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Initiating Men: ManKind Project

3 August 2008

 

In the mythopoetic wing of the men’s movement liminal spaces were intentionally constructed.  My favorite account is of a Robert Bly gathering of men in Los Angeles in which the men were asked to line up around the back of the building and funnel through dark corridors.  They walked slowly through the inky blackness, hearing throbbing drums in the distance, then, with the beat louder and louder as the men progress, an opening is reached, and someone tells each of the men to crawl through the folds of a thick curtain and “come out the other side dancing.”  They get pushed through the door to find themselves on a stage with dozens of men drumming and dancing, chanting, “Go back back back, go back back back.”  If that doesn’t change your frame of mind, I don’t know what will.

 

The ManKind Project (MKP) has also found ways to brew up heady states of altered consciousness.  I was tremendously impressed with how men of all walks of life could come together for a weekend or a training session and be quickly transitioned into a place in which they might express emotion, honesty, grief and longing.  On one hand, MKP uses ancient methods to accomplish this: smudging, sweats, storytelling, song and dance.  But it ultimately relies on modern psychotherapeutic exercises to draw men into a place of “primal” feeling and reflection.  There is a heavy dose of boot camp in some of their activities, something I’m told comes courtesy of Rich Tosi, a former Marines captain.  Whether old or new in origin, the activities of MKP help men get away from the normal world in order to see their lives clearly, even, in their words, “take part in the initiation weekend.”  The New Warriors Training Adventure Weekend itself struck me as a Christian retreat on amphetamines – which, in my opinion, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

 

Still, the liminal (or liminoid) spaces of MKP deviate somewhat from the traditional idea of initiation in that men are called upon, ultimately, to be self-initiators.  The men have to name their own issues.  They give themselves their own name.  They dance their own dance and talk about their own unique life mission.  Contrary to those who would see MKP as a cult, there is no head-honcho who calls out the shots – indeed, neither are there elders.  After some initial commandeering on the weekend, the group of men is astoundingly equalitarian.  It’s all about you, about your needs, about your quest in the modern world.  And nobody is going to initiate you but yourself. 

 

Let’s acknowledge that initiation has to (and always has had) an element of self in it.  It pays for any society to have specialized men, after all.  But in the past initiation has meant bringing a male to the next stage of life (usually at pubescence, but there might be later initiations, say, into leadership).  These initiations have been a matter of conforming him to the societal standards, training him in the standard ways of the culture.  The major was on uniformity, the minor on individuality. 

 

ManKind Project has a different mode of operation.  A man has to find his own way.  His sages, at best, are therapists helping him on his soul journey.  The event in which he participates is an egalitarian initiation, surrounded by brothers, not fathers.  Of course, it still feels like liminal space because it is just that.  Change is in the air.  MKP tones down the sense of authority – and ratchets up the peer pressure.  It actually sounds funny from a distance: “Look, we’re all getting dangerously honest with ourselves.  You should do the same.  Unless you’re a coward, in which case you’ll have to [cue the ominous music] suffer the self-consequences.”  So the game plan is Rogerian more than paleo-Jungian; self-styled gestalt therapy rather than a calling upon the “gods in the blood.”  (Does anyone know if Bill Kauth was drawing off of James Hillman’s acorn theory?)  In the end, it’s an exercise in self-help and self-making. 

 

Isn’t there a certain irony in calling MKP’s ongoing support teams “I-Groups”?  The jury is still out for me as to what extent men’s events should be “egocentric” events with fraternal initiation.  There are benefits, no doubt.  It can work.  But such an initiationo smacks of the sibling society against which Bly warned so fervently.

 

I suppose that MKP is internally consistent.  They are new warriors indeed: discontinuity from the old rules the day.  There is a sense in which MKP men never give themselves over to the past, to the archetypal stew, to the legends and wisdom of yore.  They commodify their religion.  But for that reason they are also able to keep things safe – and safely modern.  The old ways have shriveled, and appear hopelessly impotent.   Have not these men been initiated to meet the demand of a complicated, contemporary existence in their own skin?

 

 

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9 comments

  1. My experience with MKP lends itself to possibly damaging at worst to an interesting experience at best. MKP’s NWTA and subsequent training is amateur in its Jungian therapy approach. The leaders of the weekend tend to be relatively intelligent, however usually have no professional training in counseling. There are of course exceptions to this rule. The men who join the group are typically looking for something. Most have ‘failed’ in there life’s pursuits by their own admission. Some have success but still seek something that is missing from their spiritual walk. As a result they make it up. As does MKP, “make it up” as they go. Most religions could be accused of making it up as they go, however MKP steeps itself in a soup of various pagan, druid, and native american belief systems. Interestingly, none of the beliefs represented by the group are Christian in any shape or form. The idea of compassion enters the groups ideals, however there is no mention of the term ‘sin’. The ideas of personal ‘integrity’ and accountability’ are of great importance to the group, however the nature of the emotional work done in the group allows for abandoning of any real personal responsibility. Of these idea integrity can mean just about anything, because the group asks all members of the group to “Take care of yourself first”. Thus a group member is out of integrity first with himself if he does not “take care of himself” even if he has responsibilities to others. The Jungian self indulgence is rampant. Men in their 50’s are still exploring the sins of their mother and father against them. I wish that I could say this New Age group was harmless. As for me, I am taking care of myself in the comfort Christ.


  2. I have been given an opportunity to once again have a relationship with Christ and once again realize my love for God largely through the support I received from men in the Mankind Project. I believe that these men are doing good works and have offered a wonderful opportunity for this man to deepen his connection with his Lord. I have found a much deeper and more authentic connection with Christ as I look more closely at who I thought I was, who I really want to be, and take responsibility for moving myself into integrity and account with myself, my family, may community and my God.

    This is the message I receive from Jesus and the scripture and I have been supported by these men in living it. The fact that God has given me the opportunity to live with integrity in my life has been such a blessing and I thank God that he has helped me see this through the support of the men I have met in the Mankind Project. I fully support the honesty, openess and authentic relationships these men provide other men and boys.


  3. Any initiation is necessarily liminal as Victor Turner points out, but does MKP create an extended liminal (ie. an extended adolescence) the sibling society metaphor you describe? Although I do believe ultimately in a healing journey the individual must take the lead for themselves (in a Western ‘self’ based culture) I however don’t believe ALL men are qualified to be fascilitators, healers, psychotherapists, shamans are whatever. That role traditionally and in reality is reserved for those who have earned it, as Joseph Campbell would say “an elite”. But this elite is formed by those who have the insight, compassion, and have done enough work on themselves. MKP has flattened this and I believe in a rather dangerous way. Your group may interpret fairy tales but this sibling flatness means that other groups have big brother bullies who listen to know authority of above them. They interpret the so-called “tough love” into sadism. I have seen both what you describe and what I am refering to. As far as ego – the reason why MKP resonates with contemporary Christian, Jewish and secular men alike is we are all entrenched in a contemporary cult of the self which is invisible to us. This notion of the self is really only about 500 years old and has certainly reached it’s apex in cultural phenomenon such as MKP, psychotherapy, Self-help etc. Most of the world is westernized but the cult of the self is not as strong in parts of traditional India, or much of Africa etc. The self is a necessity I believe in a functioning democracy but once again as Joseph Campbell said in regards to the spirit and the soul “the majority is always wrong.”


  4. If I could give one suggestion for MKP they would be better off slowing down and looking up. The dangerous pitfalls I have seen many men fall into could lessen a great deal with more humility. Men certainly can find the answers in a multicultural post-modern way paying respect to the Bible, the Torah, indigenous religion, art, poetry, or Carl Jung. But most don’t take the time for such looking up and slowing down. Not doing so results in inflated grandiosity rather than humilty. The cult of the self dictates that the answer is within. Perhaps the answer is within but it is midwived by the wise men and women both contemporary and ancient.


    • Matthew, thanks for your insight. There’s no doubt that MKP, as a modern, western organization, prefers the psychological over the sociological and the personal over the cosmological. Such an orientation away from an initiation led by the reverenced “elite,” since notions of honor give way to a democracy-styled mutuality. But I have been surprised at how MKP has introduced some modified elements of hierarchy: upper level trainings like “Warrior Monk,” the appointing of “elders,” a deference to men who have gone through years of therapy. MKP is a polis, after all.


      • What I am refering to is perhaps a more meditative approach of studying the insights of those who have already done the work. As far as “elders” I always respect elders but they may or may not have wisdom. But to humorously give insight into what I am refering to when I was there many incompetent men were bestowed leadership and placed in positions as mentors. I was asked as well, but at the time I was really wounded, neurotic, and traumatized so I continued to decline knowing these limits while other men wanted these positions more for power than to serve others. I will alter Groucho’s line and say, “I refuse to be a member of any club that would have me as a mentor.” The “elite” that I am refering to is a respect more for the dead than the living. There is perhaps a preference for excitement than for the arduous work of self examination via readership, intellectual decernment of the psyche, or Sublimative creativity.


  5. You both have interesting insights, Matthew and Hitchcock. I think that MKP is moving into areas of development for men which has been missing in our culture for many years.

    The tradition in MKP is to respect men by listening to their hearts and letting their truth and authenticity tell the whole story. I sense that God wrote the truth in the hearts and minds of all men. When I learned to listen, I found that the truth exists in me as well as in most men, some don’t have time for the truth or have chosen not to listen to it.

    Elders in the MKP community I am a part of, are respected because they deserve respect, they speak the truth and model this for younger men. They bless and support everyone.

    The leaders in MKP are constantly assesed and given feedback for their words and actions. They get the benefit of many councilors and the organization gets leaders who have made a deep commitment to truth and are currently living that commitment.

    I think my church and the Christian men of this culture could grow strong in unity and accord if we could embrace the accountiblity, projection understanding and healing that these men demonstrate in their lives. I am also open to someone else demonstrating a deeper understanding of truth with their life.


  6. People,

    Jesus Christ has nothing to do with MKP. Believe me when I say that God HATES many (if not all) of the rituals and practices of this organization. God hates witchcraft, He hates necromancy, and He hates perversion (etc). Don’t believe me? Try reading your bible. It’s all in the scriptures; both Old & New Testaments.

    When you men/initiates snaked around blind-folded and naked outside, and were slapped on the rear (like a doctor slaps an infant) as you entered the place where they held the dancing & talisman ceremony, this symbolized a type of regeneration or spiritual rebirth, but it had NOTHING to do with Christianity. Spiritual rebirth in Christianity is accomplished through faith in Jesus Christ – through believing that Christ atoned for your sins, that He’s Lord and that He rose from the dead. The spiritual rebirth in MKP is fleshly, perverse, and demonic. It’s counterfeit. It’s a demonic substitute (antichrist). God hates it and is expecting you to confess your participation in this wicked group as sin and renounce it utterly. Do you realize who has laid claim to your soul now through these rituals? You need to humble yourselves before God and repent. This is NOT a joke. When you guys welcomed the “energies” or archetypes of the 7 directions, do you realize what you were calling in to guide and empower your life? Have you ever heard of the principalities and powers that the Apostle Paul mentions in Ephesians 6? The New Testament was originally written in Greek. The Greek word for principalities is “arche.”

    You guys need to reject and cast out the powerful demons that you willfully summoned into your life lest they destroy you and are passed down in the form of generational curses to your descendants. Pigs in the Parlor (Frank Hammond) and When Pigs Move In (Dickerman), in addition to the Bible, are books I suggest reading to help you accomplish this. Please make haste and act now. God is merciful, but you have to repent. Hosea 4:6 says that God’s people are destroyed through lack of knowledge. You Christians have unwittingly performed occult rituals and have opened doors that God did NOT want you opening. Please be advised. Most sincerely…


    • Sorry, I don’t believe you. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit tell me otherwise.

      The Mankind Project, MKP, does not promote witchcraft, necromancy or perversion. You seemed to have projected all your dark shadows onto MKP, which is an understandable thing to have happened. Most Christians I know are still in the dark ages of human relationships, brotherly kindness and love.

      MKP does not ever mention spiritual rebirth, but does talk about being open, authentic and honest. The main rituals I know that are practiced in MKP are being held accountable to being the man you say you are, not the man someone else says you should be.

      I agree that all men should reject and cast out any demons that are affecting them and their lives. I also agree that the Bible is the best guide to empower and guide my life. I believe that MKP is the second best guide for a man’s life, Christian or not.

      MKP has taught me that I am a servant of God, working with my Lord Jesus Christ, to bring faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perserverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love to those around me.

      There are demons to be aware of in life, but MKP is not one of them. I know Jesus would agree that men need to do much less pointing of fingers at the demons in others and do much more looking at the demons within.

      I pray that you stop moving people away from Jesus and God thru false accusations and help the body of Christ build men who are authentic, accountable warriors who fight the good fight together in brotherly love. God bless you,



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