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.
Are men naturally violent, anti social, anti women and dangerous? Or have they been derailed from a better nature by how they fit into the modern culture?
In Part I of this series, I made the case that men are very sensitive to the main social culture that they live in. Men take their identity and status and from their perceived role in the public domain. In part I we see how the culture of modern life has stripped men of this public status. I show that when this happens men do badly. They act out and even die.
Culture is the key here. Men are created culturally. They can be enhanced by culture or they can be destroyed by it. Women are different. Their bodies and their role as child bearers and family facilitators gives them a more grounded place in the world.
Ancient wisdom reminds us that men are sky people and women are earth people.
"Outrageous!" Some of you may be thinking. "We are surely all the same! This is just a cultural excuse!"
Ok, think about a 14 year old girl and boy.
Picture the 14 year old girl. She now looks like a woman. She is a woman. The transformation from girl to woman has been almost instantaneous. She is awkward because she is suddenly taken seriously by all women of all ages and by all men of all ages. The novelty can make this frightening, but one thing she can be sure of, she is a player in society.
Her new body gives her immense power and identity and so status.
Now, picture the 14 year old boy. He is physically and mentally awkward. He is bursting with adult desires but it will not be until he is 18+ that his body will develop enough to look like a man. It will not be until he is 25 that he will be able to think like an adult and so make a connection between what he does and an outcome. This is why young men take so many risks and act out. This is not because they are bad or stupid. It is because male brains don't fully develop until then.
He remains a boy in a man's body until about 25. No adult male or female takes him very seriously. He is powerless. He has no internal identity or status.
How can an 18 year old boy legitimately gain the respect of adult society?
He has to go though a process of social transformation that has been designed to grant him the status of manhood. This has to be earned.
Ritual and initiation is how boys have been transformed into men for millions of years - until recently.
For millions of years in our past, and still in traditional societies, all boys leave "home" and their mothers and sisters at about 8-12. They leave the world of nurturing and of women and join a tough world of men. A world where all start as less than nobody's. No posturing teen boys here. No peer groups here. It is a frightening world where adult men make all the rules.
They begin a gruelling journey toward ritual initiation. Throughout this time they will be surrounded by adult men who will embody what is expected of them when they become men.
They will learn their place and what is expected of a man. They will be given hard tests and tasks. They will suffer as a woman suffers giving birth. For they are symbolically giving birth to the man that they will become. In so doing the boy will "die" and never be able to go back to being a boy.
They will be often be taken to magical places.
These caves were likely a key part of such a process where boys in the dark, maybe starved and drugged, were tested in the presence of magic forces. Those that survived came out of the cave, born again but now by their fathers into the world and the brotherhood of men.
They were now ready to start the next stage of becoming a full man and so worthy of the attention of a woman. They had to become a major economic contributor to the tribe.
They had to become a "Player". A warrior or hunter, an artisan or navigator or tracker. These deep skills were taught to them by masters who were adults. It took years. It was an apprenticeship where the young man had to take control of his ego and feelings. He learned by practice and under pressure to be an adult. His goal was mastery and respect from his master. Which in turn would lead to respect from the larger tribe.
Once he had proved his worth, his formal education ended. Now he could return to the society of the entire tribe and anticipate the attention of a woman.
Now he was worthy, his development to manhood would be completed by women.
For it is her respect that governs the rest of his adult life as a man. No man can have public power in traditional society without the support of the senior women.
This is how boys become men. This is how it was done for all men before the advent of agriculture. This is how it was done for most men before the modern era. For echoes if this process lasted well into the 20th century.
But this is not what happens today, is it? What an irony!
In Part III we will examine the irony and look for ways of bringing back the ancient principles that will help us transform our boys into the kind of men that we all need.
If you are interested in learning more about 'Initiation" here is a wonderful post on Walkabouts and more. A Snip here:
"I want to talk about the move from boyhood to manhood, from carefree child to man of responsibility and a deeply spiritual awakening and self awareness that happens with solitude, aloneness, exercising survival and instincts, personal growth and other aspects that are fundamental to Walkabout and other rites of passage in various tribes around the globe.
But before we go into that, I thought it would be fitting to see where the Aborigine are today. Things are changing even in Australia Aboriginal communities according to Tyson Yunkaporta in the article, “Native Rites of Passage Today Aboriginal Manhood Roles when Traditional Initiation Is Gone — “ The odds are stacked against our young Aboriginal men, with higher suicide and substance abuse rates, and lower standards of health and education than other demographic groups in Australia. ”
And why is that? As it turns out, Walkabout and other aspects of the initiations into manhood are increasingly not practiced among most of the Australian Aboriginal communities. The young men are struggling to come to terms with the changing tide of social structure, religion, and who they are as a people and individually. Who they are and their connection individually, spiritually and in nature. Is there a connection between the loss of the Aboriginal rite of passage and this disillusionment and dispair among so many Aborigine young men today?
So what is Walkabout really? It would seem it is not just some simple celebration, but a deeply spiritual time of life, a time of reflection, a time of gaining confidence in one’s own person and abilities, having a sense of their own spirituality, and realizing and experiencing their connection to the land and nature. It is a part of them as a person, a people — it connects them to the land, a higher purpose, and somehow to a higher plane of existence in some ways, and individually it is part of their identity as a man.
Around the globe, many peoples have different rites of passage marking major life changes such as moving from a boy to a man. They are generally connected personally with important life stages. Most consider birth, the beginning of puberty, marriage, even life altering things like death, or life threatening illness and injury as markers for these rites of passages. In modern society you can add graduation, divorce and retirement as rites of passage. Although in modern society people are pretty much left to their own devices during these traumatic experiences of life, with no clear path to move through them. To their credit, many religions do have some demarkation and at the very least ceremony staging these transitions such as Jewish Bar Mitzvah, Catholic Catechism, Christian Baptism and others. But today these are not the all encompassing rites of passage that have been associated with some cultures.
Is Aboriginal Walkabout and associated rituals so different from any other rite of passage in other tribes of people around the globe?
Being from the United States, it is more close to home to talk about another deeply personal and spiritual rite of passage from the foundations here in America. The ones that were practiced among the members of First Nation, formerly referred to as Native Americans, mainly before they were banded together on Reservations by an insensitive government system. When they roamed the land, one with the land and nature in a very real and spiritual way.
Native American young people’s identities could also be considered to be wrapped up in a deeply spiritual, physical and emotional rite of passage. In many Native American tribes there were rites of passage for both boys and girls. Again like some aspects of Aboriginal rites of passage, some may have been considered to be barbaric to modern sensibilities, however, those were just some aspects of these rites of passage which ran deep in the heritage of each Native American nation. There may also be ones for girls as well among the Aboriginal communities, but we are manly focusing on the rites of passage for young men today.
It's seems that men killing others for show is now part of our "normal. As of today, this is true even in Canada! Many men are behaving very badly. Many of my women friends are in despair. Men who don't act out feel helpless and guilty.
On the surface it looks as if men are just scum. On the surface, it looks as if men are innately misogynistic and violent. If so, then we are surely lost. For then there is no way out.
But I think that there is hope. Hope even on black days like today. For there has to be a deep cause for this. The behaviour has to be a symptom of a deep malaise. What might this be?
I think that the cause might be identity. Men's identity is very fragile for it seems to depend on how men fit not onto the family but into the external world. Let's look at some clues.
We know that loss of identity is the single most powerful negative force that acts upon men.
When I was at a big Canadian bank, we loked at mortality after retirement. Most of the senior men were dead by 70. They could not live with being "retired". They had no public status left.
Men are sky people. They take their status from the world outside of the family.
This chart for instance shows what happened to male mortality in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. How did they die? Drink, drugs, suicide and violence. All signs of despair.
Why did this happen? An answer is that no matter how lowly, all men in the Soviet Union felt part of an Empire. Each man shared this public status. But after 1989, they were pawns in a failed state that had no prestige. The women carried on carrying on and coping. Female identity is held mainly in the setting of the family and increases throughout a woman's life no matter what goes on in the external world. But the frail male identity had been linked to that of the State. So, when the state failed, so did they. And what did they do? They took to drink, drugs and violence.
No longer able to work or to behave, they were exiled from the family too.
I asked a distinguished Ukrainian woman scientist, who had raised her children on her own and had her career what value did men have in her life. "They are very good at moving furniture, Robert." With no work and no empire, men had lost their place. No one needed them. Not even at home.
This is being lost!
This is also much more dangerous than a deranged shooter. For loss of identity en mass can lead to the worst aspects of humanity.
This is what happened after Germany was humiliated after losing WWI. The 1920's were a decade of pain and acting out. But after a decade of being lost, a saviour arose who understood their shame and their pain.
Hitler's promise was to restore the identity of the German people. For 10 years all he talked about was how they had been betrayed and how he was going to restore them to their rightful place.
The people clung to him and his message like drowning people to a life raft.
Hitler intuitively felt the deep shame of German men. He found a scapegoat. And he offered Germany an Empire again. The anger and confusions of the 20's was expressed in the collective seeking of the revenge on the scapegoat and on the world in the 1930's and 40's.
In 1940, Germans felt that they were all winners. It is also a reason why they fought so hard right until the end. They were fighting for much more than their lives and their country. They were fighting for their identity. They could not bear to lose again.
Identity was also why they could be so savage and cruel. For those that they persecuted were the "other". Only they counted as being real people. It's an identity issue that is misread as evil. I say misread for is we merely label this as evil, we fail to understand that we too can do this, if we are pushed into a big enough identity crisis. We are no saints.
Nothing is more dangerous than a man or a group that is on a messianic mission to restore the tribe's honour and place. No people can be so cruel.
Such a loss of identity need not be national. It can be regional.
One of the mysteries of health in the UK is Glasgow. It is called the "Glasgow Effect". Glasgow stands alone in dysfunction and poor health in the UK. But there is a mystery too. For this is not just about deprivation or poverty. There is another factor in play here.
Research led by David Walsh of the Glasgow Centre for Population Health in 2010 concluded that the deprivation profiles of Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester are almost identical, but premature deaths in Glasgow are over 30 per cent higher, and all deaths around 15 per cent higher, across almost the entire population.
The city's mortality rates are the highest in the UK and among the highest in Europe. With a population of 1.2 million in greater Glasgow, life expectancy at birth is 71.6 years for men, nearly seven years below the national average of 78.2 years, and 78 years for women, over four years below the national average of 82.3. According to the World Health Organization in 2008, the life expectancy for men in the Calton area of Glasgow was 54 years; a local doctor attributed this to alcohol and drug abuse, and a violent gang culture.
Notice the link to the fall of the Soviet Union? All the same acting out behaviours. Why is this?
I think that the answer is loss of identity and status in a people, the Scots, for whom this is espcially important.
Glasgow was the centre of the ship building industry in Britain. Ship building was a highly skilled and physically demanding job. The hundreds of thousands of men who had this role may have been working class but they stood at the pinnacle of what it was then to be respected as a working class man. They also worked in teams for decades and even generations. There was massive pride in rising in status in the team from fresh faced apprentice to grizzled lead hand. It was an immensely tribal life that fitted the tribal heritage of the Scots. The other great job for Glasgow men was the army. Once again, generations served in the same regiments. Once again, this was very tribal where your reputation in the regiment resonated in your family and in your community. As it does still with the Gurkha's.
Who is doing the shooting? Who is beating and killing their wives? Who abuse women routinely? Who tends to be violent? Who fall into addiction?
Men who feel that they have no place. Men who have lost their identity. These are dangerous people. People who have historically been used by calculating politicians as we have seen with Hitler or in the Balkans. As we see in the US and now in the EU.
It can be no surprise that parties such as UKIP did so well recently. Those who laugh at the UKIP voters are the stupid ones. They are the ones who laughed at Hitler and who thought that they could control him and his party.
There is a fault line opening up in modern society where the elite sneer at the fears of people who feel that they have lost themselves.
It's too facile to label a shooter "Evil" or the Tea Party "stupid". To do so misses the point. This is the expression of a loss of identity, and nothing is so debilitating or dangerous.
So what to do? I think we can profitably explore what men need and I think we can look at the mismatch in society today that fails men.
Some women may laugh at this idea. They may feel that no attention should be paid to men who have had it their way forever. But my assurance is this. If identity is the deep cause for how badly men behave today, then what is at stake here is the chance to bring men and women back together in harmony. What other chance is there but more tragedy and rage and fear?
I take nothing away from the pain that women have born. But my bet is that it is men who are lost that cause most of this pain. When the men can be healed, so will everyone.
We are all in this together.
So over the next few days I plan to write about male identity and the modern mismatch.
I may think of other areas but let's start here.
Here is also an interlude about Initiation and what we may have lost.
People ask me if I miss PEI. Of course I do. This is not to say I an unhappy here in Quebec, but like a person you love who is gone, how can you not miss a place that you love. And even more - a place you have tended. A place where every inch is known to you.
Here is my memorial of our place on PEI - My bit of heaven.
And it is not just the summer either. For while the winter can be hard, it is also just as much part of the wonder of the place as is the summer. So here then is the magic of the winter too.
THE sign of spring in Knowlton is when the Marina reopens - with luck this weekend!
But how does the Marina reappear each spring? I asked Gerry Moar if I could help and so I found out. It appears as if by a kind of magic. The work is done as if by a hive of bees. Let me explain.
I arrived at the appointed time - 1.30 last Saturday. Gerry was in the parking space where the pontoons are stored over the winter. "What should I do?" I asked nervously. "Have a beer" was Gerry's reply. No pep talk. No detailed instructions. No pressure about how and when this was going to get done. "Have a beer" was it.
But before you think that this was an orgy, there is more and this is why this is a "Hive".
In the water, in waders, was Jaime Moar and Matt in his swimmers. Gerry's role was to ensure that the pontoons arrived in the right order in the water. Jaimie's was to make sure that the parts were assembled in the right way. Matt got them to the right place. All the work emerged from this order in the core.
The bees found their own place in all of this.
Old men put the nuts on. Each pontoon is bolted onto the next and held together by nuts and bolts.
Young men pounded poles. Each pontoon is held to the lake bottom by long scaffolding poles that are rammed into the mud. This is work that would kill an older man.
Older women screwed. Above each set of nuts there is a board missing that has to be screwed back in place once the nuts had been put on by the old men.
The young women did the paint job - restoring the dayglo green of the marine siding.
Meanwhile, beer, pizza and wings appeared all afternoon. Those too old and too young to do any of the work partied and listened to the wonderful music. Those who worked stopped often to join them.
It was all done in three hours and would have been done quicker if the loader had not broken down a lot.
Of course years ago, it was not like this. But many years of practice have shown Gerry that so long as the pontoons arrive in sequence and get assembled in sequence, the rest just needs beer and pizza. Not a word of instruction was given. No shouting and yelling. Just fun for all.
Now what is your workplace like?
No guesses as to where I will be spending a lot of this summer
Here is the last picture I took of my mother who died on Valentines day this year. She was 85.
I am having feelings that I never expected after her death. For since my father died in 1981, I have been looking after her. She had already been an invalid for several years before my father's death and had given up as an adult. She had been tremendously competent. She had made several trans Atlantic moves. She had set up house in Ghana in the 1950's. But after a terrible car accident in 1970, she gave up and lived like a child. And for 33 years she was my child.
For many mother's days, I wished that I had had her back as my mother. Someone who stood on her own feet and who could maybe support me! Decades of care wore me down. I expected that when she died, I would be relieved.
How ironic then, that far from feeling relief, I feel her loss so deeply.
What is love? I ask myself.
30 something years of caring for a person are in a way a kind of mothering. And what attaches a mother to a child? Surely all those chores that a mother has to do. There is nothing intrinsically fun about them or in the conflicts and the whining but they all add up to love. We do them because our children need this. We commit to all the diapers and dishes, the school runs, the staying up late wondering if they are safe, because this is our real job.
So when our children leave home, this is what happens. It's part of how works. But we still feel bereft. We then miss all the duties of motherhood.
This is how I feel.
I miss her and I miss "us". I miss wondering how she is. I miss buying her clothes. I miss paying her taxes. I miss going to see her. I miss sending her flowers on mothers day.
And then I remember that she was indeed my mum. Who, while she had left the world all those many years ago, had done all these things for me. What broke my heart was to find in her few things a file with many of my early writings.
So I am less sad that she is gone. For that is the way of the world. I am sad that it took her death for me to know how much I loved her.
Most people would agree that many organizations today are too stiff, too slow and too disconnected to do well in the complex world we live in now.
Many large organizations have placed their bet on a new technology platform that will connect all their people's work. Some think that real change can only come from the bottom up. Many feel that any form of hierarchy is outdated. Some talk about culture but are not clear about what this means.
Few are making any progress. So what is the better way to go?
Rather than answer this question with yet another theory or hope, I called on Jon Froda of Podio, a founder of the platform, to ask him abut how things work at Podio. For here is an organization that eats what it sells.
And what did I find? It's all about the values and the culture of the few people at the top.
A typical class room - we had wooden pens with steel nibs and inkwells - very Dickensian.
A typical dormitory - this looks like the one that the new boys had next to Matron's bedroom on the first floor.
We wore shorts throughout the year if you were below a certain height - oh the majesty of wearing longs!
And for all you mums - this is how it all worked. Lights out for the new boys at 6.30pm!!!!
1 Pound pocket money per term.
1 home visit a term.