MythBlast | Love of a Higher Order
Somewhere in the middle of my journey with stories of individuation, as Carl Jung and others would term them, I became curious about where the feminine lives in the story of the self’s becoming.
Shortly after asking that question, I was gifted the opportunity to teach Parzival for the myth-based not-for-profit Alchemy Inc., and had the chance to return to Joseph Campbell’s work on the Grail Legends. What I found in Campbell’s interpretation gave priority to the feminine and to the idea of the Hieros Gamos, the sacred marriage, as central to our own becoming. Campbell’s take (which can be discovered in Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth) reminded me to understand love, becoming, the self, and the inextricable relationship between these ideas, as lived experiences. Since then, to find my self’s story, I go back again and again to Campbell on the Grail. And what I’ve learned is that without this middle act of the Hieros Gamos, I can’t become.
I don’t think we go to the Grail legends looking for fancy terms like Hieros Gamos or the feminine. I think we go into these stories relating, as I did as a young person, with Parzival’s naivete and failure.
From the time I left my father’s house to the time I left the symbolic father’s house of graduate school, my first marriages to careers, men, and a series of identities, failure was the dominant metaphor. I’d been clipped on the heel like Parzival’s horse, having gained access to the Grail Castle, but then failing the adventure. I left a piece of myself at a site of wounding in my early 20’s…and there was no finding my way back. It’s a strange realization in retrospect that we can be both Parzival and the Fisher King at the same time, neither alive nor dead.
It wasn’t until I taught Campbell’s Parzival and had a chance to put all my analytical skills to the test in mapping Wolfram von Eschenbach’s text that I discovered, in the structure of the tale, that I’d been stuck in Act I of the story. Parzival doesn’t end in failure. What happens is the story of Gawain takes over—and what Gawain’s tale is, first and foremost, is a love story.
Gawain’s story is the discovery of where and how he is quests, ultimately, for the love of one woman, Orgeluse. In the utterly charming Romance of the Grail, Campbell says:
This is Woman. Gawain has gone from woman to woman, but this one has transfixed him, and he’s going to remain firmly attached to her no matter what. This is the anima image; it’s the image of the woman by the well that is constantly encountered…these women by the well are something to watch out for. And here is Orgeluse, the one he is ready for. This encounter catapults him into another sphere of the feminine altogether. She is his soul, and she’s a toughie! (Romance of the Grail, 67–68).
Only when Gawain totally submits can Parzival’s tale resume. Now we are ready for Act III, the meeting with Parzival’s mirror-image brother Feirefez and of course Feirefez falling in love with the Grail Maiden, converting for her, and the healing of the Grail King and his wasteland kingdom.
Failure is resolved by love of a higher order. What a revelation!
As a woman, as an embodiment of this feminine principle, my sense is that the feminine is a great big symbol for the principle of relatedness. And that what we are being asked to do in our adult journey after each devastating experience of failure is to identify to both relatedness (the feminine), and to power (I define that as a masculine valenced metaphor). My sense is that the Hieros Gamos is a lived experience of total submission to an individual sense of what a sacred marriage is for you. It’s what you bow down to, as Gawain bows down to Orgeluse. My sense of it is that the experience may often feel romantic. But it’s Eros in a spiritual sense. It’s found where the divine is found for you. For Gawain that’s Orgeluse. For Feirefez, it’s the Grail Maiden. For Parzival, it’s Condwuiramurs — but I think it’s ultimately found in his experience of seeing the knights when he is a boy, the meeting that sent him on his personal quest.
Reading this month’s recommendation in Romance of the Grail affords a luxurious experience for you to imagine your sacred marriages, and ask what exactly does the phrase Hieros Gamos mean for you? These stories, through the eyes of Campbell, never stop giving. They meet you where you are, whether that’s in failure, or at the moment when you are ready to recognize the divinity of the woman (literal or metaphorical) who is standing at your well.
These ever generous grail legends might just help you to understand that you yourself are that woman at the well. That to the extent that our eyes are open and we are asking the questions, we ourselves are the mysteries.