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The Importance of Initiation Values, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1001

Essay

Introduction

As humanity moves on its course, and within virtually all existing cultures, there is an attractive belief felt that rites of passage and initiation values become increasingly unimportant.  We tend to think we have understandings of our own behaviors that render such values antiquated.   A great part of this must be attributed to the increased parity of gender roles, as many initiation passages are specifically masculine.   If the day of the man-as-hunter-and-warrior is gone, so too must be the rites of passage preparing the boy to become one. The results of these changes are debated, but Robert Bly is evidently unhappy with this perceived “progress”.  He asserts the conviction that the decrease of traditionally masculine initiation rites has weakened what men essentially are, no matter how modern societies attempt to ameliorate this softening of the masculine. He is correct in this, but only provided there is no allowance for the values to be obtained through changes in ideas regarding gender roles, including the possibility of matriarchal cultures.   Robert Bly, while extolling traditional initiations and resultant behaviors that were never wholly effective in their time, refuses to permit the possibility that an even greater change in gender interactions and perceptions may improve the entire scenario.

Bly and Beyond  

That Bly regards the changes in masculine identity during the twentieth century as ultimately harmful is irrefutable. Although he writes in a manner clearly not out to offend, through aggressive promoting of a hyper-masculinity, he nonetheless feels that modern man, in ameliorating his behaviors to capitulate to an increased feminine presence, has lost his primal essence, and is consequently damaging his own species. He equivocates to please, as he salutes the men who seek to develop their more “feminine” sides, but he still reverts to a posture irreconcilable with this in his definition of today’s man:  “He’s a nice boy who pleases not only his mother but also the young woman he is living with” (Bly 2).   Bly would like to present a world wherein his politically correct acceptance of modern, and softer, masculinity supports his more determined need to bring men back to a primal state.  It cannot happen because he is working at cross-purposes.

For instance, Bly continually seeks to stress the need for a combination of influences and initiations as being essential for a boy to mature into a man.  He refers to an Apollonian/Dionysian dynamic, wherein the feminine and more “enlightened” elements of the male nature stand firmly on the rock of raw, tribal-man masculinity. This is an attractive premise, in that it acknowledges the danger of too one-sided a male development. Unfortunately, Bly stacks the deck, for it is obvious that his true sympathies lie with, not seeing the tribal as equally important, but as more important. In a lengthy passage correlating initiation rites of physical pain inflicted as marks of growth, he asserts:  “Never being welcomed into the male world by older men is a wound in the chest” (Bly 32). This is powerful and true, but the analogy with the physical injury restricts, rather than emphasizes, the truth.   That is to say, it is more accurate and helpful to claim that an absence of older male attention creates in the boy a conflict; rendering this lack a harsh, physical injury elevates it beyond any growth the boy may achieve through other means.

Bly is not alone in valuing the physical blow as initiative: “While the male wound can be crushing and oppressive to men, it can also prompt men to grow up” (Mason  29). This endorsement of the severe initiation process actually underscores its essential flaw, and one in place through all the millennia such men point to as evidence of its validity; namely, the trauma of the initiation may just as easily warp a boy’s entry into adulthood as it may facilitate it. The same history that Bly and Mason eagerly refer to as proof of the necessity of these rituals in forging masculinity reveals untold numbers of men driven to extreme and harmful behaviors by those same means. In other words, Bly’s stance would be more compelling, had thousands of years of chiefly masculine dominance in the world exhibited less in the way of hyper-masculinity as a destructive force.

Also, Bly does not take the time to delve into how female ritual and feminine influences, grudgingly accepted by him as a kind of balance, may be just as “primal” and forceful for a masculine development he will not consider. His view relies on trusting in an intrinsic value of primal masculinity. However, and aside from the noted failures of such an essence to consistently better life, he does not entertain the possibility of a “tribal female” as being equally valid. Bly is too locked into a patriarchal conception of humanity, for many scholars support the concept of a goddess culture as being more beneficial to humanity, and this translates to accepting that masculine initiations and traditional roles are limited, if not unnecessary. It is suggested that Western cultures, in finally reverting to the pagan reverence of the goddess, or the purely feminine, can infuse into these conflicted cultures a vital spirituality (Quinn 169).  In this view, Bly’s dependence on the primal male and the importance of masculine initiation is rendered virtually irrelevant.

Conclusion

Ultimately, Robert Bly succeeds in his analysis of initiation only insofar as his subject is accepted without question. In his patriarchal world, the only reliable means of making men out of boys lies in the inevitably mixed outcomes of a forceful initiation process. He promotes traditional initiations and resultant behaviors that have never been consistently beneficial for all humanity, and he ignores the possibility that an even greater change in perceptions of gender itself may create more valuable initiations, and consequently better societies.

Works Cited

Bly, R.  Iron John: A Book about Men.  Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press, 2004.  Print.

Mason, C. P.  Crossing into Manhood: A Men’s Studies Curriculum.  Youngstown, NY: Cambria Press, 2006.  Print.

Quinn, P. J.  New Perspectives on Robert Graves.  Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1999 Print.

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