Saturday, March 19, 2011

#89. Recovery of Sacred Manhood

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Probably no one reading this post would disagree with the observation that, among the various animal species in the world, male mammals-- including male humans-- have rather odd male parts.

And probably no one would disagree that, while the half of the human race which has those odd parts regularly report they are sometimes not much under control, they are, at the same time, greatly valued and treasured.

But would you also agree that every human born into the world with those funny parts can assume that they entitle him to certain privileges not open to persons lacking them?

Probably not.

And yet, that is the basic assumption of patriarchal culture. Although it's rarely spoken aloud, it accounts for the exploitation of all persons lacking wealth or power-- especially for the oppression of women-- and for great damage to the Earth's environment.

Clearly, patriarchy is a pathological distortion of human manhood. And yet no one possessing those odd parts will give up the cultural privileges associated with them-- unless he is aware of a better alternative.

The main point of my previous post was that there is a better alternative. The main point of this post is that its recovery is an essential aspect of the immense transition happening in our time. In the long run, the New Cosmology depends on the recovery of sacred manhood.


From the big picture Big History gives us we know that throughout humanity's long Hunting Culture period, sacred manhood was the norm for all human males and that it was lost only with the discovery of agriculture. Historically, patriarchal manhood can be understood as a misguided replacement for that loss: a backlash, characterized by disdain for matter, hatred of the body, and fear of the feminine that are the essence of Western culture's religious dualism.

Psychologically, patriarchy can be understood as the pathological absence of two of the four functions of human consciousness as it has emerged on our planet via natural selection. The two modes of human consciousness missing from patriarchal manhood are an awareness of our connectedness with all things and a sense of purpose for our existence.

Long time readers know that I've made use of the four-fold perspectives on the human mind in many previous posts, and that I find Jungian terminology and Native American imagery especially helpful. 

On the Medicine Wheel, relatedness is imaged by the warm and loving Green Mouse of the south; meaningfulness is imaged by the healing Black Bear of the west. In Jungian language, those are our conscious mind's Feeling and Intuition functions.

Just as Thomas Berry notes that our sense of the numinous is in our genes and that our earliest ancestors couldn't survive without some sense of alliance with the Ultimate, it's also true that we can't survive well today-- we can't thrive, psychologically-- without a sense of meaningfulness and the experience of relatedness which are essential aspects of sacred manhood.


The thought that life has meaning is, of course, one the most frequently mocked ideas in our secular culture. It's very much like what the ancient Tao Te Ching says about awareness of the Great Mystery. 

Here's verse 41, in the version I shared in several earlier posts:

When balanced persons learn about the Mystery they immediately begin to live in accordance with the way it works. When individuals who are not yet in balance hear of it, they don't know whether to take it seriously or not. When foolish persons learn about it, they laugh. (It wouldn't be the Great Mystery, if they didn't!)

While it may be that persons hearing about sacred manhood for the first time "don't know whether to take it seriously or not," many people will never hear about sacred manhood. I'm thinking of politicians and business leaders, especially. But for those, male or female, stuck in the static world view of patriarchal manhood, it's likely that if they do happen to hear about sacred manhood, they'll probably laugh at it. "It wouldn't be sacred manhood if they didn't."


I have two main thoughts I want to share in this post about the recovery of sacred manhood. One is that moving beyond patriarchy is not simply a matter of ensuring equal rights for women. It's something much broader: recovering the significance of those odd male parts for taking care of the Earth itself and benefiting all humanity.

The second main thought I'd like to share is that because religious dualism is a major aspect of patriarchal pathology, the recovery of sacred manhood means moving beyond the pathological attitudes of patriarchal manhood toward women, towards our bodies, and towards the very matter of the physical universe. It's a movement away from all the dualistic aspects of Western religion.

Patriarchal religion's dualistic rejection of matter, the body and the feminine has resulted in the loss of meaning and purpose in modern Western culture; the recovery of a sense of meaning and purpose to our existence-- the recovery of a healthy cosmology-- requires the rejection of Western religion's rejection of the physical world.

The recovery of sacred manhood means the renewal of our sense that we do have a place in the vast scheme of things, that we do have a task to do. But it obviously won't be easy.

In Paleolithic times, those odd male parts were recognized as the physical and psychological means of empowerment for the sacred task of hunting. As I said in the previous post, although it's difficult today to appreciate that hunting was a spiritual activity for our Paleolithic ancestors, the ability to obtain food for the human community was in fact the very meaning and significance of being male.

Our cosmic task today is no longer hunting, of course. But it is something similar. It's "hunting" in the broader sense-- of exploration, of searching and seeking to understand, and doing so for all humanity-- "on behalf of all and for all."

Probably the best term to use today in place of hunting might be creative activity. In the evolutionary context of the new scientific cosmology, we can more easily see that creativity is the means by which we participate in the evolution of the universe.

We can also see that patriarchal politics and religious dualism are the opposites of the New Cosmology. They come from a pathological understanding of manhood-- that the mind is better than the body, that spirit is better than matter, and that men are superior to women.

For an especially fine expression of the limitations of patriarchal attitudes see the recent (March 8, 2011) op-ed column by David Brooks in the New York Times: "The New Humanism."

We can only move beyond the negative, pathological views of patriarchy by recovering a healthy understanding of human maleness. And since no male is going to give up the privileges accorded him because of his odd parts-- unless he has a better alternative available-- the healing of patriarchy requires the recovery of sacred manhood.

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We know that the patriarchal understanding of maleness is thousands of years old, so the recovery of sacred manhood isn't going to happen overnight. But the transition is in fact well underway. The current uprisings against tyrants and dictators in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as against politicians seeking to take away union bargaining rights in the American Midwest, are good examples. So are the increasing protests everywhere against church authorities for their cover up of clerical sex abuse.

Longer-term examples include the great increase in social concern for environmental issues which began in the late 20th-century, and the emergence of feminism much earlier in the 20th century. Probably the strongest example is the growing awareness of evolution itself. More and more people today are aware that the word "evolution" refers not just to a biological fact but to a cosmic condition that holds true for everything in the universe, from the development of stars and galaxies to the growth of a baby born into the world today.

I held off publishing this post until I could include here an announcement of the emergence into the human world of Anne's and my granddaughter Madeleine Mackintosh. She was born 1:15 am today, 19 March, 2011. Happy Birth Day, Madeleine! May all the men in your life be outstanding examples of sacred manhood.
While the lack of a sense of meaningfulness in the patriarchal perspective and the patriarchal suppression of individuality works against the recovery of a sense of meaningfulness, every positive change in attitude on the part of every person in our time makes a significant difference. That's the way evolution works at the human level.


This means that for the recovery of sacred manhood, those who have those odd parts are called to "own" their meaning as images of the significance of our existence. And that those who don't are called to help those who do-- to help husbands, fathers, sons, nephews, cousins and male friends to take ownership of the meaning of their manhood.

In a sense, it sounds easy. But there is also a great resistance to sacred manhood because the patriarchal understanding has been the unspoken assumption of Western culture for so many thousands of years.

We know that we don't experience our present culture as life-giving. 

From politics and religion to business, industry and the military, patriarchal males still dominate the culture to a very great extent. And it's not about money, as Paul Krugman makes clear in a recent New York Times essay. It's about power and control.

If we are to move beyond the patriarchal disdain for matter, hatred of the body and fear of the feminine, we need to recognize that each individual male-- not just the CEOs of Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Business but every man alive today-- is being called by the cosmic process to help in the recovery of a sense of meaning and purpose of our existence.

All of us with the funny parts are needed-- not despite them, but because of them. Natural selection built human manhood this way precisely so that men can give of themselves "for the life of the people." Redemptive sacrifice, as I noted in the previous post, is a primary characteristic of the cosmic emergence process. At every level, action "on behalf of all and for all" is how evolution works.

Only with the recognition of this sacred significance of manhood-- seeing our place in the grand scheme of things, knowing that we have a cosmic job to do, recognizing the great work, as Thomas Berry calls it, of our role in the evolution of the universe-- can we end Western culture's pathological condition called "patriarchy."

And only with this change in attitude-- thinking in terms of the very opposite of patriarchal religion's dualistic disdain for matter, body and feminine-- can we move beyond the long-held presumption of a split between body and soul, mind and matter, matter and spirit.


That separation-- Thomas Berry calls it being "doubly estranged"-- has been taken for granted for so long in Western culture that the very idea of questioning it is difficult for us to imagine. And imagining is, I think, probably our greatest challenge of all. Like our sense of connectedness and meaning, imagination itself is devalued in patriarchal culture and often dismissed with words like "You're just imagining it" or "It's only your imagination."

But images let us see what logic and abstract reasoning can not show us. And we are learning-- even in quantum physics, as I described in my posts about the Two Mavericks-- to accept imagination as a valid and irreplaceable tool for understanding human experience.

Our Paleolithic ancestor's experience of sacred manhood is still found to some extent in surviving indigenous cultures, and the rites and ceremonies of native peoples-- especially the Hunting Culture's orientation to animal spirits as they are experienced in the sweat lodge ritual and the vision quest-- are strong examples of the transformative power of images.

But the responsibility falls to all of us on the growing edge-- male and female, fathers and mothers-- who recognize the cosmic process and are aware that we have a role in it.


One more thought. This kind of educational effort is the contemporary expression of what in previous times used to be called "religious education."

We need to help our kids be able to say (if only to themselves) words that the patriarchal masculine simply can not imagine itself ever saying. 

I have in mind the Native American prayers I've often quoted in these posts such as "Great Mystery, we see you all around" and "All things are my relations."

We also need to help our kids recognize that whatever good action they might be doing, whatever good things they may be accomplishing, whatever creative activities they are engaged in, they are doing "on behalf of all and for all."

Such words just make no sense at all to the patriarchal mind, but they are the essence of sacred manhood.

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If you feel you need some specific help with all this, it's good to know that pioneers on the growing edge have plowed the ground for the rest of us. The earliest of these unconventional men was not a psychiatrist, religious leader or business man, but a poet, the famous American poet Robert Bly.

Bly's thoughts first appeared in "What Do Men Really Want? A New Age Interview With Robert Bly" by Keith Thompson, in New Age Journal, May, 1982. His book, Iron John: A Book About Men, was first published in 1990 (Addison-Wesley) and has appeared in numerous editions since.
But in the last 20-30 years many other creative individuals have written about the recovery of sacred manhood. The following list contains books I think have been among the most helpful in the last several decades. 

Each has an especially down-to-earth and grounded perspective.

Sacred Manhood, Sacred Earth, by Joseph Jastrab (Harper Collins, 1994)

Beyond the Hero, by Allan Chinen (J. P. Tarcher, 1993)

Wildmen, Warriors and Kings, by Patrick Arnold, (Crossroad, 1991)

Phallos: Sacred Image of the Masculine, by Eugene A. Monick (Inner City Books, 1987)

Border Crossings, by Donald Lee Williams (Inner City Books, 1981)

(I would love to write a post about each one of these books! Chinen, Monick and Williams are Jungian analysts; Chinen also an MD and Monick also an Episcopal priest. Arnold was a Jesuit scripture scholar; Jastrab is the person with whom I did my three vision quests.)

I asked a friend in San Diego about books he found helpful with men's groups on the West Coast. He named two:

King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the 

Mature Masculine, by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette (HarperOne, 1991)

Personal Mythology: Using Ritual, Dreams, and Imagination to Discover Your Inner Story, by David Feinstein and Stanley Krippner (Energy Psychology Press, 2009)

I also asked Joseph Jastrab for his suggestions. He named:

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine, by Matthew Fox (New World Library, 2009) Matthew Fox, says Joseph, "does a good job at surveying the very broad field of this exploration." He's "not as good at bringing it together in a cohesive way. But he does emphasize that the reclamation of the Sacred Masculine is essential to humanity's evolution now."

Joseph adds that Fox "also carries the fine credentials of having been silenced by the Vatican and eventually expelled from service as a Dominican. He may round out the professional background of your list of authors."


If you are still wondering whether sacred manhood should be taken seriously-- whether the link between the sacred masculine and the New Cosmology is as strong as I've made it out to be in this post-- I'm delighted to be able to share with you this comment I found in the reviews of Fox's book on the Amazon website:

“'Matthew Fox might well be the most creative, the most comprehensive, surely the most challenging religious-spiritual teacher in America.' --Thomas Berry, author of The Great Work."

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1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.