Until recently I would have said the same thing about initiation. Isn’t it just an African tribal thing?
Well, as with all things in life, if you take the time to scratch the surface, tremendous lessons can be learnt. We are all looking for a way of getting rid of emotional baggage, is initiation the way people have done it for a thousand of years without knowing it.
This is the case when it comes to initiation. After you read this article if hope you can build the hindsight I have to look back in time and wonder how you could have ever missed it, thousands of years of tradition; forgotten and written off as irrelevant.
My new opinion is that these sorts of traditions and rituals span a thousand years because they work. What other reason could you conclude? The post below will outline classic initiation practices and try to find a modern equivalent.
The purpose of the initiation ritual is to provide a clear path for a boy to become a man.
In general the classic initiation was a Linear process of several stages:
Stage 1 – Young child bonds with the mother. Adolescent must separate from mother.
Often the mother would forcibly reject the son for his own good and against his will.
Stage 2 – Adolescent must bond with the father. Adolescent must then separate from the father.
Stage 3 – Initiate must have all their defenses broken down, kill their ego, unlearn all the tricks and prejudices that were relevant to them as a child.
This is the stage where you will see the stereotypical strength and stamina tests such as (circumcisions, jumping off cane towers, tests of strength or pain tolerance).
Stage 4 – Authority & Spirituality – Adolescent must build a relationship with an external mentor and be presented with an existence bigger than they could have ever imagined on their own.
Presentation of a big picture of life stops them from seeing everything in duality (that means everything black and white or us and them). This philosophy allows adult thinking, some situations can be win-win if you are prepared to make sacrifices.
Note this authority figure was typically not the father, it was a male elder who specialized in this role. This task is not something anyone off the street can just step into. This role was sometimes performed by someone like a Shaman.
Stage 5 – External Mastery
The initiate learned about history, culture mastered a skill or a trade, learned to fight, learned to love, build strength
Stage 6 – Internal Mastery
In this stage the initiate draws on lessons learned in all the previous stages to build self-esteem, new self identity, self assessment skills, responsibility, autonomy.
Stage 7 – Integrate back into their society as an adult.
Follow the path set down by the elders/mentor and regularly check back in again with mentor for guidance.
The venue for most of these initiation rituals is liminal space.
Liminal is a Greek word meaning “threshold”, in this context it is the space between daily life and a spiritual world, a limbo-land separated from the constraints of daily life but easier to get to (and back from) than the afterlife. More often than not the wilderness is used for liminal space in initiations but sometimes the human mind itself can form liminal space (in the case of vision questions for example, when large doses of psychedelics were used). Liminal space is both time and location. Performing rituals were the means of transcending the profane space into liminal space.
Profane space is everyday life. It is again both representative of time and location.
Does the modern society practice any of these steps?
- Separation from mother is seldom thought of as a positive in modern day culture. In fact the mother typically defines her entire existence by her children and will not let go.
- Meaningful bonding with the father is seldom possible while the father is either away from the family house virtually all the time for work (even in an office) or not living in the family house.
- Teenagers are propped up with false senses of belonging and false senses of community (I.e. Facebook, Instagram etc.)
- there is certainly no presentation of a big picture to life or any education about non-duality.
- External mastery is left to school or college
- Internal mastery is a foreign concept, unknown to the majority.
As a result of this lack of initiation men (and women) had a tendency to continue acting on the lessons they learned as children. They grow to be attention seekers and interested in instant self gratification.
But what about the women you say? Well it is true that the transition of modern girls into adults is lacking just as much as that of boys. While traditionally a woman’s biology would be all they needed for initiation (I.e. a woman became pregnant as a teenager, had a baby, instantly became an adult whether she liked it or not) nowadays modern medicine is pushing childbirth into the 30s or 40s and the limbo-land between childhood and adulthood is becoming longer and longer. I couldn’t find any historical references to initiation of girls (apart from female circumcisions. I AM NOT GOING THERE).
Is middle-age divorce becoming a pseudo-male initiation?
One theory I want to present here is that the only modern process that even comes close to resembling an initiation process is the following life path (one I am all too familiar with as is the majority of modern men).
- indoctrination as a young child into a female oriented society
- mother clings onto the child as long as possible and won’t let go
- child rejects parents as a teenager and searches for something big to cling onto (music, social movements, groups, etc) failing that just chooses something incredibly loud such as a metal band
- young adult spends several years (or decades) searching for a meaning to life and or purpose
- young adults meets a partner, pours all their life purpose into the relationship, loses their sense of self to the relationship and or kids that soon follow
- Biological changes & social attitude change in the male & female in middle age render the relationship unfamiliar. Divorce follows, male is stripped of everything he previously defined himself by and is left with no sense of identity.
- Soul searching, rock bottom, best case scenario is he starts to redefine himself as a new person
- Sees the worst of society firsthand and wakes up to the big picture (the big cesspool)
- Builds a new work life and a new social life
- Puts fatherhood on hold while kids are young because he doesn’t have access to them (and waits until they grow up and come back when they are teenagers)
- Finds himself with far too much spare time on his hands and looks inside to try to fill some voids. Seeks inner peace and commits to self-improvement. Improve his sense of self and health beyond measure.
There is a growing number of zeta males and sigma males building the manosphere online who are performing the role of the classical elders/mentors for male initiates seeking to embark on this process.
Traditionally initiation was a ceremony used for a thousand years to jump start a child’s transition into adulthood. It gave them a clear boundary between childhood and adulthood and presented a path into adulthood and the context needed for such a journey.
Initiation is a spiritual & social experience which jettisons the childhood emotional baggage and gives a child the tools needed to make himself or herself into a whole person (spiritual, physical, emotional and social).
Initiation integrates all the internal and external world aspects.
The timing of the ritual aligned with what we now understand as an important time in a teenagers stage of brain development.
In a previous article I explored the dilemma of the modern man-child. I strongly believe the abundance of people holding onto the childhood or stuck in a space between childhood and adulthood is clearly due to a failure from our society to present young people with this clear path to adulthood.
There is very clear parallels between initiation process and the spiritual enlightenment path.
Most important consideration to remember is that the initiation is performed by older men in the bests interests of the male initiate inside of liminal space. Some of these initiation rituals seem barbaric when taken out of the context.
I strongly believe that history has provided us with a well-proven path to transition our children successful into adulthood. It is going ignored and the social cesspool grows as a result.
To delve deeper into this topic see my review on the book Iron John by Robert Bly.