Imagine your 12-year old self, standing in a wooded clearing, shoulder-to-shoulder in row with a handful of other boys from your tribe.
There is a quake in your breath. The rustle and crack of the forest floor ricochets off the bark of surrounding tree trunks, as a circle of elder men begins to settle around you: hunters, uncles, healers, warriors and tribe members.
Donning their leathery, weathered and scarred skin, the weight in their presence arouses dual senses of mysterious reverence and ominous foreboding.
Just a week ago, these men pried you from your mother’s arms during a raid they staged on your village. Little did you know at the time, it was all a farce; the beginning of a curated process designed to reorganize your entire sense of self and how you walk through the world.
Piloting your skeleton will never feel the same.
You will go the following year without seeing a single woman from your village. Instead, you will spend these months steeping in the musk of these men and absorbing their masculine vitality by osmosis.
Your mirror neurons will attune to their modes of emoting, thinking and relating.
By the light of bonfire and the stars you will hear folk tales and myths of origin.
By day, you will be mentored in carrying out the various tasks expected from the penis-wielders of your tribe: husbandry, hunting and gutting, praying, dancing, storytelling, warfare and holding ceremony, among others.
This is your initiation. It is a right of passage into this profound and arbitrary realm that we call manhood; a deliberately fabricated container – a second womb – meant to catalyze a radical shift at the bedrock of your psyche. And it is a womb that can only be held together by older men.
Severing The Second Cord
In his book “Iron John”, Robert Bly argues that in order to fully, legitimately mature, a boy must make a clean break from the mother – and women, altogether – reclaim his domesticated “wild man energy” and immerse himself in the male psyche.
After simmering in it for some time, he may then emerge a more integrated and individuated adult.
It has been said that it takes two wombs to make a man. The first: his mother’s. The second: a community of men.
The physical umbilical cord is severed at birth, but a psychological one still remains. Necessarily so, as there are crucial emotional and developmental needs that a child is helplessly reliant on the mother to meet.
But without skillful efforts to sever this second cord, and learning to satisfy his needs for support and acceptance from other men, a man can go his entire life deeply enmeshed with women, and never fully transition out of boyhood.
Some common symptoms of this are:
- lacking a sense of orienting purpose and passion
- issues with accountability and responsibility
- struggling in relationships with women (being a pushover, heightened susceptibility to manipulation and gaslighting, inability to express needs, fearing intimacy and simple conversation, hyper-objectification)
- addiction to pornography, masturbation and cam girls
- chronic laziness and complacency
- struggling with discipline and commitment
- self-isolation, withdrawal, and
- excessive absorption in the digital world and social media
I can certainly see each of these things at work in my own life at some point along the way, if not at present.
Most of the men that I have gotten to know, who are willing to have this conversation, have also admitted to having experienced all these and more.
With little to no strong male role models in their lives, they were raised primarily by women and feel a vague lack of some vital core that yields an embodied sense of maturity, masculinity and an edge in life. And generally feel adrift.
In coarser words: they are not connected to their balls or spine.
The Absence of Initiation & “Father Energy”
Most literature that has emerged from the men’s movement argues that these rites of initiation and developmental landmarks for men are wholly absent in the modern world, which has left many men stunted at a premature stage of their psychological, emotional and spiritual development.
Granted, how we used to go about the initiatory process was indeed brutal and primitive, and not in the highest interest of individual growth or development, but rather in breaking him down and imprinting a self-sacrificial loyalty to the tribe.
Anthropologists have uncovered various tales – past and present – of tribal rites to facilitate this metamorphosis. Sam Keen touches on this in the following passage from his book “Fire In The Belly”:
“The list of minor and major tortures imposed upon initiates reads like a page from the fantasy life of de Sade and includes: lip piercing, scarification, filing or knocking out of teeth, scourgings, finger sacrifices, removal of a testicle, bitings, burnings, eating of disgusting foods, being tied on an ant hill, subincision of the penis, solitary confinement, exile in the wilderness for long periods, sleeping naked on winter nights, etc. Often a boy was sent out into the forest to kill a dangerous animal or an enemy to prove his courage. Among the Plains Indians, fasting, vigils, and sometimes psychedelic drugs were used to induce an altered state of consciousness and a personal vision.
As a general rule, the more a tribe or nation practices warfare the harsher its rights of initiation for boys. In such cultures, the main purpose of the initiation rites for males is to turn civilian boys into military men.”
Brutal as these rites may have been, could you be left with any doubt as to whether or not you were now a man, with a place and purpose in your community?
But torture aside, a critical vacancy still exists.The missing ingredient in today’s society is not traumatic intergenerational abuse, but rather the attention and mentorship from older men and quality time in their presence. This is the axis of the transformational process for young boys.
The community of men that would usually be present and responsible for managing these essential and laborious processes are now entirely consumed and occupied with the struggle for their lot in economic life.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution and global warfare came the pandemic absence of what has been called “father energy” from the collective psychological horizon of younger generations, or rather: the sensed presence of a nurturing and firm male figure.
Men were now away for the entire day in offices and factories, or wielding rifles overseas, only to return home exhausted, disenfranchised and drained of the vital life force necessary for this passing of energy to their children and the youth of their communities.
After millennia of being personally chaperoned beyond the threshold of boy psychology by their elders, what happens when those guiding hands disappear?
This ineffable and unattended thirst for a developmental phase shift and sense of belonging creates a vacuum, which has given rise to the proliferation of inner-city gangs, underground pick-up and seduction communities, radical fundamentalists, frats and fanatical sports culture.
While there may be a vague sense of brotherhood and security in these domains, there is rarely a direct, integrated mentorship in the psychology, governing mythology, or overall personal development of the members.
It’s mostly boys leading other boys. Immaturity, unbridled aggression, violence and conquest of women are the reigning norms.
The link that used to exist between generations for the transmission of wisdom and orientation on the nature of being a man, as well as the art of living, has been broken.
The new initiatory mediums are television, film and advertising. The new mythological blueprints are the economic game and the tenets of capitalist society.
The measure of a man is taken not by the virtue of what he pursues, but what he accrues: the brands in his closet, a car with curves that make you want to fuck the opening of the gas tank, $100 haircuts, and a business card that says “executive director”.
Next to heart attacks, it’s interesting that suicide is one of the leading causes of death among men today, with incidences spiking in the late forties.
This is around the time where most will come to a harrowing realization: the promise of fulfillment through luxury, romantic love and law-abiding citizenship has failed them.
Adapting To The Tribe of Women & The Feminization of Modern Men
One idea is that, generally, through the home and public education system, women became the sole guiding and mentoring forces in the lives of young boys in the 20thcentury, which is a contributing factor to what has been called the “feminization” of modern men.
This is a term I used to be incredibly uncomfortable with, and admittedly still am. Even in writing it now, I picture a furious horde of social justice activists hoisting pitchforks and torches outside the windows of my apartment.
But over time I came to realize that it didn’t necessarily have anything to do with criticizing women, or devaluing the nature of the feminine. It’s simply an acknowledgement of the impacts of a lack of active intervention of men in the development of boys and the wholesale demonization of the masculine.
There is no argument against the fact that we would be left spiritually disfigured, and even literally dead, without the unique emotional and physical sustenance that a woman provides.
But just the same, though typically less revered, there are is also necessary positive nourishment that can only be provided by the presence of men.
A child harbours a hardwired yearning to emulate role models. They take cues from their environment on how to assimilate into the tribe so they may gain all the crucial benefits of being accepted and supported by them.
But without men actively present in their lives, boys chiefly learn how to assimilate into the tribe of women – to their value systems and modes of relating. They also learn to rely solely on women to meet their essential, subtler needs for intimacy and acceptance. This is a key origin of enmeshment.
And except for the rare few that participate in something like a martial art, young boys aren’t encouraged or taught how to manage their testosterone-driven tendencies, which you don’t have to look any further than a playground to see at work. Wrestling, rough and tumble play, dominance hierarchies, competition and aggression are uniquely characteristic of the way boys play with each other.
Instead of receiving embodied wisdom and guidance on integrating and taming these qualities, boys tend to learn to repress these impulses and behaviours, without being provided healthy outlets for them.
For myself and other men, this has led to significant issues with assertiveness, confidence and boundary setting later in life, which renders them classic “nice guys,” who passively get pushed around in life like a wave tossed bottle at the mercy of the sea. This condition takes deep work and practice to reconfigure.
Entering The Second Womb: Facilitating Your Own Initiation
Outside of a few patches of jungle and a handful of remote islands, ritual initiation is now merely a textual artifact found on the shelves of local libraries.
While these circles and processes are not conspicuous or conscripted aspects of modern Western culture, we still have access to leveraging the profound transformational power of their essential ingredient: close relationship with other men.
You can create, or discover, your own “second womb” for the purposes of catalyzing your evolution, maturation and incubating your masculine core.
The two most powerful transformational experiences that I have personally gone through, which provided me with palpable, intuitive leaps in the cultivation of manhood, were a solo backpacking trip and extended time in a men’s group.
Both of these acted like surrogate wombs, or initiatory experiences. They radically challenged my mind and emotions, and called forth my edge and survival instincts. Nothing else has yet to change me so drastically and irreversibly, for the better.
Five months of overland travel in East and South Africa not only put me in touch with the raw ground of being, but also violently shook me awake from the paradigms and value systems that I had been hypnotized into since birth in the Pacific Northwest.
Several years later, I joined a men’s group. Exposing my thinking, behaviour and beliefs in a circle of astute, growth-minded men, as well as establishing a shared understanding of the conditioning and patterns that we had developed in relationship with women, has helped make me radically more strong, direct, courageous, connected and self-aware.
I’m experiencing much more healthy and fulfilling relationships, in both quality and quantity. I’m making more money. I’m more on purpose and excited about my life than ever before. I have deeper, more meaningful friendships with other guys. And I walk through the world with drastically more confidence and self-esteem.
In most cities, there are men that organize and gather together without the initiatives of “activism” or fighting for men’s rights, but simply to share their minds and company in the interest of personal growth and challenging each other to upgrade their integrity and quality of life.
This is all it takes to make radical change. As far as I have experienced, a men’s group is the most powerful incubator in which to develop your masculinity and take your life and relationships to the next level.
Personally, I have found it far more valuable than any book, weekend workshop or co-ed training has ever been.
If you don’t have a personal network of men ample enough to recruit interested members, find a local community with a philosophy and purpose that you resonate with and take it for a test drive.
“Becoming a man” has little to do with accumulating wealth, building biceps and getting laid. But it has everything to do with passion, directness, grit, personal purpose, assertiveness, boldness, creativity and the contribution that you make in the lives of those around you.
Manhood is not something that is outwardly achieved, but constellated inwardly through rigorous exploration, risk and persistent action.
It is a feeling that you cultivate over time. And this cultivation is chiefly and most effectively done in relationship with other men.