Wagner's Parsifal as ritual theater: approaching the numinous unknown

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday, 25 August 2015 | 11:00:00 pm

From carl Jung's "Red Book"
by Douglas Thomas, PhD, LCSW and Elizabeth Eowyn Nelson, PhD

Richard Wagner spent 37 years developing and refining his final work, Parsifal, which he would not call an opera but, rather, a ‘Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage’. Critical response to Parsifal has historically taken up the work's ambiguous nature as a puzzle to be analyzed and solved, yet treating the opera as a Grail quest for some ultimate meaning reveals more about the seeker than the work and simultaneously errs by distancing the audience from participation in the ritual Wagner orchestrated. Parsifal is deeply psychological in the most radical sense of the word. A depth psychological approach finds the essential value of the work through a direct encounter with the dynamic symbols of the archetypal unconscious, which emerge through Wagner's images and music. Then, the light of understanding emanates from within the drama, from within the music, and from within the landscape and its characters as complex and dynamic autonomous beings – so that it becomes, in Nietzsche's description of Parsifal, ‘an event of the soul’.