I’m just back from five days in the beautiful Perthshire countryside where I experienced the Men’s Rites of Passage (MRoP – cf. malejourney.org.uk). This is part of the wider men’s renewal movement (Illuman) founded by Richard Rohr in America.
Imagine a group of thirty male ‘initiates’ of different ages and a group of male ‘elders’, all sharing a profound journey into what it means to be a real man. It is actually impossible to describe what is a deep experiential process – there are no words to fully describe it, and indeed we were told not to talk afterwards in any detail about what we went through, not because it was some sort of secret or subversive society, but precisely because of the intense personal self disclosure and the necessity of respecting confidentiality, and also because it must keep its impact for any future men wanting to undergo it.
In a very brief summary, what we went through was a truly profound shared journey into our deepest selves, trying to articulate our personal brokenness while supporting each other, and through a number of amazing ways coming more into touch with our core selves and our gifts and power as men. This involved two key processes: ritual and ‘council’. Both of these deserve separate blogs themselves, but suffice it to say that these have been formulated by distilling the best of different cultures’ initiation rites of boys and young men. Richard Rohr himself has spent years researching the transformative power of these rites, both from current traditional cultures and also from the most ancient cultures.
All these societal initiation forms recognise that young males need to be taken away from their communities and from female consolation, taken frequently into nature (wilderness) where they are shorn of their normal biases and vanities, and then, being isolated and surrounded by silence, allowed to realise their relative smallness and vulnerability, and then to be mentored by wise elders into what true manhood requires of them. The boy typically emerges as a man, and is then encouraged to take his positive place in the community, where he can especially use his power for the good of all.
In our current western societies, there are virtually no vital experiences for boys to discover their manhood, and we often see the results in delinquent and abusive behaviours and adult dysfunctional men, especially in their roles as husbands and fathers. Consequently, many children grow up with ‘father wounds’ where their own fathers are often abusive or absent. The men’s movement founded by Richard Rohr is trying to address these deep-set wounds and society’s failing of its young males.
I can only express how challenging but how incredibly life affirming these past five days have been, and I have no hesitation in recommending to men of all ages to consider partaking in the MRoP wherever they can find them locally (or even further afield, though there are many groups opening up across America and the wider world). The MRoP, as formulated by Rohr and other mature men, are not directly religious or denominational in any way, so men of all religions or none, all traditions and spiritualities, are welcome.
It’s worth noting by the way, in case all this sounds very sexist, that women by and large don’t need these challenging, painful and difficult rites, precisely because they are usually much more in touch with their own female powers through the immediacy and body awareness of menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing. Cultures of all types and antiquities have held different and usually less invasive rites for young women, recognising women’s intuitive and more immediate contact with the vital aspects of body and nature awareness. In brief, it’s men’s critical tendency to stay immature and failure to conform to communal responsibilities that make such male initiation rites imperative.
I hope to say more about the incredible power of ritual and ‘council’ in later blogs, but suffice it to say just now that I both embraced my giftedness as a man and also recognised that a process has begun in me that may take months and years to properly explore and incorporate into my daily life.
To fellow initiated men I say ‘go well brothers’.
To men struggling or seeking, I sincerely invite you to consider MRoP.
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To our sisters everywhere, I say thank you for putting up with us men, and please continue to challenge us to discover and accept our god-given roles as your partners and lovers.