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Preface

The soul of this book is the story of Parzival’s search for the Grail. This beautiful legend is a metaphor and a roadmap for the psycho-spiritual development of a human being. Joseph Campbell suggests that the Grail is the symbol of the highest spiritual achievement in the Western world. To find the Grail is to know and live the full human and spiritual meaning of one’s life. The premise of this book is that the Grail is within every human heart and that learning to form a loving and conscious relationship with one’s inner world is the way to the Grail.

Of the many versions of the Grail quest, I have chosen Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, because it speaks most directly to me. It is my story. I spent thirteen years as a member of a Catholic monastic community before leaving the priesthood to live as a married man. Parzival’s story speaks to me of the joys and pains of living my own unique journey. Over the years I have seen many men discover the parallel between their life’s journey and this story. I hope as you read this book that you, too, will discover important aspects of your life in this tale. Parzival is a wonderful story, filled with much wisdom and guidance. However, reading more than 400 pages of medieval English can be an overwhelming task for many of us today with the time constraints of work and family obligations. Yet I know this tale has much relevancy for us today. Therefore, I have decided to tell this tale wherever I can. I have told it publicly to hundreds of people over the years. I hope you come to love this magnificent story as much as I do.

The reader can approach this text in several ways. Each chapter contains three segments: practical guidance for creating and maintaining a relationship with your inner world, a segment of the Parzival myth and commentary on how it applies to a man’s life, and journal questions to help you apply the themes of the story to your own life. I suggest that you answer the journal questions at the end of each chapter before going on to the next section. In this way you will be taking your own journey along with Parzival. Since this material is usually presented in a group with discussion and responses, I think that having one or several trusted friends who are reading and discussing the material with you would be very helpful. On the other hand some of you may want to read it cover to cover, or focus mainly on the story, or on the inner work sections. This format provides several options for the reader.

At the back of the book I have added a list of characters with a brief description of each character, so that you can keep track of the names as the story unfolds.

The ideas presented in this book focus primarily on a male perspective, because the story is rich with issues and processes that are unique to men. We live in a culture where so many men have not been initiated into a healthy, mature, and a creative masculinity. Without elders to guide and model maturity, many men are left performing prescribed societal roles and they bear the confusion, anger, and discontent of living a life that is not really authentically their own. When a man lives a life that is opposing his true nature, something within him rebels and seeks its own expression. However, without guidance from men who have previously walked their own path and discovered a way to live a soul-filled life, the likelihood of becoming lost greatly increases. The legend of Parzival can serve as a guide for the man seeking an alternative to living a prescribed life.

I believe women can also benefit from this material. Many issues that Parzival faces are universal and therefore will speak to women as well. By reading this book, women may come to understand the complexity and depth of the men in their lives. Healthy relationships with women play an important role in a man’s ability to know himself. Therefore, a woman who knows and understands a man’s struggles can be a significant partner in his search for his soul. Likewise, a man who is willing to learn about a woman’s unique journey is a valuable partner for her maturing. This myth can also be helpful in a woman’s individual journey as she struggles to develop a strong, mature, masculine side of her personality. To explore this topic in greater detail, I refer the reader to the work of Marion Woodman.1

The Parzival tale addresses life from the point of view of a heterosexual man. However, I have found that many principles and dynamics of the story apply directly to gay men and to their partners whom I have known and counseled over the years. At its most basic level, Parzival’s search for the Grail is a story about how to be an authentic and embodied human being despite the many factors that make each life unique.

In writing this book I have gathered and summarized material from three main sources and arranged it so that it is accessible to the lay person. My introduction to the Parzival myth came through the work of Joseph Campbell. In The Power of Myth and in Transformations of Myth through Time, Campbell gives an extensive background to the Grail myths and especially to Wolfram’s version, Parzival. Campbell’s insights and perspective have guided me in the writing of this book.

The second major influence in this book is the work of the spiritual teacher Rudolf Steiner. About ten years ago my wife and I were on the faculty of a retreat for spiritual seekers. We were presenting material on the Grail myth as it relates to couples. We had the good fortune of meeting another faculty member Robert Sardello whose lecture complemented our presentation. During one of our informal conversations, he recommended the book The Ninth Century by Walter J. Stein. In this book Stein discusses the Parzival myth in light of the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. I have found Steiner’s insights into the spiritual evolution of consciousness to be very helpful in my understanding of the Parzival tale.

Another significant resource in the development of this text is Robert Johnson’s book He in which he tells the French version of the Parzival story. The German version, which I am using, borrows heavily from the French version in the early parts of the tale. Johnson’s commentaries about the young Parzival, especially his insights into the “Fool’s Clothing” and “Red Knight” aspects of a man’s personality, have shaped my understanding of the psychological significance of the myth. In the sections on the inner life, I present the models for dream work and active imagination contained in Johnson’s book Inner Work.

Finally, my personal experience of the reality of the inner world has guided me to write this book. Robert Johnson taught me the value of developing a relationship with my inner world of dreams, thoughts, and emotions. One day in the mid-1980’s I was attending a week-long conference in North Carolina where Robert Johnson was part of the faculty. I was taking an afternoon walk through the woods, pondering my dream from the previous night, when Robert came walking on another path that joined mine. He asked if he could walk with me. As we talked about the conference and what I was learning, I asked if I could tell him my dream from the night before. He listened with interest. In the dream I saw a beautiful tree against the Eastern sky. In the tree I saw a mandala (circle) with a design that was only half finished. Johnson talked to me about the symbolism of the dream. Because of his understanding of the design in the mandala, he told me that the dream was emphasizing the importance of the feminine in our world. He felt that I would be making a contribution in this area. However, he cautioned me to make the clear distinction between the “feminine” and the “mother complex.” I have attempted to fulfill that task in this book. Twenty years later, I am still working with the message of that dream, and Johnson’s words regarding the feminine still challenge me.

Men misunderstand and often sarcastically degrade the feminine side of their psyche in everyday conversations with each other. Although criticizing something we do not understand or are afraid of is understandable, mockery of the feminine side of men is harmful. I believe that men today are evolving and creating a fuller understanding of what it means to be male. We are discovering that a developed feminine side is necessary for healthy living. Developing the feminine side of a man’s psyche does not make him unmanly. Instead, his instincts, his emotions, the wisdom contained in his body through his gut feeling, and the value of being relational inform and enrich his life. A man does not develop his feminine side to diminish the strength of his masculine nature, but as a necessary complement for a healthy, loving, and balanced personality. The story of Parzival and the process of developing an inner life through dream work, which are the focus of this book, emphasize the value of the feminine side of the male psyche.

For many generations our culture has socialized men to be one-sided, rigidly strong, stoic, and in-charge. Relationships and marriages in the twenty-first century will no longer tolerate a man who continues to maintain a power-over stance with his partner and with his own psyche. In this book I will discuss practical ways for men to come to know and integrate the unknown, under-developed, and unexpressed sides of their personality.

The story of Parzival can give guidance to men who are seeking to overcome their one-sided way of living that results in broken relationships and self-alienation. In addition, developing the knowledge of the inner world and the skill of working with our dreams can provide a rich source of creative energy and hope for men who want to live a full, human life.

Easter 2006

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