Parsifal and the Flower Maidens

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kundry55When Heather told me MY family was dead, and bid me to sign a document where I could not write about HER family, a scene from the movie Excalibur came to mind, where Parsifal is hanging in a tree along with other knights who went in search of the Holy Grail. Betrayals do not get any darker than this, but

“It is always darkest before the dawn.”

The second time I went to see my daughter in Sonoma I told Patrice and Heather my biography is not just about Christine. Indeed, she is a sideshow to a greater story

“A Grail story.”

The look on Patrice’s face, was priceless. She was in shock. The look she gave Heather told her to prepare the lifeboat;

“We’re bailing!”

After I left for home, Heather hears the verdict from the Flower Maidens, even the virdict from ‘Hell’s Rose’.

“Your father’s insane! We have to unfind him, bury him in your past, and go forward!”

When Heather betrayed me with the help of Vicki, they un-born me.

“You’re family is dead” spat Heather, and took delight in taking Tyler from me as well. Putting my grandson in the arms of three drunks, was the coup de gras!

“It is finis!”

In Parsifal’s death scene in the tree, a spur from a dead knight begins to cut the rope around this Grail Knight’s neck as he dangles in the evil wind of a very gloomy day without end. Suddenly, he drops to earth – and is reborn!

Jon

DAVID J. BAKER LOOKS AT THE CONFLICTING FORCES THAT DRIVE KUNDRY, THE MOST DISTURBING FEMALE CHARACTER WAGNER EVER CREATED

The Kundry who bursts into the first scene of Parsifal — unkempt, weather-beaten, wearing snakeskins — seems nearly subhuman, and it is as a “beast,” a “wild heathen,” that the male characters speak of her. Later, under Klingsor’s spell in the magical garden, she is transfigured into a voluptuous siren who lures Christian knights to their doom. She emerges at the end a bowed penitent, nearly mute, who fades away, released in death.

Klingsor calls her by a series of dire epithets — including the Nameless, the Primeval Demon, Rose of Hell, Herodias — but there is more to Kundry than raw infamy. She could be considered a Flying Dutchman in reverse. If Vanderdecken was condemned to sail the world until released by a faithful woman’s love, Kundry is sentenced to perpetual time-travel until the right man appears. Compelled to submit her victims to sexual temptation, she can be released only by the one man capable of resisting her. Kundry doubts that such a male exists: she recollects Amfortas, “weak, like all of them, [and] all of them and myself [are] undone by my curse.” Klingsor has acquired immunity, and hence power over Kundry, by his self-castration. Eventually the “innocent fool” Parsifal will lift the curse by resisting her advances.

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Act 2

Scene 1

The second act opens at Klingsor’s magic castle. Klingsor conjures up Kundry, waking her from her sleep. He calls her by many names: First Sorceress, Hell’s Rose, Herodias, Gundryggia and, lastly, Kundry. She is now transformed into an incredibly alluring woman, as when she seduced Amfortas. She mocks Klingsor’s mutilated condition by sarcastically inquiring if he is chaste (“Ha ha! Bist du keusch?”), but she cannot resist his power. Klingsor observes that Parsifal is approaching, and summons his enchanted knights to fight the boy. Klingsor watches as Parsifal overcomes the knights, and they flee. Klingsor wishes destruction on the whole race of knights.

Klingsor sees this young man stray into his Flower-maiden garden and calls to Kundry to seek the boy out and seduce him, but when he turns, he sees that Kundry has already set out on her mission.

Parsifal postcard around 1900 – unknown artist
Scene 2

The triumphant youth finds himself in a wondrous garden, surrounded by beautiful and seductive Flower-maidens. They call to him and entwine themselves about him while chiding him for wounding their lovers (“Komm, komm, holder Knabe!”). They soon fight and bicker amongst themselves to win his singular devotion, to the point that he is about flee, but then a voice calls out, “Parsifal!” He now recalls this name is what his mother used when appearing in his dreams. The Flower-maidens back away from him and call him a fool as they leave Parsifal and Kundry alone.

He wonders if this Garden is a dream and asks how it is that Kundry knows his name. Kundry tells him she learned it from his mother (“Ich sah das Kind an seiner Mutter Brust.”), who had loved him and tried to shield him from his father’s fate; the mother he had abandoned and who had finally died of grief. She reveals many parts of Parsifal’s history to him and he is stricken with remorse, blaming himself for his mother’s death. He thinks himself very stupid to have forgotten her. Kundry says this realization is a first sign of understanding and that, with a kiss, she can help him understand his mother’s love. As they kiss Parsifal suddenly recoils in pain and cries out Amfortas’ name: he feels the wounded king’s pain burning in his own side, and now understands Amfortas’ passion during the Grail Ceremony (“Amfortas! Die Wunde! Die Wunde!”) Filled with this compassion, Parsifal rejects Kundry’s advances.

Furious that her ploy has failed, Kundry tells Parsifal that if he can feel compassion for Amfortas, then he should be able to feel compassion for her as well. She has been cursed for centuries, unable to rest, because she saw the Savior on the cross and laughed at His pains. Now she can never weep, only laugh, and she is enslaved to Klingsor as well. Parsifal rejects her again but then asks her to lead him to Amfortas. She begs him to stay with her for just one hour, and then she will lead him to Amfortas. When he still refuses, she curses him to wander without ever finding the Kingdom of the Grail, and finally she calls on her master to help her.

Klingsor appears and throws the Spear at Parsifal but it stops in midair, above his head. Parsifal takes it and makes the sign of the Cross. The castle crumbles and as he leaves the scene, he tells Kundry that she knows where she can find him again.

Act 3

Scene 1 The Third act opens as it did in the First, in the domain of the Grail, but many years later. Gurnemanz is now aged and bent. He hears moaning near his hermit’s hut and discovers Kundry unconscious in the brush, as he had many years before (“Sie! Wieder da!”). He revives her using water from the Holy Spring, but she will only speak the word “serve” (“Dienen”). Gurnemanz wonders if there is any significance to her reappearance on this special day. Looking into the forest, he sees a figure approaching, armed and girt in full armour. The stranger wears a helmet and the hermit cannot see who it is. Gurnemanz queries him, but gets no response. Finally, the apparition removes its helmet and Gurnemanz recognizes the lad who shot the swan, and then joyfully recognizes that the Holy Spear is now returned.

Parsifal tells of his desire to return to Amfortas (“Zu ihm, des tiefe Klagen.”) He relates his long journey hence, wandering for years, unable to find a path back to the Grail: he had often been forced to fight, but never wielded the Spear in battle. Gurnemanz tells him that the curse preventing Parsifal from finding his right path has now been lifted, but that in his absence Amfortas has never revealed the Grail, and that Titurel has died. Parsifal is overcome with remorse, blaming himself for this state of affairs. Gurnemanz tells him that today is the day of Titurel’s funeral rites, and that Parsifal has a great duty to perform. Kundry washes Parsifal’s feet and Gurnemanz anoints him with water from the Holy Spring, recognizing him as the pure fool, now enlightened by compassion, and as the new King of the Knights of the Grail.

End of Act III in the original 1882 production, design by Paul von Joukowsky
Parsifal looks about and comments on the beauty of the meadow. Gurnemanz explains that today is Good Friday, when all the world is renewed. Parsifal now baptizes the weeping Kundry. Tolling bells are heard afar off; Gurnemanz says Midday: the hour has come. My lord, permit your servant to guide you! and all three set off for the castle of the Grail. A dark orchestral interlude (Mittag) leads into the solemn gathering of the knights in Scene Two.

Scene 2

Within the castle of the Grail, Amfortas is brought before the Grail shrine itself, and Titurel’s coffin. He cries out to his dead father to offer him rest from his sufferings, and wishes to join him in death (“Mein vater! Hochgesegneter der Helden!”) The Knights of Grail passionately urge Amfortas to uncover the Grail to them again but Amfortas, in a frenzy, says he will never again show the Grail, commanding the Knights, instead, to kill him and end his suffering and the shame he has brought on the Knighthood. At this moment, Parsifal steps forth and says that only one weapon can heal the wound (“Nur eine Waffe taugt”): with the Spear he touches Amfortas’ side, and both heals and absolves him. He commands the revealing of the Grail. As all present kneel, Kundry, released from her curse, sinks lifeless to the ground as a white dove descends to hover over the head of Parsifal.

Herodias, Magdalen and Prakriti
ike the young Parsifal, the wild woman has many names. The many elements in Wagner’s Kundry included another archetype found in literature from the Middle Ages onwards: the Wandering Jew. In Wagner’s poem, Kundry becomes a reincarnation of Herodias who, because she had laughed at the Saviour’s suffering, was cursed to wander through the world until His return. She is not only cursed to wander, but also always to tell the truth; and she cannot weep, only laugh her accursed laugh. Another Herodias can be found in Heine’s poem Atta Troll; this former princess of Judea does not wander the world, but rides, laughing, with the Wild Hunt across the sky. She appears as a cruel rose in Mallarmé’s Les fleurs (1864):

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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