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NTW – Initiation Message I – Life is Hard

A young male gets initiated. So what? Is it really that important? I argued in my last post that there are definite needs for rites of passage to mark the transition from boy to man. One major reason is the lessons that are taught. Beyond those included during the instruction in liminal space, there are several overarching themes that guide the transition process.

The first of these is that life is hard.

Now, for some of you readers, this seems like common sense. Life is hard. But, many of our males are growing up not realizing the full impact of this lesson. The fact that life is hard primarily calls for one thing.

It calls for us to transform pain rather than run from it. In our modern age, it’s easy to run from pain. Medication offers quick fixes to our physical ails and the many distractions of life can keep us from obsessing over our internal, psychic pain. The running from pain comes from a mindset that life should be easy. When we note that life is hard, we turn into our pain, to conquer and transform it. This message gives the call to young men to control their feelings (to tame the hurricane energy, if you will), instead of being controlled by them. If we don’t learn how to transform our pain, we turn it outwards, harming others as well as ourselves in our efforts to overcome/run from it. Richard Rohr (2004) notes that “if we don’t transform our pain, we will transmit it in some form. Take that as an absolute” (p. 37). We must recognize the difficulty of life before we can begin to transform our pain.

How do we teach this? I’m not saying we should overly burden our young men; many of them are carrying far more than we ever could. We shouldn’t create our own ways to teach them that life is hard. But, when they encounter pain, obstacles, issues, we cannot swoop in and solve those issues for them. We must, out of love, let them wrestle with the difficulties in life, with us on the side, coaching and supporting them through the process. Every young male will wrestle and approach these feelings in a different way. We must support them through their struggle.

The best gain we can give our boys through this lesson is to help them overcome their anger, pain, hurt, and frustration. They don’t need to turn these feelings inward (for self-harm) or outward (to harm others); rather, they must learn to overcome this. Through learning that life will be hard, but then understanding how they can approach the hardships in life, we help establish our boys on a path to productive, creative masculinity.

Rohr, R. (2004). Adam’s return: The five promises of male initiation. New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company.

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2015 in Rites of Passage

 

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Why We Need Rites of Passage

The last year has been spent outlining the phases of a rite of passage as well as the concepts that define the mature masculine and ought to be taught in liminal space. It strikes me, though, that I have barely scratched the surface on the actually need for a rite of passage. Why should we go through all this trouble to transition our boys to men (and our girls to women)? Why is creating the time and space for separation, reflection, and rejoining necessary? It is needed for several key reasons:

1. To mark the separation between boyhood and manhood. The boy-to-men/girl-to-women transition isn’t the only example of a rite of passage. Marriage – marking the leaving behind of all others for one person; certainly two people have a prior relationship and could even have been living together for quite some time, but the ceremony, the rite of passage of marriage guides the transition into a new one-ness. Fraternity/sorority initiation (an area that I work with regularly) marks the transition from prospective member to actual member. These individuals have been associated with the organization, but they need to undergo the change in status that only the initiation can provide. Lastly, the Presidential inauguration provides a public transition. Certainly, the President is the President by election, but the public oath and declaration establish it in the President and all of America’s minds. Just as in each of these examples the rite of passage provides a marked transition to help move beyond a “holding pattern”, so rites of passage for boys and girls allows them to move from the holding pattern of adolescence into their maturity.

2. To help men grasp their masculinity. This is not in an abusive sense; that they need to lay hold of some power granted to them by their maleness. To do so would actually be the antithesis of masculinity. No, rites of passage are needed to help men develop their identity as mature males. Stephenson (2006) notes that “in traditional cultures, identity was not something to be stumbled into but a gift to be given to young people. It was understood that teens need to be guided into their adult identities rather than left to ‘find themselves,’ as the common saying for adults goes” (p. 12). When I look at the struggles men are having with violence, with depression, and with perpetual “Peter Pan-ish-ness”, I see males who are still trying to find themselves. They have not been guided to explore who they are and have been left to figure it out on their own, to their and other’s detriment.

3. To remind us all what is most essential in life. Monica Wilson notes that “rituals reveal values at their deepest level…men express in ritual what moves them most” (in Turner, 2008, p. 6). Stephenson (2006) continues that “rituals remind us of what is most essential and universal in life” (p. 34). All of the virtues taught in liminal space, all of the exploration a male does as he moves through a rite of passage exist to remind him of what is important to him, what he should fight to uphold and protect. The turning inward that happens during a rite of passage, the self-examination, help men when they are faced with trying times. It helps them see the good and bad of their nature and to incorporate the best into their life. And, it is not just the initiate who receives these reminders. Everyone in the community is reminded of this, of the process they went through; everyone in the community can engage in similar self-reflection and remember what the essentials in life are. These rites help the “givers” as much as the “receivers”.

We need rites of passage to mark the transition. They put bounds on adolescence, celebrate the transition, and educate the receiver and the leaders. They aren’t just a ceremony to be completed; they are a hugely transitory experience for all involved, teaching important lessons and establishing a new man. In the future, we will examine these important lessons and their relevance to the process, the mature masculine, and the community.

Stephenson, B. (2006). From boys to men: Spiritual rites of passage in an indulgent age. Park Street Press: Rochester, VT.
Turner, V. (2008). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. AldineTransaction: New Brunswick, NJ.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2015 in Rites of Passage

 

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Rites of Passage Roadmap – The New Man

Over the past year or so, I’ve described a journey for young men, focusing on their separation from their childhood, their education in liminal space, and the main lessons that ought to be taught to the boy-becoming-a-man. It’s now time for that man to rejoin his tribe, his family, and his community, not as who he once was, but as the man he now is. All of these components of the rite of passage into the mature masculine are important, but none is more important (or more overlooked) than the public re-integration and celebration of the new man.

Why is this public declaration so important?
Speaking of the importance of initiation, Ray Raphael (1988) notes that “[w]ithout the aid of a formalized rite of passage [which includes the public ritual], it is harder for a youth to be sure that he has actually changed from one state to another. His transition into manhood becomes more difficult – and it generally takes a longer period of time. In the absence of assumed ritual, the delineation between boyhood and manhood becomes obscured” (p. 15). Without the public declaration, we see a male who is capable of manly work (he’s become mentally and physically mature) but who has not yet assumed the responsibilities that come with being a man. When we miss out on the recognition, the initiation, all of the lessons that have been learned, all of the drama surrounding the coming of age, is not fully complete. The new man’s status must be publicly affirmed.

In this public affirmation, assurance of the new manhood occurs. One of the dilemmas of the modern (and postmodern) world is that identity has become very individualized. With multiple definitions of masculinity, coming from the media, friends, and countless other sources, security in one’s masculine identity is tenuous. We very much have a “melting pot of masculinity” which can lead to a young man trying to live up to a variety of expectations for manhood, instead of having his identity affirmed by those individuals who care about him (and whom he cares about).

We see, then, that public re-integration is important for the psyche of the new man. There is something in him that needs to have his new identity publicly affirmed. But, beyond that, this public declaration and acknowledgement does something else: it embraces the power of community for support, encouragement, and accountability. We don’t see this as much in our modern world. Malidoma Somé notes that “[t]he first consequence of westernization has been to make initiation private. In the old days, initiation was a village matter that mobilized the energy of every person” (quoted in Stephenson, 2006, p. 57). When the entire “village” is involved (village standing for those in the young man’s immediate community: family, friends, teachers/mentors, etc.), the seriousness of the manhood he is entering becomes apparent. Declaring publicly in front of the community – “This boy is now a man…and here is what you can expect from him” – gives the community permission to expect more from the new man and gives the new man a standard to live up to, something to strive daily to uphold. Additionally, it serves as a way for all other men in the community to commit or recommit themselves to the expectations of manhood in that community.

What might it look like?
The actually public re-integration/declaration must be tailored to fit the new man and to fit the community. The ceremony can take on a variety of formats. It must contain a few things, though:

– Elders conferring and affirming the new man’s identity. In all of the discussion about education in liminal space, the focus was on the elders sharing with the young male. We find elders playing a major role in the initiation of young males in almost every primitive society. It is a sign of respect, a way to maintain the tribal traditions, and a meeting of male psychological needs (Robert Moore notes that “if you’re a young man and you’re not being admired by an older man, you’re being hurt.”). I can imagine a moment during this ceremony where elders share how the new man has proven himself, what he has attained, and what he will do.

– Acceptance of the new man’s role. After the elders are done conferring this new role, the new man must also accept it. To publicly say “This is who I am and this is how I will behave” puts a level of responsibility and accountability in place. It shows many of the lessons of liminality in action and serves to create a form of verbal contract with the community.

– Articulation of new rights and responsibilities. As a man, we should expect someone to behave differently from a boy. There is something powerful about declaring publicly the rights and responsibilities. Beyond the new man accepting his role, articulation of these rights and responsibilities reminds the community that “this” is how men behave and what you can and should expect from them. There are no excuses anymore; it’s out there.

– New treatment of new man. No longer can childish or childlike behaviors be accepted or excused. No longer can the adults in the community treat the new man like a juvenile. In court terms, he is to be tried like an adult. It will do our new men no good if we initiate them into the mature masculine, then continue to treat them as if they were children. That would take away all their work, all their learning, and cause identity confusion – “Am I a man? Or a boy?”. We must treat the newly initiated differently and, if we are to expect more from them, we must also provide more respect to them.

Imagine the celebration and the pomp and circumstance surrounding a wedding or a graduation focused on affirming a young male’s new manhood and welcoming him back into the community with new rights and responsibilities. This is what is needed to celebrate the new man, the emergence and declaration of the mature masculine. This welcoming will start his life as a true man with the encouragement, accountability, and celebration that it requires.

References:
Raphael, R. (1988). The men from the boys: Rites of passage in male America. University of Nebraska Press.

Stephenson, B. (2006). From boys to men: Spiritual rites of passage in an indulgent age. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.
 
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Posted by on June 5, 2015 in Rites of Passage

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Reverence

As the year draws to a close, so does our look into the lessons that should be taught in liminal space. We’ve examined respect, how a man holds himself and others in regard; responsibility, how a man accepts and embraces accountability for his actions and their repurcussions; reach, how a man strives to better himself and the world around him; reflection, how a man doesn’t just look outward, but also turns the microscope inward to his heart, desires, and reasoning; relationship, how a man cannot go through life alone and must seek out other men to walk with him on his journey; and reason, how a man makes decisions after thought and reflection that can be explained. Now we arrive at the most important aspect of masculinity: reverence.

What is reverence?
Simply put, reverence is recognizing/acknowledging a higher power and giving deference to that power. You can be reverent to someone in authority, to a god, or anything else that is greater than you. In my work with fraternity men, I sometimes see the code/creed/obligations of the fraternity being revered. Reverence drives you to act outside of your own interests and desires and recognize the callings/commands/hopes of the higher power.

To speak from my own experience, reverence is acknowledging God as Lord. Once that happens in a person’s life, once it happened in my life, one establishes focus on how to interact with the world. In this relationship, all other aspects of masculinity are portrayed. In this relationship, I seek not my will or glory, but His. Knowing that I must answer to Him for all my actions causes me to consider them that much more carefully. I have a Father at my side all through life, a Friend I can call on in time of need. I seek to do my best, because to do anything less would be to dishonor Him. You can see how this reverence, this answering to God in my own life, doesn’t just draw on the other aspects of masculinity but it drives them to be more fully developed and evidenced in my life.

Why reverence?
In his third book on masculinity, Fight Like a Man, THE book to read on reverence in masculinity, Gordon Dalbey says that a man cannot know who he is until he knows Whose he is. This is all about reverence. Before you can know yourself, before you can act in the world with certainty, you must know to whom you are answering for those actions. And it cannot be you. In Adam’s Return, Richard Rohr (2004), speaking of promises/messages of male initiation, offers “five essential messages a man has to know experientially if he is to be rightly aligned with reality. … [They are:] 1. Life is hard. 2. You are not that important. 3. Your life is not about you. 4. You are not in control. 5. You are going to die” (pp. 32-33).If you analyze the middle three ritual messages, all three point to reverence, to recognizing a higher power that is more important, that your life is about, and that has control.

Knowing Whose you are has an additional affect. Yes, it gives you an authority to look and answer to. But, more than that, you can face internal struggles: “No man will entertain the unmanageable truth about himself until he knows his Father stands by him in it – not to shame him, but to deliver him from its deadly effects” (Dalbey, 2013, p. 207). Reverence is not merely a bowing down, and it’s not a crutch to lean against; it also serves to support us through struggles and trials in life.

How is reverence taught?
Like many of the previous components of the DNA of Masculinity, reverence can and should be taught through modelling. Reverence cannot be forced, however; a young male must choose Whose he will be. But, principles around reverence, how to relate to and respect a higher power, can be shown and, in some cases, taught. A child can grow up attending a church every week, but this is merely exposure to reverence. He must choose reverence; he must choose to bow his heart and will to something greater than himself. When this happens, then further instruction in how to live in this reverential relationship can occur. I wish I had a more steadfast answer than this. Ultimately, though, reverence is modeled to young men and they will adopt it as they are shown more of it in practice.

In bringing our discussion of the learning that happens in liminal space to a close, I must note that the lessons about the DNA of Masculinity do not stop once a young male has been initiated. Each of these aspects will be reinforced, strengthened, and refined as a man continues to exercise them. The way a man respects himself and others will not be the same at 60 as it was at 30. These lessons are merely those that, when learned, will differentiate the men from the boys, will demonstrate the mature masculine.

As we ring in the new year, we will investigate the final stage of initiation – reincorporation or reintegration. I thank you for following me on this journey through liminal space.

References
Dalbey, G. (2013). Fight like a man: A new manhood for a new warfare. Civitas Press: San Jose, CA.

Rohr, R. (2004). Adam’s return: The five promises of male initiation. Crossroad Publishing Company.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Responsibility

There are many traits that separate the men from the boys, the DNA of mature masculinity if you will. In liminal space, a boy ought to learn these and begin to exemplify them before he is reintegrated into society and heralded as a man. While there are probably countless lessons and character possibilities, we are focusing on seven, the seven R’s of masculinity: respect, responsibility, reach, reflection, relationship, rationality, and reverence. All of these contribute to the actions that typify a man and show that he has embraced the mature masculine. Continuing to examine these, we come to responsibility and will answer similar questions to those we answered surrounding respect.

What is responsibility?

Responsibility is, quite simply, owning your life, choices, and actions. At a higher level, it is also noticing how your choices and actions affect those around you and taking measures to positively impact them. We can divide it into personal responsibility and social responsibility.Just like respect ought to be turned inward, so also should responsibility. I should be willing to take the consequences of any action I take, not attempt to brush off the action on another or skirt around/avoid the consequences. You see, children (remember, manhood is the opposite of boyhood) try to get out of something, running away from damage they’ve caused or lying about who did what. The mature masculine doesn’t do this. He knows to say “I’m sorry, I did that…I won’t do it again.”

Social responsibility builds on the ideas of personal responsibility and of respect. When we respect others, we also begin to act in ways that look out for them. Social responsibility means that we examine how our actions are affecting those around us and seeking out ways to have a better impact on the world. It is social responsibility that drives us to do service, to give philanthropically, and even to raise and support our families emotionally and financially.

Why responsibility?

When I was first thinking about the process of becoming a man, I informally asked my older male friends when they knew they had become a man. Within each response was the concept of responsibility. Many mentioned when they first got their own apartment or moved away from their parents. Others talked about their first job out of college. Still others mentioned beginning a family. Each of these is something that generally requires a man to take responsibility for something (finances, work, others).In the cycle of transition from boy to man illustrated in “Iron John”, Robert Bly mentions the first two phases of male initiation as connection to and separation from the mother and the father. There is a level of assuming responsibility present in these steps – when a young male separates, through his becoming independent, he must develop responsibility.

Historically, too, there is a precedent set for responsibility being a trait of an initiated male. In ancient cultures, hunting was reserved only for those males who had been initiated into manhood. Moving forward chronologically, we find that societal respect for a man in America in the 18th through 20th centuries stemmed from his land-holding and work ethic (read demonstrated responsibility). Now, this idea of responsibility is reflected in men seeing one of their “rites of passage” as being financially independent/living on their own/providing for a family. You can see that its not just a cultural trend (which we try to stay away from here…if masculinity is defined by culture, then if culture changes, is that form of masculinity moot?); rather, it is a timeless pattern that has proven itself throughout generations.

How is responsibility taught?
We are fortunate with this trait because responsibility is something that can be taught over time. Even as boys are still developing, we can teach responsibility through small jobs, giving them pets, involving them in clubs and sports. Even if they don’t fully grasp responsibility, they are learning what it is like to have something expected of them. This will translate later into the responsibility of the mature masculine.In the same vein, parents must also hold their children accountable and allow them to make mistakes. Rather than attempting to defend a child who was in the wrong, or standing up for them in their place, parents ought to let the children work things out and take responsibility. Working in higher education, I receive many calls from parents who still want to solve their son or daughter’s problems. My response is almost always the same: “Your son/daughter needs to work this out…they need to learn how to solve this.” Essentially, I’m saying they need to learn responsibility.

The mature masculine is founded on respect for self and others. Respect lived out requires responsibility. As men with much physical, political, and societal power, especially, we are called to responsibility, because as Spiderman taught us “With great power comes great responsibility”. (You know I couldn’t leave that out.)

To a culture of men who own their actions, who care for themselves and others,

MD
 
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Posted by on June 21, 2013 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Respect

In liminal space, boys are taught what it means to be men. While some aspects of this training will be unique to a particular culture or family, in my research in masculinity throughout varying cultures and times, I have uncovered seven core characteristics that make up the DNA of masculinity: respect, responsibility, reach, reflection, relationship, rationality, and reverence.

As has been noted before, I choose to focus on character traits as markers of the mature masculine rather than physical characteristics, abilities, and interests. The major underlying philosophy of Navigating the Wild is that the opposite of man is boy, not woman. Thus, one might be a man by all physical traits or by pursuing interests defined by society as “male”, but without embracing these character traits, he is no more a man than a three-year-old. With this in mind, let’s delve into the first of seven: respect.

What is respect?
Respect is reflected in the mature masculine in two ways – inward respect and outward respect.

Outward respect is perceiving those around you as having value, even those you may not like. Respect comes from being able to see the world through different lenses and allowing oneself to be open to new ideas. Respect involves setting aside one’s selfishness, arrogance, and me-first attitude, and adopting a sense of care for those around you. A man shows respect to others by listening, by acting with chivalry, by not taking advantage of others, and by “in humility count[ing] others more significant than [himself]”. Respect extends to the environment and to all the world around us; we treat things with care, for no other reason than the fact that we recognize our power in the world and the role we have to treat it and all things in it with respect.

Inward respect is about self-awareness and self-respect. A man with inward respect will conduct himself with dignity and honor; he knows his place and owns it with pride. He understands those actions and behaviors that bring a negative reputation on him and strives consciously to avoid those. He cares for himself; yes, there is a portion of self-respect that deals with appearance. You’ve heard the phrase “no self-respecting man would…”? Those attitudes and actions that might fill the blank are exactly those that the mature masculine eschews.

Why respect?
Think about how a boy behaves. Much of his attitude is focused on himself. His version of respect is one that is demanded, not given. (Think Cartman’s “Respect mah authoritah!”) When a man crosses into the mature masculine, he sets aside all boyish behaviors. This means that at his core, man must set aside selfishness and arrogant pride. As a part of the education in liminal space, a man must realize who he is and his role in the world.

I believe that of the seven aspects of the masculine DNA, respect serves as the foundation; everything is build on respect for others and for self. A man cannot accept responsibility, reach for new heights, reflect on his own actions, seek positive relationships, act rationally, or revere/recognize a higher power until he has learned to respect self and others. A male that does not respect will not act with care and consideration and will not seek to be more than he already is to himself or anyone else.

How is respect taught?
Respect can never be forced. As a boy grows and matures, he must learn to see the world through different lenses; taking him to museums, reading from different perspectives, making a broad spectrum of friends, and exposing him to new cultures all will help provide a variety of lenses to view the world. It is hard to respect that which we do not understand, especially when our understanding is so limited. As we gain understanding, our willingness to respect even those things we don’t understand increases. Finally, this must be emulated. No boy will learn respect for others if he does not receive it and is not shown it in action by his elders and mentors.

Inwardly, a boy learns self-respect by recognizing what he is good at and what he is not good at. Learning limits and discovering those areas he excels allows him to form a sense of self that is aware of all aspects. For some, this may come easier than for others. Just as respect for others comes from experiencing and witnessing, so self-respect is learned as much through watching and seeing what a life could be. If an elder respects his body, his mind, his reputation, the boy watching will learn that self-respect and will emulate it as he moves into the mature masculine.Respect is the foundation of the mature masculine. Respect for others, for their attitudes, abilities, points of view, lifestyles. All other aspects of the mature masculine follow from this.

To building a society where men respect women, their elders, youths, and the very fiber of their being,

MD

For more reading on respect, I highly encourage visiting the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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Rites of Passage Roadmap – Liminal Space

As I’ve remarked before, our culture is severely lacking in clear rites of passage for our boys becoming men. This has (and has had) several detrimental consequences, chiefest of which might be a failure to fully grasp the responsibilities and requirements of men in a society as boys are taught what a man is by their peers, popular media, or by older males who happen to be in their lives. This type of education is rarely purposeful, prolongs adolescence, and has led many a male astray into that belief that manhood is the opposite of womanhood, when, in reality, manhood is the opposite of boyhood.What is the remedy, then, for this lack of knowledge about the mature masculine, about what a man truly is? I return to my original premise and thought that we must incorporate rites of passage for young males to welcome and initiate them into the realm of the mature masculine. As a short review, rites of passage to manhood generally incorporate a separation from the “old world”, the world of boyhood, a form of training by one or more elders in what the society or culture or family expects from someone wearing the mantle of man, and a celebratory return to the community to demonstrate that they can now expect a more mature level of behavior from the initiate.This post seeks to describe what that middle step might look like, knowing that the definition and expectations of men is quite wide. Additionally, it should be noted that much of what generally takes place in primitive and ancient rites of passage is intended for boys entering roles as hunters/gatherers/warriors; much of the physical abuse and punishment is no longer necessary.To fully examine this idea of liminal instruction, we must first delve into liminal space. In studies of rituals and rites of passage, van Gennep and Turner both offered the idea of liminal space as the middle period during a rite of passage. This period is one of great ambiguity, one that literally means threshold. In liminal space, everything an initiate knows is discarded or thrown on its head so that he might learn the new rites and requirements of his soon-to-come status in the tribe.

What goes on in liminal space?

In one word, education. Education on the various aspects, expectations, responsibilities, and (sometimes) rites of mature men. As I’ve pondered the distinctions between men and boys, they’ve led me to identify several marks of the mature masculine. We’ll deal with each of them in separate later posts, but I believe that they are the core of the education because they exemplify the expectations and responsibilities of mature men. They are: reverence, respect, responsibility, reach, relationship, reflection, and rationality. Each of these marks of the mature masculine serves a greater purpose in a man’s life and in the lives of those around him. How they are taught should be unique to both the initiate and the elders instructing him, but each should be taught as a separate thought, with connections forming between the four as they are learned.
Who teaches???????????????????????????????????????????
Elders. If you missed that, I’ll write it again – elders. Not males 2-3 years older, not peers, not movies or television. Elders, known to and respected by the initiate, must provide the teaching. They’ve been there. As elders, they also will be the first place society will look when a young male acts out. Thus, they should be placed to teach the requirements of the mature masculine as they will be holding that initiate accountable throughout his life. Finally, these are the men who will be “granting” the title of man to the initiate when he finishes the rite of passage. They must be involved.
Why must this learning happen in liminal space?
We’ve already examined the need to separate as the initial phase of the boys-to-men rite of passage. Liminal space serves as an extension of this separation, but also provides for instruction in an effective way. First, because of the separation, the initiate is prepared to learn in a distraction-free zone. This is highly important; given the distractions and mixed messages that are present in the general world, a space where he can learn and internalize the messages of initiation is important. Additionally, liminal space provides a private place for initiates to learn. Not everyone will be ready or able to learn the roles and responsibilities of manhood at the same age or time. Once in liminal space, the initiate knows that he is deemed ready by the elders, a very important discovery for young males transitioning to mature masculinity. Finally, liminal space gives a very different feel from general instruction, lending a more serious and deep tone to the messages. If the messages learned during liminal instruction truly are meant to guide a male into the mature masculine and lead his behaviors the rest of his life, then they should be conveyed in such a serious space.While each of the three steps of the rite of passage are essential, I believe the instruction that occurs in liminal space is what will define a man for his future. What he learns about himself and the roles and responsibilities of men will determine his beliefs and paths as he begins his journey in the land of the mature masculine. We must prepare him properly to navigate this.To providing education in the wild, to crafting liminal space for boys to learn from elder males about the role of men,
MD
 
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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Rites of Passage

 

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Rites of Passage Roadmap – Separation

On a young male’s journey to the mature masculine, he should ideally pass through one, if not more, rites of passage. These rites of passage serve to delineate boyhood from manhood and should provide both a knowledge piece about the new role he will be taking in society and a celebratory piece to welcome him into his new role. In studying rites of passage, I have found that most sociologists and anthropologists mark three steps: separation, liminal space/training, and reintegration.

For young males, who learn very much through experiences, separation is a necessary component of a rite of passage, both symbolically and procedurally. Robert Bly, in his seminal work on the steps boys take to become men (“Iron John”), offers that a boy must separate from both his mother and his father before being able to learn more about himself and the world. In ancient and primitive tribal cultures, this is lived out in their rites of passage for young males.  The beginning of many of these rites, documented in “Betwixt and Between” and by Raphael, van Gennep, and Turner, is a separation from the females of the tribe. Male elders come in and snatch the boys away, oftentimes from the arms of their mothers, and take them to a segregated area, where they will learn in liminal space the secrets, rites/rituals, and responsibilities of the tribal males, before triumphantly returning to the tribe – men.

Why is this separation necessary? Why must the young males be separated from women? And, what can we do with this in our modern era, where there is little time for any prolonged sorts of teaching or rites of passage?

Separation is necessary

Separation is the bridge.

Ancient societies knew that manhood didn’t happen by itself. Older men actively intervened to “welcome the younger men into the ancient, mythologized, instinctive male world” (Bly, 15). Separation creates the space in which this can happen. Think about all of the distractions in the world that a young male faces; he must separate himself from those distractions in order to enter the next phase and learn about the responsibilities of the mature masculine. Separation also serves to delineate the beginning of a young male’s change into a man. We know that males learn through visible, tangible experiences. clearly defining the break between boyhood and manhood is key: this is started by the separation in a rite of passage. Separation is the only way for a male to bridge the gap into liminal space, into the process of learning about the mature masculine.

Male initiation is a male thing

Any psychologist who has studied Freud will share how mothers potentially gain a hold on their son’s psyche during adolescence. It is only natural, but it is something that the ancients and primitive tribes got right in recognizing that part of the separation must include a young male leaving his mother. Mothers are the caretakers but can be smothering as their sons strike out on their own and seek to learn more about their role as men. A male voice is needed, echoed in comments by initiators in tribes that “only men can initiate men, as only women can initiate women” (Bly, 16). The separation from women creates a space wherein responsible males can teach the young males their roles and responsibilities.

Note: I do recognize that there may be objection to older men teaching younger males about the roles/responsibilities of men, particularly around not wanting to enforce gendered behaviors. The older males must be responsible, must recognize that their masculinity is a gift and a privilege, one that cannot and should not be used to dominate or control those around them. Rather, the roles/responsibilities of men revolve around the DNA of masculinity – respect, reverence, responsibility, and reach. These are what must be taught, combined with a healthy understanding of the power that a male has and how he can responsibly use it.

Further note: Gordon Dalbey offers that “you don’t become a man simply by rejecting and breaking from your mother. The larger masculine – the father and the community of men – must be reckoned with, harkened unto, as well. Otherwise, an edge of resentment, even hostility, remains and focuses eventually on women” (Dalbey 2, 69-70).

Making time

We must make time for this if it is to have any affect. Young males are kept busy, but a weekend, scheduled properly, is more than enough time to separate, teach, and provide a celebratory welcome. Failing to take this time is more damaging than a missed weekend; missing the separation and the rite of passage means missing an entire life.

I believe it’s fitting to close with a modern example of what the separation could look like. In a modern vision of initiation, Gordon Dalbey, imagines this separation through a Christian lens in “Healing the Masculine Soul”:

One evening, after dinner, Dad gets up, mentioning casually that he’s going out for a few minutes. Outside, he drives to the church, where he’s met by the male elders and the other fathers of boys to be initiated. The men gather in the sanctuary to worship and rededicate their own manhood to God, praying that together they might be a fitting channel for the Father’s Spirit of manhood to each boy. …

All the men then drive together to the first boy’s house, and while a male pastor approaches the door, the men stand on the front lawn, singing old hymns from our Christian heritage.

The doorbell rings. The mother opens the door. Surprised to see the pastor and the men outside singing, she stands there, uncertain.

“We’ve come for Dan,” the pastor says.

“But … but what for?” she asks. “I didn’t know there was a youth group event tonight…”

“This is not for the youth group,” the pastor explains. “This is for the men.”

“Well, I … I don’t know,” the mother says, glancing uneasily at the men singing out front. “Actually, Danny’s father’s not home just now, so you’ll have to wait until…”

“What’s all that singing outside?” the boy calls out from the living room. “What’s going on?” He comes to the door, beside his mother. Seeing the men out front, the boy draws up, tense.

“We want you to come with us tonight, Dan,” the pastor tells him.

“Dan!” his father calls out from the group. …

“Dad!” the boy calls – still uneasy, but encouraged to see his father there.

“Come on out, Dan!” his father shouts. “Come out with us!”

The boy looks up at the minister, who nods – and waits. “But it’s cold outside,” the mother protests. “And Danny hasn’t finished his dessert…”

“I appreciate your concern,” the pastor says, then, turning to the boy, “You can go and get your coat. Your dad has already put together the clothes you’ll be needing.”

The boy hesitates, licking a trace of apple pie from his lips. “Come on, Dan!” his father shouts. “Let’s go!”

A pause… then, all at once, the boy spins on his heels and dashes to his bedroom, comes running back grasping his coat. As he steps out the front door, the pastor nods graciously to the mother and puts an arm around the boy. The two head out onto the lawn as a mighty chorus arises. [The group moves to call the next boy out.] (Dalbey, 37-40)

We must call our boys out; they must separate from their current boyhood if they are ever to become men. As men, this is our responsibility.

To separation, from a boyish past and future, and to a responsible mature masculinity.

MD
Resources:
Bly, R. (2004). Iron John: A book about men. Da Capo Press.
Dalbey, G. (2003). Healing the masculine soul: How God restores men to real manhood. Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Dalbey, G. (2011). Sons of the father: Healing the father-would in men today. Civitas Press.
 
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Posted by on April 5, 2013 in Rites of Passage

 

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Rites of Passage Roadmap – Introduction

There are a few things that are lacking from our modern society today that have existed and helped males realize and take ownership of their place as men in society. The most visible of these is the lack of a distinct rite of passage for boys to become men. In their book “Wild Things”, Stephen James and David Thomas (2009) tell us that “we cannot emphasize enough how significant these rites and rituals are in the lives of boys. As experiential, spatial, and tactile learners, boys need events and ceremonies to help mark significant moments and transitions in their lives.” (p. 275) A male needs to know when he has become a man, but more than that, he must know what rights, responsibilities, and requirements he has as a man that he may not have had as a boy.

This is where the rite of passage comes in. The rite of passage serves multiple purposes:

  • It provides a distinct mark of separation from one stage of life into another.
  • It instructs those going through it in their responsibilities in the new stage as well as the expectations those already in that stage of life have for them.
  • It offers a celebration of the new stage of life for the participant and the providers.

Each of these purposes is extremely important. David Gilmore (1990), in examining cultural rites of passage for men, offers that “real manhood is different from simple anatomical maleness, that it is not a natural condition that comes about spontaneously through biological maturation but rather is a precarious or artificial state that boys must win against powerful odds” (p. 11). This leads to one of my personal favorite expressions – there is no “bam! You’re a man” moment that happens naturally. We must provide this distinct mark of separation, one that is meaningful for its participants. Failing to do so, I and many psychiatrists believe, causes males to be stuck in a perpetual state of boyishness, never claiming their responsibility as mature men, or to revert back to boyish ways, also known as the mid-life crisis.

Each rite of passage that I’ve examined offers instruction for its participants in the traditions of the culture. Many of these rites of passage come from primitive cultures, so the belief system/religion and gender roles and expectations are fairly rigid. Thus, it becomes essential for the older men to initiate the young males into the secrets of the culture that only the males know (regarding religion, mystical beliefs, and other ceremonies performed by the culture). We don’t have such straightforward educational needs in our melting pot of society, but there are certain expectations and responsibilities that come with the mature masculine that are not expected of boys. We must provide this instruction so that 1) males know what is expected of them as men (more to come on this in future posts) and 2) males are able to exist, interact, and thrive with mature adults, both males and females.

Finally, the rite of passage provides a celebration of new life. I see many males in my work afraid to take full hold of the mature masculine in part because it is not celebrated, but rather seen as a burden, as a set of responsibilities without much carefree life they live currently. Providing the celebration of this new phase gives them something to look forward to. It allows them to see that just because they are embracing the mature masculine and taking responsibility for their life and actions (one aspect of the mature masculine) does not mean that their life is forever ruined. Additionally, this celebration allows for everyone to see that ______ is indeed now a man, and you can celebrate with him, encourage him in his masculinity, and know what you can expect from him as a mature male.

What do rites of passage look like and how can we re-incorporate them into our society? In the posts that follow, I will explore the three most common steps of rites of passage – separation, liminal space, and reintegration – and offer ideas on how these might look in a modern society and how concerned males and females might work to provide safe rites of passage for younger males.

To providing positive rites of passage and safe, impactful initiations into the mature masculine for young males,

MD
 
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Posted by on March 22, 2013 in Rites of Passage

 

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Boy to Men: The Gap

In my study of what it means to be a man, something keeps arising that has been bothering me. There’s no real distinction of when a boy becomes a man. An informal poll of my friends and students yields that either (1) they do not know (or have not hit that crossing moment) or (2) they became a man mostly when they struck out on their own, independent of their family, paying bills themselves, working jobs, the like.

But, when I look back to what makes a man, what I’ve discovered at least, this striking out on their own does not do justice as a rite of passage. As I’ll explain in the coming weeks (as I delve deeper into this subject), the rite of passage occurs with the guidance of older, respected males at the helm, teaching and guiding the way. It culminates, typically, with a challenge, at which point the adolescent male (that time between boyhood and manhood) returns to his mentors victorious, and is brought into their fold as a man. Probably the best example I can give is that from 300:

Prior to this scene, you see the boy being raised as a fighter, taught everything he needs to know, before thrust into the wild for his final quest as a boy. When he kills the wolf and returns home with it, it signifies his crossing into manhood.

Know that I’m not advocating that we throw our boys into the wild with a loincloth and a spear. But, at present, in the US, there is not much in the way of rites of passage. Because of this, we run the risk of having adult males like Marcel, described by authors Stephen James and David Thomas. Marcel was a successful plastic surgeon, but his marriage was dying, his work bored him, and he was close to depression. But, more so, he was unmanly…boyish, unhardened by life, wide-eyed and exuberant. This innocence came from his loss of his father before fully being initiated into manhood. To hear Marcel say it “I guess I never learned what it means to be a man. My dad died when a boy needs a dad the most.” (pp. 273-274)

Richard Rohr points out (cited in James and Thomas’s book) that “only our Western culture has ‘deemed it unnecessary to “initiate” young men. Otherwise, culture after culture felt that if the young man were not introduced to “the mysteries,” he would not know what to do with his pain and would almost always abuse his power'” (p. 276). This is so true. Continuing from James and Thomas, “without initiation, boys become disillusioned, dissatisfied, and disenchanted. They have nothing greater than themselves to be a part of – they lack a moral and spiritual identity – and they have no greater story to guide them. … Without initiation, boys are groping for direction, but without meaning or purpose. Ultimately, an uninitiated boy lives isolated and disconnected from himself, from others, and from the world” (p. 277).

Our boys need an initiation. They need a rite of passage that they can claim as their passage into manhood. If adult men that care about them (especially their fathers) do not provide this, they will seek it somewhere else. Many times, in my work with fraternities, the hazing that goes on inside a chapter is referred to as a rite of passage. These college males never were initiated into manhood, do not have the three pillars of manhood (responsibility, respect, and reverence), and so, they place themselves at the will of adolescent males 2-3 years their senior, who have no more knowledge of what it means to be a man than they do. Other boys will turn to gangs, and still others will never be initiated into manhood, and will become like Marcel above.

My challenge is for men, real men, to step up, and look for opportunities to help the boys in our midst have that rite of passage. You cannot replace their father, but if he is present, you can encourage and help him to offer an initiation into manhood for his son (at the proper time). If he is not, you can work with other men who are invested in that boy’s life to offer a model of masculinity and an initiation into manhood.

To helping our boys chart a path into manhood, to proper rites of passage, and to refinding the “lost boys”,

MD

References:

James, S., & Thomas, D. (2009). Wild things: The art of nurturing boys. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2012 in About Men

 

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