Parzival–Asking the Right Question

When I did the Waldorf teacher training many years ago, one of our assignments was to read Parzival by Wolfram Von Eschenbach.  It was written in Germany in the Middle Ages (we read it in English).  In a Waldorf high school, the students read this book in the 11th grade.  I had never read it before.

It so happened that I was home sick with a fever  during that time.  I laid in bed and read part of Parzival and then drifted off to sleep–many times.  As I drifted to sleep, knights were galloping through the fevered fields of my mind.  It was a very pleasant way to fall asleep.  I fell in love with this story.  Although my daughters think it’s strange, I’ve re-read that story almost every year.

It’s a long and complicated story, which I won’t summarize in much depth, but basically the story starts before Parzival is born.  His father is a knight and is killed before his birth.  His mother, a queen,  takes him to the woods where he will never find out what a knight is, so he won’t follow in his father’s footsteps.  But of course, one day some knights come galloping through and Parzival wants to follow them.  His mother dresses him as a fool (which he is at that time) and sends him off on an old donkey.  He has various misadventures, one of which is killing a knight and taking his armor.  He is knighted by King Arthur, gets some training, saves a fair maiden or two and soon runs into the fisher king.   The king, who is actually the Lord of the Holy Grail, sends Parzival to his castle and entertains him lavishly.  Parzival sees many wonders there, including the holy grail.His host is suffering greatly, but can’t die because he is in the presence of the Grail.  Parzival says nothing.  When he awakes the next morning, everyone is gone and his horse is waiting for him.  A squire, the only person he sees, chides him for not asking his host an important question. He rides off, has many adventures, falls in love. His companions also have adventures.  It takes a very long time for him to find his way back to Castle of the Fisher King, and this time, he does ask the question,

What ails thee1

With that, the fisher king is healed and Parzival becomes the Lord of the Grail.

It is a long and winding tale with a lot of adventure and magic in it.  It is an archetypal journey, like the tarot, from fool to mastery.  But what amazes me the most is the question that Parzival doesn’t ask and then does.  “What ails thee?”  A powerful question, indeed. A question that can bring healing–of spirit if not of body.  An attempt to truly connect with another person, to face their pain.

We often have a lot of fear around pain–our own and others, but it is part of being a human being. We can only truly know another if we can see their pain as well as their joy.  It’s a question that takes a lot of courage (and maturity) to ask.  It is a question that can lead to great rewards.

Well, I think that’s it for today and for the letter p

To see what other bloggers are thinking about the letter P, you can hop over here for the blog roll for the A to Z challenge.

Thanks for stopping by!


I am a writer, handworker, artist and teacher (a WHAT!), and a mom of two beautiful daughters who are amazingly 17 and 21. I am working on getting my first book, a fantasy novel for young people, published and am busy spinning on my new spinning wheel. I have been a Waldorf early childhood teacher for 10 years now, and before that, I was a lawyer. Teaching is much more fun.

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