"What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. .... "
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
You know this rite of passage thing that I am always going on about? You know, the aboriginal walkabout, or the many equivalents in other tribal cultures? Well, there is something crucial that comes out of this. It is crucial in a very psychological sense and I think it might be the central problem in male depression, or even social depression, today.
What these very sacred, and testing rites of passage do to a young man, is eliminate victimhood. They eliminate any need or tendency in a young man to blame difficulty or challenges on something external to himself.
I reckon, and I need to follow my own fucking advice here don’t get me wrong, that all men need their forty days and forty nights experience. We all need a dark night of the soul. That’s not some self-punishing thing. All I am saying is we need to confront our fears. We need to come up against the panic of being powerless in the face of the gods.
And tribal cultures have always known this. It is purely and simply a matter of surviving. Once you confront the wrath of nature, you get rid of any illusions you might have about your relationship to your environment. You stop feeling helpless and move into a place of understanding and knowing.
Honestly, I am not being New Agey here. I’m not romanticizing anything. This is something fundamental which we no longer have in our culture. As men, there is nothing that ushers us out of the feeling of being a helpless child and into the place of responsibility and emotional strength.
Some tribes might have used psychedelics – forcing a confrontation with the horrors hidden in the animal mind. Some just punted you out into the desert, and let you get on with it. Some had the elder men take you into the forest, wound you and make you hunt deadly spiders.
Okay, these are extreme examples. I am not talking about the noble savage here. What I am trying to say is that in the past, our families and communities would have organized a process, a sacrement, by which you begun a journey into being a man. And the change would mean moving from a dependency on your mother, and a fear of the unknown, into a place of inner knowing and self-reliance.
And this inner knowing would not come from nowhere. It wouldn’t be some mysterious power. It would the practical fall out of having confronted your own limitations, and having a direct experience of your delicate relationship with the wider environment. You would move from terror into a place of caution and humility. You would move from bravado and headstrong arrogance into a place of measured assertiveness.
There would be no place for blaming the fates. There would no place for victimhood. Because if the men in the tribe were stuck in this pattern then the whole fucking tribe itself would die out. Simple as that.
Sitting around feeling sorry for yourself would guarantee that you would perish. Shame, guilt, resentment and bitterness, would have no place among the men in evolved, tribal environments. Such habits are destructive and there is no time for them when you are faced with the reality of nature’s extreme temperaments.
Through an organized ritual, young men were taught to adapt to bad luck, to attacks, to the unforeseen and unknown. They were taught, simply through the experience of it, how to push through the terror of living, and through to a place of understanding the signals of fear, pleasure and awe.
Above all, they were taught to know themselves, and their position in the world. They discovered they were not victims of chance, or slaves of a vindictive God. But that they were part of a complex and powerful organism. And once this understanding was absorbed by the young men, the women and the elders were able to rely upon them to do their best in service of the tribe’s survival.
As men, we have been damaged by an unforgivable failure on the part of society. We have no rites of passage. We have no real knowledge of our abilities and limitations. We know nothing of the physical grace and power in our possession.
As a result, we are all like characters out of a Camus novel, or a Beckett play. Aimless, clueless and dangerously empty of any sense of integrity.
Truly, we have been wounded, and our fields have turned to The Waste Land.
However, the worst thing we can do is rage against the machine. Well, not forever, anyway. We need to oppose and end this horseshit right here. Our masculinity is our own responsibility. It’s not your mother’s fault. It’s not your dad’s. It’s not womankind. It’s YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to take control of your own masculinity. The next step in the evolution of the human race, is for its men to shoulder their own growth and development.
We no longer have wise elders to guide us. In some ways, the courage we need to conjure is deeper than in ancient times, because we have no fucking helping hands. All we have to go on is our purity of heart, the poetry of our sexuality and that weird indefatigability of spirit that we all know we have, and we've all experienced at some point in our lives.
It’s down to us now.