The Third Door and The Sea-Goat’s Tail

  • More than this,
  • they believe that there resides in women
  • an element of holiness
  • and a gift of prophecy;
  • and so they do not scorn to ask their advice,
  • or lightly disregard their replies.
  • In the reign of the emperor Vespasian we saw Veleda
  • [a Seeress who helped lead a revolt against Rome]
  • long honored by many Germans as a divinity;
  • and even earlier they showed similar reverence
  • for Aurinia [another Seeress]
  • and a number of others —
  • a reverence untainted by servile flattery
  • or any pretense of turning women into goddesses.
  • From Tacitus on German Women

The  third gate  (click here) in Parzival’s journey opens in the beginning of February when the Moon passes in front of the star Deneb Algedi in the constellation of Capricorn.

The star’s name means  ‘the goat’s tail’, and the original definition of Capricorn was the Sea-Goat, described as a curly-tailed cloven-hoofed water-loving goat-sized beast:


If I look around Northern Europe for famous, fabulous, and sacred creatures however, I promptly come across a very real curly-tailed cloven-hoofed water-loving goat-sized beast:


A Wild Boar in Winter

that was of great import to all the northern peoples:


Not only were the comb and razor of reason that the Boar of Passion held between his ears the subject of great and dramatic quests for men wishing to attain maturity, the Great White Sow herself was the source of wisdom, wealth, and fertility. Cundrie, the person who appears to inform Parzival he is acting like an ass, the one person who has the power to shut down King Arthur’s court and send the Knights of the Round Table off on their search for the Grail, is described thus:

  • Over her hat swung a braid of her hair
  • so long it touched the mule
  • It was black and hard, not pretty
  • and soft as the bristles of a pig
  • She had a nose like a dog’s
  • and two boar’s teeth stuck out from her mouth
  • each a span in length
  • Both eyebrows were braided
  • and the braids drawn up to the ribbon that held her hair…
  • Cundrie had ears like a bear
  • and no lover could desire a face like hers
  • hairy and rough
  • the hands of this charming dear looked like a monkey’s skin
  • Her fingernail’s were none to fine…
  • and they stuck out like a lion’s claws

One of the very peculiar aspects of nearly a thousand years of commentary on Wolfram’s work is the repeated assertion that there are no powerful female characters. I beg to differ as the one person capable of shutting down the medieval equivalent to a combination of the New York Stock Exchange and the National Football League just happens to be Cundrie the Boar-Woman. I don’t know that we have a contemporary equivalent for the position and power she wields, although perhaps the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court comes closest.

When I look at Wolfram’s women they are powerful indeed, just not necessarily socially acceptable characters.  Here is a partial list:

  • Belecane, Lady (aka CEO) of the Eastern Kingdom and single mother of Feirefiz, Parzival’s older 1/2 brother
  • Herzeloyde, Paarzival’s incestuous manipulative mother who breaks up her husbands previous marriage
  • Sigune, weepy witchy widow living alone in the forest
  • Jeschute, the young woman alone in the woods that Parzival rapes and robs
  • Condewiramurs,  single mother and Lady (aka CEO) running her kingdom after Parzival leaves her
  • Repanse de Shoye, Lady (aka CEO) of the Grail Castle
  • Antikone, the woman Gawain is accused of seducing
  • Obie, who starts and insists on the knights battling
  • Obilet, the wise innocent girl-child
  • Bene, the ferryman’s daughter
  • Orgeluse, castrating bitch that took the Fisher King’s balls
  • Arnive, Arthur’s mother and Lady (aka CEO) of the Castle of Wonders, herbalist, mentor, and medic

The problem is not that Wolfram’s women lack power, what they lack is the wisdom and compassion to wield it. And in that they face the same struggles as Parzival.  Cundrie’s chastisement of Parzival in particular and dismissal of the Round Table in general is devastating:

  • You are destined for hell
  • in heaven at the hand of the highest
  • and also upon this earth if men come to their senses
  • You bar to all salvation
  • you curse of bliss
  • you scorn of perfect merit
  • You are so shy of manly honor
  • and so sick of knightly virtue
  • that no physician can cure you
  • I will swear by your head if someone will administer the oath to me
  • that never was greater falsity found in any man so fair
  • You baited lure!
  • You adder’s fang!
  • Your host gave you a sword of which you were never worthy
  • Your silence earned you there the sin supreme.
  • You are the sport of the shepherds of hell.
  • Dishonored are you, Sir Parzival
  • Yet you saw the Grail borne before you
  • and the silver knives and the bloody spear.
  • You death of joy and bestowal of grief!

But the core of the issue is this:

  • May your mouth become empty,
  • I mean of the tongue within it
  • as your heart is empty of real feeling!

Parzival has gone about mindlessly regurgitating whatever he has heard without ever taking thought of his own impulses, or observing what is happening around him, or considering how his actions affect others.* In Cundrie the Boar-Woman’s eyes, this is the unforgivable sin. Although the wise woman may ride her boar of passion to war, she is its loving mistress, not its wayward baggage.

594px-Freia_Gestures_to_Hyndla_by_FrølichSo this is Parzival’s life-long journey, the goal of his initiation:

  • to become able to observe and speak from a whole and overflowing heart.

*Linda Sussman goes into much more depth on the subject of heroic speech in her book “Speech of the Grail”

click for the beginning or for the next


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