Alan Bishop believes rites of passage are important so that men can connect with other men and gain a sense of community that is being lost. Do you agree? What do you think a rite of passage into manhood should look like?
The squirrel inched its way up the hemlocks extended branch, curiously inspecting the air, whiskers twitching. I peered through the iron sights of my 1894 Winchester 30-30, wondering what a squirrel was going to taste like?
A breath in, holding…
I knew I had to “eat my kill” but YIKES.
It was 1984 and here I was, a 15-year old city kid with just an old rifle and a playful young dog all-alone in the middle of a temperate rainforest holding an exploded squirrel by the tail and wondering what the hell to do next.
Why hadn’t anyone taught me how to do this?
The THIS I’m talking about wasn’t just the act of stalking, shooting, killing, dressing, preparing and eating a game animal—but more so about learning the skills needed to be a man.
I remember sitting down on the wet mossy ground and turning that dead squirrel over in my hands feeling utterly lost. I spent 15 days in those woods. When I came back into the city I certainly wasn’t a man—but I had changed.
Was this my rite of passage?
What is a Rite of Passage? The dictionary defines it this way: A ritual or ceremony signifying an event in a person’s life indicative of a transition from one stage to another, as from adolescence to adulthood.
In 1909 Arnold van Gennep published his most famous work Rites of Passage. At the core of Gennep’s vision were 3 Phases—The Preliminary, Liminality and post-Liminality phases. His 3-phased vision laid a foundation for men such as Victor Turner and Joseph Campbell to expand on.
Campbell used Gennep’s vision as a structure for his work The Hero Has a Thousand Faces while Turner focused on the Liminality phase and the transitions that occur while moving from old ways to new ways.
Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Boys suggests, “those in the US have grown away from beneficial rites of passage and toward isolated, tremulous, family systems.” He contends that boys have been abandoned, and he urges that “society reclaim responsibility for the moral and spiritual upbringing of young males, with guidance offered by elder mentors and support coming from extended family or community.”
“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” ― Plato
After digesting all the research I see these stages in a ROP with these needs:
- Separation – A removal from what we know. A removal from our safe environments, loved ones and biases. A place where we’re stripped bare and experience our selves. Alone, raw and basic. We have to experience some sort of journey.
- Transition – This is the “meat”. Here we experience growth, change and learning. It’s in this phase that we move from where we were to where we can be. It’s in the transition phase that we experience pain, wonder, fear, loss, joy, self-enlightenment, purpose.
- Reincorporation – This is where we return to the group and speak our truth, our process and our experience. It’s a safe place because we get to share it with those who’ve been through a similar experience at a similar time and place. We’re safe and with our new “Band of Brothers”. We then return to our communities and connect with mentors who will help us continue our journey with new awareness.
Each one of these phases is crucial to the overall experience. Without each one as part of a “Rite” then the experience in my opinion isn’t whole.
These stages of transition, these passages were once common.They were important, inherent even, to the structure and development of societies.
Where are they today? We certainly have many ceremonies. Some are celebrated, (Bar Mitzvah’s, Communion, graduation, marriage, getting your drivers license, getting engaged) while others may or may not be celebrated (Loss of virginity, experiencing the death of a loved one, first fistfight, landing a job, leaving home).
But are any of these actually Rites of Passage?
If so, where are the mentors? Where is the support? Where are these communities? Not just for boys but for MEN.
I love being a man but it isn’t easy. At times I’m as lost as lost can be and feel as if I‘ve no one to turn to.
How do I explain my vulnerability, rage, fear, courage to my wife and sons?
I don’t know if I’m one of the lucky ones but I’ve been able to do it. I’ve managed to bumble and braille my way through 20 years of marriage and raise two healthy, vibrant, kind young men (21 and 18 years old).
“Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again. Wisely improve the present, it is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear and with a manly heart.” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
At 44 years old I find that I’m now craving the experience of men. The experience of joining with other men in the passage of stripping bare, finding out what basic means and the experience of being alone, undistracted and questioning. I want to do this in community with other like-minded men and walk away as brothers.
But where is this experience for men and what does it look like?
How do I go about asking for it? If I have wisdom to share, where can I share it?
I know we can “beat our chests” and go after anything we want. We can bully, brave and thrust our way into new areas but instead, how can we do this in a way that evolves us as men not just warriors.
My question to all the men out there is WHAT needs to be created?
What needs to be initiated and put forth to become accepted by society? This NEW Rite of Passage and it’s merits must be valued by mothers, fathers, teachers, priests and communities if it’s going to create lasting change in our men and boys.
How do we MASTER being a man?
Shouldn’t that be our job as men? To always be searching, learning and refining this thing called Manhood.
George Leonard says in his book Mastery: “mastery isn’t reserved for the super-talented or even for those who’re fortunate enough to have gotten an early start. It’s available to anyone who is willing to get on the path and stay on it—regardless of age, sex, or previous experience.”
The trouble today is that we have few, if any, maps to guide us on the journey or even to show us how to find this path to Mastery.
Why do men, young and old, need a rite of passage to relearn about manhood?
- Because in general we’ve lost the ability to connect with other men
- Because our boys need mentors
- Because our communities no longer raise a child
- Because our traditions are being lost
- Because men learn from other men
- Because women can’t explain to us what it feels like to be a man
- Because we’re losing our connection to the natural world.
- Because boys need to feel their own strength in isolation and then support
Today’s world is under an advertiser’s magnifying glass. This image-maker works overtime to answer the question, “Who am I?” The message it comes up with, though, is the message “You’re not okay the way you are.” It seduces us into believing we need to be like the images it presents.
Why has this model become the teacher for men?
Our basic human nature yearns for rites of passage, to be initiated into a group, to be recognized and to be accepted for who we are. If society fails to preserve and maintain the rites of passage, young people often create their own. The new rites are not always as positive.
Mentorship of men
We need mentors in our lives. Not just one but also many along the road. Our ability to help one another is a lost art. It’s become wrong to “help our fellow man”? When did this become bothersome instead of normal?
Today, men as well as boys need a Rite of Passage to help us to become better men.
We need to constantly push the barrier and seek out what it means to be a man. We need to journey to those internal places where we can question our emotions, feelings and beliefs and to do so in the safety and embrace of other men who can guide us.
It isn’t enough thought to just be asking questions, we need to act. It’s in our actions that we’ll define what it means to be a man in 2013 and beyond. We must act to create new Rites of Passage and pass these teachings to the young men who will become our leaders while embracing the men around us in their quests to become better men.
Photo [main image] Mick Broughton