Archetypes of Mature Masculinity
(From the book ” King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine” by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette. The translation is my own.)
In Bill Moyers’ interview with the poet Robert Bly (“A meeting of men”), a young man asked the question: “Where are real men today?”
We have written this book to answer that question that is in the minds of men and women. At the end of the twentieth century, we faced a male identity crisis of vast proportions. The observers of the contemporary scene (sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists) are continuously discovering the devastating dimensions of the phenomenon that affects us all personally, as well as a society. Why is there so much confusion about gender today, at least in the United States and Western Europe? It seems that the difficulty to indicate something like the essence of masculinity or femininity is increasing more and more.
We observe family systems and see the breakdown of the traditional family. Increasingly, families exhibit the sad reality of the father’s absence. This lack, due to emotional or physical abandonment or both, causes negative effects on the psychology of the children, whether male or female. The absent father or his weak personality paralyzes in his children the ability to achieve their generic identity and to relate intimately and positively with members of their own sex or the opposite. But we know from experience that the disintegration of modern family systems can not be singled out, however important, as an explanation of the crisis of masculinity. We must take into account two other factors that underlie the disintegration itself.
In the first place, we need to face very seriously the disappearance of the ritual process to initiate adolescents into adult masculinity. There are standard definitions of what constitutes, in traditional societies, what we call the psychology of the adolescent and the psychology of man. This is clearly seen in the tribal societies that have been the subject of scrupulous research by such notable anthropologists as Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner. In these societies there are carefully elaborated rituals to help the adolescents of the tribe make the transition to adult masculinity. During the course of the centuries of civilization in the West, almost all these ritual processes have been abandoned or have slid down narrower and less energetic paths, becoming the phenomena we call pseudoinitiations.
It is possible to point out the historical background of the decline of the initiation ritual. The Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment were movements of great repercussion that had in common the discrediting of the ritual process. Once the ritual has been discredited as a sacred and transforming process, what remains is what Victor Turner calls “mere ceremonial”, which lacks the necessary power to achieve an authentic transformation of consciousness. By disconnecting from the ritual, we have put an end to the processes by which men and women achieved their gender identity in a deep, mature way and that improved their way of life.
What happens in a society if the ritual processes, by which these identities are formed, are discredited? In the case of men, many have not been initiated into adult masculinity or have had pseudoinitiations that do not represent the transition to maturity. It happens then that he dominates the psychology of the adolescent. We are surrounded by the manifestations of adolescent psychology and its symptoms can be easily noticed. Among them are the arrogant and violent behavior against others, both men and women; passivity and weakness, the inability to act effectively and creatively in one’s own life and to engender life and creativity in others (men and women). We often see the oscillation between extremes: arrogance versus weakness.
Along with the breakdown of the ritual process for male initiation, there is another factor that seems to contribute to the absence of mature masculine identity. This factor, shown by feminist criticism, is called patriarchy. Patriarchy is the social and cultural organization that has existed in the western world and much of the rest of the world, at least since the second millennium BC. until the present. Feminists have warned that male dominance in patriarchy has been oppressive and abusive to women (both with regards to feminine characteristics and virtues and with women themselves). In their radical critique of patriarchy some feminists conclude that at the root of masculinity is arrogance, and that the connection with “eros” (with love, interrelationships and kindness) comes from the feminine side of the human equation.
In spite of how useful some of these intuitions have been for the cause of both male and female liberation from patriarchal stereotypes, we believe that this perspective has serious problems. We think that patriarchy is not the expression of deep and rooted masculinity , because true deep rooted masculinity is not overbearing. Patriarchy is the expression of immature masculinity . It is the expression of adolescent psychology and, in part, the negative, or crazy, side of masculinity. Expresses the masculine detainee, fixed at immature levels.
We see patriarchy as an attack on full masculinity, as well as full femininity. Those who find themselves trapped in the structures and dynamics of patriarchy seek to dominate not only women but also men. Patriarchy is based on fear (the fear that men undoubtedly feel towards women, the fear of the adolescent and the fear of the immature male). Teens fear women. They also fear real men.
The patriarchal male does not willingly accept the complete male development of his children or his subordinates, nor the complete development of his daughters or his employees. This is the story of the office manager who cannot tolerate being as good as we are. How often we are envied, hated and attacked in direct and passive-aggressive ways, even when we are trying to expose who we really are in all our beauty, maturity, creativity and generating capacity!
The more beautiful, competent and creative we are, the more we invite our hierarchical superiors and even our peers to be hostile. What really attacks us is the immaturity of human beings terrified by our advances on the road to masculinity or complete femininity.
Patriarchy expresses what we call adolescent psychology. It is not a manifestation of the essence or the fullness of the potentials of mature masculinity. We have come to that conclusion after our study of ancient myths and modern dreams; after our examination from within the rapid feminization of the main religious community; of our reflections on the rapid changes of the role of each gender in our society, and of our years of clinical practice during which we have been increasingly aware that something vital is missing in the inner life of many of the men who come to psychotherapy
What is missing is not the proper connection with the feminine interior , as many prestigious psychologists assume. In many cases, men who seek help have been and continue to be overwhelmed by the feminine. What is lacking is an adequate connection with deep and instinctive masculine energies , with the potentials of mature masculinity. Their connections with these potentials are blocked by the patriarchy itself and by the feminist critique of the little masculinity to which they can cling. This blockage is due to the lack of a process of initiation, significant and transformative in their lives, through which they could have achieved a feeling of masculinity.
While these men sought their own experience of masculine structures through meditation, creation and what the Jungians call active imagination, they realized that as they became closer to the inner archetypes of mature masculinity , they were increasingly more capable of abandoning the patriarchal self and other harmful patterns of behavior, thought and feeling, and becoming increasingly authentically strong, centered and creative for themselves and for others, men and women.
In the current crisis of masculinity, we do not need, as some feminists believe, less masculine power. We need more. But more mature male power. We need more the psychology of man. We must achieve a sense of tranquility regarding masculine power in such a way that it is not necessary to act with a dominant and aggressive behavior.
There is too much defamation and humiliation towards the masculine and the feminine in patriarchy, as well as in the feminist reaction against patriarchy. Feminist criticism, when it is not intelligent enough, hurts the authentic masculinity already besieged still more. It is possible that there was not a time in history when mature masculinity (or mature femininity) was on the rise. We cannot know for sure. What we can be sure of is that mature masculinity is not on the rise today.
We need to learn to love and be loved by the mature man. We must learn to increase the real power and power of men, for our well-being as men and for relationships with others. Also because the crisis of mature masculinity is integrated into the global crisis of survival that we face as a species. Our unstable and dangerous world urgently needs mature men and mature women for the species to survive.
As in our society does not exist, or is limited, the ritual process capable of making us go from the psychology of the adolescent to the psychology of man, each one of us must work alone, without help or support from others, to reach the deep sources of the masculine energy capacities that sprout within us. We must find a way to connect with those sources of power.