The Three Stages Of Manhood
“I’m 60 and retired. Retirement isn’t what I thought.”
“I’m 74 and not as energetic or motivated. Is it all downhill from here?”
“I’m 47. ‘Success’ isn’t working for me.”
“I’m 26. I should be well into a career by now.”
A man will go through numerous transition in a lifetime, mostly small changes of course based on new experiences, insights and understandings. However, there are times in a man’s life when big life challenges, crises of change, arise. I call these crises of change initiations. The concept of initiation describes a process of personal transition and transformation from one major life stage to another. Indigenous cultures have lived and learned from these initiations for thousands of years. I believe that this process of indigenous growth still holds psychological and spiritual truths for modern men.
Puberty initiations of indigenous cultures are most well known and studied in the West. This initiation is the first big psychospiritual transition a man can experience after birth. The puberty initiation, if successful, literally changes a boy into a man, from inside out, by introducing the emerging man to the secrets of his new role in community and the Creator that prepared him for that role.
The process of growth and change in puberty initiations is archetypal, meaning it is a common unconscious memory and longing in every man’s psyche. Every man yearns unconsciously for an initiation into manhood because boys for thousands of years have followed this ritual to their own manhood. I have described this archetypal template of transition in my last book, Toward Manhood.
But what about the rest of a man’s life? Is it just one and done?
I believe there are three major initiations that complete the mascuiline psychospiritual journey, initiations that give a man deep peace and a community an attitude of hope. Man to Mentor to Elder. These are three initiations that are archetypally stored in each man’s soul. Deep in every man’s psyche as he grows older is the longing for the completion of this Three in one lifetime.
Few men recognize and can name this longing. Western culture has lost its way of helping boys become Men, Men become Mentors, Mentors become Elders. I believe most modern men are depressed and lost on a deep psychic level because they have neither the understanding nor the experience of these initiations.
This book describes a template of transformation that includes all initiations, great and small, while concentrating on the Three. I believe this initiatory inner template contains the pattern of all authentic psychospiritual transitions. This process always starts with the experience of deep loss.
The process of finding manly virtue through the ritual of puberty initiation was the norm for tens thousands of years. That human experience over those eons formed this archetype and stored it in all boys’ deep unconscious, called by Carl Jung the collective unconscious.
The loss here is one of boyhood itself. How many men who I’ve counseled have held onto their boyhood games and
In these initiations a boy is sent into the wilderness, sent by Elders to pray for and beg their higher power, usually called something equivalent to Great Spirit or Great Mystery, to give them signs of their authentic life direction. This direction, according to a mysterious divine plan, filled a desperate community need while bringing a deep sense of fulfillment to the initiate.
As part of the boy’s upbringing Elders witnessed and taught about the existence of a wise Creator, I will call Spirit, who called an initiate to bring social harmony to the world through use if his God given talents. A boy became a man when he listened to and lived that call.
The initiated man then witnessed to the belief that every man is called to serve his culture through his unique talents. A man lived out a higher calling when initiated into a life direction that served his tribal community. Unfortunately for men and for modern community the Western culture has lost the process and purpose of this initiation.
The second stage of the Three initiates a man beyond manhood. This initiation involves the inner calling for older men, often starting around age 50, to influence men of the next generation. Some older men will also be called to use their talent and perspective to influence the organizations they are a part of. Older men are called to guarantee that values they have learned through their own initiation into manhood are adhered to by younger men and older organizations.
I call a man who has reached this stage a Mentor. A Mentor is a leader who has found a calling to use the experience of his talent, as well as his accumulated wisdom, to generously offer himself as a catalyst for personal growth for men to follow. As such he is a second father, fathering men of the next generation, who may or may not be initiated.
If he is part of an organization, or has skills and values an organization needs, he is called to use his power or influence for a greater good. He is called to use his power to create an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual support in his adopted community. He is called to use his power to empower.
Mentors become needed to insure through their leadership and witness that a culture empowers all its members. They do this by both mentoring younger unguided men and mentoring a culture needing guidance in how to use power to create harmony. Without Mentor initiation few younger men are transformed into effective leaders. Thus the political and economic power in the culture falls into the hands of dark patriarchs, uninitiated boys in men’s bodies seduced by the power of serving their own egos.
This Mentor stage is new to the human life cycle. This is a new stage that few men before this modern age could live out. For millennia of the past most men died relatively young from war, disease, or accident. Others were functionally disabled by the time this stage emerged. In modern times this stage spans the years of around age 55 to 75-80. In modern times many men still have the stamina and motivation to live this stage with vigor..
The Mentor is symbolic of the emerging wise leader or second father that evolves if a man follows the initiatory template he learned at puberty. Spirit continually pushes a man to evolve and grow. For a man approaching the modern time of retirement Spirit calls to a new initiation into the use of power for the community’s good.
This initiation into Mentorhood for those who have already found their calling as men comes naturally from the inside out. The template of initiatory separation involves a feeling of lost creativity or motivation for the everyday work of his sacred talent. There comes a staleness and rote behavior. A new inner call, which he is familiar with, starts to challege him to listen for a new use of his talents, accumulated wisdom, and lived experience.
If a man has not found his initiatory call the separation often comes from the outside. Some involuntary separation and loss will occur. This could be loss of job or demotion, health issues, family struggles or even divorce. In this case if a man is Eldered somehow to see the loss as initiatory opportunity he can go through both initiations concurrently, finding a lost sacred talent and a desire to share his accumulated wisdom and experience he didn’t know was valuable for others.
As we will see, Luke in Star Warsis in an intense struggle with his role as Mentor.
The third of the Three is the stage of the Elder or the Wise Old Man. This often happens emerges in the latter time of the Mentor stage and often there is overlap. The template of initiation again starts with a loss, often the loss of respect from an ageist culture unaware of Elder wisdom.
In indigenous cultures Elders guide and guard the process of puberty initiation and set the stage for all further initiations. Elders hold a vision that each boy has talents and a calling. He often sees that calling before the boy does. An Elder’s hold on that vision is often the only trust and motivation a boy has that he can risk initiation.
The Elder also holds the vision of the deepest values of a culture, its sacred beliefs, its moral foundation. He is not part of the power structure as is the Mentor. So he doesn’t lead as much as witness. He knows he must be continually vigilant that the culture does not lose its way and wander from its highest espoused values.
The Elder sits outside the everyday life of community. He has less vigor but more authority based on his own lived history and experience. He has lived the values of the community for all to see. He has done much inner work, as he has undergone the terrible inner rigors of the Three. He has proven, through living out his callings, that he embodies the connection to Great Spirit, the source of all sacred calls.
To a Western culture lost in the miasma of the inflated ego, most men stay boys. An Elderless culture produces egotistical boys in men’s bodies. The sadness is that so many well intentioned men are abandoned by whole generations of older men, the blind leaving the blind. So much talent lost.
The Elder witnesses to the deeper sense of self and call that propels a boy beyond his ego to search for his authentic place in his community. He also witnesses to the call of generativity and generosity of the next generation of Mentors. He stands for another way beyond the ego.
An Elder continually watches for the next generation of men who will serve and protect the community. In fact he is responsible for the integrity of the emerging generation of men. He watches which boys are ready for initiation. For if a boy is not ready, yet is sent into the initiatory wilderness, he may not survive the rigor and stress. This is deadly serious business for the boy/man and the community. The survival of both is at stake here.
Elders witness to the world of Spirit. They witness to the mystical life of connection to a higher power beyond the world of material and ego that all men are called to. A mystical experience is a direct personal epiphany of a higher power, Spirit. All authentic calls emanate from Spirit. By the time of Elderhood initiation a man has created a life that centers on this psychospiritual relationship. And most important decisions in his life are guided by this communication.
Elders are also needed to hold the vision of what a culture looks like that is full of Men and Mentors who have walked a psychospiritual path. Through his mystical experiences he sees clearly when especially organizational Mentors deviate from the deepest values of a community. It is his role to publicly call a community back from getting lost in the realm of the ego, uncoupled from connection to Spirit. He does this, not by political power, but by the authority of his lived integrity. He is like the prophets of Abrahamic scripture who emerged from the wilderness, the realm of Spirit, to name the errors of the king at the risk of their own life.
Today it is doubly hard for Elders to be heard. For this is the age of idealization of youth. This is the age of ageism. The time of roughly the age 70’s is seen as a time of waiting to die in a place of irrelevance. So much needed wisdom is lost. So many men and women are deprived of psychospiritual guidance. The world needs the Three more than ever. Let’s look into these three initiations that build on each other for those men ready to take up the call at whatever stage of the Three they find themselves.