I was doing some work with an angle grinder recently. The specific nature of the job was made easier by the removal of the tool’s safety guard and in the course if it, the grinder skipped off the work surface and bumped against my left thigh. Fortunately, my Neko Case-inspired eel tattoo didn’t get messed up, but I did get a wound which, unsurprisingly, caused me to reflect on the wound of the Fisher King.
As you may recall from Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parcival, the Fisher King was the king who resided in the Graal Castle, where was kept the Holy Graal, which in Wolfram’s Christianized version of the story was the chalice from which Christ drank at the Last Supper. In its earlier, Celtic form, the Graal was a big, green stone, which seems pretty strange, but that’s what it was. And later, the spelling was changed to “Grail”, but “Graal” strikes me as weird in the esoteric sense and I like it better. It happened thus – as a young knight, the Fisher King went to fight in the Crusades, where he clashed with a Mohammedan knight. The Mohammedan – that was what Muslims were called at the time – was killed; the young Fisher King was “wounded in the thigh”, a euphemism meaning that he was castrated. There’s a fair bit here that needs unpacking.
In medieval Europe, Christianity was the only religion. Anyone who was not Christian was a heathen and therefore associated with Earthly powers, whether that was actually the case or not. Islam, which was and is a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion, revealed by a Divinely-inspired prophet, not unlike the canonized books of the Bible, was considered by European Christians to be no better than or different from the “nature religions” of “primitive savages”. This is all pretty offensive to modern, liberal thinkers, but that’s the way it was and we’re dealing with the myth on its own terms because that’s the only way one can intelligently deal with a myth. So the Christian, white knight killed the heathen, brown one and was castrated, which means that he was made incapable of fathering children. This is deep stuff, and somewhat subversive. Christianity had triumphed in Europe, but in the process had been deprived – or deprived itself – of its ability to bring forth. Because it had become a hierarchal organization – the “Church Militant” – because it had grown into the religion of the rulers, Christianity had lost its connection to Christ, the homeless mendicant who wandered around the Levant encouraging people to love God and each other. The medieval Church was quite capable of conversion by the sword, but had no power whatsoever to affect true spiritual growth.
So this young knight becomes appointed to be the king in the Graal Castle, attended by angelic servants, but lonely for human company and always pained by the wound which never heals. His least unpleasant hours are those he spends fishing in a little boat – drifting about on the surface of the water which represents the unconscious, casting for the creatures of the deep – and he therefore becomes called the Fisher King. Because he is incapable of generating new life, he cannot invoke the power of the Graal and his kingdom cannot flourish. He is a royal prisoner, impotent lord of a wasteland, condemned to wait, suffering, for the coming of the one who can break the spell, take over the throne and bring forth new life.
The title of the work is Parcival, so it’s pretty obvious that Parcival is going to be the one, but what we’re looking at here is the Fisher King in the Wasteland. It is our position that when one is reading a myth, one should identify primarily with the main character; secondarily with every other character – so the Fisher King represents the state of one’s being before one has experienced Awakening/Rebirth/Initiation to the Life of the Spirit. In my own life, I was drunk, stoned and insane for over a decade, psychologically lost and hopeless. My spirit/atman/soul was, during that time, like the Fisher King – suffering from the wound of being cut off from the Source of Being, incapable of bringing forth anything of value, isolated in the depths of my unconsciousness, waiting for the time of renewal. At the same time, my conscious self was like Parcival himself, wandering in the Wilderness, seeking without hope of finding. Finally, the seemingly impossible happened – by an act of Divine Intervention. The disparate aspects of myself came into close proximity and the wasted, fucked-up conscious me reached out to the long-lost, castrated me and a new me was born. I was delivered from the Wasteland; the wound was healed. I live now in a state between Heaven and Earth – engaged in the pains and joys of life, always able to shift my stance so that I enjoy the bliss of moksha – pure Being, untouched by the illusion of that which is commonly called “reality”. Of course, I am aware that none of this makes much sense to those who have not experienced it, but that’s okay. It is enough for me to state that such an existence is attainable by any and all sentient beings – that is the primary purpose of The Big Drum In The Sky Religion.
Europe, the West, the whole of humanity, really, remain cut off. The Church Militant continues. The current Pope, Francis, seems to be trying sincerely to move it into alignment with the teachings of Christ, though whether the Church has any power to affect change remains to be seen. Secularism is the dominant paradigm now – the things of this world are now taught to be the only things there are – and how well that’s working out can be determined by a perusal of the headlines: environmental disasters caused by human industry, mass destruction and death, gross corruption by political leaders, bigotry, sexual exploitation, ridiculous affiliations by individuals desperate to find meaning and community in the Wasteland. People, by their ingenuity and hard work, have wrestled power from the Divine Mystery and have shown themselves to more destructive, jealous and wrathful than any old-time prophet could have ever imagined God to be. Whether we’re better off now than the ancient Semites, wandering in the desert, toting their Ark and eating locusts, or the Vedic Hindus sacrificing horses and practicing yoga depends on how much one likes Facebook. We – the collective “we” – have certainly made no progress in terms of the Spirit. The natural consequences of our actions will occur to our dismay, but whether the calamities will lead to changes in our behavior remains to be seen. The future of our race could be a return to our past – small bands of individuals scraping a subsistence from a hostile environment. Or we might have no future.
Or we could all realize that we are children of something greater than ourselves, find our common humanity, help each other, love each other and live together in peace and prosperity, enjoying the fruits of our collective labor and celebrating the bounty of this wonderful plane. Yeah, that could happen.
Until then, the best that any of us can do is reconnecting those aspects of our selves which have become separated. Looking within ourselves, we can find our truth, take root in the Immovable Center of our souls or psyches, discern those things which are eternally valid and which are simply passing fads, momentary distractions. By identifying with the deep and timeless experiences of the collective “we” – the whole of humanity – we can access a state of being that will allow us to transcend the fleeting pains and joys of our temporary lives and gain Perfect Peace, Eternal Bliss, Nirvana, whatever the fuck you wanna call it. My own experience has been that the Graal is worth the effort, that the Wasteland can be redeemed, that the dead can live again. I have generated new life – literally, in the form of my daughter, and figuratively, in music, writing, art, labor, kindness, charity and joys shared. I have been given opportunities to participate in life that I couldn’t’ve imagined and have been blessed far beyond my merit. My life, which coulda/woulda/shoulda ended with a senseless and stupid overdose or suicide years ago, has meaning to me and to others. Like so many others who came before me, I want to share what I have found.
All things can be Divine. Any soul can be saved. Even stupid accidents with power tools can lead to spiritual growth and greater understanding. The newest scar in my collection will remind me always of the Fisher King, suffering and alone, and of the possible redemption of the Wasteland. I’m pretty happy it didn’t fuck up that eel tattoo. Also glad the angle grinder didn’t hit my dick.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.