- a historical figure that really existed,
- a legend story told, with various copies from the 13th century but also artworks such as the opera by Wagner (see below)
- but most importantly in spiritual science: an archetype for Man and the initiate in the age of the consciousness soul. The story is symbolic and contains the challenges for Man in this new age. In that respect Parsifal is to be positioned together with the stories and streams of Arthur and the Holy Grail. For a broader perspective, see also: Christ Module 6 - Principle in image and story, Schema FMC00.118A and Schema FMC00.114
Parsifal (or Perceval, “pass through the vale”) was the name given in medieval times to all such candidates for initiation into the mysteries.
'Parsifal' had to undergo three stages in inner experience. The first stage was known as `dumbness', the second `doubt, the third `godliness'.
Stages are also described as:
- 1/ compassion (also for animals)
- 2/ rising above desire (without killing desire from outside) or: emancipation from a love dependent on the senses
- the Parsifal storyline
- sources and versions
- Ganganda Greida: 'food for spiritual travellers'
- Amfortas and Parsifal: astrality's struggle with egoism
- Parsifal as the only incarnation of an important individuality on earth, Mani or Manes - re Keyserlinck reference below, and Schema FMC00.117 on Bodhisattva
- the relation of Parsifal, the Son of Light (Abel), and Feirefis, the Son of Fire (Cain) - re Keyserlinck reference below, and Streams of Abel and Cain
Parsifal: the storyline in short
Sources and versions
The 13th century version
- Wolfram von Eschenbach (1160/80-1220) largely adapted this story which is dated to the first quarter of the 13th century.
Wolfram von Eschenbach (an initiate, see 1904-07-15-GA092; inspiration see 1904-07-01-GA092) wrote his Parzifal as a plain and simple epic. That was sufficient in his day. People who had some degree of clairvoyance at that time understood Wolfram von Eschenbach
- Chrétien de Troyes (late 12th century) is the poet of the Grail romance 'Conte del Graal' (or 'Perceval, the Story of the Grail'), written in Old French during the 1180s or 1190s , but (probably) left it incomplete.
Wagner's 19th century opera
Wagner (1813-1883) worked on the opera Parsifal in the period 1857-1882
More than anyone else, Richard Wagner made it possible for people to take this in without knowing it. Richard Wagner was a missionary whose mission it was to give something full of significance to the world, without humanity being aware of this truth. .. .. The strange music written by Wagner would create quite specific vibrations in the ether bodies of those who listened to it. The ether body is connected with all the profound motions of the blood. Richard Wagner understood the secret of the purified blood. His melodies hold the vibrations that have to be in the human ether body when it becomes purified in the way that is necessary so that the secret of the grail may be received.
Schema FMC00.116 shows the symbol for Good Friday and Easter: the spiritual sun in the physical sun.
Lecture coverage and references
Parsifal <-> subconscious, historical Christ Impulse: "the Christ Impulse flows on as though through subterranean channels in the depths of the soul. " and .. "how the soul of Parsifal is related to the new, subconscious, historical impulse permeated by the Christ aura, the Christ Impulse, although he knows nothing of it"
1914-01-02-GA149 explains how the Christ Impulse works in the subconscious 'under the surface' of contemporary human daily consciousness .. we are not consciously aware that we have a seed or spark of Christ consciousness in our 'I' .. and the etheric aspects of our heart and blood
.. the soul of Parsifal is related to the new, subconscious, historical impulse permeated by the Christ aura, the Christ Impulse, although he knows nothing of it ..
Ganganda Greida: 'food for spiritual travellers'
Ganganda Greida is a term that appears in an ancient Nordic version of the Grail legend in Norvegian, as referenced in 'Riddarasögur, Parzevals Saga' published by German philologist Dr. Eugen Kölbing (1846-1899) in 1872.
The Grail is here called “ganganda greida” - from "gehend" .. moving or going about, and "greida" .. literally meaning “things”, and in this context indicating “provisions” or “nourishment”. The aspect of the Grail specifically conveyed in the expression “ganganda greida” is "nourishment or food while journeying along a path" or simpler: "food for wanderers", for those who go on a spiritual path.
The miraculous celestial food contained in the vessel of the Holy Grail is prepared from, and forms a union in the noblest part of the brain
- the finest effects of the most delicate sense impressions of the external sensible world
- and the finest effects of the pure mineral extracts, the most refined products of the mineral kingdom
then, during sleep, when the brain is not thinking, the products formed within the human being ... (out of ..) .. flow toward the brain
p 129: the purest, noblest element in light, sound and warmth encounters
1913-03-25-GA145 (SWCC) describes the legend of the grail with symbols or sword and bloody lance as the spiritual process that takes place in Man every night. In the extract below, the underlined sections highlight the link with Etherization of blood.
[While Man is asleep] .. Symbolised by the brain lying within the skull, our human nature on the earth appears as a being under enchantment living in a castle, as a being imprisoned and enclosed by stone walls. Our skull is like the shrunken external symbol of this. But when we look at the etheric forces which lie at its foundation, the earthly man actually appears to us as if he were within the skull, and imprisoned in this castle.
And then from the other parts of the organism there stream up the forces which support this human being who is really within the skull as if in a mighty castle; the forces stream upwards;
- first the force which comes from the outspread instrument of the astral body: all streams up all that strengthens Man's nerve fibres. All this streams together in the earthly brain-man; this appears as a mighty sword which the human being has forged on the earth.
- Then stream up the forces of the blood. These appear as that which really wounds the brain-man lying in the enchanted castle of the skull. The forces which in the etheric body stream up to the earthly human being lying in the enchanted castle of the brain are like the bloody lance, streaming up to the noblest parts of the brain.
The etheric body thrusts back all foods coming from the animal kingdom (this may nourish other organs). It also thrusts back from one small, vital part of the brain all that comes from the plant kingdom, and allows only the mineral extract to be of value; there this mineral extract is brought into contact with the purest of what comes through the sense organs.
The purest of light, the purest sound, the purest heat [editor: sense impressions result of cosmic breathing], here come in touch with the purest products of the mineral kingdom; for the most vital part of the human brain is nourished by the union of the purest sense impressions with the purest mineral products.
The etheric body separates from this noblest part of the human brain all that comes from the plant or animal kingdoms. But all the things that the human being takes in as his food pass up also; for the brain also has less noble parts. These are nourished by all that streams up, by which the whole organism is nourished. Only the noblest part of the brain must be nourished by the most beautiful union of the sense perceptions and the highest part of the purified mineral extract.
We now learn to recognise a wonderful cosmic connection between man and the whole of the rest of the cosmos. We can now see, part of man wherein we perceive how human thought, by means of the instrument of the nervous system which serves the astral body, prepares the sword for human strength on earth; therein we become acquainted with all that is mingled with the blood, and to a certain extent contributes to the killing of the most precious thing in the brain. And this noblest thing in the brain is ever sustained by the union of the most delicate sense perceptions with the purest products of the mineral kingdom. And then, during sleep, when thought is not making use of the brain, there stream to the brain the products which have been formed lower down in the inner parts from the plant and animal kingdoms.
Thus, when we penetrate into our own etheric body, it is as though we had reached an abyss, and across it we could see what goes on in the etheric body; and all this appears in mighty pictures representing the processes of the spiritual man during sleep.
The I and astral body — the spiritual man — descends into the castle, which is formed of that which is only seen symbolically in the skull. Here the human being lies sleeping, wounded by the blood, the man of whom we see that thoughts are his strength — that which must be capable of nourishment by all that comes from the kingdom of nature, that which in its purest parts must be served by the finest.
All this symbolically represented resulted in the Legend of the Holy Grail, which tells us of that miraculous food which is prepared from the finest activities of the sense impressions and the finest activities of the mineral extracts, whose purpose it is to nourish the noblest part of man all through the life he spends on earth; for it would be killed by anything else. This heavenly food is what is contained in the Holy Grail.
And that which otherwise takes place, that which presses up from the other kingdoms, we find clearly represented if we go back to the original Grail legend, where a meal is described at which a hind is first set on the table. The penetrating up into the brain where for ever floats the Grail, that is, the vessel for the purest food of the human hero who lies in the castle of the brain, and who is killed by everything else — all this is represented.
The best presentation of this is not that by Wolfram, but it is best represented in an external exoteric way (because almost everyone can recognise, when his attention has been drawn to it, that this legend of the Grail is an occult experience which every human being can experience anew every night), it is best represented, in spite of the profanation which has even crept in there, by Chrestien de Troyes. He put what he wished to say in an exoteric form, but this exoteric form hinted at what he wished to convey, for he refers to his teacher and friend who lived in Alsace, who gave him the esoteric knowledge which he put into exoteric form. This took place in an age when it was necessary to do this, on account of the transition indicated in my book, ‘The Spiritual Guidance of Humanity.’ The Grail legend was made exoteric in 1180, shortly before the transition.
The legend of the Holy Grail tells us of that miraculous food which is prepared from
- the finest activities of the sense-impressions, and
- the finest activities of the mineral, extracts,
whose purpose it is to nourish the noblest part of man all through the life he spends on earth; for it would be killed by anything else. This heavenly food is what is contained in the Holy Grail ...
... We have heard what the Holy Grail contains. It contains that by which the physical instrument of man on earth must be nourished: the extract,
- the pure mineral extract which is obtained from all foods
and which unites in the purest part of the human brain with
- the purest sense-impressions, impressions which come to us through our senses.
Now, to whom is this food to be handed? It is really to be handed — as is revealed to us when from the exoteric story we enter into the esoteric presentation of it in the Mysteries — it is really to be handed to the human being who has obtained the understanding of what makes man mature enough gradually to raise himself consciously to what the Holy Grail is ...
Amfortas and Parsifal: astrality's struggle with egoism
Parsifal and Feirefis
Keyserlingk reports on her esoteric conversations with Rudolf Steiner:
In the Uhland edition of Parsifal with a foreword by Rudolf Steiner, an episode occurs that is not found anywhere else: the journey of the young Grail Queen Repanse, who is awaited in India as the wife of `Fire-Fils' (Feirefis). She had embarked in Marseilles to take the emerald-green vessel, containing the Blood of Christ, the Graul, to the land of Priest-King John. When the Graul was carried ashore, the Graul Castle upon the heights lit up in flames to receive it.
I thought about this for a long while, and the `Fire-Sons' of India who are to appear as magnificent figures at some future time, merged in my mind with the word Fire-Fils, which has the same meaning as Fire-Son. Feirefis is the dark brother of Parsifal, who is to succeed the latter as Grail King.
Following on this thought I then enquired: `Is Feirefis a Fire-Son?'
Rudolf Steiner: 'Yes, Feirefis is the Fire-Son.'
I: 'And Parsifal the Light-Son?'
Rudolf Steiner: 'Yes,' and then he said a few words which I wanted to write down, but could not quite manage, and so he dictated them to me: `'Parsifal is the Light-Son. He is the only incarnation of an important individuality on earth.
- Parsifal, the Son of Light (= Abel), and
- Feirefis, the Son of Fire (= Cain)
are the sons of God, divine brothers of man, whom he has lost
- and whom Seth, the son of earth, must get back again.
They meet us in three streams:
- the golden Arthurian knights or Michael/Sun knights;
- the silver knights, who guard the Grail through the holy wisdom of the moon; and
- the iron knights, who, in black armour and with the diamond lance, tarry in mortality until, conquering death, Christ with His light will penetrate the darkness.
Note regarding 'the only incarnation of important individuality': GA264 maps various incarnations of high individualities to storylines in the gospels and the Bible, and there Mani or Manes is stated to be the individuality that incarnated as Parsifal. However Mani also incarnated in Babylon in the 3th century.
Timing of the Grail narrative
Rudolf Steiner said that the Grail narrative was made exoteric about the year 1180, but the grail stories had been present in the souls of men since the eight or ninth century.
W.J. Stein quotes a visit by Rudolf Steiner to his class on 1923-01-16 where he dates the story to the eight or ninth century, times of bloodshed, armour and fighting in the wild forests. The knights sought to establish, in this bloodthirsty age, an order that was based on bloodshed. The central body of these knights, who were scattered about everywhere, was formed by the Knights of King Arthur with centres in England and Northern France.
References and further reading
- Charles Kovacs: Parsifal and the search for the grail (1998)