Passage Into Manhood

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Passage Into Manhood
A modern ritual for oung men
B Steven Foster
One of the articles in Gende (IC#16) Originally published in Sp ing 1987 on page 50 Copyright (c)1987, 1997 by Context Institute


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As I lived out my own passage I found lots of folk around me wanting to do the same. It was like the world was hungry for this kind of deep, and contagious, experience. So it is refreshing to find Foster s article spinning out new possibilities for boys (and men) that
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ed. a training facility in vision quest methods and traditions." diver s license. voting rights. employment.org/iclib/ic16/foster/ Recent Posts Welcome to the new CI Website! Celebrating 33 years . co-founded and co-directed Rites of Passage.. from a Boy Scout troop or a YMCA camp to more informal settings. For a modern passage ceremony to gain the full power of an ancient one. in different homes. the very drift of our culture toward secular materialism would have to be diverted. Now that nearly 50% of American marriages end in divorce. is ignored. At the present time. perhaps the single most important adult initiation. Sometimes the sexual passage. Louise Mandi). They now direct The School of Lost Borders (Big Pine. In attempting to remedy this by designing a meaningful rite of passage into manhood.5/15/12 Passage Into Manhood could be used in many contexts . . and a new beginning IN CONTEXT open all | close all #1: Being A Planetary Villager #2: Economics In An Intelligent Universe #3: Rediscovering The North American Vision #4: The Foundations of Peace #5: Art and Ceremony in Sustainable Culture #6: The Way of Learning #7: Governance #8: Living With The Land #9: Strategies For Cultural Change #10: Friends And Lovers #11: Living Business #12: The New Story #13: Play & Humor #14: Sustainable Habitat #15: USSR/USA: The Human Connection #16: Gender About This Issue The Trouble With Men 2/11 . What our culture does provide (high school "commencement. Inc. avoided. 1987. with Meredith Little. ceremonial means of formally marking their passage from boyhood to manhood. for ten years in Marin County. California. or distorted by the parents. often with contradictory values. Steven Foster. the age of 21. the armed services. The young would have .conte t. we must be aware that a modern passage rite does not contain the full social force of a traditional one. A companion piece to this is "The Vision Quest: Passing form Childhood to Adulthood" in Betwixt and Between: Initiations Ancient and Modern (New York: Open Court.. Sometimes the influence of the father in the upbringing of his son is negligible or nil.Rick Gossett MODERN AMERICAN MALES possess few meaningful. higher education. our culture does not validate or focus on such rites. the father and mother must prepare their manchild for adulthood separately. possible marriage and fatherhood) can hardly be said to comprise a coherent rite of passage. They have accompanied more than 1000 young people and adults through various vision quest ceremonies. drinking rights. The young man is left to piece together the meaning of his sexuality with his peers and such cultural "aids" as the mass media. CA).

Through her. In other words. The Heart Of The Experience.conte t. The liminal (or threshold) phase. and a brother to all the things on the earth. the central experience of the rite. Sex. There he will learn the challenge of being a man. is always performed in a secluded. we can only start with what we have and work to create the best model possible under the circumstances. She visits with him in the winds. Goddesses & Gods Within Tribal Wisdom An Unfinished Revolution Beginning Within Revisioning Masculinity Long Live The Queen! My Journey As A Man I m A Woman! People And Pigeonholes Anima Love Manifesto Portraits Of Women Once We Were Gods Spiritual Warrior Pa age In o Manhood Initiation Into Womanhood Where Do We Go From Here? #17: Being Global Neighbors #18: Transforming Education #19: The Next Agenda #20: Is Militarism Fading? #21: Caring for Families #22: Global Climate Change #23: The Ecology of Media #24: Earth and Spirit #25: Sustainability #26: What Is Enough? #27: The Learning Revolution #28: Making It Happen #29: Living Together #30: Reclaiming Politics #31: Birth. internal guide. a middle (threshold) and a beginning (incorporation into manhood). in the mystery of the natural world. a rite of passage begins with an ending and ends with a beginning. The ritual birth of a man must take place here. Within the sacred threshold enclosure. He cannot learn this sitting in an enclosed room. & Death #32: Dancing Toward The Future #33: We Can Do It! #34: Exploring Our 3/11 THE COMPONENTS OF AN ADEQUATE MODEL Before describing a model rite in detail. I will mention a few key elements whose importance must be understood. even as little tads. the boy becomes acquainted with his real Mother. a son of the Mother. that they were getting ready for their rite of passage into manhood.5/15/12 Passage Into Manhood to grow up knowing.org/iclib/ic16/foster/ . he senses his true place on earth and his true place in his body. He must leave the comfortable placenta of boyhood and enter the allpowerful world of the goddess. She blinds him with her lightning eyes. in the wilderworld of his true home. The basic dynamic of a rite of passage is described by an anthropological formula that underlies all passage ceremonies. and will always be. But mostly she blesses him with the birth of herself within him as his own eternal. Taboo And Trial. wild zone. The boy s . He will emerge from the split husk of his childhood with the goddess at his right shoulder. she shakes him in her fist of thunder. symbolized by that part of himself known as the goddess. She will show him the image of his own fear of death reflected in the natural world around him. The candidate s power place on Mother Earth will serve as both a womb and a tomb. But given the reality of our culture. this formula divides such rites into three phases: an end (severance from childhood). away from the encroachments of other humans. First depicted by Arnold van Gennep. a place of birth for the man and a place of death for the boy. It has always been so. A rite of passage always includes one or more ordeals or trials. The boy must learn that his Mother cares for and rewards those who care for and respect her.

another kind of strength gathers within him: the silent. One of the most important components in any model of an adequate rite of male passage is the presence of older men." Apart from the accoutrements of his boyhood life. A father must not be the principal midwife to his son. to know themselves. he orients himself to the harmony and proportion of his Mother. He has learned to accept hardship as his lot.org/iclib/ic16/foster/ Interconnectedness #35: Designing A Sustainable Future #36: Toward a Sustainable World Order #37: It s About Time! #38: The Ecology of Justice #39: Good Medicine #40: Creating a Future We Can Live With #41: Business On A Small Planet #42: A Good Harvest #43: Generation NExT 4/11 . because the time has come for the boys to become men. certain taboos or means of being tried are common to most. Though threshold trial models are many and diverse. He becomes aware of and communicates with his natural relations. who supervise and enrich the progress of the young men through the ceremonial birth canal.5/15/12 Passage Into Manhood experience of the trial is the formal confirmation of his readiness to take on the role of manhood. The boy is denied the support and comfort of others and is left alone in a wild place for extended periods of time. The goddess rushes into the breach and teaches him about surrender. They work to enable their charges to give birth to answers of their own. With no one to go to. The midwives are exclusively male.conte t. Discipline And Work. Without ballast in his belly. Although his physical strength wanes. as the past often shadows them with too many habits for the father to be an effective teacher or the son an attentive learner. or elders. Another restriction almost universally practiced is the prohibition of food. He does not brag of his harsh life nor does he . The closed door of his heart opens to the beauty and mystery of the natural world around him. The classic archetypal male is unaccustomed to self-indulgence. Without other human eyes to judge him. he learns what is essential to him – and what is not. compensating for loss of strength by applying the muscle of spirit. to live in. Among ceremonial tools. the candidate watches himself "be. and to accept the men s world. One is the trial of aloneness or solitude. he is forced to deal with outward circumstances by discovering inner resources of strength and resolve. The older men help the younger men to bring themselves forth. The candidate s psyche is opened to orchestration by the elements and rhythms of the natural world. fasting is one of the oldest and finest. Male Midwives. Sunrise is his meat and noon is his wine. immovable strength of the great mountains. to respect. the other creature children of his Mother. They are not there to answer questions. but to ask them. A man who does not know the power of surrender does not possess true power.

A MODEL FOR A MODERN RITE OF PASSAGE . All young men require an official introduction to the intuitive.discipline. Any passage rite for men must include components of hard work and self. Supervised by wise. Giving Birth To The Goddess. the candidate s sexual education would only be half complete. Open. and how to prophesy. young men must confront and ponder the meaning of death. The importance of a young man coming to understand and accept the power of his own sexuality cannot be underestimated. Without the woman s input. Hence. such education might also include older women who can present the issue from the feminine point of view. how to pray. Her presence will enrich his appreciation of life and enable him to face the justice of his own death. adult sexual education would seem necessary and appropriate. and the goddess will be born and live within this death space. and mysterious darkness of their inner beings. how to listen closely to an inner voice. if he is gay or bisexual).5/15/12 Passage Into Manhood secretly hope his woman will pity him. They need to learn how to surrender. as part of the preparation for the passage. to pull their own weight.conte t. the young men facing adulthood must be gathered together within a communal order where each has his work and does it. psychic. They must be expected to accept the discipline that communal living brings and to seek the joy that comes with the exercising of self-control and the intimate knowledge of the meaning of work. Any ceremony of passage into adulthood must take into account the young man s sexual growth and relationships with women (or men.org/iclib/ic16/foster/ 5/11 . The candidates must be expected to be part of the group. Time spent with death will make an inward space in them. honest. how to clarify their values. This is the man s way. All young men must ask themselves such questions as: "To whom do I pray?" "Who are my sacred ancestors?" "What is my life story?" "Why was I born?" "Why will I die?" "Who are the true heroes and teachers of my life?" "What gifts have I been blessed with?" "Who are my people?" Above all. how to seek vision. Sexual instruction and advice on marriage is traditionally a part of ceremonies of passage into manhood. Sexual Instruction. qualified male elders.

personal friend. Throughout the ceremony. elders and midwives of the community. The area is sealed off and consecrated for the purposes of the rite. according to what is needed at the moment. 5 midwives). to aid them in giving birth to the goddess. vocational guidance counselor. It ends when each initiate crosses the threshold and undertakes the ordeal of the second phase. Severance: The End Of Boyhood. night hikes. from end to beginning. alcohol. What follows is a somewhat detailed description of that model. communication with other species. at a retreat in a secluded." praying. "survival" activities. The boys who are candidates for passage into manhood formally begin the severance phase one week after their graduation from high school. the young men are not allowed to leave. listening to the "inner voice. each midwife is responsible for the welfare of four candidates. or superior officer. the candidates and the older men live together in large tents or yurts in groups of 25 (20 candidates.5/15/12 Passage Into Manhood Applying these elements and more. environmental awareness studies. teacher. or non-participants are allowed. and other "goddess" processes.org/iclib/ic16/foster/ 6/11 . . All work and cooking are shared on a communal basis among the men. meditation. to personify the Mentor function to them. The severance phase lasts approximately 20 days. He acts as surrogate uncle. There they remain for nearly one month. Each group is led through a disciplined routine of daily activities and classes by the five elders appointed for that purpose. or one cycle of the moon. during which time they enact the rite of passage into manhood. His role is to facilitate their passage through the three phases of the ceremony. They leave their childhood homes and families behind and assemble with older men. wilderness guide. I have created a model for a modern male rite of passage. counselor. natural place. During the time of preparation.conte t. During the month in which they are gathered together. Activities related to the use of the intuitive or "feeling" faculties: instruction in selfhypnosis. and individual seclusion in a natural place at least once a day. No drugs. The curriculum for each group includes the following: Activities related to the natural environment and self-orientation within it: solo or group medicine walks.

afterlife. On the eve of the threshold trial. and frank discussions of ethics and manners involving women elders as cofacilitators. clarification of personal ambitions regarding profession. and personal ancestry. including marriage and fatherhood: films. myths. discussions regarding death. leadership. Each candidate is removed from human contact. from the mechanics of "how to" and contraception to broader issues of relationship. all the candidates and midwives assemble together.5/15/12 Passage Into Manhood Physical education with emphasis on cooperation.visual aids. Ceremonies of togetherness and preparation: saunas. With just the barest essentials requisite to his survival.org/iclib/ic16/foster/ 7/11 . he otherwise ingests neither food nor any other kind of sustenance. nurture. and other activities involving group problem-solving. each candidate is given an opportunity to symbolically enact his severance from childhood. natural place for four days and nights. communal bathing. relay races. life destiny. At that time. he may or may not undertake certain ceremonial activities during his time alone to heighten his receptivity to Nature. Activities relating to preparation for the threshold trial itself. Then the individual groups of 20 reassemble with their midwives and embark on their several journeys to remote. sweatlodges. vocational counseling. and other concrete particulars involving life on the physical plane as a man. relying on the beneficence of Mother Earth to protect. ethics and morality. the goddess. Depending on the advice of midwives. the trial begins. Sexual education. and teach him. secluded areas where the threshold trial will be enacted. and the spirits or deities he worships. he lives alone in a wild. But . storytelling.conte t. self-discipline. Preparation on an individual basis for incorporation as a man: the setting of goals and priorities. or other activities involving self-purification. and consensus democracy: ropes and obstacle courses. Threshold: Passage Through The Goddess. and a celebration of the end of boyhood is held. Though water will be provided during this time. The following morning. Spiritual education with emphasis on individual religious expression: personal values. other audio.

sleeping. A sunrise is both a sunrise and a birth. He is enacting a story with a mortal/immortal meaning whose main protagonist is both human and divine. writing in a journal. dreaming. and exposure – must be preserved in as pure a state as possible. he will learn to yield. to look within. to watch himself. The threshold trial must be designed with an eye to harmony and balance. A system of daily checks called the "buddy system. . he should be encouraged to come to an understanding of why he returned and what he learned from such an action. to receive impressions from his experience. Signs or messages appear in this natural/sacred world.5/15/12 Passage Into Manhood the basic elements of trial – aloneness. The goddess is both nature and his own anima. The protagonist lives out the plot of the story in an environment having two levels of meaning. suffer accident. talking with the stones or the wind. Rather. to be patient. meditating. carrying the same double meanings. With the limitation of his fast and his environment. A mosquito is both a nuisance and a messenger. to investigate the many dimensions of his being as reflected by the natural setting.org/iclib/ic16/foster/ 8/11 . A dream is both dream and divine visitation. He must then be given another opportunity the following year to confirm his readiness by completing the passage. A mountain is both a mountain and a god. crying for a vision. An animal is both an animal and a spirit. praying.conte t. The midwives should employ effective means to insure the safety of their charges while they are alone. or otherwise be unable to continue their lonely vigils. each candidate should feel free to express himself as he desires. for whatever reason." What really matters is whether or not each candidate stands ready. fasting. The idea is not to make the candidate suffer unduly for the sake of a "vision." whereby their safety is ascertained (without their solitude being intruded upon) can be effectively used. sitting. Fear is both a monster and an opportunity. and to listen to the voice of the goddess. He may spend his time walking. Absence from the company of others is also presence with their spirits. should they become ill. must not be accounted shameful or a failure. A star is both a star and an angel. with a pure heart. The allegorical nature of the trial must be clear to each candidate. Provision must also be made for the early return of candidates to basecamp. The early return of a candidate. Regardless of what he does.

The new man meets and takes on the consequences of his boyhood life. On the third day after their return. and a time of giving. brought into the group of men. Now he is back in the "secular" world of his everyday body. His return from the threshold is a delicate matter not to be treated lightly by the male elders. sweatlodge. and to reflect on their encounter with the goddess. supportive manner. Each must be formally welcomed and recognized as a man. a council of elders may be convened and the young men brought in one by one to answer the elders questions regarding their threshold experience. Each candidate must be debriefed and helped to see the meaning of his threshold experience. BEGINNING A NEW LIFE .5/15/12 Passage Into Manhood Incorporation: The Birth Of A Man.conte t. Afterwards.org/iclib/ic16/foster/ 9/11 . to formally mark the conclusion of the rite of passage. Birthing is accompanied by powerful contractions and much inner conflict. or bathing ceremony can be held. The confusion and bewilderment of the incorporation phase (especially in its initial stages) can be mitigated by the elders careful. ceremonial attention to the re-entry process. to rest. After the ablutions might come new clothes befitting a man. and given a symbolic gift by his midwives. Then a sauna. Each candidate s spirit must be brought back into his body and aided to reside there solidly. and his life as a man stretches before him. There. he finds out whether or not he learned his lessons well. a final celebration of commencement into manhood is held for the new men and all those who had a hand in their childhood growth. Within the first two days of their re-entry. the gathering packs up and return to the community. in a positive. Soon after. the young men must also be given a good deal of time to be alone. the separate groups reassemble for a mutual celebration of their brotherhood. at which time the dust of the threshold world can be flushed from the new men s bodies and prayers said in thanksgiving for their well-being. a feast of thanksgiving.. etc. The elders can offer comments and suggestions regarding each young man s future course. The incorporation of a boy into manhood is not without its difficulties. life story. The parents can be singled out for special honors for their untiring efforts on behalf of their sons and the community at large. personal gifts.

For most new men. The Man Who Killed The Deer E o . each group of candidates might plan a reunion meeting with their midwives to discuss their progress in their new lives. they cannot do otherwise. the new men enter the mainstream of adult male life. The emphasis on such meetings would be not on problemsolving but on sharing. enlisting in the armed services. They live apart. but as a challenge. a period of integration when the enormity of the step taken becomes apparent. the new men should be weaned away from the glory and hoopla of the rite of passage ceremony and cleave to the goddess and to their "people. working for their bread. as men. and brotherhood. Within a week or two of the rite s conclusion. and adult behavior and attitudes must be expected from them. Further support meetings might be scheduled by those in the group who feel a further need for them. As time passes. Such feelings should not be seen as a setback. for unusual reasons. The new man may feel like forgetting about this manhood nonsense and wish fervently he could be back home in his childhood nest. As the new men grow older and themselves become fathers. this depression strengthens their ability and resolve to live as men. friendship. If they must return to their old homes.conte t. they will return to participate as midwives in the births of other men. attending college. as a man who knows himself not as an individual but a unit of his tribe and a part of all life which ever surrounds him. they must henceforth be treated as adults. Within a few weeks of their return." those who. they are committed to serve with the give-away of their lives: Now you belong to your greater mother. independent of home.5/15/12 Passage Into Manhood When the ceremonies and congratulations are over. And you return to her womb to emerge once again. getting married. They do not return to their boyhood living situations unless. etc.org/iclib/ic16/foster/ 10/11 . .Frank Waters. most of the candidates will experience a predictable depression.

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