by Terry Symens-Bucher, former Illuman Board Chair
On August 24, 2022, fifty-one initiates and an international team gathered on a former Soviet military base in Latvia for a historic Men’s Rites of Passage in the Illuman way. The first MROP in Latvia was accomplished after years of delayed but determined effort. In a meaningful and powerful example of Isaiah 2:4, the former military site, named Stacija (“Station”), has been converted into a spiritual retreat center by a Latvian man named Filips Rubenis and his wife. After the Second World War, the USSR had incorporated the Latvian Baltic coast into the infamous “Iron Curtain,” ostensibly to create a buffer zone against NATO invasion, but also to keep people who were unhappy with the Soviet system from fleeing to Sweden. Perhaps ironically, that militarization has created a very lightly inhabited zone where the Latvian forest and coastline thrive. It was a beautiful and appropriate setting for the Rites.
I met Filips in 2019 at EuroSoul, the European brothers’ version of Soularize. That year, EuroSoul was held in Germany at a place called Oberwildflecken where the German brothers also hold their MROP. (Perhaps appropriately, Oberwildflecken is also a former military base.) Filips had just attended the MROP in Austria and was determined to bring the Rites to Latvia. Filips struck me immediately as someone with a vision and the conviction to put it into action. We began talking about how an MROP might happen in Latvia. I advised that it would probably be best for a cadre of Latvian men to experience the Rites in another country first and then form a team to assist in the preparation and running of an initial Latvian Rites. Filips wanted to do the initial experience in Northern California and gathered ten Latvian men to attend the Illuman NorCal MROP in 2020. Then the pandemic hit.
Though disappointed, Filips was not idle during the pandemic. His family bought and refurbished Stacija (“Station”) as a spiritual renewal center. When purchased, the site was in considerable disrepair. When the Army troops pulled out in the early 1990s, they stripped everything that could be taken, including the roofs of the buildings. By the time of the MROP, Filips had created a staff house, retreat building, outdoor kitchen facility, meditation space, and several outbuildings. He is currently constructing a larger retreat building capable of housing retreatants with a meditation hall, library, and large meeting room. Filips also erected a sacred space for the Rites—a large metal-framed canvas tent with a platform floor.
In addition to reproducing the Archetype boards, Filips commissioned a Latvian artist to paint the background mural for the sacred space. She created a beautiful piece weaving the crucifixion with figures of Jacob wrestling the angel, Paul falling from his horse on the road to Damascus, Jonah being expelled from the belly of leviathan, and Peter grieving his betrayals of Jesus. She also included symbology from Latvian folklore and history to create a powerfully evocative centerpiece for the MROP sacred space.
All fifty-one initiates completed their Rites successfully and with exceptional spirit. That group includes fifty Latvians, who will now compose a solid men’s community for mutual support on the Journey of Illumination, and a man from Hungary who currently resides in Switzerland. The hope is that another MROP with an international team will be held in 2024 and a third MROP in 2025 led by a Latvian team. This year’s team was composed of Filips and Janis Krievkralns, a fellow Latvian initiated in Ireland; Walt Altmann, Bernhard Wehner, and Friedbert Schoenfeld from Germany; Pavel Hrdina, Jakub Sakala, Michal Sakala, Martin Zeman, and Tomas Kalab from the Czech Republic; Martin Donaghy, Tadgh and Ken Brady from Ireland; and Jim Taylor (Weaver), Steve Conroy (Ritual Elder), and myself from the United States.
There were several learnings from this first Latvian MROP that may be applied to developing the Rites in other countries. I would say that first, Latvia was blessed with an initiated man who was determined to bring the Rites to his countrymen and had the capacity to gather the resources needed to accomplish his vision. Second, Latvia was ready. While without a core group of initiated men, the men who did come were very motivated; they were psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually ready for the Rites. Some of them had been waiting since 2019 to participate. Third, the team collaboration across international boundaries was constant throughout the preparation and during the Rites and was a deeply meaningful aspect of the experience. While US Weavers and Ritual Elders had assisted Rites in other countries, particularly Ireland, this was the first instance of men from multiple countries combining to serve on the MROP team. It provided a unique and profound opportunity for initiated men to experience their brotherhood, and it was not lost on the team that war was raging in the Ukraine just a few hundred miles away. The international team organized for this historic MROP was the realization of an intention grounded at the beginning of EuroSoul: Brothers Without Borders.