Male Rites of Passage and Initiation

Young men and boys in Western culture rarely have formal opportunities for connection and support with peers and mentors as they face the challenges of growing up. Despite global history and substantiating the value of male initiation rituals, Western cultures continue to eschew such rites of passage, sending the message that young men simply are on their own as they grapple with questions of identity and spirituality.

PC&CC Executive Director Carl Siegel is working to overcome this deficit by developing a program whereby fathers and sons can be “initiated” and guided toward well-rounded masculinity. “I have always thought rites of passage for boys and girls are very important,” Siegel explains. “Five years ago, when my oldest got to be 14, I searched around to see what was available and didn’t find much.

“About 13 years ago, I myself participated in the Man Kind Project’s ‘New Warrior Training,’ which was designed to help men move into a fuller more healthy masculinity. That was an invaluable experience for me and I wanted my sons to benefit from a similar developmentally appropriate experience.”

As a result, Siegel designed a wilderness weekend for his sons emphasizing four male archetypes: warrior, king, lover, and magician. “They learned about the healthy side of each and the shadow side of each. They heard from six other men who participated in their Rite of Passage how they had struggled with each of these archetypes, of course communicating in age-appropriate ways,” he explains.

The weekend ended with a celebration and the giving of gifts and blessings. “Both of my sons expressed at the end of their ritual that it was the most important event of their life. At the same time, the men who participated said that if the boys got half as much out of it as they did, they got a lot,” he notes.

Siegel has been particularly inspired by Richard Rohr’s understanding that male initiation is about transforming and turning pain into power. Rohr offers five “spiritual truths” that Siegel invites men to meditate on and grapple with:

  1. You are going to die
  2. Life is hard
  3. You are not in control
  4. You are not that important
  5. Your life is not about you

Working with two colleagues who helped him initiate his own sons, Siegel has been developing a program for a springtime men’s gathering on the topic of male spirituality. Meanwhile, his 2009 Fly Fishing for the Soul Alaska outing is evolving into a trip for fathers and sons to consider many of these topics. He also is building a website featuring resources on male spirituality and how to create an initiation ritual for your own son.

Siegel believes that men may benefit from such information at any age. “Men who have never been initiated can’t initiate other men or boys, so part of the work with helping men doing Rites of Passage with their own sons means taking them through a process so that they can prepare themselves,” he explains. He is working on a program to help coach fathers on how to develop similar rites for their own sons.

For more information on any of these opportunities, please contact Carl Siegel. He would love to hear from you.

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