by Nicole Green, Birth Story Listener
During The Birth Story School’s Summer Semester, “The Language of Healing: Symbols, Images, Myths, and Metaphors,” I had the privilege of taking a deeper look at The Fisher King, an Arthurian legend that dates back to about the twelfth century and chronicles the journey of a young man named Percival in his quest for the Holy Grail. His quest is a journey toward healing and wholeness for The Fisher King that can only be attained through wise discernment. It is a universal quest we are all engaged in today, in one form or another, individually and collectively.
The layers of symbolism are complex and fascinating in this gorgeous myth. Just like any spectacular ancient story, in sifting through all this richness, there is a mirror waiting for us. What was instrumental for me in connecting with this story was an art project Pam invited us into: Create a “tarot card” drawing that represents one of the characters, symbols, or archetypes in the story. I created a card representing Percival.
Initially, I saw Percival as the Warrior. But looking closer, I saw that at different points on his journey he expressed different archetypes–just as do in our lives. He was the Fool, the Knight, then the Lover, and Ruler, and more. The more I looked, he was not in his Warrior any more often than other archetypes. The one archetype I kept coming back to over and over again was the Creator. I continued to remind myself of Pam’s mentoring, “Interpreting a myth is like interpreting a dream.” It wasn’t until I was coloring the drawing that a more dream-like feeling washed over me: The Fisher King was injured between the thighs, in the “generative” part of himself, the creative part of himself. Of course! This was why I was coming back to Percival as the Creator. Through all of his encounters, he is creating. And all this creating is leading toward wholeness for the wounded Fisher King. At the moment I realize this, it fits my dream of Percival as The Creator.
These are the elements and symbols in the story that spoke most deeply to me:
Percival the Knight is front and center in his Red Armor on his noble steed. He is facing right so he is set to make the Left Turn to the Grail Castle as instructed by The Fisher King and the Hermit. His Sword, front and center as well, is symbolic of him never actually using his sword because his Mentor, Gornemant, advised him to show mercy when in battle; something he reflects on repeatedly throughout the story. That Percival can follow this sage advice is not only a great show of restraint, but it symbolizes Percival is maturing and evolving.
The Bridge immediately behind him has a Dozen Leaves engraved on it, each one representing the indelible impact of the twelve characters who played a significant role in Percival’s ability to create and navigate his journey.
Upon the hill is the Grail Castle. The grass before it is no longer fertile and the water around the castle is black with mud. The Castle itself is in disrepair and gloomy apart from the soft warm glow showing through the opening Drawbridge. The ritual of the Evening Procession is about to begin.
The Grail is depicted as massive; so it should be obvious. And yet the Grail is Hidden behind misty clouds, connecting it with the mysterious, just out of reach. The Grail, radiating gold light, is feminine in its shape and floral adornments, encrusted with precious jewels.
Once Percival finally asks The Question, “Who does the grail serve?” fertility is restored to the kingdom which is depicted by the Lush Grass and Seven Bundles of Harvested Wheat. This season is sure to be short-lived as, in due time, the Fool will act again and the next wounding will occur. The journey will begin once more.
Examining and connecting with this story in the summer of 2020 has been profound for me. I gained clarity as I began to see the story in the world we share, my wounding, our collective wounding, and how our journeying creates what will come next.