The fact that manhood is a journey is not a new concept. Ancient civilisations recognised the various stages of the masculine journey for many thousands of years and the importance of having an initiation into manhood ceremony. In fact every tribal society in the world has a male rite of passage ceremony built into its culture. Every rite of passage into manhood ceremony is different but the underlying principal remains the same.
It would seem that Western society suffered from a serious attack of selective amnesia during the latter part of the 20th century in regards to the need for a rite of passage into manhood. Perhaps this was due to the obsession with the women’s liberation movement. Perhaps it was due to our innate male passivity. Whatever happened is unclear but the good news is that the times are a-changing.
Over the last few decades several writers have tackled this very important subject to bring it back into the public mindset. Patrick Arnold,‘Wildmen, Warriors and Kings’ (c) 1991 takes a good look at male spirituality. Also in 1991 Robert Moore wrote ‘King, Warrior, Magician, Lover – Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine’. In 1990 Robert Bly published ‘Iron John’ which was a bestselling book about men and masculinity and became a reference point for the rapidly growing men’s movement of the 90s.
In 1993 Robert Hicks published ‘The Masculine Journey – understanding the six stages of the masculine journey’. This book was widely promoted by the Promise Keepers in the USA. Hicks looks at the ancient Hebrew translation of the word ‘man’. He comes up with six key stages: the Creational Male – Adam, the Phallic Male – Zakar, the Warrior – gibbon, the Wounded Male – Enosh, the Mature Male – Ish and the Sage – Zakem.
Several years ago John Eldridge released a sequel to his international bestseller, Wild at Heart, called ‘The Way of the Wild at Heart’. The liner notes give a good synopsis:
This is a book about how a boy – and a man – becomes a man. We live in a time where most men (and boys) are essentially fatherless. Whatever their circumstance, they have no man actually taking them through the many adventures, trials, battles and experiences they need to shape a masculine heart within them. They find themselves on their own to figure life out, and that is a lonely place to be. Their fears, anger, boredom, and their many addictions, all come out of this fatherless place within them, a fundamental uncertainty in the core of their being.
Let me share a couple of thoughts from this book with you so you can get your own picture. John Eldredge says:
A boy’s heart is wounded in many ways. He is wounded when he does not live in a world made safe by his father, when he is not free to explore and dare and simply be a boy, when he is forced to grow up too soon. He is wounded when he does have that world, but it ends with a sudden loss of innocence. And most especially, a boy is wounded to the core when he does not know that he is the Beloved Son. Sometimes the wounding is intentional, oftentimes it is not, but this is the story of many a boy, and many a man reading this book, living in the world we have, so far from the Garden . . .
There’s an old African proverb that goes like this: “I hear, I forget. I see, I remember. I do, I understand.” How true this is when it comes to masculine initiation. Men, and boys, learn by doing; we learn through experience. This is no doubt true for women as well, but I can vouch that it is essential and irreplaceable for men and boys. It’s one thing to be told you have what it takes. It’s another thing altogether to discover that you do, through some trial brought up in an adventure, or through some test that hard work demands. The experience is both a revelation and a kind of authoring, in that it reveals to you what you are made of and writes the lesson on your heart.
For masculine initiation is not a spectator sport. It is something that must be entered into. It is one part instruction and nine parts experience.
I would have to say that ‘The Way of the Wild at Heart’ is one of the most profound books I have ever read. It becomes deeper still towards the end as the book deals with the final stages of the growth of a man’s heart. John Eldredge’s book ‘The Way of the Wild at Heart’ has been a source of healing and will continue to be a source of healing for many. Check out his website for more info: www.ransomedheart.com
Read a good book. Once we stop learning we start dying. If we expect our children to learn from us, we must be prepared to learn from others. Reading good books is a great way to learn. Readers are leaders. A great man once said ‘ask, seek, knock’. Learning is knowing and knowing is growing. Let us become the change we seek.
Yours for Real Manhood