The Grail Legend Part 2: Finding the True Grail
The Grail Legend Part 2: Finding the True Grail
By Allan D. Vreeland, Ph.D.
Dedicated to Lucille Enix
Editor’s Note: This is Part I of a two-part series. Read The Grail Legend Part 1: Seeking the True Grail here.
In the first part of the Grail Legend, our hero Parsifal has achieved worldly individuation. As a handsome young man with considerable talent, he has attained the education of the day as a chivalrous knight, he has aligned himself successfully with King Arthur, and he has married a queen with castle and property. But while the path is open to him to join King Arthur as one of the great knights of the emerging European consciousness, that is not to be his fate. He has learned more about his family, and in his youthful openness he has stumbled upon the legendary Grail Castle. At the invitation of the Grail King, he has taken part in the strange and magical rituals of the Grail. The Grail King is the sickly Anfortas, his uncle, and Parsifal will gradually learn that he himself was to become the next Grail King. But he failed to exhibit the mature spiritual presence required, and the glimpse of enlightened bliss he had attained disappears into the cold morning mist. Parsifal is left wandering in a lonely quest for the genuine spiritual individuation that has been so elusive in human culture throughout history.
After years of missing his wife, failing to return to his mother, and failing to regain access to the Grail secrets, Parsifal finally gets help. It comes from Trevizrant, the hermit [“yogi” in the east]. Trevizrant is Anfortas’ brother, and therefore also Parsifal’s uncle. Trevizrant gave up his knighthood after Anfortas was nearly killed in the incident that left him permanently ill. He relates to Parsifal the remaining details of his family and their connection to the Grail Castle. He also tells Parsifal that his mother died shortly after he left home, and helps him to grieve for her. This work is familiar to us today as the work frequently done in psychotherapy. It is an important foundation to understand family, personal history, and their effects on identity and personality development. As an illustration, we see at this point in the story that Parsifal’s mother’s attempt to shield him from the realities of his world had unintended negative consequences much later in his life.
Finally, Cundrie, the sorceress who has shown up at different times throughout the legend, offers to guide him on his return to the Grail Castle. In the analytical perspective of Jung, the sorceress would represent the deeper, more active feminine aspect which Parsifal’s mother had avoided. In spiritual terms, Cundrie is a protector or guide like those found in numerous ancient and eastern traditions.
But there is one more major revelation for Parsifal to accept. On the way to the castle, he encounters a “heathen” who has just arrived by ship after sailing from the east, the land of the Crusades. In knightly fashion, they immediately join in battle until Parsifal breaks his sword. The heathen knight, in genuine chivalrous tradition, refuses to take advantage of this, and he throws away his own sword. For the first time in his life, Parsifal finds himself indebted to another knight, and they start talking. The heathen knight has traveled purposefully. He is Parsifal’s half-brother, as it turns out that their father married while he was on the Crusades and established a kingdom in India. With Cundrie, the two knights continue together to the Grail Castle. Parsifal does not hesitate, he asks the obvious question, “Dear uncle, what has happened to you?” This immediately heals the wounds of Anfortas, who promptly retires and crowns Parsifal the Grail king. His half-brother marries the Grail maiden, and soon King Arthur rides in, bringing Parsifal’s queen. There is a grand reunion, and the spiritual world is healed as the legend ends.
In this early version of the Grail Legend, we can see that a major contribution is the intimate linkage, through Parsifal’s father and the Crusades, of east and west. Similarly, before the later distortions of the story, the Grail is not a bowl or chalice, it is a stone. We can pursue the implications of the legend through the symbolism of the Grail as stone and a sort of cornucopia. The Grail Stone is called the “lapis excillis” by Wolfram, which was a creative device that does not really translate into anything but suggests a stone from the sky. Emma Jung and von Franz are not of help here in their work on the legend because, in the tradition of Jung, they pursue western symbolism and turn to other versions of the Grail as chalice.
But “the stone from the sky that provides all” is actually a very powerful and compelling symbol. Meteorites have been sacred objects for centuries. In Far Eastern iconography, the goddess is holding a jewel, called a Cintamani. The term is translated from Tibetan and Hindu as “the wish-fulfilling jewel.” The wish-fulfilling jewel, symbolized by a stone, is the secret that is available, free, always and anywhere, as the metaphor of the liberated mind. After chasing all the secrets in the world, the truly reliable source of bliss is your own mind.
While our cultural situation in the early years of the new millennium is certainly different than in the 12th century, it is no less troubled. We all are aware of serious problems with fundamental political theory of nation-state and the rule of law. We are reminded constantly of the inadequacy of our prevailing economic theory of forced growth and vast inequality. Importantly, the spiritual sickness of the 12th century has remained unresolved and virtually institutionalized as the battle between science and religion.
Culturally, the overwhelming success of medical science has supported a definition of the individual as worker, and uninterrupted productivity is assured through pharmaceuticals prescribed as the treatment for every discomfort and malady. Still worse, our postmodern approach to worldview has resulted in devaluation of truth and unbridled skepticism of the teacher. The present time is as hostile to the contemplative life as any time in history. Yet, it is clear from our own mythology that our spiritual well-being is central to our overall individual well-being.
The relevance of the Grail Legend of Wolfram, preserved through the Inquisition for 900 years, can be found in the continued peaceful dialectic between eastern and western thought. It is to the tiny, dedicated sanghas of the western world that teachers have come to preserve their traditions from the ravages of Tibet and Southeast Asia. We can list some specific solutions that these traditions bring to a troubled western world:
First, the purposeful, conscious development of individual identity is the top priority. It was the lore of the individual that was the core of popularity of the Grail Legend and chivalrous knighthood. It was the lore of individuality that supported the early American settlers as they fled the crushing authoritarian structure of Europe. It is that same fundamental individual freedom that teachers of eastern traditions find resonance with as they come to the west. We need the sophisticated methods of meditation to develop that individuality. It is the strength of individuality that will sustain humanity’s children in the difficult times to come.
Second, the “wish-fulfilling jewel” is the equal-opportunity Grail symbol of enlightened individuality. A skillful mind is the preservation of authentic truth as spiritual, available, and necessary. In this light, the current western struggle between science and religion is seen to be a persistent hangover of the middle ages struggle between institution and shadow. If shadow is not understood and integrated at a deep, affective, individual level, then switching dominance between science and religion will do nothing to settle the struggle. In the absence of integration, the demonstration of the Higgs boson in the new Large Hadron Collider will do nothing more than give an accurate scientific new count of angels on the head of a pin.
Third, as demonstrated so poignantly in Parsifal’s quest for spiritual maturity, compassion is the irreplaceable ingredient for integration. Good and evil, war and peace, wealth and poverty, obesity and famine will necessarily be resolved only with the uniquely human expression of compassion. The east, with its forbidding mountain monasteries of Tibet, its timeless Zen monasteries of Japan, and its deep forest monasteries of Southeast Asia, has long possessed the method and the lore for integration of individual wisdom and compassion. It has been no easier for the wider eastern culture than it has been for the wider western culture to bring these solutions into the mainstream.
Finally, every Zen monastery, every vipassana silent retreat, and every Tibetan stupa that is painstakingly supported in the western world is a step towards the east-west integration introduced by the Grail Legend. But we should also be open to understanding and accepting unique, hopeful, and popular new combinations of ideas and culture that lead us in the right direction. Like the introduction of the Grail Legend, these creative new stories tend to resonate in an intuitive and self-sustaining way that can be, and should be, popular within the prevailing culture even while they critique and rebel. As interesting, creative, and frustratingly elusive as the original Grail Legend, we have today a new legend in western culture. If you have not yet, you are behind, and you should immediately begin the satisfying read of Harry Potter.