Iron John Chapter 09 The importance of Rites of passage and Initiation.

The image of Leonardo’s perfect man. Man as in mankind not only male. The perfect man ‘Squares the Circle”. The area of the square and the circle is the same.

The square signifies the differentiated Ego of the logos. The direction of above and the Senex, the divine father.

The circle signifies the undifferentiated Ego of the Great Mother and nature. The direction of Below.

Mankind stands between these two poles transmitting both these energies into the world.

When that union of above and below happens the man is said to be perfect. This union is also called the Mystercial Marriage stories love so much “And they lived happily ever after.


Why Rites of Passage and Initiation in Johannesburg 2020?

What are the purpose and drivers for a Rite of passage and an initiatory process in our urban culture in Johannesburg in 2020?

It seems that our urban culture both black and white has turned its back on the more traditional Rites available to it. So, it has cut itself off from the nourishment of something transpersonal, something Divine, something of the vertical axis of the Axis Mundi, the tree of life and the ancestors. The culture has fallen back into the wasteland our daily newspapers describe. While we understand that newspapers report the most extreme and therefore the most saleable stories, what we allow to happen at the extremes tells us something about the middle.

In the storytelling tradition, anybody who enters the King’s chamber uninvited falls back into ashes, into the wasteland. In a way we live at the end of a time where the rational Cartesian mind “I think therefore I am” has become a tyrant of thought and expression of life itself. Rationality and rational thought have become the only accepted measurement for anything and everything. The King’s chamber is no longer sacred, in fact, sacred itself has become unpopular and a personal liability.

Never in our living history has a culture made non-ordinary states of conscious evil as our culture has done. Any non-rational state of consciousness is viewed with suspicion, hostility, and just plain ridicule. Everything must conform to the “scientific principle” of repeatable and verifiable tests. When things don’t fit this mold, it’s labelled as dangerous or just ignored –  like the rhinoceros the room and the destruction around it, never mind the shit it creates.

Why then would Rites of passage and initiation save us from the wasteland?

Maturity it seems is to find what we lost as a child and regain it.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate”. Carl Jung. Fate is one of the punishments of a time-bound Cartesian reality. Fate is a product of the wasteland and would deny us our Destiny.

What then would grant us our destiny?  Rite of passage work and initiation processes.

Maturity is to move from the immaturity of adolescence to becoming authors of our own being. 

Rites of passage. The importance for youth.

In modern times the “old ways” are glaringly absent – dismissing – indigenous old ways as superstition or primitive, having little relevance to an automated life prescribed by consumerism.

A creeping numbness There is a creeping numbness that overcomes large numbers of people who live life as victims. A burden to themselves and the community. Lacking the inner resources developed from living a meaningful life we often nurture a negative picture of ourselves, which becomes a self-fulfilling philosophy. With that belief system then we are forced to look outside of ourselves for deliverance”. From the Vison Quest book by Steven Foster and Meredith Little. Published by Simon and Schuster. ISBN No0-671-76189-7

The government should or must……. “Should and Must” are both the names of Giants. (See the list of “Giants” names In Jack and the Beanstalk) Someone else must be the heroic person who will set things right: instead of embarking upon the journey of self-discovery and pushing through difficulties and setbacks. Even the archetypal experience of physical birth, our first initiation, our first experience of having to push through, has been diluted by fear of pain, putting our safety into the hands of “those who know better”, or by convenience (the gynaecologist has booked a holiday in Mauritius next week so needs to caesar you this week). Has this set the model for the rest of our lives? Stan Groff believes so in his discoveries around the peri-natal experience and childbirth.

My own experience confirms this. I was a Forceps’ delivery two weeks late apparently. Forceps are used when the child is in distress in the birth canal. So somehow, I didn’t push through and had to be assisted out. So that became a patten in my life giving up just before the goal was reached. For instance, I was quite a quick runner over 100 yards however, when I saw the finish line, I would slow down and often get “piped at the post”. This made quite a few people angry at the time. When I discovered the Holotropic breath workshops work of Stan Groff, I would push against the wall behind me with all my strength. The facilitator who was quite experienced, realised that I was re-enacting the birth experience, of trying to push through. Her solution was to arrange a whole lot of people in a line and get me to crawl through their legs as they resisted my way. Many times I gave up before the end and I tried again many times at least five or six times before finally, I managed to push through to the end, throwing the last four people off their feet. Victory! I could do it! This experience changed my life.

Holotropic breathwork It was through such holotropic breathwork that I had a shamanic experience of understanding this ability to push through as key to Rite of passage work, the education of children, and Initiation work. When we constantly tell children what to do the opportunity to experience for themselves is denied and the experience of discovering inner strength and resolve is lost. So, we as a culture have come dependant on outside experts. Doctors to heal us, teachers to educate our children, psychologists to keep us functioning, business to tell us when and where to work and what to do, and so on.

Laurens van der Post, Heart of the Hunter. “I suspect it was…the old story of the implacable necessity of a man having honour within his own natural spirit. A man cannot live and temper his mettle without such honour. There is deep within him a sense of the heroic quest. Our modern way of life, with its emphasis on security, its distrust of the unknown, and its elevation of the abstract collective has repressed the heroic impulsive to a degree that may produce the most dangerous consequences”.  

James Hillman The Rag & bone shop of the heart

When father-ing is absent, what happens to the sons? What happens to the world?

“The missing father is not your or my personal father.   He is the absent father of our culture, the viable Senex who provides not daily bread but spirit through meaning and order.   The missing father is the dead god who offered a focus for spiritual things.   Without this focus, we turn to dreams and oracles, rather than to prayer, code, tradition, and ritual.   When the mother replaces father, magic substitutes for logos and son-priests contaminate the pure spirit.

Unable to go upward to revive the dead father of tradition, we go downward into the mothers of the collective unconscious, seeking an all-embracing comprehension.   We ask for help in getting through the narrow straits without harm; the son wants invulnerability.   Grant us protection, foreknowledge; cherish us.   Our prayer is to the night for a dream, to a love for understanding, to a little rite, or exercise for a moment of wisdom.   Above all we want assurance through a vision beforehand that it will all come out all right.

Without the father, we lose also that capacity which the Church recognised as “discrimination of the spirits”:   The ability to know a call when we hear one and to discriminate between the voices

The mother and the Feminine of the direction of below, encourages her son: go ahead, embrace it all.   For her, all equals everything.”  

Fathers and the Masculine, the direction of above.

“The father’s instruction to his son, on the contrary, is: all equals nothing – unless the all be precisely discriminated.” 

“Responsibility!?  Is what gives life meaning. Taking on a purpose (How do you find that)Confusing privilege with competence. rings about right especially for kids whose parents don’t teach them about disappointment & are too busy letting the kid get their way most of the time” Jordan Peterson.

Conscious Initiation

The word Initiation has some unfortunate associations today, all of which are the opposite of what is meant here by the use of the word. The other phrase we use is “Rite of passage” which approximates the idea of Initiation. We also have “Rights of passage” but these tend to lack several important ingredients, The concept of vertical thought, of Soul and Spirit, and the understanding of the difference between them:

  1. The concept of soul and spirit and the soul/spirit growth of the Initiate, and the community which it will serve.
  2. The overseeing of the initiation process by older members of the group (not parents)
  3. The limitation of pain through the trials of the Initiate and the Initiation process.
  4. The return of the Initiate to the community after the Initiation process, to share that experience with the community.

Today the organisers of the “Rights of Passage” take power in the name of the structure requiring the rite of passage, i.e. The army, the corporation, the university, group, race, culture, nationality, or gender, etc. Interns entering the medical profession go through a most vigorous “Right of passage” which is structured by the profession. However, there is very little understanding of the soul requirements of the Initiate in any of the above. 

There are also however those engaged in Initiation practices which are considerably more esoteric than I am describing here and therefore object to the use of the word for something as mundane as bringing young boys and girls into adulthood.  However, what they fail to realise is that Initiation is a process that begins at birth, continues through puberty and beyond. Any premature entry into the King’s Chamber by whatever means results in a fall into ashes.

Therefore Initiation is the correct word for what I am attempting to describe.

The violence and crime of our cultures is common cause, substance abuse, addictive compulsive behaviours, the inability, or reluctance to take responsibility, even the belief in political solutions to moral dilemmas. Rape, child abuse, and abuse of the unempowered all stem from a lack of one principle, the presence of a “Good King” within our personal psyche. Ask and child under the age of seven they will have no difficulty telling you what a “Good King” is and does.

It is the purpose of Conscious Initiation to bring us through appropriate rituals into the presence of the Divine King.  It is the ruling Masculine principle of the whole psyche, whose purpose is to create right order out of chaos and limit pain to its appropriate expression.

The need for acceptance There is a drive or need within the psyche of the individual to be accepted, firstly by parents, later by peer groups, and ultimately into the community.  Historically we as a culture had rituals, which marked the passages of acceptance into the phases of life within the community and thereby into life itself. 

These Rituals were and are life-affirming. They empowered the individual to aspire to the best they could become they also affirmed the individuals place in the community. The vertical component of the rituals had the power to reveal to the participant’s aspects of their destiny, as they become ready for that through successive rituals.  As the conscious understanding behind the rituals disappeared the Divine/Vertical or Transpersonal dimension of the rituals were lost or became of secondary importance, so ritual not only lost its power of Transformation but the ability to hear Soul’s communication held in the ritual.  The ritual became a formality. The Wedding became an event to be managed, the reception more important than the church service etc.  All major turning points in life had their rituals. When the vertical component of the ritual was lost, we became spiritually empty and hungry at the same time.  How much of our cultures current eating disorders stem from a hunger that can never be filled by food, sex rock and roll or drugs? Remember that in Iron John story the old King’s hunger for something wild kicked off the whole story.  That is the hunger I’m talking about and connection with Soul’s wildness is the antidote for that hunger.

Unconscious Initiation in South Africa right now.

There can be no better example of this than what happened here in South Africa where the struggle for freedom from a paternalistic patriarchal apartheid system took place. In the couple of years before the first Democratic election, the younger generation turned its back on the system of “Ubuntu” (respect for others) that the Elders held dear.  The youth, however, judged “Ubuntu” from a political view (a horizontal view rather than a vertical one) as a sellout to the system. They turned their backs on Ubuntu and their own elders and within a couple of years, they had formed the Comrades, set up kangaroo courts, and were inflicting terrible pain on their own communities and themselves. This happened in the township of Alexandra just a few miles from where I live.

It was “Ubuntu” that prevented South Africa’s transition to democracy being the bloodbath that the rest of the world expected. Yet the violence and the crime have not yet stopped and will not stop until we find new, and meaningful rituals for our youth, to mark their acceptance into the community and into life, to welcome them and acknowledge the gifts they bring to the community. Lately, our government has found itself at war with the very people it swore to protect and serve and have enriched themselves at the people’s expense.

Therefore I have characterized unconscious initiation as the journey into darkness or the descent into the abyss.

The good news is that Soul is not mocked and the initiation if not consciously undertaken will be unconsciously undertaken through the Hero’s journey, “The road less traveled” (See the second half of the Iron John story)

Because in our time we are unaware of the fundamental importance, and the desperate need for the Initiation of our youth. We fail our children, women, men, and communities, and ourselves, at the deepest spiritual level.  What our newspapers regard as news is in fact a huge indictment of our present culture.  The only reason that the contents of our newspapers can be considered “normal” is that our present culture is one of extreme denial.  Once we as individuals have denied our own soul, then denying the content of our newspapers is easy.  How else could Apartheid, Bosnia, Rwanda, abuses of all kinds against the defenseless, have happened?  And even as you read this……… is still happening?

Once this denial becomes normal everything becomes gray and flat. We would rather not be excited because we cannot stand another disappointment, we appoint blame, avoid responsibility, confuse discipline with obedience, service with servile, slavery with loyalty.   We create bloated bureaucracies hoping we never actually have to decide ourselves for which we might be held accountable.   We hold democracy to be the highest form of government while hoping the majority knows what’s best for us, and then complaining about it endlessly when it isn’t.  We learn to distrust all authority and so live in a culture that interacts emotionally at the level of children.

Robert Bly wrote a book about this whole scenario called “The Sibling Society.”

Below is a poem from that book which gives us images and feelings of the world around us

By Harry Martinson {sibling society Robert Bly pg. 131}

When Euclid started out to measure Hades,

When Euclid started out to measure Hades,

He found it had neither depth nor height.

Demons flatter than stingrays

Swept above the plains of death…….

There were only waves, no hills, no chasms or valleys.

Only lines, parallel happenings, angles lying prone.

Demons shot along like elliptical plates:

They covered an endless field in Hades as though with moving

dragon scales.

Victims of flat evil,

With no comfort from a high place

Or support from a low place.

Burial mounds are flattened by forgetfulness.

The risks of Unconscious Initiation and Rights of Passage 

The fall into ashes.

For those who have understood that the fall into ashes, Katabas and Cathis can be a positive thing that is true if it is carried out under the authority of the “Good King”.

It is the role of the King principle to limit pain and order chaos.

However, when the King principle is denied or absent, abuse and chaos rules. The fall often leads to a living death, the physical body is alive but the connection to the divine King principle is severed and thereby destiny is denied. Like a stuck record, we go round and round waiting for the cycle to be broken. The return of the “Good King” is a popular theme in literature. The film Dune was about this, of course, the redeeming King is central to Christianity. Christianity just failed to make it a personal quest.

The risk of unconscious initiation for the individual is the brutalization and shattering of the Ego, thereby becoming overwhelmed by forces from outside the psyche. Thus, begins our personal descent into darkness.

As our culture becomes more and more dysfunctional, there is an increasing lack of natural boundaries within the emerging individual, a lack of guidance as to how to proceed, as well as a lack of community to do the guiding. Now that we have invalidated old age and safely placed all our old people in old age homes, we have cut ourselves off from the wisdom and knowledge of our ancestors. We have now invested that wisdom and knowledge in uninitiated politicians and science. (politicians who by the way have taken power in the name of their ideal and not the community, they say they serve.) Forces now flood into the Ego for which it is unprepared and overwhelm it. Our mental health services will confirm that the Ego is often shattered like Humpty Dumpty. We don’t even have King’s Men and horses to attempt the repair.

Who is teaching our children how to patrol the boundaries of their own Ego against invasion and attack from within and without?  Who today has the conscious understanding that this is even necessary?

When the attempt at initiation is undertaken for no other purpose greater than corporate and personal Ego identity, intellectual accomplishment, peer group, or gangs there is a fragmentation of the Ego followed by inflation of parts of the fragmented Ego. This inflation will be destructive to the whole individual and subvert the true function of Ego. This inflation often takes the form of addictive compulsive behaviour patterns and mood-altering behaviours.

Secondly there is nobody present to control the firepower, who says how much pain is appropriate and when the infliction of pain becomes abuse? Alice Miller wrote in her book the “Drama of being a child,”    “That every action taken by a parent is considered as an act of love by the child whether the act was an act of cruelty or love.  In this way, love and cruelty are mixed within us.”   A strange thing about abuse is that the abuser’s justification is the belief that the abused will be better for the abuse.

Teenagers report a hole in their soul that cannot be filled with pop music, sports heroes, drug, sex, and substance abuse. Why are teenagers so angry? With their parents, with life in general, with each other? They are waiting for their spiritual inheritance supposedly held by the Elders. Who now unfortunately are in old age homes playing patience?

Our teenagers have a hunger, The same as the hunger of the old King in the Iron John story. When that inheritance is not delivered it leaves a hole in the psyche which they then attempt to fill with the only thing that is available, worldly stuff.

We as a culture are failing our children, we do not have any meaningful processes by which we welcome the youth into the adult world; to conduct them into a personal and intimate contact with the Divine (something Trans-personal) and thereby, their own unique destiny.  We do not welcome them into this world and remind them they are particularly important for the community.

What we do is teach them to compete, accept failure, and make money. To have money is an automatic passport to acceptance in our culture. In fact, we actively teach our children to be prepared to sacrifice all of themselves on the altar of money. This is the message that the mass media serves up endlessly on television, films, and modern books.

Adults report a lack of fulfillment in their lives, especially when they reach 38 or 40 years of age. This now actually has a modern name, “midlife crisis,” The old name for this was “a hunger for something wild” However the roots of this crisis are not only caused by reaching 40 but are also the culmination of a process of denial and the amputating of bits of ourselves, as we have been carefully taught from birth.  Retirement is another crisis for many professional people. The effort to find a sense of personal identity and fulfillment from a profession or role in life can cause a crisis if that profession or role is taken away. (When children leave the home, or through dismissal, retrenchment, and retirement from work are other examples.) This is the shadow of “overcompensating”

Addictive Compulsive and mood-altering behaviour patterns.

Because the Psyche abhors a vacuum it will always attempt to move toward fullness which is not the same as wholeness.

When we fail to properly Initiate our children into life, the openings as they occur, are not filled with whole making things, but rather with a general distrust of older people and an unexplained emptiness. This unquenchable thirst for fulfillment, rather than wholeness, is the hole our culture is sliding into.

Abdication of responsibility of adults towards adolescents.

There is nothing felt more acutely by the adolescent than finding that the inheritance (at all levels) entrusted to the adults has been squandered and its existence denied. In one fell swoop the adolescent loses all trust in adults and feels Shame for existing at all.

This endless demand and resentment of older people becomes a tyranny of the Ego over the whole being.  The bringing down of tyrants is a universal theme in our literature, it reflects our own struggle and the need of the individual to be free. This is the engine that drives addiction. The medical profession tells us that they can wean us from the chemical dependency but not the psychological one.  If we want to drug proof our children, then we will have to find a way to Consciously Initiate them and deliver their spiritual inheritance to them.

As we grow as individuals through life there are specific times when transformation or personal growth is appropriate.   It seems we can either co-operate actively and consciously with this process or remain passive and let the initiation be attempted unconsciously.  Instead of our culture readying us for life, we as a culture seem to spend a great deal of time battling against life. Hence the clique “Life’s a bitch, then you die”

The risk of unconscious initiation for the Community is the brutalization of the whole culture. The challenges of living in a technological age “The difficulty of having a spiritual being incarnate in an animal body.”

The human condition faces two separate issues within development, one being the needs and requirements of the physical body the other being directed toward soul, and the continuing evolution of consciousness.   Unconscious initiation by definition denies the existence of soul and in one step cuts us off from our birthright and the very cause of our physical being.

Instinctual nature One of the unique conditions of the human being is the distinct lack of an instinctual nature,

This lack of an instinctual nature makes the Human being a hugely successful creature, being able to adapt to a wide range of environments and social conditions. However, with this lack of instinct comes with a bigger responsibility for the community, and now a greater possibility of disaster. Never has the human condition tried to operate without the support structure of a vertical community. The idea of a global family or community (internet) has never occurred in our recorded history it is obvious that it operates almost exclusively on the horizontal plane.


Within the animal kingdom there are powerful moments in time in which imprinting takes place. Imprinting is a critical survival mechanism of nature which creates a bond between a mother and its offspring. It serves to identify mother and offspring as well as to protect the young and keep them out of danger.

There is a Movie called “Fly away home” a true story that documents this process. A young girl had saved a nest of Canadian geese eggs from a logging site and hatched them in her chest of draws at home. Subsequently raising them and even teaching them to fly. The goslings imprint on the first object they see when they hatch, in this case they imprinted on the girl as mother.  Ultimately, they followed her in a Microlite aircraft across America from Canada on their first annual migration, following her as they would have followed their parents.  Such is the power of imprinting in the animal kingdom.

Imprinting and the human condition

One of the unique conditions of the human being is the distinct lack of an instinctual nature, all our social interaction, nest making, and child-rearing abilities have to be learnt and taught.  This is a peculiarity of primates within the animal kingdom. There are many documented studies of the inability of primates to parent when the parents themselves were orphans and failed to experience parenting skills.

Where then in the human condition, is this social and parenting knowledge held?  It is held in the Mythology of the community. We usually think of Mythology as something ancient, this is only partly true. Mythology is what holds the vertical or Divine content of any community.

What then is our current Mythology? The answer is Science because Science denies the Vertical and divine component dogmatically, our culture slides into the abyss and back into ashes.

If you find this idea a bit difficult to believe, just look around at the proliferation of parenting experts from the time of conception to the end of university. There is a tug-of -war between the parents and the educational system. Everybody from pre-natal classes to educationalists at all levels claim to know what’s best for you child and have turned it into a money-making monopoly.  All these people claim scientific credentials to back their claims.

Gang structure as unconscious Initiation. 

Gangs have initiations as a means of entry or acceptance of new members into the gang. This is exactly the opposite of what is meant by the word and what was practiced by older cultures. This fact is observable in South Africa where there still is a model of initiation operating in the rural areas.  However, as the young men moved away from traditional authorities and moved to the chaos of the cities. In one generation the youth moved from a traditional authority to gangs, gang warfare, crime against everybody black and white. There is no place in South Africa that is more violent than where these young uninitiated people live. All the politics and the struggle aside there no leader capable of turning off the violence because it is not a political, ideological or race problem. It is a soul problem, or lack thereof.  Because political and legislative initiatives tend to be horizontal solutions, they have limited success at best.

Drug-taking as unconscious Initiation

Behind the door of every curse is a God if only you can recognize it.

When we get cut off from the vertical community……. Soul speaks to us through crisis as a last resort. Every drug taker can tell you of the fall back into ashes as the high becomes a downer. “When the Wolf prowls”


Our culture’s ideas have become so polarized and politicized around gender issues, race and religious issues that it is now almost impossible to cut through the double binds that our culture has created, in order to have a healthy relationship with ourselves or with one another

How then can we approach this problem, while at the same time stepping around the thorny issues of religion, sexual politics, stereotyping, prejudice, theories, and beliefs that we hold, often at unconscious levels? The emotional charge around these issues is so intense that people and whole countries are prepared to kill each other over their differences. This is not a new problem and is well documented in all our literature. It is the heroic journey that supplies both the process and the opportunity to resolve these problems. If one stops to think about it, descriptions of this Journey occupy about 90% of all our literature and the arts.

Fortunately, within the storytelling tradition, there is a wealth of stories that describe this very dilemma and the processes by which they may be resolved.



One thought on “Iron John Chapter 09 The importance of Rites of passage and Initiation.

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