Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Wagner`s last and many argue his greatest music drama[he did not refer to them as operas] is Parsifal. Wagner based his work on Wolfram von Eschenbach`s version of the Parzival myth. However von Eschenbach`s work does agree closely with the older version by Chretien de Troyes.
It would be a mistake to label Parsifal as a Christian passion play as many have over the years since its first performance in 1882. Sacred drama it may be but Christian certainly not. There is a thin, a very thin Christian veneer to the drama but only a very superficial understanding would cause one to consider it essentially a Christian work.
Parsifal is inextricably linked to the King Arthur and Holy Grail myths of the high Middle Ages whose roots may be traced right back to pre-christian Celtic times and the myth of the Cauldron which features in many Celtic tales, especially the Cauldron of the god Dagda. A real life magical cauldron, the Gundestrup Cauldron was discovered in a Danish peat bog at Gundestrup and datable to the 1st or 2nd century BCE and probably manufactured in Gaul. Its sides feature images of Celtic deities and sacred magical rituals and the author John Grigsby in his Warriors of the Wasteland considers that it was connected to rituals of human sacrifice because there is a basis for this in Celtic myths and human sacrifice in peat bogs is known to have been practiced in the Celtic and Germanic regions.[See PV Glob`s The Bog People]
Both the Grail[taken from the Old French graal, an adaption of the Latin gradalis] is a dish, a cauldron in other words and like the Cauldron of Celtic myth had curious restorative properties and could provide nourishment and sustenance for the Knights of the Grail as Dagda`s Cauldron could.
Current popular authors associate the Grail with the idea of a bloodline, most especially a messianic bloodline which must be guarded and kept secret.
Wagner whether intentionally or not appears to be responsible in the eyes of some scholars for associating the Grail with the concept of Aryan blood purity. Certainly his Pasifal does seem to associate the concept of the land around Montsalvat being laid waste due to the faithlessness of its king Amfortas who succombed in temptation to the feminine charms of the sorceress Kundry who is taken by some to be a feminine Wandering Jew. The result of this lapse was a loss in blood purity and the onset of physical and spiritual corruption in the Grail lands which only Parsifal, the Aryan redeemer could restore.
Only by his possession of the sacred spear/lance and the Grail could he restore the land and people.
The spear could be likened to a penis, the Grail a womb. The meeting of the two, the animus and the anima would restore Aryan wholeness and blood purity.
Many have also likened the sacred spear or lance with the spear of Wotan, Gungnir which in Wagner`s Siegfried was broken by the hero Siegfried and this marked the end of the gods, the onset of the Goetterdaemmerung, The Twilight of the Gods.
Parsifal in effect is a reborn Siegfried, a hero destined to a higher status who will fulfill his mission where Siegfried failed but nevertheless builds upon Siegfried`s past work.
Where Siegfried, the fearless hero was intent on discovering the emotion of fear[something he lacked] Parsifal`s mission was to discover the emotion of compassion[Mitleid].
On discovering the Valkyrie in a deep sleep[induced by her father Wotan for disobedience] on the summit of a rocky mountain, surrounded by a magical wall of fire that no coward dare cross Siegfried suddenly experienced fear for the first time in his life:
zueckt mir in`s Herz;
fasst meine Augen:
mir schwankt und schwindelt der Sinn!
Translation by Stewart Spencer:
charms my heart;
transfixes my eyes:
my senses stagger and swoon!
By contrast Parsifal finally learned compassion by asking the question, What aileth thee mine uncle?[Eschenbach]