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This small book actually began with 10 lectures given by Robert Johnson at an Episcopal Church. Thus they are concise and do not offer a broad array of examples. I found the book to be excellent and found it much more to the point that Emma Jung's long study of the Holy Grail myth in all it permutations.
Of course, as a Jungian, Johnson sees mythology as reflecting underlying psychological and spiritual processes that take place in the human psyche. These myths are spontaneous images from the unconscious and contain both psychological and spiritual truths. Myths allow the interaction of archetypes, which are patterns of life that are universally true for humans. Myths are to mankind as dreams are to an individual. Therefore a dream shows the dreamer a truth about themselves whereas the myth shows mankind a truth that applies to all of us.
Individuation is a process that Jung describes as a life long movement toward wholeness and completion. It involves the life long expansion of consciousness and the ability of the conscious ego or personality to reflect the total self. One interpretation of Jesus Christ is that of a man who has been able to allow the unconscious to fill up the self and be always present in the personality. Because God the Father moves through and emerges in the world through the human unconsious, Christ may say that he and the Father are one.
A primary first step in the individuation process is the confrontation with the Shadow. Actually the confrontation with various aspects of the Shadow continue throughout a lifetime, but the first encounter is usually of great psychological power. The negative repressed side of the personality, that longs for acceptance and integration, continually follows the ego until the strength is mustered to face the shadow, accept the shadow, and then integrate the shadow into the personality which increases the energy and strength of the personality/psyche because energy is no longer used to suppress the shadow.
After the shadow is integrated, many people then may develop to the point where they can integrate the anima/animus, which is the characteristics of the opposite sex into their more complete psyche. It is here that Johnson points out the Parsifal and quest for the Holy Grail is in fact a myth of the male reconciliatoin with the anima who becomes a guide and leads him to the Grail.
Here Emma Jung and Robert Johnson would have slightly different interpretations of the Holy Grail myth. Whereas both see the anima as being essential to reaching the Grail, Johnson believes the integration of the feminine, the Anima, is a major and tricky task for young men. Also, whereas Emma Jung saw the grail as serving mankind as an expanded consciousness through which much psychic material may now flow; Johnson sees that the grail serves mankind through and expanded consciousness but also serves God because it is through this expanded consciousness that God flows into human interactions and becomes real and active in the world. This is a philosophical and theological issue of great importance. The first question is: Is God an active participant in the world and in the lives of men? Johnson goes beyond Deism, which would acknowledge God acting through nature, and would assert that God acts through the unconscious of mankind and it is through expanded and integrated consciousness that God becomes real in the world of men. Thus the Grail, the symbol of the accessible unconscious, serves man and God. This is the key to both Emma Jung's and Robert Johnson's work. She would emphasize that the Grail serves man and Johnson would emphasize that the Grail serves God, but both would acknowledge that the Grail serves both. This is the point of Johnson's book but he takes you down many fruitful trails to reach this point. I will point out some of these paths:
The Fisher King has wounds so severe that he cannot live, yet he is incapable of dying. The kingdom is dependent on the virility and power of its rule. As an adolescent, the Fisher King is burned on the fingers when he tries to eat hot broiled Salmon. He touches the divine part of his own unconscious but it is too hot for his consciousness to handle. He touches his individuation but can not hold it. His life becomes barren, his wound never heals, and he can not cure himself even though he and the Grail are in the same castle. The fool must come to cure the king.
Parsifal is the holy fool, the innocent, who emerges from the forrest nieve and full of creative possibilities. He is entraced by the knights and longs to become one. He must break with his poor heartbroken mother, Heartsorrow, on his journey to be a man. All men must be somewhat disloyal to their mother on the path to manhood and toward individuation. His first quest is to fight the Red Knight and gain his armour. He kills the Red Knight and thus takes on masculine power, courage and virility. However when he gets on the Red Knights' horse, he can't steer or stop it but must let it run its course. This is the symbol of a young man's first forray into the world of power where forces can be let loose which no one can control. Johnson points out that a boy gets his red Knight armour by taking it from someone else. This is the way of young male competetion. But a man must not carry the young male competitiveness throughout life, he must move beyond the Red Knight. A young male moves beyond the red Knight when he learns to master his own aggression. So every young man must defeat the Red Knight, take on the armour of power, aggression, virility, strength, courage, but must also not let these attributes consume the entire psyche. Parsifal gets a mentor, Gournamond, who teaches him chivalry and the skills of knighthood. He also tell Parsifal that he must seek the HolY Grail, the ture vocation of all knights, that he must not seduce or be seduced by a woman, and that he must ask "Whom does the Grail serve?" at the right moment in the castle of the Fisher King.
There are many women in the story who play various aspects of the Anima, but it is White Flower and the Ugly Hag who play critical roles as the positive and negative anima, each with a part to play.
The book ends with a really good explanation of why the Holy Grail serves the Grail King (God) and also serves Parsifal. Parsifal asks the question and the Fisher King is healed immediately, he becomes whole. But God now has a path, a window, into the world of Man and thus the Grail ultimately served God's purposes. Even though this interpretation of the Holy Grail story is more Christian in interpretation than that of Emma Jung, both are fantastic and insightful reading.