears to be applicable to the events of one’s life is more important. and that’s what i’ll be working with. i encourage any/everyone to go to the sources and to check out levi-strauss’ corpus as well. i’ll be using wolfram’s spelling.
and i want to clarify something: this is just my interpretation. but its also the general interpretation, or i think so, at least. all myths and all dreams are open-ended. they can mean different things to different people just as a dream about the ocean is generally about the unconscious and/or womb, but obviously has a different inflection if its dreamed by a barefoot okie farmboy than if its dreamed by an old tar. some symbols have general meaning and these may vary from culture to culture. in asia, a dragon means wisdom, but in europa, the same serpent means holding on in an unhealthy way, clinging to the dead past. and even if you don’t know these things, you have them to some degree in the data base of your cultural inheritance, your race memory if you like, and it ain’t a bad idea to bring them out and get to know them so you can use them in your interpretations. yours truly is of german/english extraction. on a guttural level, i’m inclined to slay dragons, not ask ‘em to teach me, but if i happen to be reading something from the east, i know i’m on a different field.
i gotta repeat here that one of the main things i’m working on and working toward is the idea that myth is a human story, that all humans have some very basic things in common and that any and all myths have the potential to reveal to any and all individuals vital and important insights that they might not’ve been able to get in any other way. i, personally, have gained much from the traditions and myths of asia, africa, the indigenous peoples of the americas and the aborigeneous peoples of australia, despite being a white anglo-saxon and former protestant. i can and do and will in the course of this discourse cross the messages, if you catch my drift, but i have to use my own cultural perspective as my starting point.
where were we? oh, parzival.
parzival’s pa was a knight and whilst parzival’s ma was pregnant, he went off on a crusade or something and got hisself killed. so parzival’s ma was all heartbroke and somehow she knew that the baby in her belly was a boy and she didn’t want him to grow up and be a knight a’cos she’uz afeared he’d go get hisself killed the way his pa did and she couldn’t bear the notion so she up’n’ went off to live in the woods and have nothin’ to do with nobody and to raise up her boy all ignorant of knightliness an’ such like that. so the boy was born and his ma taught him the bible an’ how to do chores about the cabin an’ such like that there, but she never told him nothin’ about knights or kings or crusades or anythin’ about anythin’ other than bein’ a good boy an’ stickin’ close by the cabin an’ doin’ his chores an’ readin’ his bible.
well sir, one fine day, parzival was out gettin’ firewood or somethin’ an’ he strayed off’n the path which is what folks is generally likely to do in the beginnin’ parts of myths, wander off into some strange piece o’ the woods or get led astray by an errant pup or a golden ball that rolls over near the olde well. this is a common device and it represents the beginning of the path away from the known and into the unknown, which is where one has adventures. there are myths where the hero(ine) chooses, deliberately, to seek an adventure and we will see parzival do that later on, but at this stage of it, he’s still a youngster and has not had enough life experiences to be able to choose a proper quest. this is the situation for adolescents. they are about to begin the great and terrifying adventure of becoming self-sufficient, responsible adults and they have to find their own ways. there are guiding lights, of course, and parzival is one, but every individual must, ultimately, find their own way. so parzival got lost in the woods an’ was startin’ to get a mite worried about it when he encountered a road an’ as he was standin’ there lookin' about like a dipshit, down that road come somethin’ that was nothin’ like anythin’ parzival had ever seen.
there was several of ‘em, actually, maybe a dozen. they was like people above an’ like beasts below an’ they made a sound as they came like thunder and they glittered and shined like the sun on water. an’ po’ parzival was terrified an’ awed and thrilled right thru to the marrow an’ no idea what these things might be. an’ he thought of his ma an’ the bible an’ he says to hisself, “they must be angels”, on account of he didn’t know nothin’ else they could be. so he fell down on his knees in the road an’ started genuflectin’ an’ praisin’ the lord almighty.
the amazing things pulled up short when they got to the boy in the road and the leading one shouted down, “hey, you knave, what are you doing, bowing and scraping before us? don’t you know you should bow to none but god?”
“i thought you were angels.”
“what? we’re not angels! we are knights of king arthur’s roundtable!”
“but, prithee sir, what is a knight?”, remember, parzival was totally ignorant.
“a knight is a man of honour, who wears armor and rides in service of god and the king!”
now, parzival perceived that these were men sitting astride animals not unlike the old mule his ma and him used to plow their little patch of corn and taters and terbacky, all clad in shining steel and he was filled with desire to be among them.
“now, get out of our way! we are on business for king arthur and must ride on!”
so parzival got outta the danged road and the knights sped on. he stood there for some time watching the dust settle on the road and then went on to find his way home, awed by what he had experienced and knowing that he could never be at peace until he became a knight at king arthur’s roundtable.
becos it was born in him.
when reading myth, always identify with the main character. the main character is you. if you happen to be a female, you will most likely find yourself having to take an additional imaginary step. it isn’t that difficult to do. you are parzival. you began your life as a babe in the woods being cared for by someone who loved you and who had certain ideas about who and what you could/would/should become. at some point, you started to have other ideas. some desire to become an individual began to well up in you. this is part of growing up in the world.
in myth, the father frequently represents the higher aspect of the self, the self that the son is to grow up to be. parzival’s father was a knight: that means that knighthood was parzival’s true nature, his destiny, the role that he was created for. the myth is saying that such a thing exists for every individual: there is a purpose for you, a specific something that is yours to find and bring forth and it was there, hidden in you, from the moment of your creation. just as the resurrection from the grave was placed with the logos in mary’s womb. (jesus, of course, was the son of two fathers, god and man, so he had two birds to kill with one cross: redeem the fallen father and reunite with the holy one.) this thing, this thing inside you, is what you are called in your life to accomplish. this is the true, genuine, real authentic life for you. anything else is bullshit.
maybe you haven’t found it yet. that’s becos the time has not yet come for you to find it. these things cannot be rushed. the adventure will come upon you when you are ready for and not before, so they ain’t no point in trying to force it. you can’t hurry it up. you can, however, delay it. and the way to delay it is to not do anything until you’re sure that what you’re doing is the absolute, one, true, right thing that you’re s’posed to do. parzival wasn’t sittin’ around playin’ videogames waitin’ for his life to come a-knockin’. he was out livin’ it to the fullest of his knowledge and capacity and was ready for what happened, tho’ he didn’t know it. start where you are. embrace the reality that is yer life and engage in it. do whatever is in front of you to be done and don’t hesitate to go lookin’ fer firewood in strange glades.