The Grail Legend Part Three
Parsifal witnesses all this without understanding. He only clutched his heart in compassion in response to Amfortas’ pain and agony. After the ceremony Parsifal looks around dumbfounded not grasping any of the happenings. Gurnemanz now asks him about what he had seen but he only shakes his head. The old knight, his hopes apparently having been mislaid sent the youth away in anger but a voice came from above in warning about the promised one. Shocked he became pensive but Parsifal was already gone.
Meanwhile, Klingsor had already seen Parsifal coming and knew that he could be his greatest foe yet. He summoned Kundry once more and convinced her to take up the assignment of tempting Parsifal and added that he who could brave her would save her as she was living under a curse, which she carried after having mocked Christ on the cross. Parsifal stumbled upon Klingsor’s realm and found himself after battling his way through among the most beautiful of maidens he had ever seen. After initially chiding him for wounding their playmates, they asked that he stay with them. Parsifal soon got tired of their childish pranks and was about to escape when he heard someone utter a name, which had never been uttered. He turned and there appeared the most beautiful woman he had ever seen: Kundry. Her objective was his destruction just as she had done with Amfortas.
Using all the pathos she could muster, she told him about his mother’s sorrowful death after he had abandoned her and promised to fill the void, which was surely to be left. Parsifal broke down in tears of sorrow for his mother and blamed himself for her death. Kundry using all her powers of persuasion tried to convince him that all was not lost and that he should love in a passionate way like his father did. Parsifal’s defences weakened as she gave him a long kiss. During this however, Parsifal suddenly jumped up with an expression of intense fear clutching his heart and shouted “Amfortas, die Wunde, die Wunde” (Amfortas, the wound, the wound). The spell had been broken and all the efforts of Kundry to hold him failed. All her appeals fell on deaf ears. In a rage, she cursed him to wander and called out to Klingsor who appeared and hurled the spear at Parsifal hoping that he would be killed. The spear however remained hovering over Parsifal’s head. He grasped the spear and destroyed the realm with the power that rested in the spear. Parsifal had recognised what the problem of Amfortas was through his own experiences. He felt exactly the same pain and with this he recognised his mission, which was to heal Amfortas and return to the Grail realm as its king.
Kundry’s curse had an effect. Parsifal was lost for a long time not knowing where to find Amfortas. Eventually on a Good Friday, he finds his way. He chanced upon the knight Gurnemanz who had now become a hermit since Amfortas, in a final act of defiance had pointedly refused for a long time to uncover the Grail. All the knights were growing old as a result of this and old Titurel died as a direct result of being denied his manna from heaven, which had kept him and others alive. Kundry appears again cured of her curse for she had been braved. She now serves in loyalty. Gurnemanz seeing the spear was transported with joy and as it was predicted anointed the head of Parsifal as the new king of the Grail. But they still had to make their way to the castle where Titurel was being prepared for burial. Amfortas had promised that on this occasion he would uncover the Grail so that the body of his father could be sanctified.
The procession came into the hall of the Grail with Titurel’s coffin and all were shocked by the state of his body when the coffin was uncovered. Amfortas however, still refused to uncover the Grail. He tore his clothes revealing the wound which had already started bleeding again and in the ensuing confusion with the knights demanding that he must do it enters Parsifal with the holy spear, Kundry and Gurnemanz. Parsifal points the lance at Amfortas’ breast healing him. Amfortas overwhelmed by the experience staggers back. Parsifal orders that the Grail be uncovered and should never be concealed. Amfortas was relieved of his duties, the Grail shines brightest, the chalice was raised, all kneel worshipping, Kundry falls dying, being able at last to die blameless, and the white dove appears hovering over Parsifal’s head.
By all means the most absorbing and the most mystical of all the Grail stories. An extraordinary tale, which induced its creator to declare it sacred and pointedly forbade its performance outside his theatre. Though he may have borrowed from medieval sources especially Wolfram, his creativity cannot be denied. The battle between good and evil was clearly played out and the legends of Arthur took a back seat. The Grail itself and its central character, Parsifal received the treatment they deserved. Wagner’s aim was to cut off all the frippery and present us with a crystal clear story, something which had not always characterised the legends. Many medieval authors in their attempt to interpret the legends added so much of their own thoughts that the Grail itself and its central character almost lost their lustre and their powers of appeal to the human spirit.
The profusion of characters certainly did not help matters and many authors got bogged down in narrating the many adventures of the king Arthur that they forgot the central theme, which was the Grail. Wagner therefore, brought out the essential and refocused attention once more on the most important, the Grail, the power of which had induced men in the first place to search for it. Through his work interest has once more been generated and the quest once more could be resumed devoid of all externals. The Grail shines forth once more to exert its power of attraction on those who are open to this influence. These then would continue the search for it in the proper manner, their attentions having been redirected and refocused on the essential and core. The search for the Grail is a religious experience and all those who have concerned themselves with it have felt this and this is where attention should shift. The religious and mystical significance of the Grail is what should be focussed on.