Bassett & Schofield - Wagner & Buddhism, part 2

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Bassett & Schofield - Wagner & Buddhism, part 2

Post by alberich00 » Mon Mar 07, 2016 3:55 pm

PS: You noted that Wagner told Cosima that only music can convey the mysteries of reincarnation.

PH: My own studies have led me to examine Wagner’s thoughts on this relationship between music and reincarnation. Wagner stated that the Buddhist concept of reincarnation was perfectly suited to his motifs of remembrance and foreboding (i.e., referencing the past and future) because Wagner, the composer and author of his “Ring,” could make present to the audience the past lives of characters, of which the characters themselves remained unconscious. With respect to “The Victors” Wagner noted, similarly, that the Buddha knew Prakriti’s past lives. As the author and composer of the “Ring” Wagner becomes, in this respect, like the Buddha, and of course the naive Siegfried is always enveloped in music which recalls to mind the wider context (Fernen, or distant things) in which he lives, but of which he remains unconscious, because Bruennhilde, Wotan’s unconscious mind (the collective unconscious) holds this knowledge for Siegfried. Note that Cosima also recorded Wagner’s remark, respecting reincarnation, that God and Nature are like two parallel lines, which come together outside of space and time (a premonitory remark for our 19th and 20th and 21st century mathematics and physics if there ever was one), and note also that Bruennhilde, whom I have posited both as Wotan’s unconscious mind and as the language of the unconscious mind, music, is the daughter of God (Wotan) and Nature (Erda).

PH: Wagner also stated that Elsa and Lohengrin might have been reborn and might eventually reconcile after becoming enlightened. I note this because, in my interpretation, Elsa’s offer to share Lohengrin’s forbidden knowledge of his true identity and origin, in order, as she says, to redeem Lohengrin from the anguish (“Noth”) which she believes he would suffer if his secret became public, is a foundation for Wagner’s elaboration of this idea in the “Ring.” [Elsa is a model for Bruennhilde understood as Wotan's unconscious mind, for in Wagner's essay "A Communication to my Friends," Wagner described Elsa as Lohengrin's unconscious mind, that which is involuntary in him, and suggested that Lohengrin's ego finds redemption in Elsa.] Bruennhilde’s offer to hear her father Wotan’s confession of his divine “Noth” (anguish), thoughts Wotan himself says he dare not say aloud lest he lose the grip sustaining his will, is a direct development of Elsa’s offer. [The essential distinction between Elsa and Bruennhilde in this respect, is that the offer Elsa made to Lohengrin to help protect him from the danger of revealing the secret knowledge of his origin and identity, is an offer to have him share that knowledge with her, whereas in Bruennhilde's case, though, like Elsa, she only asks Wotan to share with him the cause of his divine "Noth," in the "Ring" Wotan is reborn as Siegfried, minus consciousness of the knowledge of his true identity and origin (Wotan's confession to Bruennhilde), because Bruennhilde holds this paralyzing knowledge for Siegfried so that he will be protected from it, and therefore protected from suffering the curse of Alberich's Ring, which is the curse of consciousness.] Lohengrin refused to share his secret and forbidden (and according to both Ortrud and Elsa herself, potentially dangerous) self-knowledge with Elsa, but Wotan instead acquiesces in Bruennhilde’s desire to learn the secret which Wotan does not wish to say in words, but which will remain forever unspoken if he speaks it to Bruennhilde, for, as Wotan says, in speaking to her he’s speaking to himself (i.e., to his unconscious mind). Wagner identified the kind of intuitive knowledge which remains unspoken, with both music, and with the mysteries of religion. It is important here to recall that in his essay “A Communication to my Friends,” Wagner stated that Elsa’s insistence on asking the forbidden question (i.e., her insistence on breaching what we might describe as Lohengrin’s request that she have faith, religious faith, in him) about his true identity and origin, made Wagner himself a revolutionary. What Wagner meant was that Elsa’s breach of faith in Lohengrin, for the sake of love, was an inspiration for Wagner’s concept of the music-drama, in which music and drama (the word) would no longer have a merely mechanical relationship, but would have an organic, loving relationship. Therefore when Wotan confesses his corrupt history and acknowledges he himself is craven and destined to fall before Alberich’s curse, to Bruennhilde, his unconscious mind and source of the language known as music (which leaves what Wotan says forever unspoken as words, but sublimates it into feeling, or music), Wotan, by having acquiesced in Bruennhilde’s offer (unlike Lohengrin with respect to Elsa’s offer) to hear his confession, creates the conditions for the loving union of drama (the word, Wotan’s word, or thought) with music (Bruennhilde, Wotan’s thought sublimated into feeling), the redemptive music-drama which is embodied in the loving relationship of Siegfried with Bruennhilde. This, metaphorically, is what brings about Wagner’s transition from an author and composer of romantic operas, into the author and composer of the revolutionary music-dramas of Wagner’s maturity. [In a sense, then, Wotan redeems himself from the guilt and fear embodied in the knowledge he confesses to her, the drama, by steeping it music, i.e., by confessing it to Bruennhilde, so that Siegfried can be born as un-Fallen man.] Note here also that Sachs’s secret confession to Eva in his Act Two cobbling song from “Mastersingers” is modeled on Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde, for Eva grasps what Sachs is saying, but Walther does not. Note also that breach of religious faith is the precondition for Wagner’s redemptive secular art to become heir to dying religious faith (as both Feuerbach and Wagner put it), and that Eve in Paradise, whose original sin was the acquisition, against god's direct command, of forbidden, divine knowledge, which cast mankind out of paradise (but made man forever long to restore lost paradise, the basis of all religion and art, according to Wagner) becomes Wagner’s image of the muse for his own art. Wagner obtained this concept from Feuerbach, who described Eve in paradise as the patron saint of man’s gradual replacement of religious faith with secular (both scientific and artistic) thought.

PH: Let me add that, with respect to Wagner’s praise of Elsa’s breach of Lohengrin’s demand for faith in him, Feuerbach noted that the mysteries of religion can be plumbed by man, since man unwittingly and involuntarily invented the gods in the first place, and will eventually become conscious of this fact. Feuerbach noted that the mystery hidden behind religious man’s demand for unquestioning faith is the terrible fact that God is ultimately only Nature. This is the secret which Lohengrin fears to expose to the light of day, and which Alberich’s inevitable victory over the gods forces Wotan to confront. Wagner not only echoed Feuerbach in stating that man’s great error or sin was the positing of an existence outside of nature [a supernatural realm], but also stated that the secret of his redemptive art was that, unlike religion, which posits a supernatural existence outside of nature, his redemptive art, or Wahn, would remain within the natural world but raise us above it, through feeling (i.e., through artistic Wonder) [And Wagner told Cosima that it is Nature which gave birth to Music]. It is of course no accident that in this respect Bruennhilde is Erda’s (Mother Nature’s) daughter.

PS: You stated that Kundry is expiating her sin from a previous life.

PH: In my interpretation Kundry, like Eva, Isolde, and Bruennhilde, represents the muse of unconsciously inspired art, and is therefore the hero’s own unconscious mind. In Wagner’s oeuvre this concept originates in Venus, who is the artist-hero Tannhaeuser’s original but secret source of artistic inspiration, an inspiration which he normally forgets upon waking in order to create and perform a work of art. However, during the song-contest in the Wartburg Hall he involuntarily, as if under a spell (as Wagner described it), reveals what should have remained concealed, the profane source of artistic inspiration which previously Tannhaeuser’s audience had understood to be a mysterious or divine inspiration. What Wagner was getting at here is that in the modern, too-conscious world, this formerly unconscious inspiration is becoming too conscious, and figuratively speaking the artist betrays the secret of his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, revealing her secrets to the world, in the very work of art which originally was redemptive only because it kept her secret. Wagner retold this basic narrative in both “Twilight of the Gods” and in “Tristan and Isolde.” In his “Epilogue to the ‘Nibelung’s Ring’ “ Wagner stated that the essential plot of this fourth and final part of the “Ring” (the first part, however, to be conceived) is virtually identical to the plot of “Tristan and Isolde.” In both instances, as Wagner put it, the hero involuntarily gives away his own true love to another man, an unwitting act of betrayal which dooms him. In my interpretation this is Wagner’s metaphor for his own unwitting revelation, in his own art, of what should have remained concealed. Wagner stated, in this regard, that through his musical motifs he granted his audience a clairvoyance similar to that of the creator of the work of art, a work of art Wagner elsewhere said might be as mysterious to its creator as to his audience. This is the meaning behind Siegfried and Tristan giving away their lover-muses Bruennhilde and Isolde to another man: what they are actually doing is unwittingly giving away the secret of their formerly unconscious artistic inspiration to their audience. In other words, through the musical component of Wagner’s mature music-dramas Wagner was potentially revealing secrets of his unconscious artistic inspiration to his audience which remained a mystery even to him, i.e., remained unconscious for him.

PH: In my interpretation, since the music-dramatist, or artist-hero, falls heir to dying religious faith, keeping it alive not as thought, as concept, but as feeling, as love, in his art creations, he also falls heir [unwittingly and involuntarily] to Wotan’s (religious man’s) sin of world-denial or pessimism (which Alberich described as Wotan’s sin against all that was, is, or will be, i.e., Erda’s - Mother Nature’s - self-knowledge). It was precisely to punish this sin that Alberich cursed all future owners of Alberich’s Ring. This is the sin which Kundry, the potential muse of Parsifal’s art, who, according to Wagner, has relived Isolde’s final transfiguration many times in former lives, has to atone, man’s religious sin of world-denial. That is why Kundry passes away in the finale of “Parsifal.” The muse of formerly unconscious artistic inspiration can no longer offer man the temporary healing of his unhealing wound (the wound caused by man’s existential dilemma, his futile attempt, throughout history, to substitute faith in spiritual transcendence for objective nature) through the art she used to inspire, because the artist-hero is becoming too conscious, too awake, too enlightened about his own former complicity in this crime against mother nature, to seek temporary redemption in the arms of his muse (man’s surrogate for mother nature) any longer.

PH: This of course offers a different spin to your remark that Prakriti is told by the Buddha that she can only love Ananda chastely, a precondition for her ordination. Since in my interpretation sexual love is Wagner’s metaphor for unconscious artistic inspiration of the artist-hero by his muse-lover, in “Parsifal” Wagner is not necessarily celebrating chastity and compassion in the normal sense of these terms. That Parsifal renounces Kundry’s bid to offer him some sort of ersatz redemption through sexual love is Wagner’s critique of his own art which, according to my reading of the plot, Wagner decided late in life, when he had become too conscious to hope for unconscious inspiration any longer, could no longer offer even temporary redemption from a terrible world, which had to be faced head on. In my interpretation Klingsor’s Magic Garden is in fact Wagner’s metaphor for the former world of inspired secular art [represented in "Tannhaeuser" by the Venusberg] which he is now renouncing in the person of Parsifal, the reincarnation of all former religious prophets and martyrs and seers and saints [including Christ and Buddha], and all former inspired artists. Parsifal instead embraces real Nature (the fresh blooms of spring) instead of the artificial nature, the surrogate mother, of art. Feuerbach described religious man’s renunciation of the real world in favor of a world of the spirit as a figurative matricide, a sort of murdering of our own mother, Nature (represented by Erda in the “Ring”). Wagner echoed this thesis in Alberich’s accusation that the god Wotan will be sinning against all that was, is, and will be, if he steals Alberich’s Ring (the power of conscious thought) and co-opts its power to sustain the gods, who according to Feuerbach are illusory. Wagner echoed this thesis in his writings, saying that our greatest sin and error was inventing (involuntarily, or unconsciously, of course) an alternative source of being outside of nature. It is therefore not surprising that Siegfried and Tristan both are born through their mother’s death (their mother in this metaphor a figure for Mother Nature), and that Parsifal virtually kills his mother through neglect. It is also no surprise that in all three cases the hero in some sense confuses his lover (or, in Parsifal’s case, potential lover) for his mother, since art is a surrogate for Mother Nature.


PB: I found your remark that the so-called World-Inheritance Motif (#134 in my online book at may have originally been intended for “The Victors” fascinating. You also noted that it seems not to be part of any family of related motifs in the “Ring.”

PH: I repeat here your remark elsewhere that Wagner stated that when this motif #134 sounds it should sound like the herald of a new religion, because, in my interpretation, the new religion it heralds is Wagner’s own revolutionary, secular art of the music-drama, the unconscious inspiration of which is represented in Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s love duet in “Siegfried” Act Three Scene Three. So far as I know Motif #134 is the only one which Wagner ever described as a redemption motif. The implication of these two facts, when seen in the light of my interpretation, is that when people speak of Wagner’s notion of redemption by love we should read this as Wagner’s elaboration of Feuerbach’s notion of redemption of religious feeling in secular art, specifically the music-drama. As Bruennhilde said to Siegfried, what Wotan thought (as expressed in his confession to her), she felt, and what she felt was her love for Siegfried. So Bruennhilde equates the content of Wotan’s confession with her love for Siegfried. It is through her sympathetic hearing of his confession that Bruennhiilde herself, metaphysically, gives birth to Siegfried, the hero, or other self, whom Wotan desired. It is noteworthy that at the moment of Wotan’s proclamation to Erda that he no longer fears the twilight of the gods because Wotan’s heirs Siegfried and Bruennhilde will redeem the world from Alberich’s curse, there is no hint of Rhinedaughter music or of the primary motifs in play at the finale of the “Ring.” There, Wagner reverts to motif #93, the motif heard when Sieglinde, in “The Valkyrie” Act Three Scene One, cried out “Sublimest Wonder” in response to Bruennhilde’s heroic intervention to save Sieglinde and her as-yet-unborn child Siegfried. The “Wonder,” actually, is the wonder of Wagner’s musical motifs, which Wagner himself described as modern man’s substitute for dying religious faith, a sort of new religion. The point is that the redemption from Alberich’s curse Wotan hopes for in the love of Siegfried and Bruennhilde, and in Bruennhilde’s waking deed, is Bruennhilde’s inspiration of Siegfried’s art, the heir to dying religious faith. Wotan, as Wagner himself said in a letter to Roeckel, does not contemplate restoring the Ring to the Rhinedaughters until he realizes that Siegfried has failed as a redeemer, which doesn’t occur until Siegfried has entered Gibichung Hall in “Twilight of the Gods.” It must be clearly understood that Wotan’s gloomy and desperate wish that Bruennhilde will restore the Ring to the Rhinedaughters and thus take the weight of Alberich’s curse off of gods and world, is entirely distinct for Wotan’s hope for redemption as expressed in #134 and in his joy in handing the torch over to Siegfried and Bruennhilde in “Siegfried” Act Three Scene One.

PB: Speaking of Kundry’s past lives and former identities, you note that one of them which Klinsgor mentions is Gundryggia, whom you describe as a Nordic messenger.

PH: This is important because Wagner described his musical motifs as messengers, and of course Kundry is the messenger of the Grail in her alternate incarnation as a humble penitent atoning her sin of seducing Grail knights (her other incarnation), who inspires Grail knights to serve the Grail. Similarly, Bruennhilde and the other Valkyries inspire mortal heroes to martyrdom in ultimate service of Valhalla. Since, in “Epilogue to the ‘Nibelung’s Ring’ “ Wagner describes Bruennhilde and Isolde as virtually equivalent, and since Wagner told Cosima that Kundry has gone through Isolde’s transfiguration many times in past lives, we have Wagner’s own word that Kundry, Bruennhilde, and Isolde are virtually equivalent characters. Furthermore, Cosima recorded Wagner’s remark that Kundry is equivalent to Eve in paradise, which of course equates Kundry with Eva in “Mastersingers.” It is no accident therefore that Baudelaire once compared Elsa from “Lohengrin” with Eve, who breaches God’s demand for unquestioning faith, and acquires forbidden knowledge, just as Elsa seeks forbidden knowledge. Note that Eva in “Mastersingers” is more or less instructed by Sachs that, as she who caused mankind’s exile from paradise, it is her duty to inspire the artist-hero Walther to create an artwork in which we can feel redeemed from our own mortality, i.e., an artwork that fits like a shoe so well that we can’t feel the mortality of the gravel beneath. And Eva inspires Walther unconsciously, in a dream. Venus can even be included in this list of artists’ muses of unconscious inspiration, since Tannhaeuser forgets he sojourned with her upon waking [and he tells Venus that he owes his art's inspiration to her].

PB: You state that Wotan asks Erda how to stop a rolling wheel, a wheel which Paul Schofield below equates with the wheel of karma, which must be reversed in order to become the wheel of dharma leading to enlightenment.

PH: Erda offers Wotan two distinct kinds of knowledge when he comes to her in “Siegfried” Act Three Scene One, and wakes her seeking knowledge. The first kind is the sort of knowledge of the real, objective world, the world of time, space, matter, and energy, which the Norns weave, but Wotan renounces this type of knowledge because, as he says, the Norns spin according to the world. Alberich’s Ring Motif #19 is heard in conjunction with their spinning the web of fate, or natural law. Wotan wants to escape fate itself, which in Wagner’s secular “Ring” actually means the laws of Nature and the egotistical, instinctive drives of the body, which in my interpretation are represented by the giants Fafner (fear of death, the self-preservation instinct) and Fasolt (sexual desire, which also includes the tender emotions associated with family life, which Fasolt longs for [However, Fafner is able to persuade Fasolt to renounce Freia/love for the sake of the power of the Ring, and so we can conclude that ultimately Fasolt's egoism is stronger than the tender aspects of his love for Freia.]). Since Wotan can’t handle the truth, the real world, Erda then suggests that instead he consult his daughter Bruennhilde. The reason for this is that Bruennhilde is, as Wotan’s unconscious mind, the source of aesthetic intuition. Since Siegfried is metaphysically born of the womb of Wotan’s wishes, Bruennhilde, it is through Bruennhilde that Siegfried can take aesthetic possession of the sources of Wotan’s fear, Alberich’s Hoard, Tarnhelm, and particularly the “Ring,” and sublimate them into something wonderful. This distinction originates in Wotan’s first confrontation with Erda, during which he said, first, that he wished to go down to Erda to learn everything, i.e., to acquire knowledge of what Erda had taught him to fear (and presumably to learn whether he could escape his fate), and then changed his mind and said instead that he wishes to learn from her how to forget the fear and dread she imparted to him.

PH: This will be echoed by Siegfried when he both learns fear from Bruennhilde, Erda’s daughter, and also learns through her love how to forget his fear. Previously, I mentioned Wagner’s notion of artistic Wonder, through which his musical motifs can make present, here and now, things which are widely disbursed in time and space, the very things which Wotan imparted to Bruennhilde which he feared so much that he couldn’t bear to speak them aloud (i.e., consciously), i.e., Erda’s knowledge of was, is, and will be. This concept of the “Wonder” provides an interpretation of a somewhat strange and awkward thing which Siegfried tells Bruennhilde in “Siegfried” Act Three Scene Three, as we hear Motif #134: “… to me, you must be, what, fearing, you were and will be.” It is Bruennhilde’s love, the musical motifs of which she is the source, which produces that “Wonder” in which Siegfried can escape the world, transcend Erda’s knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, and forget his fear. Since I have noted earlier that in all probability the Woodbird is a messenger of Bruennhilde (Siegfried’s surrogate for his true mother Sieglinde) to Siegfried, it is noteworthy that just as the Woodbird taught Siegfried the use he could make of Alberich’s Tarnhelm and Ring, and yet Siegfried forgot their use as he was leaving Fafner’s cave with them, similarly, Siegfried, to the sound of the Woodbird’s song, #128 and #129, tells Bruennhilde in “Siegfried” Act Three Scene Three that: “… the fear that you scarcely taught me: that fear - I think - fool that I am, I have quite forgotten it now." Similarly, when Bruennhilde in the “Twilight of the Gods” Prelude, Part Two, tells Siegfried that she imparted to him a hoard of runes which the gods (read Wotan, through his confession to her) taught her, Siegfried tells her that her teaching left him untaught. The point of this is that through his own unconscious mind, through its music, Siegfried possesses knowledge subliminally, unconsciously. In this way Bruennhilde redeems Siegfried from the knowledge which paralyzed Wotan with fear, thus making Siegfried fearless.


PS: You spoke of the wheels of Karma and Dharma, the first leading backward into constant rebirth, the other leading to enlightenment and escape from rebirth. You compared this state of enlightenment with Wotan’s situation in “Siegfried” Act Three Scene One in which he informs Erda that he no longer fears the end of the gods because he now makes Siegfried (not Hagen) his heir, who has escaped Alberich’s curse because he feels no envy or fear, and looks forward to Bruennhilde’s performing a redeeming deed upon waking. You spoke of Wotan as having here the enlightenment of non-attachment to the things of this world, and that, as Wagner said, the motif #134 which expresses this should sound like the herald of a new religion, having noted earlier that this motif may have first been composed for “The Victors.”

PH: I have already described at some length the implications of my own interpretation for the points you make here, but I will simply add that Feuerbach’s thesis that religious feeling can live on in secular art, particularly the art of music, when religion as a faith, an idea, can no longer be sustained in the face of modern, secular, scientific thought, had a huge influence on Wagner (as instanced in quite a number of Wagner’s own paraphrases of this thesis), and is, I believe, at the bottom of this scene in which Wotan passes the torch to his heir (and reincarnate spirit) Siegfried, who doesn’t know who he is because Wotan’s own unconscious mind, Bruennhilde, knows this for Siegfried, just as the Buddha knew all of Prakriti’s past lives and could grant her a flash of intuition of them, and as Wagner’s motifs could grant us in a flash of intuition the entire matrix of Siegfried’s interconnectedness with the entire plot and the various characters of the “Ring,” particularly of his former self, Wotan. As Wagner said, Wotan lives on in Siegfried as the artist lives on in the work of art, which nonetheless is independent of him (and often a mystery to him).

PS: You reference the fact that you wrote “The Redeemer Reborn,” which treats “Parsifal” as the fifth opera of the “Ring,” and that the four main characters of the “Ring,” Alberich, Wotan, Siegfried and Bruennhilde, are reborn respectively in Klingsor, Amfortas, Parsifal, and Kundry.

PH: Since my first efforts to record my ongoing quest to grasp Wagner’s “Ring” and his other operas and music-dramas in writing, beginning in 1971, I have developed an interpretation in which I have demonstrated in considerable detail the extraordinary conceptual and dramatic coherence not only of each of Wagner’s canonic operas and music-dramas taken individually, but also their remarkable conceptual links with each other, which corresponds to a degree with your primary thesis that “Parsifal” is the fifth opera of the “Ring.” You will find thumbnail sketches of these links in a series of posts to my discussion forum at

PS: You described the separation of the Spear from the Grail, i.e., from Alberich’s Ring/Hoard, in “Rhinegold,” as Wagner’s metaphor for The Fall, and note that these are reunited in the final act of “Parsifal.” As a basis for this you cited Wagner’s fascinating remark in “The Wibelungs” that the Nibelung Hoard was transformed into the Holy Grail, that, in other words, the pursuit of wealth was transformed into a spiritual quest.

PH: Wagner’s equation of the Nibelung Hoard (or, what is the same thing, Alberich’s Ring) with the Holy Grail, and his suggestion that the Hoard was over time sublimated into the Holy Grail, has been part of the foundation of my interpretation of Wagner’s “Ring” for decades. I might add as crucial evidence that Wagner carried this idea over into the “Ring,” that, as Deryck Cooke pointed out, the motif of Alberich’s Ring (in my interpretation Motif #19) transforms musically, during the transition between scenes one and two from “Rhinegold,” into the first segment of the motif of Wotan’s Valhalla (#20a). Furthermore, Wagner offers us a verbal equivalent to this musical metaphor in having Wotan call himself Light-Alberich. To grasp how my interpretation analyses this musical and conceptual metaphor, you must know that I interpret Alberich’s forging of his Ring of worldly power as Wagner’s metaphor for the moment in evolution when Mother Nature produced the new species, man, who became conscious of himself, reflectively and symbolically conscious, able to use language to dominate all other species and, if you will, conquer his world. This is the source of that power Alberich can wield by forging his Ring. My interpretation posits that the conceptual basis for Wagner’s notion that the Nibelung Hoard, or Nibelung Ring, of worldly power, gives birth to the gods’ spiritual, heavenly home of Valhalla, whose gods are immortal by virtue of Freia’s golden apples of sorrowless youth eternal, is Feuerbach’s remark that with the birth of human consciousness mankind collectively reified his new gift of symbolic abstraction and generalization, by calling it God. In other words, human beings naturally assumed that the seemingly transcendent aspects of their own minds, such as the ability to imagine things that are not real, or to imagine real things which are not present in immediate space or current time (such as the past and future, and objects known to exist but not present), or to generalize experience in order to discover the laws which govern things, was divine, and gave this ability a name, God. Thus we have Alberich’s Nibelung Ring giving birth to Valhalla, which in the “Ring” represents mankind’s image of, and longing for, transcendent value and a spiritual reality greater than nature, and that this in turn gives birth to the idea of the Holy Grail. It is noteworthy in this regard that Wotan is not able to securely hold his newly built Valhalla without depending on Alberich’s Hoard, Tarnhelm, and Ring. Note that the gods of Valhalla (#20a) slept while the giants (Wagners metaphor for our animal instincts of fear - or self-preservation - and desire) and Alberich’s Ring of consciousness (#19) built Valhalla, which is Wagner’s metaphor for Feuerbach’s concept that, since mankind invented the gods (since Feuerbach doesn’t believe in the gods’ reality, mankind, who believes in gods, must have invented them), but religious men could not afford to be conscious of the fact they invented the gods, since otherwise they couldn’t worship them as presumably real beings, mankind must have collectively and involuntarily dreamed the gods into existence, unconsciously. Man’s origin myths are therefore collective dreams, collective self-delusion, or Wahn.

PS: You say that the characters from “Twilight of the Gods” who are reincarnated in “Parsifal” finally attain their spiritual enlightenment there, with the exception of Klingsor, who you suggest must still be reborn.

PH: My take on this is quite distinct. I agree with you that three of them are reborn in “Parsifal”: I equate the naive and ignorant Siegfried with the naive and ignorant Parsifal, I equate Kundry with Bruennhilde, and I equate Wotan with Amfortas. Klingsor, however, I interpret as Parsifal’s recognition of who he had remained in prior lives, and who he must therefore renounce (it would take too much space here to describe in detail my complex reasons for this, but suffice it to say that Klingsor and his magic garden of flower-maid muses and deluded knights of the Grail is in my interpretation Wagner’s critique of his own art). In my interpretation Parsifal finally wakes up, [and] becomes aware in Klingsor’s Magic Garden of how he, in all his prior lives as religious-ethical-and-art heroes had unwittingly perpetuated Wotan’s sin of world-denial or pessimism (Wotan’s sin against all that was, is, and will be, Erda’s/Nature’s knowledge), and decides to objectively embrace Mother Nature instead, and renounce seeking temporary redemption from the curse of consciousness (Alberich’s curse on his Ring) through loving union with his former muse Kundry (in whom Elsa, Eva, Isolde, and Bruennhilde are reborn). This is Wagner’s metaphor for unconscious inspiration of art which, according to Wagner himself, could offer redemption to religious feeling when religion as a conceptual belief could no longer be sustained, in our modern world. Therefore Kundry, Parsifal’s surrogate mother, his former muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, dies, while Parsifal instead embraces the real blooms of nature, not the artificial blooms of art which have withered. Thus Parsifal atones for religious, ethical, and artistic man’s historical repudiation of the real world in favor of a world of the imagination, and atones for having virtually murdered his mother (Mother Nature) through neglect, by giving her back her day of innocence. The source of this is Feuerbach’s notion that man, in positing the existence of a spiritual, transcendent realm of being, figuratively killed his mother, Nature. Wagner preserves this metaphor in having Siegfried, Tristan, and Parsifal, in distinct ways, be responsible for their mothers’ deaths. Parsifal atones for this. Alberich’s curse on his “Ring” was intended to punish anyone who attempted to put his Ring of consciousness to use in inventing and sustaining the illusion of a transcendent realm of being, a sin of which he accused Wotan when he told Wotan that if Wotan stole the Ring from Alberich he would be sinning against all that was, is, and will be, namely, Erda’s realm, since she, Mother Nature, has knowledge of all that was, is, and will be.


PB: You spoke of Wagner’s so-called Schopenhauer ending for the “Ring,” in which Bruennhilde proclaims redemption from rebirth, and how Bruennhilde becomes wise through her suffering love for Siegfried. You said also that Parsifal ultimately gains wisdom through compassion for all creatures, all the living, by taking on their suffering as his own. Lastly, you note that after reading Schopenhauer, Wagner eventually renounced his concept of the redemption by love (sexual, or exclusive, love), offering us in “Parsifal” redemption through compassionate love for all.

PH: I’m certain you are familiar with Wagner’s remark that Darwin’s books about the evolution of species, and the natural descent of man, correspond with Indian wisdom, that we and the animals are one, though having differing degrees of consciousness, and that this should teach us compassion for all the living. Undoubtedly that is part of the meaning of the Good Friday Spell and Parsifal’s healing of Amfortas’s formerly unhealing wound. But in my interpretation I have tried to show that there is also another aspect to this. Feuerbach noted that the Christian religion in particular repudiated nature and the human body, describing these as things of the devil, and that in order to be worthy of redemption in paradise we had to repudiate the things of this world. This of course corresponds in a very general sense with the Buddhist virtue of non-attachment. At any rate, Feuerbach’s metaphor for this Christian sin against the objective world, and the body, was that religious man is a matricide, a murderer of mother nature (think here of Orestes’ matricide and consider the influence of “The Oresteia” on Wagner’s “Ring”) and Wagner echoed this concept not only in having Alberich describe Wotan’s sin (in stealing the Ring from Alberich) as a sin against all that was, is, and will be (i.e., the real, objective world, Erda’s knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, which Wotan rejects), but also in having his heroes Siegfried and Tristan born through their mother’s death, and in having Parsifal actually kill his mother through neglect. Wagner also echoed Feuerbach in his writings, describing man’s great sin, or error, as the sin of positing a transcendent existence outside of natural existence.

PH: A major consequence of this sin of world-renunciation is that historical, religious man, by virtue of basing his happiness and the meaning of his life on self-delusion (Feuerbach’s thesis), was facing an inevitable day of reckoning because, as Feuerbach himself noted, it is an inevitability that in human history mankind ultimately begins to acquire an ever more comprehensive hoard of knowledge of himself and the real world, a self-consciousness which eventually substitutes natural for spiritual explanations of things. This, in my interpretation, is the basis of Alberich’s curse, that everyone will eventually seek his gold and renounce love, as he did. In my interpretation his hoard of treasure is virtually identical with the hoard of knowledge, or runes, which Wotan (Light-Alberich, Wagner’s symbol not only for Godhead, but for Godhead re-defined as Feuerbach did, collective, historical man) acquires over time from Erda (i.e., from his wanderings over, and into the bowels of, the earth). In my interpretation this means that mankind is cursed to eventually obtain, through historical experience of his own nature and the nature of the world, that knowledge (gold/treasure) which will overthrow his own consoling illusions, his ideals and cherished beliefs about who he is, and his allegedly spiritual destiny. [Wagner embodied this concept as early as "The Flying Dutchman," in the face that, while the Dutchman wanders the earth endlessly, unable to find redemption from it, instead the Dutchman, against his will, collects a hoard of treasure, which in the libretto text is described as seeming as if it is guarded by a dragon; this hoarding of treasure is actually Wagner's metaphor for mankind's historical experience and learning, which gradually erases man's hope for a spiritual redemption from the real world, and replaces it with resignation to the fact that we can't escape our fate, can't escape our own true nature as beings of this objective world, the world of time, space, and causation.] Alberich describes this irrevocable historical eventuality as the rising of his hoard of treasure from the silence of night, to day, i.e., from unconsciousness to consciousness. Alberich also prophecies that Wotan’s own heroes will take part in this. Siegfried does indeed bring Alberich’s Ring from his own unconscious mind and muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Bruennhilde, from the silence and protection of her night, to the light of day, by ripping it off of her finger and giving her away in forced marriage to Gunther. In my interpretation this is Wagner’s metaphor for the formerly unconsciously inspired artist-hero unwittingly and involuntarily giving away the secrets of his unconscious mind, his muse Bruennhilde, to his audience, as indeed Wagner said he was doing in his musical motifs, which permit his audience to share the artist-creator’s own clairvoyance, and to know things which might well be secrets unknown (consciously) to the artist himself.

PH: The ultimate consequence of this is that the world-historical artist hero, say, Wagner himself, the music-dramatist, exposes his own formerly unconscious secrets of artistic inspiration to view in his own music-drama, the “Ring.” This Wagner depicted both in Siegfried the artist-hero giving his own muse of unconscious artistic inspiration away to another man, Gunther (Wagner’s metaphor for his own audience), and in Siegfried’s singing the narrative of how he learned to grasp the meaning of the Woodbird’s Song (Wagner’s metaphor for his own unique motival music, and for Bruennhilde herself, since Hagen tells Siegfried that “If only he (Gunther) understood her (Bruennhilde) as you do the singing of birds.”) to his audience, the Gibichungs, and Hagen and Gunther. This is Wagner’s metaphor for his production of his own “Ring” for an audience. Siegfried dies because he becomes too conscious of who he is, but he is reborn as the pure fool in Parsifal, who does not know who he is. Note that in both instances, Siegfried and Parsifal, the hero does not know who he is, but the heroine (the hero’s own unconscious mind, and muse) Bruennhilde, and Kundry, respectively, does know. Once Parsifal becomes fully conscious of who he is, the reincarnate spirit of all prior historical heroes of religion, ethics, and art, who have perpetuated man’s sin against mother nature by perpetuating illusion as a source of value and meaning rather than objective truth, Parsifal realizes that he himself had both given mankind (Amfortas) his unhealing wound and temporarily healed that wound through various illusions such as religious faith, a belief in transcendent value, and art.

PH: Amfortas’s unhealing wound is identical to Alberich’s curse on his Ring. Alberich cursed any attempt on the part of mankind to escape the bitter truth through consoling illusions such as belief in a divine realm of being, a belief in redemption from the real world in a realm of the spirit, a belief in immortality, a belief in a restoration of lost innocence, a belief in transcendent ethics, and secular art in which dying religious faith lives on as feeling. Parsifal heals this formerly unhealing wound by renouncing mankind’s age-old bid for transcendent value and meaning, a bid for metaphysics, by restoring Mother Nature as she is, in her objective reality. For Parsifal, at the moment of his muse Kundry’s kiss, had seen in a flash of insight how he in all of his past lives had perpetuated Wotan’s (religious, ethical, and artistic man’s) sin against all that was, is, and will be, all that withers and dies, thereby setting man up for inevitable failure, his self-exposure of his own most treasured beliefs as self-delusions. After a time mankind’s efforts to find illusory expedients to give his life meaning became more painful to sustain than merely acknowledging the bitter truth about man’s mortality, and therefore, out of compassion for his audience, Amfortas, Parsifal-Wagner renounced his art, thus atoning for the final installment of Wotan’s original sin, and retroactively atoning for all past sins which stem from the original religious sin against all that was, is, and will be. Parsifal saw in a flash of intuition that his former loving unions with the muse of inspiration Kundry (in their past lives) had been identical with his crime against his Mother Nature (his killing Herzeleide through neglect), and that only by renouncing the mother surrogate Kundry (artificial nature, or art) could Parsifal atone for having murdered his mother, Nature. This, along with the conventional reading of the final 1/2 hour or so of “Parsifal” as Wagner’s celebration of compassion for all the living, is, I think, the authentic explanation for much that remains mysterious about “Parsifal.” Note that Tristan similarly betrays the secret of his womb of night, Isolde, to the light of day, by giving her away to another man, Wagner’s figure for his own audience, King Marke, and in act three suffers the unhealing wound of too much consciousness, too much sunlight. Tannhaeuser similarly exposed the secret of his formerly unconscious artistic inspiration with Venus to the light of day in his song at the Wartburg Hall.

PB: You recall that Wagner broke off composing the music for his “Ring” in order to write and compose “Tristan” and “Mastersingers.” You note that when Wagner began his “Ring,” there was a conflict between his head and his heart, but that he had resolved this conflict prior to resuming the composition of the music of the “Ring.” You end by saying that both the unconscious and the conscious are at work in Wagner, particularly in his late works.

PH: Wagner in his “Epilogue to the ‘Nibelung’s Ring’ “ stated that the plots of “Twilight of the Gods” and “Tristan and Isolde” are virtually identical: in both, a hero gives away his own true love to another man, and thus brings about his doom. Wagner also stated that what happens in a brief time to Siegfried at the end of his life, is elaborated in “Tristan,” particularly Act III. In my interpretation of Wagner’s mature music-dramas I lay out the following scheme of their conceptual relationship with each other. The “Ring” provides the overall context of the other mature music-dramas, and the epic story of their origin, the origin of art itself. “Rhinegold” shows us the origin of religion (which according to Feuerbach is art which mistakes itself for truth), and “Valkyrie” shows us its decline with the secularization of the world (Siegmund, the moral hero, rejects paradise in favor of a loving life of sacrifice on earth). “Siegfried” shows us how the artist-hero falls heir to dying religious faith (Feuerbach noted that religious faith is predicated on fear, so, in killing Fafner, the embodiment of that fear, Siegfried the artist-hero frees himself from the constraint of religious faith, and can now substitute artistic wonder - Bruennhilde’s inspiration - for the gods), and substitutes artistic wonder (Bruennhilde) for it. “Twilight of the Gods” shows how the artist-hero eventually becomes too conscious of who he is to offer mankind redemption through love/art any longer. [The heroes' excessive consciousness is symbolized in his inability to have figurative sexual, loving union with his muse of inspiration any longer: thus both Siegfried and Tristan avoid having sexual union with their muse but give her away instead to another man, who represents their audience] “Tristan and Isolde” is a highly original and inward elaboration of Siegfried’s death through too great consciousness. “Mastersingers of Nuremberg” is Wagner’s metaphor for the golden age of art when the artist-hero could still create and produce an unconsciously inspired work of redemptive art. Therefore, unlike Siegfried and Tristan [and Parsifal], Walther never becomes conscious of himself as the killer of his mother (Nature), and never gives his own true love, the secrets of his unconscious artistic inspiration, away to his audience. In “Parsifal” all of Wagner’s prior artist-heroes are reborn, and, having like Tristan become too conscious of who he really is (the former perpetuator of Wotan’s original sin against all that was, is, and will be), Parsifal retrospectively atones for all of his and mankind’s prior sins by renouncing mankind’s futile quest for illusory transcendent value, and accepts man and nature merely for what they are, thereby healing mankind’s formerly unhealing wound.
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