I am in the midst of writing a series on how boys become men. I am doing this in response to how badly men and doing right now and the risk that badly derailed men pose to us all. My thesis is that modern life, for all its benefits, has robbed us of important processes that have been designed by evolution to give us all good health and a good life.
In Part II I talk about how boys are made into men by a cultural process. I talk about ritual. A regular reader, Megan, reminded me that girls had rituals too and that ritual surely played a role in the development of both boys and girls. I agree.
Here is part of a chapter on my new book that is still being edited. It is a scene that deal with this loss that modern culture have imposed on us and on the power of ritual.
Milla, is being shown the mysteries of the caves beneath the hill at Chedworth by Bryan and Irene who are the guardians of this sacred place. She is about to learn that what she has lost can be found. That what seems like magic are just the skills that all ancient people had.
The book is all about finding these skills again.
As he spoke, they entered the first cavern. Bryan stopped and waved the lantern high. Milla could see that the walls and parts of the ceiling had been painted with pictures of animals. Herds of bison roamed the walls. There were wild pigs and horses. There were giant deer. And there were men with bows and spears. On one wall was a strange painting of a being that seemed to be half man and half goat.
Milla stopped in wonder at the majesty and beauty of what she saw.
“I thought that these kind of paintings were only in France and Spain.” She said.
“No, they were all over Europe after the ice and the change.” Replied Irene.
“The change?” Asked Milla.
“When humans woke up.” Added Irene.
“Yes when humans became conscious.” Replied Irene.
“This cave was part of the process of awakening,” said Bryan. “This was the first place of worship before the tunnels were cut.”
“What happened here?” Asked Milla. “What do you mean by awakening?”
“This was where the boys were changed to men,” said Irene, “When a boy became 12, he was kept awake for 3 nights. Then they ate a special kind of mushroom that opened their minds. Each boy came down here in the dark alone. They were here for days with no food or contact. Here they had the test of manhood.”
“So what was the test?” Asked Milla.
“The boy had to bring the painted animals alive.” Replied Bryan.
“But that’s impossible!” Said Milla, “They are only paintings.”
“Not really,” said Bryan, “the boys were in that place between sleep and awake. Here, the rules of the dream world applied. In that state, the animals on the walls could come alive for the boy. For him, they became real. He was hunting them. Here he learned how to be in the space between the world and the dream. When he could be that, he had become a man.”
Bryan paused for a moment and then continued. “The proof of manhood was his re-entry to the world above. He had been blindfolded and taken down by his father. His only chance of finding his way out was to have opened up his inner eye. If he could not find his way out, he would starve to death.”
Milla shivered. “Why did he have to die if he could not find it?”
“Once he could see with both his inner and outer eyes, he could become a great hunter. Remember his life, and the tribe’s, depended on his ability to read the natural world. He had to be at one with the world around him. He had to open his inner eye.”
“How terrible it must have been for the parents as they waited.” Said Milla.
“Yes, but the tribe could not carry men who could not see. It was a matter of survival. So the sadness passed.” Added Irene.
“And the girls?” Asked Milla.
“There was another ceremony for them at the spring where we are going,” replied Irene, “They too were kept awake for many nights. They too ate the mushrooms. When they were ready, they were immersed for days in the sacred spring. Their eyes and ears were stopped. They could feel, hear and see nothing. They could only float in the water. Floating like this, they lost contact with the outer world. Here they made contact with their inner world. At first, they could hear their heart beat and feel their breath rise and fall. Then, they felt their blood rush in their bodies and they felt their hungry stomach complain. And, if they were successful, they heard everything. They could hear their womb and all their unborn children. They could feel all life around them. When had had done that, they had made contact with all the inner world of everything.”
“And for what? Asked Milla.
“They were going to be the life bringers of the tribe. They had to know their bodies as a hunter knows the land. They had to know how all life worked, for they were the gatherers and the healers. They had to embody life.”
“And did some fail here too?” Asked Milla.
“Yes, some failed. A few went mad when they could no longer rely on their outer eye.”
“What happened to them?”
“They were drowned by their mothers. The tribe could have no passengers.” Irene said quietly.
Milla was stunned by these explanations.
She had to ask, “But if they could do all this then, why can’t we do this now?”
There was a long silence.
“When did you learn how to read, Milla?” Asked Irene.
“Oh, I was early. I was about 5 I think. It was before I went to school.” Replied Milla.
“When did you stop being able to make up a play world for yourself? You know, when did you stop having imaginary friends and going to imaginary places?” Irene asked.
“Soon after I went to school I think.”
“The problem is your mind. In the modern world we focus only on the eye and the brain. I think that reading was what broke the link.
“Reading has been very good for humans,” added Bryan. “it has enabled mankind to do all sorts of new things. But it came with a price. We got disconnected from all the other powers that we have.”
Irene broke in, “Humans went to the moon but lost touch with the Earth.”
Milla had forgotten her mission to find the end of the tunnel. “Are we all cut off from this now?”
“I think that most grown ups are, dear Milla.” Said Irene. “The link between the spirit and the mind has been cut off by years of not using it. But all children have the link. It just has to be nourished. As it was in ancient times.”
“But my training as a soldier, has helped me sense things that I could never see before. I learned to sense danger and where the enemy might be. I have been tested like those boys and girls. I have been in situations where if I did not see what I could not see, I would die. Is this power what you are talking about?”
Bryan held up the lantern and looked her in the eye. “You may be right. This is not magic. It’s in all of us somewhere.”
Milla looked expectantly at Bryan.
“Want to give your inner eye a test?” He said.
“Yes!” Said Milla.
Bryan turned down the wick on the lantern and blew it out. The cave was pitch black. Milla had never known such blackness. This was not dark as in a dark night that still had starlight. This was total darkness. Milla could not see anything. Not even her hand that she brought up to her face.
“Milla?” Milla heard Irene’s voice
“Find the exit tunnel.”
“But I can’t see!” She complained.
“You mean you cannot use your eyes,” said Bryan. “Use your inner eyes to sense where the tunnel is.”
Milla turned slowly around in a circle where she stood. She felt a draft close behind here. That was the tunnel that she had come out of. She was sure of that. She turned again. Something pulled her and she shuffled slowly ahead to what was pulling her. She reached out with her hands to feel her way.
“Put your arms down, Milla, you don’t need to feel with them. Feel inside.” Said Irene.
Milla sensed a space just ahead of her. It was like sensing a hole. “Here?”
She heard the lighter strike and the lantern glowed and then gave light. She was at the entrance of the exit tunnel
“Well done, Milla. You haven’t lost it all.” said Bryan.
“Can you see now that this is not magic,” said Irene, “it’s just a lost sense that can be trained. Imagine if all your childhood you had trained to be like this? Think what kind of powers might you have?”
“We must push on,” added Bryan, “the boy will be up soon and Yuri and the team will be starting to worry.
Bryan led on down the tunnel toward the cave with the well.