On The Disappearance Of Male Initiation Rituals

I’ll shoot it to you straight and look you in the eye.
So gimme just a minute and I’ll tell you why:
I’m a rough boy. I’m a rough boy.

Rough Boy, ZZ Top

There is an old African tale about a hunter who takes his son out with him hunting one day. Early on, the man finds a small rat, kills it and tells his son to keep the rat. The day goes by, with both the father and son unsuccessful in finding any more prey. The father turns to the son and asks him for the rat he killed earlier the day. The son shrugs, and tells his father that he threw the carcass away in a bush because he didn’t think they would need a rat. The story ends with the father raising up his ax, smashing his son with it and leaving his son unconscious.

In his many seminars in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Roberty Bly would relate these kinds of short tales to men, eliciting their opinions in an effort to understand the malaise of the modern man. In response to this particular story, men would instantaneously respond to the story, recalling exactly where their own father struck them or hit them—or when they wanted their father to strike or hit them as a youth. The point wasn’t about physical violence, but about how our fathers will eventually wound us—for better or for ill—as we grow from wayward, immature boys and into confident, self-assured men.

Bly’s interest in the ritual passage from boyhood to adulthood grew over the years as he participated in these workshops. A child himself of the radical politics of the ’60’s, he was in tune with the feminist and left-wing politics of the time. In spite of that, he noticed that the men of the modern, “liberated” era were listless, low-energy shells of their father’s generation, filled to the brim with anxiety and crippling emotional conflict.

Despite the strident pronouncements of social progress by the Left, Bly couldn’t help but notice that the American psyche had been in tailspin since at least the 1950s, and the modern man was a key example of this.

iron john 2

Over the course of these decades—which lead to the publication of Iron John in 1990—Bly immersed himself fully in this fledgling men’s movement. He encountered men from all walks of life—accountants, coal miners, doctors—and he noticed that they all seemed to have a universal ennui that stemmed from their childhood.

These men never really knew their fathers all that well—who he was, what he did everyday outside the home and why he seemed to just “rustle the papers in the kitchen” after supper. This mythical father was either entirely absent or was a distant figure of a sort, either dominated by “mother” or was a domineering figure in his own right.

They knew their mothers well—too well, perhaps—-and while they were in touch with the maternal side of parenting, they were impoverished by this paternal deficit. Unable to shake this general malaise, they found themselves wasting away at jobs they hated, dissatisfied with their marital relationships and had difficulty truly connecting with their children. Contrary to the grand narratives spun by feminists about patriarchy and male domination, these men were simply trying to love and be loved in return and have found themselves lost.

Iron John is the exploration of this lack of male initiation in America and its profoundly negative affects on boys as they mature into men. The books draws heavily on Jungian psychology, tales and anecdotes from varied cultures, and snips of wisdom from poets. Bly attempts—successfully, for the most part—to fuse a cultural critique of our shared values about raising boys with a discussion of a particular Grimm’s fairy tale—The Story of Iron John—in order to illuminate the steps that a boy must take in order to become a man.

iron john3

The parable of Iron John is a simple one: a young prince learns to grow and become a man through the tutelage of the “wild man” Iron John. According to Bly, this “wild man”—covered from head to toe in tangled hair—represents a connection to the “deep masculine,” a sort-of wellspring of eternal masculine truth. Iron John helps guide the young prince into adulthood, learning to fight, learning to love a woman and learning to deal with humility and pride.

Throughout the book, Bly builds on the parable, providing illuminating tales from other cultures on how they shepherd their boys into adulthood. Through the use of poetry and anecdote, he breaks the parable apart into eight easily digestible parts and explains how modern men can get caught in various stages of personal growth. The disappearance of male initiation rituals at various stages in life prevents modern men from growing up in certain ways, leaving them much poorer in spirit and mind.

The book is at its best when he focuses in on the various stages of growth a boy must go through in order to become a man. Consider a couple quotes.

On the disservice American schools do to their pupils:

Father Ong notes that combative debates survive in some European universities but have almost ceased in American universities. Men who have no family tradition of lively argument may feel themselves overwhelmed in such debates. Moreover, some men and women found that they did not enjoy this way of learning the competitive mood, the aggression, the fierceness of phrase, did not please them, and some pity of the loser affected the joy of the combat.

On importance of older males in the initiation process:

In ordinary life, a mentor can guide a young man through various disciplines, helping to bring him out of boyhood into manhood; and that in turn is associated not with body building, but with building an emotional body capable of containing more than one sort of esctasy.

We know, moreover, that such initiation does not take place at any one moment or only once. It happens over and over. An Australian aborigine said something to this effect: “I’ve been doing this initiatory work with young men for over forty years now, and I think I’m beginning to get it myself.”

As one might already expect, the greatest failing of the book is the liberal sympathies of Bly. For all of his brilliant insight into male initiation and cultural practices of other countries, the book is cluttered with clumsy shots at Republicans and right-wingers. While that is distracting enough, his attempts to balance feminism with male interests makes the book tough to take seriously at times.

Feminism, by definition, is about placing power relations between men and women on a different footing without any regard as to its affect on boys or girls. Trying to balance the spiritual development of boys into men with a craven, soulless movement like feminism is a fool’s errand.

In sum, the book is excellent at what it set out to do: analyze the current malaise of modern men, understand its roots and attempt to retrieve some guidance from the past on how to move forward as men.

While the prose is certainly too flowery at times, Bly does a great job of breaking various parts of male growth down into understandable parts. The use of “The Story of Iron John” was brilliant, as is his masterful command of literary and cultural anecdotes to help shed light on the unfortunately mysterious process of becoming a man.

Read More: We Must Not Deny The Importance Of Fatherhood

74 thoughts on “On The Disappearance Of Male Initiation Rituals”

  1. A generation of boys in men’s bodies, crippled by their unwillingness and inability to confront the Peter Pan syndrome that is a predictable result of the way in which they were raised. This book should be high on your list if you want to raise sons, or be a mentor to young boys and men in any capacity.

    1. Another thing that needs to be considered is the diet these young men are eating.

        1. “Expound”. That is the word of the day.
          Young men eat a highly estrogenic diet of sugared chemically “enhanced” cereal grains along with pints of sugary beverages.
          Consider this: few things are more manly than grilling up some meat on a outdoor grill. However, these days the go-to breakfast is some processed box of cereal. Gone are the traditional breakfasts of yesterday, bacon, eggs, real milk, butter, that build muscle and enhance HGH and test. Today’s young men eat cake for breakfast.

  2. Charles,
    Attacks against the “right” are a problem? Both Right & Left are ideologies that remove man from his masculine intuitive self. Sounds like Bly is warning us against false masculinity promulgated by the media/political machine.

    1. “Attacks against the “right” are a problem?”
      In and of themselves, no, but Bly is not just attacking the right, he is supporting a New Age, leftist mindset. The whole thing is very Age of Aquarius and resulted in the whole Going Out Into the Woods to Bang Drums for Manhood thang.
      Donovan does a much better job in The Way of Men, in much less time and without all the annoying pussified angst.
      Use the time you save not reading Iron John to watch The Outlaw Josie Wales. Hell is coming to breakfast, and it ain’t bringin’ a frickin’ drum circle.

      1. kfg,
        If that is that case, I’ll won’t bother defending this guy. That New-Age “banging drums”-schtick is creepier than anything FoxNews could conjure forth, even that comedy show they put out sometime ago that was intended to compete with The Daily Show.

  3. Nice ZZTop quote. If you posted this article on Friday, this video might make more sense, but whatever 🙂

    1. I do not want to do too much song posting. However, this does accompany a point. I do not think this song could be made today. Hilarious song by ZZTop which would make the SJW’s have a hissy kniption.

        1. Used to listen to them some in high school. They were never my favorite, but were always part of my collection. I especially liked the some , “I’m bad, I’m nationwide”

  4. That’s why there are so damned many manginas prancing around.Actually, you can always detect a subtle bias in the culture.
    As I child in the 70’s, people still admired the good debater. That is discouraged now. Now, you are supposed to aspire to more connective discourse. Feminist linguistics actually is impacting the culture at large.
    I am so thankful that I took one of those feminist linguistics courses in the early 1990’s. It sucked and was stupid.
    However, I am not much better equipped to see how there is a conscious effort in academia with very effective strategies to modify how language is used in society at large.
    Just the other day I was working in a public school. I saw a female teacher teaching her “female conflict resolution” strategies to a male kid who was arguing with another.
    Not that these were bad. I am not opposed to that. But that approach is ALL that is given. It would be good if there were more dudes around to teach other approaches.
    I would not be so opposed to gender studies curricula if it was not all one sided.

    1. Take masculine linguistics- Latin and Ancient Greek. Nothing inculcates masculine thinking like translating Homer or Catullus.

        1. I think tremendous discoveries could be made if the ancient sacred languages were taught more widely.
          Sanscrit, Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Chinese, Hebrew,
          Modern academic education has tremednous capacity of alienation. People learn empiricism and behaviourism, but the capacitiy to connect with the primal roots of being is not facilitated.
          In elite schools, there is more of this. But for the masses, the proles are taught to manipulate and measure. Skills that are placed in service of the overlords.
          I cannot help be think there is something in this akin to black magic.

        2. Meditation, sacred texts, gardening, carpentry are skills that are key to autonomy.
          One hopeful sign. I believe that the elite will regret the widespread adoption ot technology that the proles are mastering. While it does allow the elites to dumb us down, it is, as in the case a Snowden, a bludgeon with which we can fight back.
          I wish I had some techie skills. A lot of these young whipper snappers do.
          I am often critical of the younger generation. But there are some geniuses out there who give me hope.
          Like Snowden, if he is what he appears to be. It is, in my opinion, not a coincidence that Snowden was a Ron Paul supporter.

        3. Many of the Founding Fathers who managed to graduate college had a working knowledge of Biblical Hebrew, most notably Madison. To be fair, Hebrew is much easier to learn than Attic Greek.

  5. It started in the US with the post-war suburban boom, fathers became bread winners because it was easier than being a pater familias. We chose the safe way to live instead of the virtuous.

    1. I think getting through the Depression and WW2 is enough virtue for a lifetime. Their successors are a different matter.

      1. Bwhahaha! Okay you believe that crap. Most of the GI generation were children during the worst of the Depression and then of the millions of men who were put in uniform only about 400,000 saw direct action.
        Kind of like my mother’s friend whose daddy at 22 was typing up papers in England while my 35 grandfather was in the spearhead of Patton’s Third Army. The former got to court and marry an English woman, the latter came home to his wife and children a fucked up alcoholic, and yes he did have to deal with the Depression as a young man instead of as a child sucking on his mother’s tit.

  6. You want to experience a red-pill culture? Buy yourself a ticket to TURKEY- and spend a few weeks there. It was life-changing for me, it will be for many of you.

    1. You’ve got my attention, care to elaborate with some examples of their culture. I’ve never been to that part of the world, but I have been to others and noticed the men (for the most part) acted completely different in regards to dealing with women. I’d also like to see someone write an article looking at how poverty in third world countries completely changes the attitudes, or at least the actions of women there.

      1. Well, for starters, it is based on a nomad culture (Central Asia) overlaid by an Iranian/Sufi version of Islam. I trekked around the Anatolian plateau and visited numerous Sufi shrines. The men everywhere were very welcoming- the women seemed a bit more guaded. JUST GO!

        1. I had a few Persian friends, very nice people who have a lot of wisdom to share. I also knew a few Turks, mad into the football but pretty nice guys. The Persians embraced Christianity when they got out of their ‘Islamic Republic” which was also nice to see and speaks volumes by itself.

      1. Grow up, idiot. If you have to sockpuppet my account, you’re clearly mentally disturbed. Get help.
        Quick pro tip for lurkers and friends, my post count is astronomical, this fraud has 6 posts to his/her name, just hover over the icon to see the profile if in doubt.

        1. Yeah, heh. I seem to attract no small amount of positively insane people for some reason.

    2. And Turkey is being infected by leftism. They have a strong leftist movement there.

  7. Two things I believe contribute to men being so confused in Western society are the provider state meaning that men are obsolete as a provider and the belief that masculinity is evil and needs to be shamed coming into Western culture. I’m not sure when and the why the second happened to be honest.

    1. Simple. So any excuse can be brought into the debate to ensure men will never become the true providers again. This is the only age where women can truly provide for themselves because we work with software. Shaming masculinity also gives the weakest among us equal footing as men.

    2. ” . . .men are obsolete as a provider . . .”
      Until the day they stop working to provide.

    3. Obsolete as a provider? Directly perhaps. Who do you think the welfare state fleeces? Men of today are fleeced by the state, the state in turn hands the fruits of the fleecing out to lazy degenerates.

    4. It came out of the 70’s: welfare, and second wave feminism gathering increasing support amongst the most gullible group within the population – young women, particularly middle class women.

      1. Yes I’ve started reading about it, the temperance movement had a big part to play.

    1. It would have been better without that Negro – who can’t get the Kurdish rhythms.

  8. “We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.” -Tyler Durden

      1. “Okay, you are now firing a gun, at your imaginary friend, near 400 gallons of nitroglycerin!”

      2. Neither was Iron John, but in this context both characters are being used to illustrate a point.

    1. Men should embrace homosexuality. As the Spartans used to say, women are for procreation, men are for love.

        1. It’s an imposter. There is some dude that is following me around, and I strongly suspect that he is actually mentally ill in real life, he’s obsessed. His “Spartan” thing was used by another handle for quite a while, as was his homosexual advocacy. He’s disturbed.

        2. I hope no woman gives you the time of day. And if they do I hope they leave you with an unforgivable curse in the form of an std

    1. Yeah, “Run the World” girls! Might be a bit hard to do that with an annual 3% patents-granted rate but you go grrrrllll.

  9. I was wondering when someone at ROK would review Iron John. Well done Charles. I also enjoyed reading that book in the 90’s. And I particularly enjoyed your criticism of Bly’s politics. I had never considered that. He had to have been greatly influenced by academia after all, and academia seethes with leftism. Comparing Bly to today’s manosphere, it would seem that Bly launched the first MGTOW movement. The fact that Bly’s movement fizzled out shows the doom MGTOW faces. Roosh is right about that. Still, Bly’s book covers some great mythology and is a great book for inspiration, particularly to young men.

    1. A MGTOW movement with a liberal base was doomed to fail.
      As much ire as MGTOW earns here (some rightfully so), there’s nothing like it for introspection and self-improvement. But the answer to being a whole man, balanced in mind and body, is somewhere between MGTOW and the PUA philosophy.

      1. MGTOW doesn’t earn ire from me. More like pity, because I see its doom. I agree with you that both MGTOW and PUA are insufficient. Hopefully Roosh’s neomasculinity is the answer. It’s interesting that Roosh has expressed interest in developing the analogous neofemininity as well. This is a key difference since both MGTOW and PUA seem to abandon interest in the development of women and, considering the current state of the average woman, we cannot afford to ignore her development. Women need leadership from men. Note that Robert Bly formed an alliance with writer Clarissa Pinkola Estés who wrote Women Who Run With The Wolves in order to try to assist with the analogous development of women. This was a good idea and Bly also co-wrote The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine, with a female writer named Marion Goodman, which I have not read. Maybe Charles will be kind enough to review that book for us soon.

      2. “As much ire as MGTOW earns here (some rightfully so), there’s nothing like it for introspection and self-improvement. But the answer to being a whole man, balanced in mind and body, is somewhere between MGTOW and the PUA philosophy”
        Agreed. PUA gives men skills to interact with hormonal driven beasts, and MGTOW teaches men not to be dependent on them.

    2. No, as he got older he finally came to admit that he had been over-influenced by his mother, and had actually even helped her dismiss /betray his father. That deep understanding is why he behaved as such a pathetic wussy and why his movement ultimately died, there is no way for a functional man to accept feminism, let alone adopt it.

  10. I remember when I was younger, in my first year in high school. There was a younger boy who lived in my neighborhood who was perhaps in 3rd or 4th grade and several years younger.
    I had a dog that I regularly walked after school when I got home. The younger neighbor boy came around with his own dog one day and asked if he could walk with me. I remember him having a mother, but I don’t think the father was in the picture. It was probably her idea to send him over. I agreed and soon the boy would come by regularly to walk the dogs.
    I didn’t mind him tagging along. We would talk about this and that and he would ask me many questions. One day however, some busy body lady in the neighborhood stopped us and starting interrogating me on how I knew the boy, and whether we were related (she was acting like I was a potential pedophile.)
    Extremely unnerved, and cognizant of the danger of being labeled a pedophile, I never allowed the neighbor boy to walk with me again.
    thanks feminism.

    1. “Extremely unnerved, and cognizant of the danger of being labeled a pedophile, I never allowed the neighbor boy to walk with me again”
      And this unfortunately is what also keeps men from becoming a possible mentor to young boys.
      Thanks feminism indeed. I do not blame you for wanting to steer clear of contact. All it takes is some cunt to make something up and you’re finished.
      So the poor kid will only have contact with hormonal driven beasts and end up conpletely fucked in the head

      1. I remember feeling pretty bad, because he didn’t understand. Just another boy with no father and no older male in the community to bond with because what guy wants to risk that label.

        1. I hear ya, man. Still sad but these are fucked up times and men have to avoid the land mines in the current male-hate culture.

      2. After 13 my dad wasn’t around… and I got most of my male role models and leadership mentoring through Boy Scouts. Speaking of initiation rituals… those were some of the most memorable to me. Mic-O-Say initiation (which was a big deal)… honor courts… things of that nature. Probably had as much to do with my current success as anything. I’d love to give back something like that… but as you put it… single successful male wanting to mentor young men… well he’s got to be a pedophile right. I had some cunt make something up once… and it damn near bankrupted me (might still). No way I can endure that again. Feminism hates boys.

        1. The Scouts was a last haven for boys to learn manly skills and grow as a young boy into a man. Now the scouts have decided to let gays in the organisation.

  11. I have a lot of respect for the Berbers as a people — awesome folks!

  12. “The Dangerous Book for Boys”.
    If you have boys and are on the lookout for resources to bring him or them into manhood, this book is a must.

  13. question: as a 17 year old male where do i go to be initiated to become a man? i do agree that it feels missing.

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