by Joel Blunk, Illuman Weaver
As the story goes, in 1914, famed explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton posted the following ad in search of a few brave souls to join him on an unprecedented exploration of the Antarctic: “Men wanted for a hazardous journey: small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.” He was suddenly flooded with thousands of takers.
Men long for adventure, for something that draws them out of themselves.
Rites of passage have traditionally been such a thing. In some cultures, the initiation of young men was as perilous as Shackleton’s description. In Africa, boys had to hunt and kill a lion with nothing but a spear. In Vanuatu, they jumped headfirst off a high bamboo tower with a vine that they themselves had to tie to their ankles well enough to barely stop them from hitting the ground. As you might imagine, some didn’t survive.
Of course, the Rites of Passage Illuman offers today are not as extreme. Safety is paramount. But they are challenging and every bit as important for introducing young men to the mysteries of life and their place in the world. It’s critical work and our efforts to make them happen now are vital.
Male rites of passage are primarily about power, the abuse of which runs rampant today. The evidence of that, in the form of gun violence, sexual assault, greed, and war, falls disproportionately on males. But through initiation, the initiate is ritually stripped of power in order that it might be reintroduced for good rather than ill. As the African proverb goes, “If we don’t initiate the boys, they will burn the village down.” Ultimately, the young man receives the message that his life is not about him, but he is meant for life. The gift he brings back is his authentic self and his potential to benefit the world. Joseph Campbell stated that’s the most important part—the boon he brings back for his people.
Imagine what the world might look like if every young man in our society had the chance to experience a significant rite of passage that repositioned him in the world as a generative Man.
Unfortunately, a simple but compelling invitation like Shackleford’s is rarely enough to get young men to sign up. It takes more. It takes a personal invitation from someone like you—a friend, a father, a trusted mentor—who has made the rites himself and who can speak to the impact and need.
The newly formed East Coast Collaborative, organized by Illuman of DC, is hosting a Young Men’s Rites of Passage for men ages 18–29 this May 17–21 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia. If you know someone who fits the bill and is ready, we hope you’ll point him our way. And if you’d like to help support the rites financially and/or by returning to welcome them back, that would be appreciated too. It takes a village, and we don’t want any young man to be left out. It’s too important.
Fr. Richard Rohr’s dream is that in five generations rites of passage will be commonplace in our culture once again and that every young man will have access. The only way for that to happen is one step at a time—for us to begin today, as we’re able, initiating the next generation, one young man at a time. You can help us do that.
If you’d like to be a part of it or make it possible for a young man to attend, click here to learn more.
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