Now we come to one of the many tales of the Grail which has a peculiar resonance for modern times, and which in fact has been rendered into new adaptations to highlight this poignance of an eternal myth for a particular situation in space and time. This is the story of Parsifal.
In this variation of the epic, the Grail Castle itself has fallen upon hard times: the Spear has been stolen, the Guardian has been wounded, and the Grail Queen has disappeared!
How have such disasters come about? The tragic pattern of events began with an aspirant to the Grail Order named Klingsor, who could not master the required self-discipline over his lusts and his desire. Burning with ambition for attainment, he chose the weakling’s path and castrated himself, seeking to banish the drives he could not overcome by force of will. The Guardian of the Grail was at this time Amfortas, a king in his own right (though not the Grail King); when he found what Klingsor had done, he banished him forever from the Castle and the Order.
Thus there was sown in the heart of Klingsor an unquenchable lust for revenge against Amfortas, the Order, and the Light of the Grail itself. The spiritual knowledge and abilities he had acquired in his apprenticeship he now turned to the usages of darkness and the ruination of souls rather than their salvation. He built a mighty castle of his own in the boundless deeps of the Abyss which separates the Grail Realm from the mundane world. Hither he lured hapless souls who fell prey to his enchantments. Every human being has within them a wish to take the easy way to the heights, to gratify their senses without penalty, to experience pleasure endlessly with nary a twinge of pain nor pang of grief. So it was that Klingsor established in his stronghold a garden of earthly delights, where all wayfarers were physically titillated and given illusions in which their fondest fantasies seemed to have come true. This went on just as long as it took Klingsor to cunningly ensorcel their souls beyond all hope of escape. Then they found to their dismay that the price of folly is high indeed, as they were forced into slavery to Klingsor, and became the pawns by which he drew still more souls into his endless mesh of treachery.
Klingsor had the power to temporarily transplant his castle and all its keep from the Abyss to any likely spot in the material world. So it was that one day when Amfortas had journeyed forth into the land on a mission for the Grail, he encountered what he took to be the fair demesne of a local landulf. Squires and damsels hailed him as the renowned and noble Guardian of the Grail, and entreated him to come and dally inside for awhile, and sup with their own great lord, whose name they did not mention. Greeted in so beguiling a manner, Amfortas saw no harm in accepting the invitation. Once inside, he was given the honored place at table as stout-looking knights regaled him with battle tales and enticing maids danced about in sensuous costumes. Little did he suspect that the wine he drank was drugged with a substance that dulled the wit and inflamed the senses; so, though he imbibed with the moderation suitable to his discipline, he was soon drunk and vulnerable to seduction.
And the seduction was swift in coming. Klingsor’s most passionate harlots swarmed over Amfortas like snakes, caressing him and kissing him and begging him to take them to bed this very minute. Every touch of their delightful flesh on his body was enhanced a millionfold by the potion, and the formidable will of the Guardian began to waver.
Suddenly, however, his soul awoke. He leapt to his feet and shouted, “Avaunt!” and cast the houris from him. He took up his Spear and shoved aside the knights who would bar his way, as he strode out of the castle.
Standing just inside the gate to the outer courtyard was the most daunting obstacle of them all: Klingsor’s ultimate whore, an outrageously alluring wench who reeked of the silk of cornfield romps in the bloom of youth, whose fervid glance could warm the cockles of a corpse, and who now wove about herself a spell to make her appear to Amfortas as the stunningly perfect double of the Grail Queen.
The Guardian stopped where he stood on sight of her. “Why are you here, Milady?” he said, with his drug-befuddled brain struggling to make sense of the perfidious image. In reply she held out to him the Grail in its cup, or a masterfully-contrived doppleganger of the same. This trick triggered in Amfortas all the awe and reverence he naturally felt for the Grail. He reached out as he always did in the ritual to remove its covering, and instead found himself parting the diaphanous garment of the imagined Queen, and beholding her naked body, glistening with sweat and yearning to be penetrated by his wildly tumescing manhood. “My Lady. . . !” he said with the last remaining shard of his common sense. “My lover,” she replied, and drew him insistently down upon the carpet.
No sooner had Amfortas spent himself in the embrace of the witch than Klingsor leapt forth from a crevice and snatched up the sacred Spear from whence it had fallen. The veil dropped from Amfortas’ eyes, and he saw the horrid reality of his condition. Groggily he strove to rise to his feet, but in an instant Klingsor with a hideous shriek of triumph thrust the point of the Spear squarely into its Guardian’s groin.
The Grail knights, who had followed a trail of stardust, found their leader lying senseless and covered with blood in an empty field where the enchanted castle had been. They carried him home, and great was the wailing of the maidens and grief of the knights. But nothing was so afflicting as the sight of the heart-stricken Queen, as she wept so piteously at sight of him. Then she breathed life into him until he revived, dressed his wound and bathed him, and finally he returned to himself enough to sit up and look with recognition on those about him.
But he was in terrible pain from his wound. The Queen called for everyone to attend a convocation. At the given moment of the ritual, she held out the chalice to Amfortas. He required two knights to support him as he wanly put forth his hand to lift the covering — but at that instant there came back to him the memory of the scene in Klingsor’s castle, of what had happened when he unveiled the imagined Grail. And now he shrank back and screamed in a most unmanly way, and despite all the urgings of his brethren and weeping entreaties of the Queen, he could not gird himself to lift the cover of the Grail. And thus the very power that could heal him was denied him by the wound itself.
The knights spoke amongst themselves and concurred that: “He needs the Spear. We must recover the sacred Spear from Klingsor, and that will restore Amfortas and open again the Grail.” All the knights pledged themselves to the quest, vowing they would not rest nor falter until the Spear was returned to its rightful place beside the Grail.
Then the entire assemblage joined hands in a great circle and sang a prayer to the Grail King in his chamber above for the success of the quest and the rapid recovery of the Spear. Finally the Queen, with tears running down her cheeks, raised her clasped hands to the ceiling and cried out: “My Lord and my love, my spouse and my master, please tell us the will of the stars in this fearful matter.”
The room was hushed, for so rare was the direct intervention of the Grail King in the affairs of the Order that only the most ancient individuals in the great hall could remember the last time his voice had been heard herein. But now, after a pause of a few long heartbeats, that voice resounded to the multitude.
In grave and compassionate tones it said: “The Spear will not be won save by the hand of an innocent fool, who will attain wisdom through pity.” Then there was silence again, broken at length by sighs of grief, the weeping of strong men, and the soft lamentations of women. A voice said loudly: “Alas!”, and darkness fell.
Next: Herzeleide’s Son