Parsifal

You are all familiar with the myth and legend of Parsifal (or “Percival” in English) — even whether or not you realise it and know it as such. It’s blasted across the airwaves every day. It is, perhaps, even the ruling myth of the Western sensibility, with very old roots in the Hermetic Philosophy. Rudolf Steiner reputedly even adopted the legend of Parsifal as his pedagogical model and pattern for his Waldorf Schools. Luke Skywalker, in The Star Wars franchise, is consciously modeled on Parsifal, and the legend is the very likely candidate as model also for “holistic branding” or “brand religion”.

Years ago, in the old Dark Age Blog, I commented on how the Parisfal legend marked the beginning of the High Middle Ages — the story of the fool who becomes a Grail Knight — and ends with Don Quixote, the knight who becomes a fool once more and is mocked by the upcoming revolutionary bourgeoisie. Parsifal and Don Quixote “book end” that Age — are its Prometheus (forethought or foresight) and its Epimetheus (afterthought or hindsight); it’s rise and fall. The original Parsifal, though, is Hermetic code — an alchemical fable.

First of all, if you look up the name “Parsifal” (or “Percival”), current etymological dictionaries will say that it means “pierces the valley”, which might be true enough in a coincidental or incidental sort of way, as we’ll see. More likely it means “pierces the veil” — the “veil” being, in Medieval terms, the “Cloud of Unknowing” or what we know as “Veil of Maya”. The ambiguity about Parsifal’s name here is owing to one of Parsifal’s first transformative adventures, when he penetrates into the magician Klingsor’s realm — the Valley of the Flowermaidens and the Garden of Delights which is only an illusion spun by Klingsor to fool Parsifal. “Valley” and “veil” here are quite interchangeable. Parsifal succeeds in defeating the illusion and spell cast by both Klingsor, the ruler of the valley, and the witch Kundry.

You may recognise that motif — it’s also the Buddha’s struggle with the “Lord of Illusions” named “Mara” who likewise sends flowermaidents to seduce the Buddha away from his path. Klingsor is Mara. In Star Wars, Darth Vader is Klingsor with much the same pedigree — Klingsor being a former Knight of the Grail (or Jedi) who was drawn into the “dark side”.

Klingsor is our contemporary “brandmeister” — spinning and selling illusions; illusions of beauty, illusions of truth, illusions of the good, or those things that Colbert referred to as “truthiness”.

So, the story of Parsifal is the story of the transmutation of lead into gold. Parsifal is the naive, ignorant, innocent, country bumpkin who (although secretly of noble stock) rises through a series of adventures to become a Grail Knight and redeems the suffering Grail Kingdom (Harry Potter is another Parsifal too). There are, of course, precursors to the Parsifal legend — David and Goliath, or even the life of Jesus, born into ignoble and humble circumstances (although secretly and significantly a scion of the House of David) becomes the Messiah and Lord.

As you can appreciate, I think, Parsifal is another rendering of the Prodigal Son parable — a prince by origin, he forgets his roots, descends into the “faraway land” of ignorance through folly, and ends in ignominy as a swineherd living amongst swine, and at the very nadir of his existence, comes to remembrance of himself and his roots, and begins the long journey back to his original high estate.

The Parsifal legend also influenced Hitler in his self-conception, it should be added. Richard Wagner set the Parsifal legend to music, which greatly moved Hitler, for he saw in the legend and in Wagner’s heroic rendering of it (something which disgusted Nietzsche, by the way) his own rise from humble village origins in Austria, and as “the Little Corporal” to “Der Führer“. Hitler’s identification with Parsifal was so complete, in fact, that he too undertook a quest for “the Spear of Destiny” — the Lance of Longinus that was said to have pierced the side of Jesus on the cross. The magical relic was alleged to guarantee power and empire to whoever possessed it, and is a very prominent symbol in the Parsifal legend. Whether Hitler actually believed in the inherent magic of the Spear of Destiny, he certainly couldn’t have overlooked the propaganda value of possessing it and the psychodrama of holding it. The irony in this is, of course, that in his apparent obsession with the Spear of Destiny, he resembled Klingsor more than he did Parsifal — and Thomas Mann’s “Mario the Magician”, a parable about Hitler, certainly drew out that comparison with Klingsor. Nonetheless, Nazi propaganda posters often depicted Hitler as Lohengrin, a Grail Knight,  and, significantly, the son of Parsifal.

Hitler as Grail Knight

The myth of the Entrepreneur very much follows the Parsifal legend — the usual backstory being the “self-made man” of humble origins who ascends from the working class or the farm to the “commanding heights”. It’s a common enough formula in branding and advertising too — Pepsi versus Coke, Apple versus IBM (or Microsoft), Avis versus Hertz, the plucky underdog who, with true grit and perseverance, struggles heroically with Goliath or the Juggernaut. Here, the brand becomes the villain or hero and the psychodrama of its backstory is played out in the advertising and in the media. Entrepreneurialism is a kind of gamesmanship in which the mythic is performed and acted out, albeit in terms of class society and commercial culture in which “self-overcoming” and transcendence is recast as social climbing. Even evolution is understood in terms of the mythic — from humble origins in worm and ape, ascending by degrees to become the “crown of creation” or even the “overman”. On the other hand, a lot of myth and lore has it the other way round — the human descended from a state of knowing or a “Golden Age” into darkness and ignorance.  Our intuition is in conflict with our intellect, and this conflict gets cast in social terms as “romantic” or “classical” orientations and predilections (William Blake versus Isaac Newton, for example).

Steiner found in the Parsifal legend a pattern — the various stages in the maturation of the individual leading to his ideal of self-guiding “ethical individualism”. Branding, inasmuch as it mines the past in terms of myth and parable for its “brand personalities”, might claim that it only tells stories and that it “mirrors” human nature and society. So be it, except “mirrors” always show images reversed from true.

“If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise” is one of Blake’s Proverbs of Hell. It is, in essence, the meaning of the Parsifal myth. It is, however, Klingsor’s task and aim to fool Parsifal with a counterfeit of wisdom of “the genuine imitation” variety. There’s really more than one reason to suggest that our contemporary brandmeister is the modern incarnation of Klingsor the magician.

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11 responses to “Parsifal”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    I’ve finally gotten around to reading Vance Packards famous book The Hidden Persuaders. You’ve probably at least heard of it in you haven’t read it yourselves. But I’m surprised. The reputation it has is as a book condemning advertising. That’s not it at all. It’s an expression rather of outrage against social scientists who he thinks have betrayed their duty to enlightenment and have become, instead, engineers of human souls. The “hidden persuaders” aren’t so much the admen as the social scientists who have hired themselves out to advertising agencies and brought “scientific methods” of propaganda into marketing, ie, betrayal of the Enlightenment as far as Packard is concerned.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    It is the story of the human ever since the beginning in his double movements of ascension and descent, departure and return and the proper or the perverted interpretation of these movements. Percival and klingsor, Christ and Antichrist and how the human inverts movement from lead to gold into the movement from gold to lead. This is the double take of the human mind, yet he insists that he is pursuing the right path like Hitler and the like. The second coming is the return of the Christians to the authentic teaching of Christ, purifying the code from all the misinterpretations that have been inflected on its purity and gain its independent role, in a preparatoy move to receive the code original presenter. A general mission to all other also. These are not untrue concepts but are part of our given world that need to be pondered and understood by our world of thinking, our tool to know how to unify our consciousness with the consciousness of the given world as Steiner Stipulated in his move to the starting point ( the ever present origin) emphasizing its necessity in understanding the source of our cognitive faculty, showing how the human cognition can not operate without separating the world of concepts ( the thinking world) from the given world, a mode that the human must be aware to depart from its box to realize that there is consciousness prior to his consciousness and recognize the need to unify his consciousness with it to enhance its effectiveness and creativity, to know the truth. We are both Christ and Antichrist and the mission is to evacuate one from the other. It is a question of intentionality. Years ago I read about eurythmy,Steiner dance to harmonize the bodily motion with spiritual motion, like the Sufi swirl dance to engender the contact with source, a dance that likes any thing in life is prone to be pushed away from its authentic path. It seems that these double movements are programmed not to stop until the human understand the rules of the divine game, the divine who has said that I have created heaven and earth and made the light and darkness, knowing that among my creatures there will be those who pervert, falsify, lie, belie and arrogantly deny my obvious signs that pervade all natural manifestations which I use to demonstrate my presence for those who are intentionally and attentively present in my living cosmos, that is not to separate the human reading from the divine call to read,recognizing that everything in the cosmos is reading his message and executing its requirement except the human who is always, not only misreads his message but perverts that message and the Merciful is so patient as to send always those who work to rectify the perversions until he stopped sending prophets and left the human to his choice,that is to be his own self prophet. May god help us to be good prophet for ourselves and for the others.

    ,

  3. abdulmonem says :

    Human is prone to commit mistake only to work on its correction, please Correct the end of line three and the beginning of line four to read, movement from lead to gold into the movement from gold to lead. This is the double take of the human mind.

  4. davidm58 says :

    In my first comment to the Post-Enlightenment post I shared some quotes from Gebser that were relevant to how the magic structure shows up in deficient form in propaganda and advertising. Gebser told us that part of the magic structure was about human kind trying to liberate itself from the power of the earth: “This release from nature is the struggle which underpins every will power drive, and, in a very exact sense, every tragic drive for power.” In its positive sense, it is an “urge to freedom” and breaking the “spell of his fusion with nature.” In its deficient form, it is a sense that others “must be ruled so that man is not ruled by them.” And then there is the move from no longer being in the world, but to having the world, therefore the sense of need to hold, to acquire, to own that advertising taps into.

    Now we get into the mythic structure, which is two dimensional and in its healthy form you have a strong sense of two dimensional polarity, which is a continuum of two equal poles, andwhich includes, as abdulmonem points out, “double movements of ascension and descent” as one example. In its deficient form, or interpreted from a deficient mental-rational consciousness, this can often be seen as dualities of opposites where we try to choose one side over the other.

    Gebser points out that the magic structure is auditory in nature, and that human images were often drawn without mouths, but in the mythic structure the mouth shows up. The propagandists and admen will use this to their advantage by providing lots of continuous talking and babble that can mislead. Here we need to be reminded that the mouth too represents a polarity where it needs to oscillate in a healthy continuum of open and shut; and eyes too open and shut. Gebser stated:

    “Myth is the closing of mouth and eyes; since it is a silent, inward-directed contemplation, it renders the soul visible so that it may be visualized, represented, heard, and made audible. Myth is this representing and making audible: the articulation, the announcement, the report…of what has been seen and heard… What in one instance is a mute image is, in another, a sounding word; what is viewed inwardly, as in a dream, has its conscious emergence and polar complement in poetically shaped utterance.

    Thus the word is always a mirror of inner silence, and myth a reflector of soul.”

    Nowhere is this imbalance so obvious as on commercial television, radio, and, sad to say, today’s internet.

    Gebser speaks of a “topsy-turvy obfuscation” when we fall victim to one sided extremes. He speaks of the “metabolist” which “represents a deficient and residual form of what was once the organic interaction and balancing between one polar extreme and the other, as in the seasonal rhythms, the course of the sun, the planets, the heartbeat, and breathing. But the present-day metabolist permanently gives up one extreme in favor of another….Lacking the center that makes the circle possible, the metabolist is prisoner of one segment, and unable to shape the organic cycle, he merely adds impetus, overwinding it and destroying its momentum.” (p. 68).

    This is the dark situation we find ourselves in now, with the propagandists preaching never-ending growth and expansion – that we can always have more, even as we dig ourselves into ever deeper ecological holes, ignoring “the law of the earth.”

    The Parsifal myth, too, echoes many of the themes Gebser speaks of as “the inexhaustible wealth of mythologemes on consciousness emergence,” all of which contain a polar nature.

    One of those polarities is that of suffering and loss, followed by joy and fulfillment. Gebser again, from page 71:
    “And it is this aspect, this demand of consciousness emergence, namely being able to endure suffering, that Western man is scarcely able to fulfill today despite the favorable conditions for it that he has himself created (as in the years 1930 to 1950), for Western man has unilaterally yielded to the active and dynamic principle.

    It is precisely the abundance of sorrow and suffering endured by Odysseus that enables him to save the “psyche” of his companions. But only someone who has rescued himself can save others.”

    This ties in with Parsifal as well, as Scott points out regarding its “self overcoming” aspect.

  5. abdulmonem says :

    In the perennial archive of the human thoughts, I read that biological maturity at age forty is a bell, saying, now! that you have reached your physical maturity a maturity that you have no hand in it, come the time now for you to start the process of your spiritual maturity, a maturity that you have been given a hand in its accomplishment, in actuality it is the purpose of your existence, to compensate the declining curve of your physical life by an ascending spiritual curve and to avoid being occupied with aimless involvement more than pondering and meditating on your personal growth. I was listening last nigh to a discussion on blackhole and whether they retain the information gathered in them or they lose them and thought to myself would it not have been better for these good brains, instead of discussing something far away from them,to discuss what is near to them that is the human blackhole (the brain) and ask where are all the informational inputs the human receives during his life are retained and how he retrieves them and what is the purpose of all this information, or would not have been better to address the urgent problems of our earth. It is really sorrowful to forget the wider picture of life and the most urgent issues of it Alas but this is part of our civilized trend in its misplacement of its attention and intention, a civilization that mummified itself in eating, drinking,sexing and entertaining talks. What a deluded scenario that is working on an unverifiable proposition that there is nothing beyond this life. It is more sorrowful to find those who are working in the spiritual field are money-monger and have nothing to do with god, the supreme, generous light being that has provided and is continually providing his knowledge and all types of physical sustenance freely, yet the ungrateful human being that denies the gifts of all that surround him, the trees, the air, the water, the sun , the moon the stars, the earth and what is also inside it, which the greedy human has almost exhausted. This remind me of a chapter in the quran which is called the earthquake that runs as follow and the earth will shake and empty what is inside it and mankind will start asking what has happened. In retort the earth respond, saying that her divine operating program is heralding some reminding signs, for the human to prepare himself for the harvest of his deed, nano-good for nano-good and nano-evil for nano-evil.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I, too, watched a bit of Brain Greene’s presentation on the holographic universe — the notion that the 3-D (or 4-D) universe is a projection of information from a “two-dimensional surface”. But what that basically translates as is the idea that somehow all-that-is is a kind of dream and that we are all inside the mind of God. Not that this is entirely a novel conception, for even earlier the physicist Eddington had already concluded that “the stuff of the universe is mind stuff”. So, to say that the cosmos as we understand it is not solid, but is a holographic projection of information stored on a “two-dimensional surface” is really an abstract way of saying — it’s all someone’s dreaming.

      But, as the ever ironic Nietzsche put it also: “It is a dream. I want it to continue.”

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