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Wolfram, Parzival 1,1ff (Prologue) - Ist zwiffel hertzen noch gebur... (Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339, fol. 6r)

Parzival (also Perceval, Peredur, Perlesvaus) is the title character of the Middle High German verse novel of the same name by Wolfram von Eschenbach, probably completed between 1200 and 1210[1], and describes the search for the Holy Grail with close reference to the Arthurian legend. Eschenbach's main source was the Grail tale Li Contes del Graal ou Le roman de Perceval by Chrétien de Troyes, written about 20 years earlier but left unfinished, which in turn is based on the Welsh romance of Peredur fab Efrawg ("Peredur, the son of Efrawg").

Wolfram, however, does not refer to Chrétien de Troyes, but to an otherwise unknown Provençal poet named Kyot as a source, whom he mentions for the first time quite abruptly in the 8th book of his poetry and whose story he then presents in more detail in the 9th chapter. Kyot, for his part, refers to a forgotten manuscript by a certain Flegetanis, who was an Arab astronomer and astrologer. Friedrich von Suhtscheck-Hauschka has even expressed the opinion - though not shared by other scholars - that the Grail narrative is of Persian origin (Lit.: Suhtscheck, Die iranischen Quellen in Wolframs Parzival).

In any case, Eschenbach expanded the tale, which is known from Chrétien de Troyes, many times, especially with the prehistory of Parzival's father Gahmuret and Parzival's encounter with his dark half-brother Feirefiz at the end of the tale. Richard Wagner adapted the material very vividly and independently in his stage festival Parsifal, which premiered in 1882.

Content overview

„Parzival is the son of an adventurous knight and his mother Herzeleide. The knight has already left before Parzival is born. The mother suffers pain and anguish even before birth. She wants to protect her son from all that he can come into contact with, for example, through knightly virtue and by developing his powers in knightly service. She raises him in such a way that he experiences nothing of all that occurs in the outer world, of all that can be given to man through the influences of the outer world. Parzival is to grow up in the solitude of nature, left only to these impressions of nature. He is to know nothing of what is going on among the knights and the other people. It is also said that he knows nothing of what is said in the outer world about these or those religious ideas. The only thing he learns from his mother is that there is a God, that there is a God behind everything. He wants to serve God. But he knows nothing more than that he can serve God. Everything else is kept from him. But the urge to be a knight is so strong that he is driven to leave his mother one day and go out to find out what it is that drives him. And then, after many a wandering journey, he is led to the castle of the Holy Grail.

What he experiences there is best described to us - that is, best according to what we can glean from the spiritual documents - in Chrestien de Troyes, who was also a source for Wolfram von Eschenbach. We learn that Parzival, on his wanderings, once came to a wooded region, at the edge of the sea, where two men were fishing. And when he asked them a question, they directed him to the castle of the Fisher King. He came to the castle, entered, and the sight came to him that he found a man, sick and weak, lying on a bed of rest. He gave him a sword, the sword of his niece. And the sight came to him that a squire entered with a lance, from which blood dripped down to the squire's hands. Then a maiden entered with a golden bowl from which such a light shone that it outshone all the other lights in the hall. Then a meal was served. At each course, this bowl was carried past and brought into the next room. And the father of the Fisher King, who was lying there, was strengthened by what was in this bowl.

All this seemed wonderful to Parzival, but in the past he had been advised by a knight on his wanderings not to ask much. Therefore, he did not ask about what he saw; he wanted to ask only the next morning. But when he woke up, the whole castle was empty. He called out, no one came. He thought the knights had gone hunting and wanted to follow them. He found his horse saddled in the castle courtyard. He rode out, but had to ride quickly over the drawbridge; the horse had had to jump because the drawbridge was being pulled up right behind him. But he found nothing of the knights.

But we know what matters: that Parzival did not ask. Even though the most wonderful thing had come before his soul, he neglected to ask. And he has to hear again and again that it has something to do with what belongs to his mission, that he should have asked, that his mission was to some extent connected with asking about the wonderful things that came before him. He did not ask! He was made to realise that he had brought about a kind of disaster by not asking.

How does Parzival stand before us here? He stands before us in such a way that we say to ourselves: in him we have a personality who has been brought up apart from the culture of the outer world, who should have known nothing of the culture of the outer world, who should have been led to the wonders of the Holy Grail, so that he might ask about these wonders, but asks with a virgin soul, uninfluenced by the rest of culture.“ (Lit.:GA 148, p. 162f)

The initially missed question of Parzival

„With men before the Mystery of Golgotha it was so that they grew up like children: they learned to walk, to speak, and of course, as long as the elementary powers in the sense of the old clairvoyance were still there, they also learned clairvoyance. They learned it as something that came about in their dealings with humanity, just as it came about in their dealings with humanity that one learned to speak through the organisation of the larynx. But one did not stop at learning to speak, but advanced to elementary clairvoyance. This elementary clairvoyance was bound to the ordinary human organisation in the same way as the human organisation stood within the physical world; thus clairvoyance must necessarily assume the character of the human organisation. A man who was a debauchee could not push a pure nature into his clairvoyance; a pure man could also push his pure nature into his clairvoyance. This is quite natural, for clairvoyance was bound to the immediate human organisation.

A necessary consequence of this was that a certain secret - the secret of the connection between the spiritual world and the physical earth-world - which existed before the descent of the Christ Jesus, could not be revealed to this ordinary human organisation. The human organisation had first to be transformed, first to be made mature. The youth of Sais was not allowed to see the image of Isis without further ado, coming from outside. With the fourth post-Atlantean period, into which the Mystery of Golgotha fell, the old clairvoyance had disappeared. A new organisation of the human soul appeared, an organisation of the human soul which must remain closed off from the spiritual world if it does not ask questions, if it does not have the impulse which lies in the question. The same harmful forces which approached the human soul in ancient times cannot approach it if one asks precisely about the secret which is the secret of the Holy Grail. For in this secret is concealed that which has now flowed out into the aura of the earth since the Mystery of Golgotha. What had not flowed out into it before, what has now flowed out into the earth's aura as the secret of the Grail, would still remain closed to one if one did not ask. One must ask, which means nothing other than: one must have the impulse to really unfold that which already lives in the soul.

Before the Mystery of Golgotha it was not in the soul, for the Christ was not in the earth aura. Before the Mystery of Golgotha, if someone had only seen the image of Isis in the right sense and had fathomed her secret, he would have put his whole human nature into it through what old clairvoyant powers were still present in him, and he would then have recognised it in this way.

In the time after the Mystery of Golgotha, a soul that comes to question will come to question in the right sense, and it will also be able to feel the new Isis Mystery in the right sense. It is therefore important today to ask the right questions, that is to say, to take the right stand on what can be proclaimed as a spiritual world-view. If a person comes merely from the mood of judgement, then he can read all the books and all the cycles and everything - he experiences nothing at all, for he lacks the Parzival mood. If a person comes with the mood of questioning, then he will experience something quite different from what lies merely in the words. He will experience the words fruitfully with the source forces in his own soul. That what is spiritually proclaimed to us should become such an inner experience, that is what matters.“ (Lit.:GA 148, p. 169f)

Earlier incarnations of Parzival

According to Rudolf Steiner, Parzival was a reincarnation of the great initiate Manes, who founded Manichaeism in the 3rd century AD. In Christ's lifetime he was incarnated as the youth at Nain, the widow's son], and before that as the youth at Sais.

„This soul, which previously lived in the youth of Nain and which was initiated by the Christ in this way for later times, when that which was contained in Manichaeism and which has not yet come to full development will arise for the salvation of the peoples of the ancient Orient, was preparing this soul in its incarnation as Manes for its actual later mission: to bring about the true harmony of all religions.

In order to be able to do this, it had to be reborn as that soul which stands in a very special relationship to the Christ Impulse. Everything that had come up from this soul in that incarnation as Manes, old and new knowledge, had to be submerged once again, as it were. As the "pure fool" he had to face the outer knowledge of the world and the working of the Christ impulse in the depths of his soul. He is reborn as Parzival, the son of Herzeleide, the tragic figure abandoned by her husband. As the son of this widow, he now also leaves his mother. He goes out into the world. After many a wandering journey, he is chosen to be the guardian of the Holy Grail. And the continuation of the Parzival saga tells us how he again goes to the Orient, how he finds his brothers in the members of the dark races, and how the blessings of the Holy Grail will one day come to them too. Thus in his life as Parzival he prepared himself to become later a new teacher of Christianity, whose task it will be to permeate Christianity more and more with the teachings of karma and reincarnation when the time will be ripe for it.“ (Lit.:GA 264, p. 230)

In 1459 Manes became the initiator of Christian Rosenkreutz:

„Within this whole stream, the initiation of Manes, who also initiated Christian Rosenkreutz in 1459, is regarded as a "higher degree": it consists in the true realisation of the function of evil.“ (Lit.:GA 262, p. 24)

According to Rudolf Steiner, other great spiritual disciples of Manes are: Zarathustra, Buddha and Scythianos. (Lit.:GA 113, p. 194f)



References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. Kindlers Literatur Lexikon, Metzler, Stuttgart 2008