The New Warrior Training Adventure is an male-initiation process. Simple and complex.
Male-initiation has taken place for thousands of years...up until the last 100 years. In the scheme of things, when looked at in the timeline of our species, the last hundred years has seen vast intellectual growth and the leaving behind of many of the tribal traditions. Any wonder than that male-initiation has been virtually left behind, as well?
The last hundred years is a speck of time on our species time line. Yet, we have changed so much. Is it possible that there are many things we still need from our past? Is it possible that it is still embedded in our genes to need the older men to carry us into manhood? Is it possible that deep down, in our mushy, slimy guts, we feel the need to be initiated?
ManKind Project, the men of MKP, offer men the chance to step into this space.
This article talks to male-initiation, the NWTA, and some of the founders of MKP.
From Sentient Times Aug/Sept 2003
By John Darling
Back before urban civilization and organized religion, boys were initiated at puberty. Initiations provided a sense of mission for their lives, of belonging to the tribe, of reverence for women, of connectedness with earth, nature and the cycle of days, seasons and lives, of their coming role as fathers, and their place in the web of spirits and deities.
The older men led them in this and it was usually out away from the village and their mothers and younger children. It was secret, so they didn’t know what they were in for. It was terrifying, so they would shake lose from their accustomed ego roles and go through a death-rebirth, but, since it was secret, they wouldn’t have any idea what they were being reborn into. But they could see by looking at older boys that the rites of passage had made them different. The older boys knew something.
It was a ritual experience filled with pain, darkness, drums, chanting, masks, suffering, fear. It was an intentional and permanent severing of the ties with mother and her world. It was childhood’s end and the creation of a new being, one bonded to other men. It was intended to shape men who could handle the job of being warriors. Men who would ensure the survival of the tribe by understanding their place and the tribe’s place in the cycles and balance of nature—hunting, territory, birth, mating, death, storytelling, ritual and the tribe’s relationship with powerful and unseen powers.
We don’t have that now. It’s almost gone from even the most remote tribal systems. While many bemoan the loss of immersion in tribe, nature and spirit, it’s hard not to think our progression into mind, ego, urban life and individual isolation was not inevitable—if not intended. And it often seems we can never live that deep connection so many of us long for.
But thousands of men are experiencing that deep connection—not living in tribes, but beginning to find other men and enacting that same initiation. They’re called the New Warriors and they’ve been doing it for almost 20 years in North America, Europe and South Africa. What goes on is secret but it’s founder, Bill Kauth, now of Ashland, says, “You come Friday night and go down into some intense games that bond you with other men. On Saturday, you work on your life’s mission and we create a situation for each man to go deep into his heart. We use ceremony and ritual. On Sunday, we prepare men to take what they’ve learned back into the world.”
I’ve been asked several times what was the most important thing I learned. Well, the games were intense all right. And the “situation” indeed took me deep into my heart. But what shifted everything was looking straight into the eyes of 60 men and seeing who they really were. A lot of pain there, in every face. I’ve seen it—but never really seen it. It’s called the Shadow, a Jungian term meaning everything we, most of our lives, don’t want to see and spend a lot of energy stuffing, managing, hiding and being run by. But these men have learned to bring it out of the dark, learn its secrets, love it and integrate it into their lives.
The Shadow is what Iron John is all about. In myth, he’s a large, slimy, shaggy, smelly humanoid living in a swamp near the king’s castle. He is captured and caged by the king because he makes people disappear in his swamp. When the prince, a young boy, lets his gold ball roll into the cage, Iron John keeps it. He’ll give it back if the prince gets the key to the cage and sets him free. Where’s the key? Iron John answers: under your mother’s pillow.
In this myth, the centerpiece of Robert Bly’s bestselling book Iron John, we have all the elements of the mystery around what happened to men’s power, fire, energy, intelligence, passion, during 5,000 years of civilization. Iron John, though obtuse in the refinements of urban or courtly life, somehow possesses the golden ball—emblematic of the missing spirit, self-reliance and wholeness of a prince coming into manhood. To possess it, the prince must embrace the shadow and free savagery itself—though this wild energy may bring harm to the order valued by the King and Queen. What stands in the way? Mom. To be whole and have his power, the prince must betray her, seek to his own instinct and basically cut the cord with mom. He does. And he rides off into the wide world on the shoulders of Iron John.
That’s what was on the faces of those men: Iron John, reclaimed. The shadow brought to the light and worn, like a cloak won in battle. The making of men distinct and apart from their mothers and from that energy embodied in their wives or lovers. What initiated men grow out of is the old patriarchal mask of strength and domination behind which we live out (and hide from) an unhealthy relationship of fear, dependence and mother-fixation toward women, said Dennis Mead-Shikaly, an Ashland personal coach, New Warrior facilitator and executive director of New Warriors in the mid-1990s. “Men coming out of the training tend to be strongly committed to healthier, more honest relationships with their partners. It can shake a woman up but most say they love the men we send home to them.”
When Bly began lecturing and writing articles in the early 1980s—and especially when his book and PBS show with Bill Moyers came out around 1990—men responded with a huge hunger for initiation and for knowing other men without the long-conditioned competitiveness, distancing and armor. Huge numbers still are hungering—like every man in the van ride to the training—coping with the end of marriages and long relationships. They couldn’t explain it. But it begged the question: why are we all here together, seeking initiation into the camaraderie of men right after … well … after not finding it with women? Our American mythos says the family will give us all we need. But what happens after the first divorce and millions of shattered men can’t see their kids half or all of the time … and are mostly clueless why the pairbond dream didn’t work out. Something’s missing. Is it the key that frees the wildman? It’s under the female’s pillow. Who put it there? One immediately thinks mom did. What if we put it there? What if she doesn’t even want it? But it hardly matters. There can be only one concern—to get the key. And that’s a big part of initiation.
And what is initiation? It’s taking males from the psychology of the boy to that of the man, says Carl Griesser of Ashland, executive director of the ManKind Project, the umbrella corporation for New Warriors. In our culture, we pretty much leave that to just happen—with rituals of driving, drinking, drugs, sex, leaving home and getting your apartment, sometimes going into the military to seek the direction of older warriors of a different sort. But it doesn’t just happen, Griesser said. You have to become spiritually conscious and only older, conscious men can teach that.
The primal urge for initiation is largely lost in the culture but lives on in instinct, says Mead-Shikaly. It’s absence, across the planet accounts for much of how life is out of balance. Men are out of touch with themselves. What the Warriors are working to bring back is that ancient practice of being accountable, responsible, emotionally awake and able to relate to women in good ways, he said. Spiritually conscious, he adds, means learning again to be part of the fabric of life and knowing that what we do impacts everything else, all people, all life in that fabric and not thinking we are above or exempt from it.
At the training, men are confronted with the question: who do you serve? We don’t get asked that very often. We are conditioned to believe we serve ourselves, our bank account, mortgage, our career track, our ego images, and, when we make family, our partners and children and their agendas. Men quiver at the question, said Mead-Shikaly. “It confronts their denial and takes them out of that get-what-you-can mindset. Their mission can shift to service.”
This opens the door for men to create a deeper mission that includes all life and the fate of the planet, creating what Kauth calls “social capital”—the trust, vision and mutual relationships that are the “glue of society.”
Warriors often say their best work happens in the ten-week Integration Groups that follow the training and usually go on for years. I was judging and terrified and told the facilitators I couldn’t think of any six guys I’d less rather be with—a comment we would laugh heartily about later, as it became clear how much of what we see in others, especially in intimate relationships, is projection. We externalize our Shadow on that person doing that thing that we most don’t want to look at in ourselves. But in doing the work, one always ends up looking in the mirror at that scared little boy trying to hide out from the deeper work. Finally, I laughed, “It’s all projection, isn’t it?” Yes, the facilitator said, a huge part. But that’s how we bring out the Shadow, own it, love it and integrate it.
Griesser nails is succinctly: “Most men are terrified of other men.” Hence all the man-chat about sports, politics, cars, hunting, fishing, etc. We’re bred to compete, says Mead-Shikaly, and it’s become almost instinctive. It’s painfully isolating. “We hide our weaknesses and that keeps us lonely, separate and afraid. From that place we get sick and do sick things, like trying to dominate women and the planet.” Kauth adds “War is obsolete and men now must battle what’s inside, not outside.”
We live in chaotic, often painful times, personally and globally, and a lot of this is coming from a death-rebirth in the way we do relationships. Men are realizing that they can’t get from women everything they need and want in life—and that this in fact is part of the shadow of patriarchy that men themselves created over many millennia. In isolating women in rigid roles with home, marriage and motherhood, men isolated themselves, too. And, although love-marriage-children-home are huge steps in life, they are not men’s initiation. A woman can’t initiate a man—only men can. Men who’ve been there.