Wounded Masculinity

by Richard A. Sanderson

There is a particular soul need in western minds, for good to triumph over evil in our external world. Seldom do we internalise this soul need in terms of our own daily actions, thoughts and feelings. The mythic underpinnings of today’s western world can be found in legends and myths of the 12th century. The medieval knights, their chivalry and heroic duty was to find out evil doers and run them through with their sword of righteousness. Good versus "Evil", no less! Dragons and particularly the "infidel" (unbaptised men) were specifically targeted as the foe as they were usually holding a land or castle under tyranny. This sounds so familiar in light of the "Manhattan terrorist attack, September 11, 2001. The task of this work is to take the current suffering of man as an interior event (as something all men have in common) and not to blame someone outside, for this or that. Without looking first at ourselves as men, there is little chance of enhancing man's consciousness and ability to relate wholly to one another.

A retelling of the most famous and effective myth of "Parsifal and the Fisher King" is the backdrop for this intended healing work. Original medieval versions of "Parsifal" by Chretien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach have echoed down through time and many versions have been written such is its attraction. The myth perennially enlivens mans consciousness, fuels his desire to be whole and is called a "living myth". In the retelling I have not found it necessary to look at each incident and adventure of Parsifal, but to choose those aspects pertaining to healing man’s masculinity. I undertook this work as part of my ongoing healing journey and out of disappointment that there are so few healthy models for boys and men to emulate!

A contemporary man’s whole sense of self-worth and potency in this world is often based on his own and others perception of his masculinity-sexuality. James Wyly (1987) discusses that the central core to most men is "his phallus, his libido, his sense of potency and ability to potentiate his own destiny, to create himself in accord with his inner image". The Parsifal myth is a medieval "man’s story" of restoring unity to misaligned masculinity and for men to start filling the emptiness that results from adherence to collective sexual values. The myth is a tale so worth retelling and reading for today’s modern man. Women will go ah ha!

The quest or striving to merge with the fountain of one's life, is our innate desire to be wholesome and happy. In this sense we are all on the same quest as our hero Parsifal. Men are indeed modern heroes as each day we set off on this quest to be happy.

The main players in the myth:

The main players are Parsifal, a young man from Wales. The Fisher King the king of the Grail Castle. Kundry, the queenly, mysterious, mystic woman (a female counterpart of Merlin). Parsifal’s mother Herzeleide, who carries the sorrow of Parsifal’s, father’s actions. Parsifal's father Gamuret, a man equally wounded and absent in Parsifal's life. The Holy Grail (a unity with God), that bestows life and love upon the kingdom. The Grail Castle, a castle and kingdom "hidden" amidst the mists from all whom cannot see. Lastly, the forces of destruction "the dark side", that strives to pervert the flowing of The Holy Grail.

The myth:

Are you sitting uncomfortably men, then we will begin? At the heart of the Grail Castle a Holy Spear and a Holy Chalice lay. The two divine implements are needed daily for The Holy Grail enactment, the eternal task of bringing light into the kingdom; for that light is the source of the cycle of life and death. The two divine implements represent the masculine and feminine principles which when combined in perfect wholeness produce light into the kingdom of the Fisher King. The Holy Chalice represents the feminine aspect of feeling and beauty that both contains and transforms. The chalice in christianised versions is that which Jesus used at the Last Supper, containing the wine and later his blood. The Holy Spear represents the masculine strength required to stand ‘erect’ and guard the precious Grail. The Holy Spear in Christianised versions, is the same spear that pierced the side of Christ on the cross (perhaps it pierced Christ’s testicles?). Each day every knight of the inner order (of the Arthurian tradition) would renew his oath to defend the Grail with his very life and affirm his service to the Holy Grail.

The Grail Castle has fallen upon hard times; the spear has been stolen. The Fisher King was wounded in his testicles by the Holy Spear as it was being stolen. The King was described as being henceforth ‘too ill to live but not ill enough to die’ (the modern malaise). In some versions of the Parsifal myth it speaks of Grail Castle disunity, as specific knights use all manner of trickery, temptations and illusions to corrupt specifically The Fisher King and ultimately The Holy Grail (the unity with God). Kundry, the mysterious sorceress within the Grail Castle was also corrupted and trapped as a result of the demise of the Grail Castle. Kundry was then used to help overcome good knights, using such weapons as temptation and other alluring appeals. As myth had it, many knights had tried to win back the spear but were all corrupted by the forces of the "dark side".

The wound to The Fisher King, via a spear through his testicles (to the tenderest part of the male anatomy), signifies a wounding to man's sense of potency and his self-esteem. The wounding in this "private part" of himself will not heal and equates to The Fisher Kings "Fall from Grace" (the noble part of the king has fallen from grace). He is metaphorically expelled from the Garden of Eden (The Holy Grail).  Interestingly, The Fisher King only gets relief from his pain when he is fishing, meaning, doing reflective work on himself. The Fisher King’s kingdom has been laid to waste, the meadows and flowers are dried up and the waters shrunken. The suggestion is that any malaise to the king is mirrored in his kingdom. This implies that if there is a wound to the "kingly-inner man", then the whole personality [his whole world] will be troubled! As if by magic, whenever the Fisher King is healed the lands surrounding the king will be healed instantly.

The healing of the king and kingdom will only take place with the coming of ‘the good grail knight’ an "innocent fool" (Parsifal) who will restore health to the Fisher King, his land, its people by asking a specific question. Merlin is thought to have prophesised that a pure knight who will do mighty deeds of arms, of bounty and of nobility will ask the perplexing question "whom does the grail serve"? I wish to emphasise that Parsifal was attitudinally innocent and pure and not physically pure in a celibate sense. He was brought up in the instinctual realm of the forest and would not have acquired puritanical injunctions against the beauty and naturalness of sexual activity. Should the "pure knight" fail to ask the question, then everything will remain wasted and the knight in question will have to leave the Grail Castle to search and learn. Should he finally learn, then again he may return to The Grail Castle and ask the question? The king and kingdom will then be restored to health, as the waters of life will run.

Comment: The spear that caused the wounding is so integral to this myth and the healing process for men. The spear represents the masculine integrity and feeling aspect which has been stolen and without it there is no protection, no "holding" for the Holy Grail to re-emerge. In psychology, author Robert Johnson has observed that "the Fisher King's wound [to his testicles] is symbolic of men’s difficulties in directly intimate and sexual matters".

What’s in a name:

Why the Fisher King name? The fish is such an ancient symbol of the spiritual mysteries of life, the sign of Christ, Christians and "disciples" being "fishers of men". In Celtic myth, a strong link occurs between the salmon and knowledge. At breeding time, the salmon returns to the place of its origin, fighting against the flow of the river, in order to breed (to create). The crude expression ‘that man is born out of the vagina and spends the rest of his life trying to get back in there’ (return to wholeness) takes on a new significance in this light. This is understood as a troubled human soul (in man), perpetually struggling to reconcile itself to itself. Astrologically the myth is also set in the dualistic Piscean Age (symbolised as two fishes) of man’s current stage of evolution on this earth.

Parsifal’s mother:

Parsifal's mother, Herzeleide was a "queen of two kingdoms," supposedly North and South Wales, which may have meant of spiritual and material realms. Wales had retained integrity and honour long before the English Knights emerged with their codes of chivalry. Herzeleide was just widowed when she gave birth to her son Parsifal. Herzeleide, meaning "heart's sorrow" left her noble home to live in a forester's cottage far away. She feared that a fate, which killed her husband, would overtake her son, so she raised him to know nothing of knighthood and to be ignorant of his name and heritage. How many mothers try to instil in their son’s, integrity, to guard them from the foolhardiness of their fathers? She specifically instructed him to be courteous to all women and not to ask too many questions!

Parsifal’s father:

There is mystery surrounding the identity and heritage of Parsifal’s father and Parsifal grew up without a father (an absent father), which is often the case for today’s youth. However, Parsifal’s father was allegedly Gamuret and some versions say he was the Fisher King’s brother. The young knight Gamuret decided to journey to the Middle East to seek his glory and fortune, as was the want of many a true knight. After winning a great victory in a tournament he attracted Belakane, the dusky Queen of Zazamanc; they fell in love and were married. He shared the throne of Zazamanc for a time, but peaceful court life in a foreign land was not suited to the young warrior and he stole away (ran away). Following this, Belakane gave birth to Gamuret's first son, Feirefiz, the "piebald" (half-cast), Parsifal’s half brother. Mythically the relationship between Feirefiz and Parsifal implies the great brotherhood of man between all races and cultures.

Gamuret arrived back in Europe and while jousting, his gallantry won him the heart of Herzeleide, Queen of Wales. How many women fall for the exterior gallantry to this day? Herzeleide eventually convinced Gamuret that he should give up the love of the ‘unbaptised/infidel… Queen Belakane’ and they were married. Word then reached Gamuret that his old lord, in the Middle East, was facing an invasion by the Babylonians. He returned with glee to assist his old friend and while fighting in the intense heat, Gamuret paused to rest, briefly removing his "charmed" head shield to drink. A lance blow pierced his head. When Queen Herzeleide heard of this, she went to live alone in the forest and gave birth to Parsifal while still mourning for her husband. Herzeleide’s, ‘mourning’ was in knowing that her husband loved another and was married "albeit illegally to Queen Belakane. His gallantry had amounted to nothing and resulted in grief to all and ultimately death to himself. His "gallantry and charm" was bravado and empty, as there was no relatedness to either, Herzeleide in Europe, Belakane in the Middle East, or to his young sons!

Parsifal comes of age:

During Parsifal's upbringing, his youthful years were spent in the forest. "He grew up handsome, strong, athletic, but with his rational thinking largely undeveloped". "He was later called "simple" or "innocent fool", not because he was indeed unintelligent, but for his guileless innocence, his simple perceptions and faith" (Oderberg, I.M., 1978). It is also speculated that being brought up in the forest with such a ‘queenly’ mother, that he was able to see into the mysteries of the "inner" world. Ultimately he would bring his instinctual knowing into the every day realities of ‘the outer’ world.

No sooner had Parsifal "come of age" when he encountered knights riding through the forest. He was so taken by their godlike appearance, that he immediately wished to become one of them. He told this to his mother and she wept as she had tried to protect him from the wiles and ways of knights. She begged him to stay with her; but his heart was set, and at last she gave him her blessing to go. Sadly, some versions have it that Herzeleide, Parsifal’s mother died shortly after he left.

So off went Parsifal into the world where his naiveté and sincere enthusiasm atoned for his social blunders. He rescued a fair maiden, Blanchfleur, fell in love and "stole her ring". Deflowering of a lovely maiden no less! Additionally, Parsifal encountered, fought and overcame the infamous red knight. Parsifal did so because the red knight had embarrassed King Arthur and because Parsifal ‘liked the look of his armour’. Parsifal wanted a façade, to bolster his ego and to make a favourable impression. The "facing" of the red knight is the step that young men take, symbolically standing up to the father image, the authority they question and to exert their own emerging masculinity. However, Parsifal wore his mother’s "homespun" garment underneath his ill-gotten armour, which indicates that he had acquired only a knightly exterior! His own inner sense of maleness was still shaky and adolescent! His overcoming of the red knight won him favour and so it was that against all convention, King Arthur eventually knighted Parsifal. However, his simplicity and grace remained intact largely due to his mother, unconventional upbringing and early life. Many adventures subsequently took place for the young knight and eventually ‘as if by chance’ he found himself at the bridge leading to the mysterious Grail Castle.

Parsifal is wounded in the Grail Castle:

Youthful enthusiasm, charm and early masculine accomplishments got Parsifal to the drawbridge of the Grail Castle. He had earned the right to enter the castle and with young eyes filled wide with hope he walked in! Fuelled with his desire for fulfilment as a knight and to manifest his deepest hopes, Parsifal enters the magical realm of the Grail Castle. Remember the Grail Castle is an actual mystical experience "hidden" (like the castle itself) amidst the mists from all that cannot see.

It is written in myth that man gets two opportunities to enter the Grail Castle. The first time as youths, a "gratuitous" gift, (given by God?) to let young men experience the potential of their "numinous self". The second Grail Castle opportunity is not gratuitous and coincides with mans mid-life crisis; a time when men re-evaluate their whole lives and hopefully re-discover meaning and potency. To seek the actual outer location of the castle is to miss the point, as it is always near and the two worlds (mystical-inner and outer world) do cross at specific moments through meaningful coincidences and at specific locations.

Inside the castle, Parsifal was astonished at the majesty he saw and he did not understand what was going on. He tries to behave in a fashion according to his mother and knighthood teachings, after all this is the rational way to proceed. There was a hushed expectancy inside the castle, as everyone knew that an "innocent fool" was prophesised to ask the healing question to revive the king and The Grail. A knight asked Parsifal if he knew of the significance of what he had just seen? Other knights chanted as one to themselves for "fulfilment of the prophecy"; that would restore the Holy Grail to there midst. All attention and compassion was focussed upon Parsifal and he felt a great stirring within him to speak, but alas he said nothing! He heard the ‘ladies of the court’ snigger "he is just a pure fool", laughing audibly and gazing upon a dumbfounded Parsifal. Surely he was not the chosen one they mused! Parsifal again stood motionless and speechless. Another knight rebuked Parsifal with the words "you are just a common simpleton, get gone from here"!

Parsifal had repressed his instinct (his inner voice) to enquire what this entire mysterious world was about; he was just overwhelmed by it all? His mother had taught him not to ask too many questions and Parsifal believed that obedience was a virtue. Remember Parsifal still wore his mother’s homespun garment underneath his armour! Parsifal now knew that obedience to his mother’s advice and collective opinion had failed him, so he vowed not to ignore his own intuition and instinctual knowing again! But what youth at puberty can do that? Parsifal was ridiculed and deeply wounded (hurt) by the Grail Castle experience. A heavy blow was taken to his masculinity, his early knighthood dreams of glory and his whole sense of worth as a man. The Grail Castle vanished into the mists and Parsifal found himself back in the world of time and space, on the edge of a forest ‘licking his wounds’.

Every man shares this wounding experience:

How many young men come to this same point as Parsifal in their youth? Seemingly, every young man experiences a wounded-ness to his masculinity at the time of puberty; a sexual Fisher King wound, one could say? "It is painful to watch a young man realise that his world is not just joy and happiness, to watch the disintegration of his childlike beauty, faith, innocence and trust" (Johnson. R. 1989). This step into maleness, into daily "work related" life is so difficult and often so harsh. To leave in a sense the wonders of a maternal - primordial inner fairy-tale world or internal paradise for a "reality" that is, competitive and demanding is a rigorous transition. Puberty initiations in tribal cultures, when boy becomes a man and viable member of the tribe are often via severe and painful rites of passage. Puberty for western young men is an unmarked "rite of passage"; therefore a painful and mainly unguided period of adjustment to early manhood!

The onset of puberty in boys brings them face to face with the physical reality of being a man. Newly found biological urges and cultural fantasies impact enormously on his sense of self. As boys grow up their erotic self (largely masturbation) is indirectly condemned to the toilets, posters, pornography and fantasies of his life. This is due to masculine sexuality not being successfully integrated by our cultural structures, family, schools, professional training, religious instruction etc. This sends sexuality underground into the hidden, shadow, shady part of boy’s life. There is often such silence (no healthy discussion about his emerging sexuality) for young men at this time and their sexuality may often be self perceived as being dirty, sinful, disgraceful and hidden from his family’s knowing. "There is a bizarre assumption that masculinity on one level excludes sexuality" (Wyly, J, 1989), as his sexuality is not "openly acknowledged, integrated and clear"! As a result young man split-off from themselves and start to act out their sexuality in the shady, shadows of their life. It is speculated here that a boy’s puberty experience and wounding stays with him through life, to eventually be consciously redeemed!

Other woundings around the time of puberty further impact on a young man’s fragile sense of masculinity. Such ‘other woundings’ are; boys first love or loneliness, first sexual encounter (often a disaster), parental or ‘authority’ sexual abuse, separation/divorce of parents, parental drivenness for them to succeed, being rejected…. not one of the boys, a non-conformist attitude to collective "male standards", being sensitive, different, a non-sporting person in a sports mad country…etc! Each man has his own story!

Whatever, the cause a young mans sense of maleness can be devastatingly wounded at this time but hopefully not destroyed. Alas, some youths distressingly commit suicide at this point for their life is just too painful. Their wounding is experienced as a loss of meaning, a loss of hope for the future and coupled with devastated self-esteem. Peter Gabriel in his famous song ‘Don’t give up’ wrote of the young mans potential suicidal tendency at this time:

"taught to fight, taught to win, I never thought I could lose"……..
"No fight left or so it seems, I am a man whose dreams have all deserted…"

Typically young men’s dreams have all deserted, they are badly wounded and left feeling worthless. Such a masculine wound is directed to his generative ability; his ability to be creative within himself and externally potent in the world. The young man feels psychologically impotent, with no self-love and therefore little or no capacity to experience his own beauty. He is left with a haunting sense of incompleteness and is too young to face it, as it is too overwhelming. So the young man metaphorically "hides and runs away from the wounded "private part" of himself, much like Parsifal did!

A mighty quest is conceived:

Parsifal albeit badly wounded inside after his Grail Castle experience, cannot drop his desire for wholeness. He now has to search, learn and find his own way to eventually be worthy to re-enter the Grail Castle for the second time. He conjures up a noble ploy to reinstate himself in the eyes of those who have ‘wounded and ridiculed him". Parsifal muses that returning the spear to the rightful owner will produce healing to the King, redeem himself and restore life to the Kingdom. A mighty quest is conceived! Parsifal was embarrassed and ashamed for not doing the right thing in the castle. Yet the wound has metaphorically ushered Parsifal into the beginning of consciousness, a search in the world, doing the necessary outer (and inner) work as the years go by. Parsifal knew that previous knights had tried to win back the spear but they were corrupted and fell. So his way required courage although his mighty quest may have initially been seen as more "red knight" adventures in the world!    Red is symbolically associated with blood, the passionate "desire" for experience in the world. When wounded by his own ignorance, Parsifal bleeds red blood and he causes others to bleed while trying to prove his manhood. So it was that Parsifal leapt onto his horse and charged off to find success.

How young men emulate this:

Modern men charges off hoping to find something that will make them feel good again (heal their masculinity). Many young males seek out more red knight experiences [red sports car experiences?], a persona, of looking good and proving themselves in this world. Young men generally ignore that wounded part of themselves and hope when they achieve this (getting the spear "shiny objects") or that (bedding a fair maiden) then they will feel better and they do but alas only for a little while. Boredom, restlessness, emptiness and wounded-ness return! For a quest for outer glory is undertaken largely to inflate an already wounded masculine ego, to bolster self worth, potency and power in this world. How many young men each day over-ride their wounds and just ride off on their daily quest, hoping that this will fill their void?   

Our Western culture teaches young men that everything can be reduced to physical possessions, women, money and activities to entertain. Man may seek out woman after woman, however woman alone can never cure man of his deep wound! Generally, men do have the belief of finding the "perfect woman". In this belief he is unconsciously looking for something to give his life the meaning and the beauty he senses is achievable. A familiar problem with western man is that he often falls for the trap that "feminine good looks", equates to him feeling good, a trophy as such. This is a cultural cosmetic lie for both males and females who strive to "capture" the heart of the "good looking one", with little or no regard to relatedness, tenderness and beauty within the person. Man ultimately finds out that it’s not possible for his "perfect" woman to redeem his soul, as she is earthly, fallible woman ("cellulite and all").

We are surrounded by sexual images in our western society and most of the time infidelity and casual sex is encouraged. "Sowing one’s wild oats" is a culturally endorsed practice for young men and the collective understanding is thus. That if a young man has many sexual encounters he will feel good about himself and will feel like a man. Then it is assumed that young men will eventually ‘settle down’ and be good husbands and fathers. One may ask, what happened to the maidens (all daughters) along the way? This is adolescent masculinity endorsed informally by our culture. Additionally, "the attainment of manhood is often equated with active use of mans phallus" (Monick, E, 1987).

Young men are perhaps too young to do the necessary "inner work" and to oppose collective adolescent masculine ideals, but what is older men’s excuse? I attribute ‘adolescent masculinity’ to three aspects, namely; the "Don Juan legacy", an un-integrated erotic life and an inability to relate authentically!

"Don Juan" and man’s erotic self:

Don Juan as a man, was beset by erotic thoughts and pursued the lofty sexual instinct of the moment, in the "trickery" of his life. Prolonged intimacy made him fidget and he needed constant sexual stimuli to avoid becoming bored. There exists the same "collective" perception in modern man, that if he beds many women, then he is having a good life, a "good innings". Man’s flagging - wounded masculinity is generally inflated by such ‘conquests’ and he will often retell of his sexual prowess to other men in order to win their admiration and approval.

Western definitions of masculinity congratulate a man for his "Don Juan" trickery, his coolness, rational process, dispassionate reasoning and outsmarting others. Robert Johnson (1989) said, "it is eloquent that in our modern language we describe men we admire as ‘cool,’ [meaning not warm and relational]". Man’s inability to relate authentically is a culturally transmitted "wrong path", which keeps boys and men alienated from expressing their feelings. We hear of the need for "self-love", but men in particular often do not like what they have become and by middle age often feel totally empty.

Modern man’s ‘emptiness’ is seduced by "Don Juan’s" adolescent masculinity, as Don Juan "beds the women". So man being somewhat envious emulates Don Juan ‘s adolescent masculinity well past adolescence with devastating consequences. Mans tendency to seek out or repeatedly fantasise about sexual experience outside of his "primary" relationship, carries a terrible cost to man himself. The costs are experienced in restlessness, moods, depression, and relationship problems or breakdown, plus a general adding to his already wounded self.   Why, because the inner trickery, the shady (split-off) adolescent side of "Don Juan" man, has overcome the truer ‘nobler’ aspects of his masculinity.

Man may also come to disdain (loath) his sexuality and if so, this eats away at his self-worth, as in the knowing of his own soul, he feels humiliated "as a sexual man". His sexual, ‘shadow - shady’ thoughts and actions in society have left him humiliated. Conversely, the more eroticism is repressed or ignored the more it gestates, until it bursts forth into inappropriate, harmful sexual, shadow activity. For an example of this we need only reflect on how Priests have sexually abused children in their care! . Clearly, eroticism must be integrated and expressed appropriately!

Phallic energy and sexual thoughts, at their essence are mans innate desire to connect with his life force, to feel alive, potent and creative. Therefore, man’s fantasies are empowering thoughts that an inwardly bored, empty or disempowered man has to try and re-connect himself to feeling powerful and potent again. Most sexual attacks are psychologically understood as issues of power! Sexual thoughts towards a perfect stranger, are to be understood as the healthy life instinct within man (the creative masculine) that is wanting expression in his life. However, he must ultimately understand that those same sexual thoughts and desires are totally inappropriate, if pursued in isolation from true relating which would only lead to harmful actions and emptiness. Sexual actions without authentic relating split man off, foremost from the true masculine, the alive-ness, the "feel good" life force that he seeks. However, that healthy instinct within man is stirring up man’s erotic sexual nature to ultimately reconnect him with his feelings, to reunite the split-off sides of himself and be co-creative. Unbeknown to most men, this is what drives his "desires and fantasies" for sexual conquest! Man’s "desires" emerge to re-connect him with his own feelings and to be creative and relational. Simplistically, man is being asked on an interior level to give his feelings expression! The healthy, instinctual life force pushes man’s erotic nature into creative expression and ultimately towards wholeness of being in his life. This occurs only when erotic, sexual man coexists with loving relating man; the two must not be split!

Erotic love is quite rightly part of the beauty and relatedness that men seek. Erotic love can be successfully integrated into true masculinity with a revitalised desire to feel and relate authentically. However, modern man is so badly wounded "too ill to live but not ill enough to die" (the "Fisher King" modern malaise) and the path towards true masculinity is rarely portrayed for him to see. In the myth of Parsifal, the Holy Spear (the masculine weapon or phallus) had gone off (was missing) and hence was split off from the Holy Chalice (feeling and beauty). For each man the journey is to learn, heal and change his life to live this true masculinity. Parsifal shows men the way to heal their wound and to metaphorically re-unite the ‘spear and chalice’ within themselves.

Parsifal finally locates the spear and
encounters the alluring Kundry:

Parsifal demonstrated ‘true masculinity’ ‘in-the-field’ (so to speak) in his meeting with Kundry. He showed men how to relate authentically in their daily lives and especially how to relate to women.

Parsifal’s life to date was seen as a battleground of both outer and inner opponents to make or break his wholeness. He eventually came to the whereabouts of the Holy Spear, yet before he could re-capture it he encounters the now most beautiful and alluring sorceress in Kundry. Kundry as aforesaid has been "bewitched" and trapped into service by the "dark-side" and as Parsifal gets close to the spear he meets the most testing aspect to his masculinity.

Parsifal’s encounter with Kundry is so noteworthy, as he shows us how to relate to women, in the face of luscious temptation. It is so instructive to men about the erotic temptations they face and how to hold true masculinity intact. Kundry had been sent to delude Parsifal into wrongful actions, which would automatically have set the Holy Spear out of reach! Clearly Parsifal was instinctual man and Kundry was at her most alluring, so it seems certain that he would have found her gorgeous and have entertained sexual thoughts about her.

I am indebted to Joseph Kerrick’s "Internet site" and I paraphrase his words, which eloquently illustrate the temptations that Parsifal encountered:

"Kundry was dressed in seductive finery of a regal courtesan so that any man who looked at her would see his heart’s desire". He [Parsifal] encountered Kundry, lying on a divan in a lushly appointed chamber; he felt himself go flush with the flames of awakened passion. She twined her arm about his neck like a serpent, and drew him into a kiss. He pulled away disturbed, clutching his heart. "What!" said Kundry, shaken out of her role by this inexplicable outburst. "The cost of such bliss," said Parsifal, "would be endless cycles of doubly-damned torment for both of us." The sin is not in the act," he said, "but in the actors". If the heart and the motive are pure, the love is blessed. If not, there will yet be the Devil to pay.   At this she ripped off her flimsy raiment and spread her arms and legs wide, offering herself desperately for a thrust and a penetration that did not come. Parsifal only stared at her in pity, his fool’s look gone, though not his compassion.
(Kerrick, J., "Parsifal and the Holy Grail" 1999).

Parsifal knew in his heart that to "partake" of Kundry was infact a dual act of dishonouring himself and Kundry. He chose to embrace his own erotic thoughts, to acknowledge their presence but to put them away. He knew instinctively that it was not the right thing to do, as there was no beauty, relating, and feeling or love present. He embraced Kundry and refused her offerings, looked at her with compassion and in so doing made himself and Kundry whole at the same time.

With Parsifal’s compassionate rejection of Kundry, Parsifal assumed more strength and merit to his being. With this right action he had both asked and answered the famous question "what or whom does it serve" to act in this way. "Every thought and behaviour [of man] in this light is subject to this same inner questioning and knowing" (Whitmont E, 1987). Not only did Parsifal pass this test, but also through his compassion towards Kundry, her "soul and queenly self" were restored and she emerged from the entrapments that had bewitched her. She was redeemed by Parsifal’s inner strength of true masculinity.

Kundry infact was so thankful for being redeemed by Parsifal that she showed him where the Holy Spear lay! Symbolically, the finding of the Holy Spear was Parsifal finding his true masculinity, brought about by the feminine aspect of himself (and Kundry)? The feeling, compassionate side of Parsifal enabled him to become whole and "one", not split-off from his true masculine "phallic self". Parsifal underwent an enormous trial with the temptations of Kundry [as each man may encounter] and he chose the path of honouring his true feelings and masculine strength. Overcoming Kundry with such nobleness of being, Parsifal had set himself free and he had earned the right to re-enter the Grail Castle for the second time.

The second Grail Castle experience:

The second Grail Castle opportunity, as aforesaid, coincides with mans mid-life crisis, a time when man reflects and re-evaluates his whole life, to hopefully re-discover meaning and potency in his remaining years. It is written in myth that every night when we are asleep the awesome "Grail experience" goes on.

Parsifal had earned the right over 20 to 30 years of knighthood to re-gain entry to the Grail Castle for the second time and to re-ask the question. Symbolically, he had put off the homespun garment his mother had made him, which initially he had under his armour! Parsifal had "untangled himself from the collective, mother, adolescent complex and emerged as a man capable of potentiating his own individual destiny" (Wyly, J, 1989). From simple innocence he had matured to profound wisdom, redeemed by his inner strength and high fidelity. Parsifal said at this point "for I am innocent no longer", rather he had acquired conscious innocence. Conscious innocence was Parsifal’s guileless, authentic open, "warm" self that had endured, won the day and completed the heroes’ journey.

Inside the Grail Castle, the same majesty and mystery was enacted but this time Parsifal was undeterred from what he must do. Parsifal’s first act was to touch the wound of the Fisher King, (his wounded testicles) with the spear. This act by Parsifal made it plain to the king that it was the king’s inappropriate sexual behaviour and his lack of integrity had caused the wound. The Fisher King had severed the kingdoms connection with the Holy Grail, by allowing "shadow/shady activity" to take place within his soul and the Grail Castle (his domain).

Parsifal then asks the famous question "Whom does the grail serve"? Immediately the gathering was made aware of the answer "The Grail serves the Grail King". Parsifal in giving "voice" to the mystery of what is important to uphold in the kingdom knew that, "the Grail is located within himself". By asking the question, "whom does it serve", meant that man must choose to give service to his conscience and honour that kingly part of himself.

With the Holy Spear returned, the Fisher King was instantly healed and immediately the Holy Grail enactment commenced restoring light into the kingdom. The land instantly transformed back into fertility and the waters flowed again. Water, being a psychic element, re-emerged when the feminine aspects wholesomely combined with the restored masculine aspects enabling the Holy Grail to flow again in the kingdom. Some versions of the myth have it that the Fisher King died three days later and Parsifal became the new king - guardian of the Grail and served the Grail well throughout the kingdom.

Parsifal knew the reason for his own suffering, as well as the Fisher King’s [and modern man’s], for he had transcended the suffering that results from being split-off from ones own integrity. Achieving true "kingly" masculinity in this sense is an accomplishment, not a birthright and is birthed through suffering, self-reflection and clarity in all actions. The Fisher King was the brother of Parsifal’s father, and Parsifal could not simply inherit the "kingdom", he had to earn it and be worthy of it. Likewise, men have to accomplish true masculinity!

Parsifal’s secret to success:

Parsifal’s "secret to success" as such, was his lack of trickery (refusal of artificiality), his inner code of honour and overcoming infidelity in all his actions. He knew that years before, as a "green innocent fool," he had left the Grail Castle wounded because he like the Fisher King had not had sufficient masculine inner strength to hold to his inner nobility (the Grail) and to do and say what was right.

Parsifal (as we men), set out on the hero’s journey wanting The Grail to serve him (his ego) but in the end he knew that we all serve the Holy Grail. Parsifal in serving The Grail simply learned to listen and honour his own conscience and uphold it with true masculinity. Conscience to almost every culture means, "ones unique duty, personal moral imperative, sense of right and wrong, inner voice, still small voice of God", (Bloomsbury Thesaurus). That inner voice (of conscience) that speaks to everyone and is there for each one of us to take heed of (his own inner voice)! Parsifal in becoming truly masculine found his own voice and was then whole enough to re-enter the Grail Castle and ask the famous question. When a man takes the ultimate step of courage to listen and honour his own "inner" voice, knowing and path, then he has turned the corner and is safe.

Parsifal had transcended and integrated duality within himself and had attained great humility by knowing the source [within] of his masculine strength and to whom he does serve. Parsifal had integrated duality in the following sense. His "red heart [of passion] had been opened to his feelings and merged with his mind". "He had integrated the black [erotic] with the white [purity] aspects of himself to achieve high fidelity of being" (Burt, K, 1988). For without integration of duality there remains "split-off-ness" within the man. "Only as an individual, undivided, can man continue on his journey, meet the feminine [within and without] as an equal opposite and fulfil his creative destiny" (Wyly, J, 1989).

Modern man’s first task is to change and heal his adolescent masculinity. He may finally commit (with Parsifal strength) to fidelity of heart (to himself), sexual fidelity (to his partner) and fidelity of actions (in his business affairs). High fidelity of sound is a good example as the device (a stereo,) faithfully reproduces sound ("The Word") that flows through it, without distortion, and of high quality. We are encouraged as men to get in touch with our feminine side but for men our masculinity is the real issue. For modern man the call is to commit to a true masculinity, in its broadest meaning. "Unless man in his individuality can differentiate himself from "collective" patriarchal standards, both will go down together" (Wyly, J, 1989).

Jesus Christ I believe, was a man like Parsifal, full-blooded and instinctual, an erotic, loving man, who became a powerful man in battle within this world. Both men in this sense stood the tests of life that all men face and yet emerged into "wholeness of being", into true masculinity, in such a way that we as modern men can emulate. When man can begin to see ‘true masculinity’, emulate it, then he will begin to know himself as a "good man", develop warmth of character and be less ‘cool’. He will start to obey inner authority more and have inner honour, to uphold conscience and authentic clearness in all his words and dealings. If man can do this then self-love starts to grow and he will begin to feel and achieve more wholesomely in the world. Significant others will respond immediately to this inner wholeness and transforming dignity. Love and success is then possible, not just to receive love but more importantly to love through all actions!

Each day is a quest:

Truly we are made whole or empty daily as each action modifies our own character and sense of being in this world. So as man goes about his ordinary life, he either honours or over-rides his own inner knowing. This simple yet profound difference in how man goes about his day makes a huge impact on his own sense of uprightness and health in his being. A Zen Buddhist master poignantly taught his pupil to keep his inner mirror forever free of dust! If man does something wrong, then he must not take shelter in trickery and trivial excuses, but rather make a noble hearted effort to resolve his fault within himself and make clear reparation with others about it, in the exterior world. For whatever men do or feel toward another person [each day], has a deep psychological impact on themselves and on the other.

The "giving up" of the inflated persona in which men have invested significant years, implies a terrifying confrontation with people around them and rejection of people whom they thought were important to them (Wyly, J. 1989). Additionally "young and old males suffer when their phallic image is threatened" (Monick, E, 1987). However, it is the transformation of adolescent masculinity to true masculinity that needs to take place. Man may come to know and be his "ordinary" self (without inflation’s) and experience all that inner warmth and beauty that has not left him. Men may experience this transition as scary, but it is an essential step to emerge into true masculinity. To live as "free" men, means not selling or enslaving ones own soul and integrity to "cultural stereotypes and standards".

If man remains in the old mentality of seeking the solution only in the exterior world or blaming something outside of himself then he cannot be healed and dooms himself to loneliness and emptiness within! "Often a cultural man [artificial, collective, adolescent male] kills his natural [noble] man and nature replies by making him impotent" (Johnson. R. 1989).

True masculinity requires man to combine the rational with the "irrational" within himself. More often than not, the Grail Knight [man] is unable to find the Grail Castle on his own accord, which means that something is always interceding to keep him pointed in the right direction (that inner voice of conscience) and this is the irrational aspect for man to follow. This is the "innocent fool" Parsifal part of himself that assists his unique transformation. To do this man has to risk being vulnerable, "not knowing" and to emerge "ordinary" from behind the inflations and trickery that prop him up in society. Remember that each day every knight of the inner order in the Grail Castle would renew his oath to uphold the task of giving himself in service to the Holy Grail. The powerful play of life goes on each day and man is called upon to contribute one verse. Heroes live forever, as does Parsifal in the hearts of modern man!

© Richard A. Sanderson 2001. All rights reserved.

Comments please (via e-mail) to Richard Sanderson: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Acknowledgements and References:
(In order of merit to this work)

Robyn Lee (Psychological Astrologer. Perth, W. Australia) for her extraordinary insight, knowledge and love…a rare gift to this earth and me!

Johnson, Robert (1989) author of "He" and "We"; Robert is outstanding, excellent reading for men!

Johnson, Robert (1993) "The Fisher King and The Handless Maiden" (for men and women).

Whitmont, Edward, (1987), "Return of the Goddess".

Wyly, James, (1989), "The Phallic Quest".

Monick, Eugene, (1987), Phallos – "Sacred Image of the Masculine".

Kerrick, Joseph "Parsifal and the Holy Grail" web page - http://home.jps.net/seek/Parsifal/index.html#index_top
(C) Copyright 1999 Joseph Kerrick
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Burt, Kathleen. (1988), "Archetypes of the Zodiac".

Oderberg, I.M., (1978) (Sunrise magazine, November issue, Theosophical University Press).

"The C.G. Jung Society Inc" of W.Australia. For monthly seminars, their open-ness, myth delving and library of Gems. (Jungians delve into shadows and find light!)

* Plus, numerous authors who have distinguished writings that have contributed to this compilation, understanding and interpretation. I humbly stand on their shoulders with gratitude!

Commissioned Art work:

"Immasculative Catalyst" by Jon Tolliday, freelance artist, Perth, W. Australia (08) 9446 8629.

Excellent "myth" web site for further research: http://www.greatdreams.com/arthur.htm