Iron John Chapter 15 Mentoring moments in the Story

Iron John Chapter 15 Mentoring moments in the story.

At the very beginning of the story we get a hint of something strange in the enormous forest, Hunters went out there and didn’t come back. The forest was branded dangerous, so people were forbidden to go there.

The next time we get a hint of mentoring is when the adventurer arrives and winks at the boy (us) As the Hunter and the King are talking the hunter turns to us and give us the conspiratorial wink; Which says “While it seems I’m here for myself I’m actually here for you”

When the Hunter’s dog finds the Pond of the Wildman, the Wildman grabs the dog and pulls him under the surface of the pond. The Wildman wants to free the Wolf from within the domesticated dog. In the same way, the Wildman wants to free the boy from the over domestication of the Castle Quo.

The Queen wants her son to become a King and so connives with the adventurer and maybe even the Wildman, to get the Wildman into the castle so he can interact with the boy. The domestication of the boy is almost complete. How do we know this? Because the Golden Ball gets away from him and rolls into the Wildman’s cage.

Now the Wildman can begin the Mentoring process. The boy approaches the Cage and askes for his ball back. Notice how the Wildman responds. “YES” a simple and direct answer and the absolute truth. “Yes” “If you let me out of this cage”

In that simple answer “YES” so much is communicated.

  1. I see you
  2. He did not criticize the boy for losing the ball or being careless
  3. He didn’t belittle the boy for his request
  4. He simply stated his terms

For us to get our ball back, we must release the caged Wildman within our own heart. That is where and how we will find our Gold at the Golden pond.

Three times the boy asks, three times the answer is the same. “Yes” “If you let me out of the cage” Now a wonderful thing happens. The boy starts a longer conversation. “I don’t know where the key is.”

“It’s under your mother’s pillow” – safely waiting for you, where she kept it all this time.

We have to have the strength and determination to steal it. As Erick Neumann points out in his book “The Great Mother,” if we don’t succeed in breaking away from Mother, she simply re-cycles us for another try. We also need to break away from the father, the old King. Remembering Kingship is always sacral we need to die to the old King to take our role, as will have to step aside turn to allow the next King to claim his Kingship.

As the Wildman picks us up onto his shoulders, he states this truth “You will never see your mother or father again”. For the next step to work, there needs to be a complete break with the parents. Parents cannot initiate their own children; it needs to be done by other older members of the community. In this case, the Wildman is our mentor and will follow our progress while allowing us to make our own mistakes.

The image of the Wildman striding off into the forest shows us another truth. In this cycle of becoming we stand on the shoulder of those who went before us. (In this case, sit anyway it’s close enough.) As those who come after us will stand on our shoulders.

As our mentor, he places us beside the Golden Pond. Like most mentors he doesn’t feed us, just makes a bed for us, a place to stay. Then he shows us how the use our hands to live there. That after that’s all part of the first lesson.

The Golden Pond is the collective wellspring of Soul and shows us three different aspects of Soul, Not only the personal, community, and collective parts but how life fits together around the Pond. Also at its three vertical levels. Below, above and the middle of the axis Mundi.

The Feminine way:

The three trials of the pond are also a metaphor for the Axis Mundi or the Yggdrasil tree. As we begin our first day at the pond deeply immersed in nature, we are experiencing the direction of below of the Axis Mundi. The world axis of life, not the planet earth alone.

“Of treasure and gold have I enough, and more than anyone in the world.” He made a bed of moss for the boy on which he slept, and the next morning the man took him to the pond, and said,

“Behold, the gold well is as bright and clear as crystal, thou shalt sit beside it, and take care that nothing falls into it, or it will be defiled. I will come every evening to see if thou hast obeyed my order.”

Simple mentoring. “This is the task; see how you get on I will come and check daily.” That’s it. Now it’s up to us to explore, test, observe, and interact until we become comfortable with the first level of the pond. Mother nature and the direction of below, and all that that implies.

As we grow in understanding and begin to work with the Process of the Pond through all the seasons of the years and all the cycles of growth, death, and decay. As we get our hand dirty, our hand begins to turn to gold with our successes and patience. At the same time, we learn what doesn’t work at the pond and learn to guard and protect the Pond from that which would defile it.

When we have become proficient at that our hand turns to Gold or rather, we realise that through our hand we can bring Gold into the world. At this point our mentor strolls in and says, “OK time for the next lesson”.

In the evening Iron John came back, looked at the boy, and said, “What has happened to the pond?” “Nothing, nothing,” he answered, and held his finger behind his back, that the man might not see it.

You might notice that the narrative uses guilt and shame here in relation to the test and its apparent failure resulting in expulsion from the forest. The expulsion is a particularly Christian idea which could probably do with a rewrite. I believe this is a rewrite from the original oral version to suit the prejudices of the time. If you want to understand child-rearing practices at the time the Grimm brothers were collecting their stories, read Alice Miller “The Drama of the Gifted Child”

But he said, “Thou hast dipped thy finger into the water, this time it may pass, but take care thou dost not again let anything go in.”

Even though the rewrites, the beauty and simplicity of true mentoring comes through. A simple statement of fact, devoid of shame or guilt. Only consequences. And so, we begin the second trial. The single hair; what that might mean and what happens as it turns to Gold.

The narrative: Behold, the gold well is as bright and clear as crystal, thou shalt sit beside it, and take care that nothing falls into it, or it will be polluted. I will come every evening to see if thou hast obeyed my order.”

By daybreak, the boy was already sitting by the well and watching it. His finger hurt him again and he passed it over his head, and then unhappily a hair fell down into the well. He took it quickly out, but it was already quite gilded.


“Thou hast let a hair fall into the well,” said he. “I will allow thee to watch by it once more, but if this happens for the third time then the well is polluted, and thou canst no longer remain with me.”

Once again, a simple statement of fact, no shame, no guilt, no accusation only a consequence. If it happens a third time you will have to leave me. We will unpack why that is so in Chapter 14.- When a whole head of hair turns to Gold.

We have also spoken of the Axis Mundi. How nature is the direction of below. The single hair refers to the direction of above and Masculine. We now have the two poles of the axis; we are just waiting for the third part to make it complete.

The Masculine way.

“The father’s instruction, on the contrary, is all equals nothing – unless all be precisely discriminated.” From chapter 13. James Hillman on the absent father.

What is a single hair among a head full of hair? It is a hair “precisely discriminated.”

Strangely this discriminating is often carried in the test of Hera, the queen of Mount Olympus, home of the Greek gods.

In the stories a few tried to go down to Hades (the underworld, ruled by one of Zeus’s two brothers) The tests given as a seeming impossible task all had to do with sorting. A silo of seeds mixed with sand. “Separate them before tonight and I will tell you how to enter Hades”.

Our hero called on an army of ants to separate the seeds and so won the information of how to pass the three-headed dog Cereberus that guards the gates of Hades.

Here is an amusing but absolutely true image of men’s brains (read Masculine) and the difference between men and women. The difference between above and below.   Difference between men and women.

The Masculine way is to separate things and compartmentalise them (Put them in boxes)

Men, males, need to be able to do this to go to war, to protect their loved ones, their families, and community. This is both a blessing and a curse. When this ability to separate and put things in boxes is used by the status quo to cut men off from their feelings, deny their Souls and so Tyrants are created. This ability to compartmentalise things is how seemingly upstanding citizens, can at home abuse their wives and daughters.

The Masculine and the Feminine are the two poles of the axis Mundi and need the man with the Golden Hair to mediate between these two energies. This is an important truth; it is man who stands between the two spiritual poles to bring divine energies into the world. We mankind are the hollow bone for divine energies. 

Bread and wine Fredrich Holderlin 

Oh friend, we arrived too late.
The divine energies are still alive,
     but isolated above us, in the archetypal world.

They keep on going there,
     and, apparently, don’t bother if humans live or        
      not…that is a heavenly mercy.

Sometimes a human’s clay is not strong enough
     to take the water;
Human beings can carry the divine only sometimes.

What is living now?
Night dreams of them.
But craziness helps, so does sleep.
Grief and Night toughen us,
     until people capable of sacrifice once more rock
     in the iron cradle, desire people,
     like the ancients, strong enough for water.

In thunderstorms it will arrive.
I have the feeling often, meanwhile…

It is better to sleep, since the Guest comes so seldom;
We waste our life waiting,
     and I haven’t the faintest idea how to act or talk…
     in the lean years who needs poets?

But poets as you say are like the holy disciple
     of the Wild One,
     who used to stroll over the fields
     through the whole divine night.
(trans. Robert Bly)

The third day at the pond. When our whole head of hair turns to Gold.

The Narrative: On the third day, the boy sat by the well and did not stir his finger, however much it hurt him. But the time was long to him, and he looked at the reflection of his face on the surface of the water. And as he still bent down more and more while he was doing so, and trying to look straight into the eyes, his long hair fell down from his shoulders into the water. He raised himself up quickly, but the whole of the hair of his head was already golden and shone like the sun. You can Imagine how terrified the poor boy was! He took his pocket-handkerchief and tied it around his head, in order that the man might not see it. When he came, he already knew everything, and said, “Take the handkerchief off.” Then the golden hair streamed forth, and let the boy excuse himself as he might, it was of no use.

Expulsion from paradise (again)

“Thou hast not stood the trial, But as thou hast not a bad heart, and as I mean well by thee, there is one thing I will grant thee; if thou fallest into any difficulty, come to the forest and cry, “Iron John,” and then I will come and help thee. My power is great, greater than thou thinkest, and I have gold and silver in abundance.”

Besides the finger-wagging disapproval in the narrative some other truths shine through.

When our head of Hair turns to Gold the lesson of the third day is finished. Our mentor comes and sees that we are done with him. It is now time to go out into the world and test what we have learnt by the trial of incarnating in this world. The Golden pond is not in our world. The road less traveled is. This poverty the Wildman speaks about is not a lack of money it is a poverty of the sprit and Soul. The world of the status quo.

“Thou canst stay here any longer. Go forth into the world, there thou wilt learn what poverty is”.

The next step in our Kingship: We need leave the protection of the Wildman and travel down the road less traveled. We need to learn about poverty. Why does a good King need to learn about poverty? And what is meant by poverty in this context? Not Gold of course, a place where gold, this gold anyway, is hidden. Or is best hidden until the time is right. Kingship requires holding your subjects Soul as sacred and treating them accordingly. While our subjects may well experience poverty on a physical level, they are worth respecting at their Souls level.

It’s dangerous to stay with the Wildman or at an ashram for too long. It’s called spiritual bypassing. Spiritual practices are great, they need to be balanced by also living in this world. Learning to push through, finding our inner strengths, and like any muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it becomes. This is the strength of initiation and the process of reincorporation.

The blessing.

But as thou hast not a bad heart, and as I mean well by thee, there is one thing I will grant thee; if thou fallest into any difficulty, come to the forest and cry, “Iron John,” and then I will come and help thee. My power is great, greater than thou thinkest, and I have gold and silver in abundance.” 

The Wildman gives us his blessing and reassurance of his continued presence on our journey. He gives us a hint of what he is capable of. My power is great, greater than thou thinkest.”

Gold and silver in that world are metaphors for Soul abilities in both worlds.

Imagine how terrified the poor boy was! He took his pocket-handkerchief and tied it around his head, in order that the man might not see it.

Part of that Gold and silver is the understanding that it’s best not to show your gold too soon, or to the wrong people. The why and how of this hair covering image is laid out in the story of “The Devil’s Sooty Brother”

The Threshold of return:

In this model of the initiation, the return to the community is as important as the descent. It is at least half the point of the process: the other is soul retrieval. The Mystical marriage as we have yet to come in to the story.

The return from the threshold; the crossing point between this world and the other. It is no less heroic than the act of severance. The hero must return to the same physical world he left, but is no longer attached to it in the same way. The problem becomes the maintaining of the visionary standpoint against the impact of immediate earthly pain or joy. The impact of the physical world draws our attention from the threshold and fixes it on the crisis of the moment. The balance of perfection in the other world is lost. To complete this part of the heroic journey, the returning hero must survive the impact of the physical world. This crisis is the test of the Soul to check our readiness to hold our vision in this world.

This is true of birth also. The child has to separate from the mother at the cutting of the umbilical cord and later on at about 7 years of age separate further from the mother by cutting the psychic umbilical cord.

This is the proper point of entry for the mentors, pedagogues and old male initiators.

There is a gift to give away: As we bring gifts for our community into this world when we incarnate, so too do we do so when we return with our vision. The vision is not for us personally but for the community we live in, we need to live out our vision in the world for all to see and be inspired by it.

Re-incorporation of the hero into this world: Requires that he or she demonstrate the power and effectiveness of the vision.

“A returning Questor is not able to use the power of the vision until he has performed the vision on Earth for the people to see”.   Black Elk

At the return threshold, the transcendent power must be left behind. (In Jack and the Bean Stalk story) Jack’s mother hands Jack the axe, Jack cuts down the beanstalk. The pathway to the other world. The Giant falls with the beanstalk is crushed by his own weight and the connection to the other world severed.

The gift that is given is an active moral force applied among human beings of divine flesh and blood.

The miraculous is manifested not by divine intervention but by humans taking one step at a time. The hero must return the world of death, then the gift is given in love, a love that transcends death.

“Finding the Father Robert Bly

My friend, this body offers to carry us for nothing– as the ocean carries logs. So, on some days the body wails with its great energy; it smashes up the boulders, lifting small crabs, that flow around the sides.

Someone knocks on the door. We do not have time to dress. He wants us to go with him through the blowing and rainy streets, to the dark house.
We will go there, the body says, and there find the father whom we have never met, who wandered out in a snowstorm the night we were born, and who then lost his memory, and has lived since longing for his child, whom he saw only once… while he worked as a shoemaker, as a cattle herder in Australia, as a restaurant cook who painted at night.
When you light the lamp you will see him. He sits there behind the door… the eyebrows so heavy, the forehead so light… lonely in his whole body, waiting for you.”
― Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men

An article about Mentor from the Greeks.

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