Modern Western culture is failing men.
Rites of passage are intrinsic to many traditional cultures. So called “primitive” tribes knew that males required help in shedding their starting identity as boys, and embracing their new identity as men?
Why do men need more help than women?
I’ve heard the theory that females have a rite of passage built into their biology – their first period.
Or perhaps the danger of manhood makes it less appealing than womanhood. As a man, you’re expected to use your chest as a pin-cushion for any arrows loosed at your family. For women, the protective role of the Father is replaced by their men, but the men have no such replacement. Scary — perhaps so much so that boys, left to their own devices, will take a path of much less resistance.
Or perhaps the cynic in you would believe that males are naturally emotionally weaker, or that all past cultures were so patriarchal that they didn’t give a damn if their girls grew up right.
I would side with the first two arguments. Boys have no clear “on switch” of masculinity, only a slow transition, and manhood is a scary thing, especially to a young lad who’s only known the close protection of mama and papa.
Whatever you believe, it’s clear that we live in a deluge of “grown-up” boys.
The death of the boy
Ancient rites of passage were severe, involving a terrible physical trial. They required a symbolic “death” of the boy, so that the Man can be born.
Notice how, in The Emerald Forest above, Tomme’s adopted mother asks, “Must he die?”
This is the role of the feminine, the nurturing ‘mother energy’. And it is the role of the masculine to ‘do what is necessary’, despite the pain or risks involved. The boy stares up at their exchange, soaking into his subconscious the lesson it teaches – that a man is firm and resolute – immediately before entering the initiation.
I’ve heard of another culture whereby the mother, after the boy has been initiated, must pretend that she doesn’t know him. She asks to be introduced to “the young man”, and they develop a new relationship in accord with his new identity.
You could imagine how such a ritual could change a guy!
- we are hugely social creatures, and
- we are very resistant to change (particularly of our identity/worldview),
…it stands to reason that this kind of deep attitudinal shift from boy to man would require an aggressive event, in which everyone in your life is involved. Then, after it’s over, everyone knows to treat you differently, strengthening your new identity while it is still young and vulnerable.
What happens when we are deprived of such a rite?
I don’t know.
All I do know is that something deep, (powerful yet starved, repressed) leapt for joy when I first watched Fight Club:
Initiating and fathering yourself
Our self-initiation will be a sequence, and not an event.
It’s not truly possible to recreate the effects of the tribal rite of passage on ourselves – it’ll take time.
The Modern Man’s Sequence to Self-Initiate into Full Masculinity:
- Understand the different aspects of the masculine psyche, including how they are in their fullness (fully mature), and how they are when turned to the dark side.
- Notice these aspects in yourself, carefully watching and never judging. If you judge your own instincts, you’ll deny them, losing the power to influence them.
- Admit the ways in which you’re still ‘fixated in boy-psychology’, whenever such behaviours or attitudes arise.
- Choose to align with one of the four masculine archetypes (King, Warrior, Magician, or Lover), every time your boyishness shows up.
Use the archetype that is best suited for the present moment, and your present ‘maturity sticking-point’.
- Are you being irresponsible or disorganised? Imagine your inner King taking control of your body. What would His Highness do?
- Are you shying away from taking a scary action that you know you must take? What would your Warrior do in your place?
- Are you stubbornly refusing to study your craft or hone your skills, settling for mediocrity over mastery? What would your bookish inner Magician say?
- Are you emotionally distant, losing the joy of connection? Get back in touch with the Lover within. (Notice, it’s not “getting in touch with your feminine side”…it’s not feminine, it’s the sensual masculine).
Obviously, knowing ‘Jungian theory’ is not necessary. You could learn about masculinity from people in your own life, and think of those who are “ideal” in certain ways whenever you are tempted to slip into immaturity.
For example: If you have a fair and authoritative dad, ask yourself what he’d do when you notice yourself being unfair or spineless.
The sad thing is that very few of us have such ideal role-models in our real lives.
The key points are having enough self-awareness to see where you’re lacking, and choosing to act more maturely whenever possible. Archetypes help by reminding you instantly of a multi-dimensional set of traits and attitudes.
Jesus, this email got long. I’ll finish the topic of boyhood tomorrow by tackling the archetypes of boyhood, and how they evolve into their mature, fully masculine counterparts.
– James (Self-Made Copywriter)
PS: This series is inspired by the book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore.