For reasons too personal to go into here, it is very important to me to regain some sense of confidence and pride in being a male. My reconnection with the natural world and a sense of wildness in nature are part of that. I have recently been reading Robert Bly’s “Iron John – Men and Masculinity”, which takes its name from a German fairytale that tells of a young prince who is mentored by a ‘wild man’ in a forest.
Bly’s thesis is that myths and folk tales can offer clues and paradigms to help modern men reorient themselves in a culture which has lost touch with its mythic identity. Bly spent years researching traditional societies and their mythologies; he believes that industrial societies lack the initiation processes needed, particularly for boys to become men.
Although I found parts of the book hard to grasp because of the poetical nature of Bly’s musings, some sections were riveting to me. Particularly his reflections on fathers and sons:
“When a father and son do spend long hours together…a substance almost like food passes from the older body to the younger…I think a physical exchange takes place, as if some substance was passing directly to the cells. The father gives this food at a level far below consciousness…(the son’s) cells receive some knowledge of what an adult masculine body is. The younger body learns at what frequency the masculine body vibrates. It begins to grasp the song that adult male cells sing, and how the charming, elegant, lonely, courageous, half-shamed male molecules dance.
During the long months spent in the mother’s body, his body got well-tuned to female frequencies…Now, standing next to the father, as they repair arrowheads, or repair ploughs, or wash pistons in gasoline, or care for birthing animals, the sons body has the chance to retune. Slowly, over months or years, the sons body-strings begin to resonate to the to the harsh, sometimes demanding, testily humorous, irreverent, impatient, opinionated, forward-driving, silence loving older masculine body. Both male and female cells carry marvellous music, but the son needs to resonate to the masculine frequency as well as the female frequency.”
Bly believes this masculine learning process has been disastrously disrupted since industrialisation:
“…by the middle of the twentieth century in Europe and North America a massive change had taken place: the father was working, but the son could not see him working. Throughout the ancient hunters societies, which apparently lasted thousands of years…and the subsequent agricultural and craft societies, father and sons worked and lived together…in all these societies the son characteristically saw his father working at all times of the day and all seasons of the year. When the son no longer sees that, what happens?…a hole appears in the son’s psyche. When the son does not see his father’s workplace, or what he produces, does he imagine his father to be a hero, a fighter for good, a saint, or a white knight?…demons move into that empty place – demons of suspicion. The demons, invisible but talkative, encourage suspicion of all older men. Such suspicion effects a breaking of the community of old and young men.”
I’m sure many men will relate to that.