by Pia Fritsch, Prairiewoods Intern

Delving further into the hero’s journey we looked at the archetype of Parsifal as presented by the movie “Search for the Holy Grail.” Robert A. Johnson, the speaker in the film, tells the story of this archetype as it reflects his life journey and the journey of many modern day men. This archetype is based mostly off of the Arthurian tale of the Knights of the Round Table as interpreted into the hero’s journey by Joseph Campbell. At first the hero sets out in homespun cloth and by a stroke of luck defeats a grand knight. Parsifal then stumbles upon a wounded fisher king who points him to the grail castle. Parsifal stays there one night but he never asks the pertinent question: “To whom does the grail castle serve?” Therefore, Parsifal travels for twenty more years fighting dragons and rescuing maidens until he is tired of his gallivanting as a knight. Then he stumbles on the castle again, and this time does ask the question. The answer follows which is: “The grail castle serves the grail king.” This, Johnson states, is “a thinly disguised reference to God.” We must note that the grail castle does not serve the wounded fisher king which represents the wounded aspect of our selves, but it serves the higher power, God, or our higher selves.

Johnson stumbled on a mystical experience when he was sixteen. He had lied about his age and gotten a night job at a factory. He was so shocked at the amount and harshness of the work he had to do all night that when he was done the only thing he wanted more than a warm shower and sleep was to see something beautiful. So we went to go see a sunrise, and he never experienced a sunrise so magnificent. He experienced that moment with all of his senses. It was as if the sunrise reached out and touched his soul. He spent over forty years looking for that experience again. He did eventually have that experience of the numinous sunrise, but he had to experience much more life before he did.

This type of journey can easily represent modern men. The homespun cloth represents a mother complex and the inability to let go of that nurturing force. This most often happens when the father is absent as he is in the Parsifal story. Johnson points out that many fathers are absent for the youths today. This is either because they are physically not there, or not emotionally mature enough to play the role of father. Beyond that, it could also simply be because the structure of society takes the father into the work world and away from the home. I think this is striking, because I know many people who didn’t have a father figure due to any one of these reasons. Many people come from broken families, particularly with absent fathers. It is curious that this is an endemic result of a hyperindividualistic, patriarchal society. One would think that a patriarchal society would create strong father figures, but we can see from our own lives that this is not the case. Clearly, the type of patriarchal society does not create healthy patriarchs to lead this society. Even when fathers are present, they can often work so many hours a day that they have little time left to spend with their children. That is why so many modern boys embody the Parsifal story. I do not know what the equivalent would be for girls, but this story seems particularly centered around the male developmental model. Women with a strong masculine side might also embody this archetypal story.

Without proper guidance of fathers or elders many people stumble upon numinous experiences with no clear understanding of how they got there or how they could get back. Yet, there are instructions. The grail king tells Parsifal to “go down the road a little way, turn left, and cross the drawbridge.” There he will find the grail castle. In the language of symbols, this represents continuing on your current path but turning left, to the unconscious, and over the drawbridge, the division between our outer and inner worlds. Our dreams, like the grail castle, are there every night. We only have to inquire as to the origin of our dream symbols to find the healing and meaning offered by “the grail king,” or the higher self. The numinous can come to us in experiences that touch our core or through the mythic journeys we create every night.

My own dream group process session was really enlightening. It is one thing to interpret a dream and its symbols yourself, and it is another to have many people work on a dream with you. There are so many more levels to a dream than we can see in our own dreams no matter how good we are at interpreting them. There are always different ways of looking at it that other people offer.

In the dream that I shared I am standing in the foyer of my home in Maryland. I look out the open front door and see what appears to be a cat but then I realize is a kid. It is walking by slowly and I know that its parents are not around. It seems as if it is hanging out there, because it wants me to pick it up. I take it inside, but I am very bothered by a newsman standing outside my living room window. I feel as if he will report me for kidnapping this child even though I know I was just helping it out. I feel as if he is invading my space, and I am very annoyed at him. So I close and lock the front door, the blinds, and the back door which was also ajar. The dream cuts to me standing on a side deck with fifteen to twenty friends. We are standing around having fun and eating three flavored, chocolate covered popsicles. These are the most delicious things I have ever tasted.

The interpretation that I started with was that I tend to lock myself away when anyone bothers me. Once people started offering their projections many other aspects came out. For example, the foyer and front door are thresholds of the familiar and comfortable to the outside. I have to go outside to retrieve the child. We did a section during the retreat on the inner innocent and inner orphan the two main archetypal representations of children. The child in my dream represented my inner child which wanted nurturing. Cats can represent independence yet also deep affection, so maybe I need to reclaim that part of myself. The harsh reaction to the reporter could also represent a fear of being known for accepting my inner child. I also can’t stay locked in the house forever. Yet, the part of the dream on the deck is a comfortable space attached to the house but also outside. Maybe I need to find that space in my life and enjoy it like I do in the dream. Three is also a very significant number which could represent the trinities of maiden-mother-crone or/and father-son-holy spirit. It could also be a play on the word “pop” sickle which hints at a positive relationship with masculinity to counterbalance the negative perception of the news channel man. That scene also just shows the sweetness of life, and maybe I shouldn’t worry about things so much.

It’s amazing how other people’s perceptions can be so spot on. I think when you have an outside perspective from the dream it helps to see the greater depth of meaning. Even after the session I got more from people’s interpretations as I sat with the meanings and integrated them more.