Rites of Passage
Rites of Passage

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Archetypal  myth groups
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One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that. 
Joseph Campbell
"Culture is defined by what it says no to. Not by what it says yes to. So, what's happening in the sibling society is we say no to almost nothing."
 Robert Bly to pbs.org/
What each must seek in his life never was on land or sea. It is something out of his own unique potentiality for experience, something that never has been and never could have been experienced by anyone else

Enjoying a blessed afterlife with your thiasos [extended family] is the most cherished benefit conferred by  initiation into the Greek mysteries

Confirmation among Catholics and Bar Mitzvah for Jews no longer resonate for the majority of participants

Each generation must either create its own myths and its own heroes or regenerate those of the past.

If interpreted literally, these symbols become at best speculative history, and therefore the grammar of the symbols has to be understood.


 The myth that  the American concept of the “free world” can be exported, allowing peace and harmony to reign, has been dramatically shaken by events following the "9/11" destruction of 2001.

Speaking across the ages from the 1st century AD, at  Pompeii's Villa of the Mysteries, is a remarkable series of panels communicating an initiation ritual for young woman.  
Society no longer knows how to use myth and ritual to guide youth from the troubled narcissistic period of raging hormones to become a responsible member of the tribe

There's a problematic denial about supporting or creating institutions which could assist on an essentially spiritual path. Belief is actually rather cheap, costing very little unlike living as part of community in service to that community.

Among societies in a primitive stage of development, tribal initiation usually possesses a central position in the social and religious life of the community. The process of the decline of initiation the Greeks stand somewhere between our own society, which has lost all save a few traces of initiation, and those primitive societies in which tribal initiation has retained its central importance.
In youth narcissism is natural since you're likely to be focused on yourself, anxious about being accepted and loved. No matter what your age, the initiatory events from ancient stories allow for a re-examination of childhood issues from a different perspective.

For most today the most important ritual experience of transformation is the marriage ceremony, there is an unavoidable initiation as well when the alchemy that begins with ceremony becomes the daily giving of oneself to the unity of marriage and welfare of its children. 
However, the rite of passage from youth to adulthood, has been one of the most neglected of rituals here during expectant times on the cusp of the 21st century. The lack of sustained efforts, point to a failure of institutions and the need for a new shared vision of what is the necessary role for the village in raising the child.

The Ongoing Discussion:
In the nineties, Robert Bly's best selling book Iron John energized the mythopoetic  men's movement as did the idea of a reclaiming men's mid-life initiation. A retreat from the forefront followed in the wake of media trivialization, but many others carry on. Bly still leads men's group in the midwest but the charismatic Michael Meade has assumed the mantle of creating a meaningful link between boys and society.
Do women have different stages of initiation? That wasn'tThe image “http://www.elore.com/Mystery/Elusinian/initiation_relief_rc.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. discussed. Do artists have different stages of initiation? That wasn't discussed. Are there spiritual roads that involve the male learning grief? That wasn't discussed. Every book can contain only a small sliver of the vast field of mythology. Joseph Campbell opened the awareness of the link between mythology and initiation, and the discussions went on for years."[robertbly.com/int_8.html ]

"The media has tried to paint things differently. The most powerful enemies of men's openness are the corporate men. Three or four years ago there were hundreds of posters in New York one spring saying, "You don't need to beat a drum or hug a tree to be a man." At the bottom: "Dewar's Whiskey." The corporate world dares to say to young men, knowing how much young men want to be men, that the only requirement for manhood is to become an alcoholic. That's disgusting. It's a tiny indication of the ammunition aimed at men who try to learn to talk or to feel."  [robertbly.com/int_8.html ]

Being alive at the end of this millennium means getting caught  in a fundamental crisis that calls into question every aspect of life and death. It becomes essential to have an eye for the symbolic and a feel for ritual as radical changes says Michael Meade in the introduction to Mircea Eliade's Rites and Symbols of Initiation or as Eliade reminds us "the hope and dream of these moments of total crisisare to obtain a definitive and total renovatio, a renewal capable of transmuting life."
Michael Meade
No rite or ceremony is a true initiation if if does not do the following;
  • Cause you to engage in introspection - that is, turn your consciousness within, to look upon yourself;
  • engender within you a feeling of aspiration and idealism; and
  • exact from you a sacred obligation or promise which you make to yourself that you will try to fulfill your aspirations.
An important aspect of both the men's and women's movement is a focus on gender reconciliation. Understanding the nature of the male/female dynamic is particularly fluid at this time making it both exciting and difficult for youth to understand their place in the world. For this reason we put our gender initiation page in the myth aforum section where it will not be indexed by search engines and it is possible to add comments and links.
Myth is a fundamental component of human thought. One has only to consider the magical feelings attaching to authority, or the glamour attributed to celebrities, to appreciate the importance of sharing mythologies within the community. Unfortunately, the few artists of stature who occupy this field, are film directors beholden to short-term commercial interests. 


The Monomyth
The Monomyth:
hero's journey common to all cultures and ages
DownloadWritten in the forties, The Hero with a Thousand Faces remains  Joseph Campbell most important and influential book. It traces the archetypal myth of a hero's departure, initiation, and return in various cultures' folklore to uncover a "monomyth." The conquest of fear yields the courage of life. That is the cardinal initiation of every heroic adventure-- fearlessness and achievement. When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness. Campbell divides this "monomyth" into three main stages--Departure, Initiation, and Return 
 "During the Seventies a tremendously healthy discussion was going on as well in the US around therapy, fairy tales, mythology, stages of growth and the meaning of initiation. I first heard Joseph Campbell talk in Toronto in 1975, and his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces was the Bible of those discussions. He welded many different stories and myths together in a way that emphasized the heroic male, the young hero who leaves his village, fights various multiple-headed beings, gets a boon, and brings it back to the village. That was the initiation, so to speak, of the male hero.
Robert Bly


Joseph Campbell has identified the following common sequences in this story likely to have a version in most cultures:
Reigning  Monomyth
Star Wars is a masterpiece of synthesis, a triumph of American ingenuity and resourcefulness, demonstrating, how the old may be made new again: Lucas raided the junkyards of our popular culture and rigged a working myth out of scrap.
Andrew Gorden

The Wizard of Oz

DownloadThe Wizard of Oz where alienated young girl sets off on a quest where it becomes necessary to cooperate with three archetypes and eventually return with the freedom only achieved by a strong spirit of community may be the story of our age.
“The Wizard” has proven unusually fruitful for further understanding the issue of coming-of-age. Dorothy’s appearance on the screen in the person of Judy Garland suggests something of the dynamics of the issue of an adolescent girl blooming into a young woman. Dorothy’s has become alienated from home in Kansas and discovers that no one will listen to her concerns. Her song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” then becomes an expression of her “call to adventure ” the sense of the lure of the great beyond. If the Yellow Brick Road is the venue for Dorothy’s coming of age her three companions become the means of grace by which her transformation from girlhood to maturity is achieved. What characterizes each of Dorothy’s friends is their lack of skills “necessary for effective living within the social order.” It is only as a band of “called together ones ” that they can adapt to their environment and emerge successful.
This flash movie, created in 2005 by the team at carnaval.com is a hymn to the number 5 and its place as the number of rebirth. The Fibonacci Numbers, the numerically expressed spiral of natural growth were used in ancient Egypt by pryamid architects.



Typically, the hero is the orphaned son or royalty. Unaware of his true identity, he is consigned to a life of drudgery and exile. He is first called to adventure by a herald, signifying that "the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand" (p.51). The threshold represents a rebirth into adulthood; the hero or heroine must overcome the parents, who stand as "threshold guardians."

The next step in this wish-fulfillment dream is the encounter with a protective figure, "some wizard, hermit, shepherd, or smith, who appears to supply the amulets and advice that the hero will require....The call, in fact, was the first announcement of the approach of this initiatory priest" (pp. 72-73).
Nothing in mythic plots adheres to the conventions of realism; it is all guided to fulfill the hero's "destiny." And what is destiny but a supernatural "Force" which arranges for things to happen? It is another word for the belief in the magical omnipotence of thought
As Otto Rank notes in The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, "the myth throughout reveals an endeavor to get rid of the parents,"
The next stage of the adventure, says Campbell, is the passage into "the belly of the whale" (p. 90) The initiation consists of a series of miraculous tests and ordeals. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper" (p. 97) );
At the center of the journey is "The Meeting with the Goddess" and "The Atonement with the Father," both symbolic stages in working out the Oedipal crisis.
 Having symbolically met his mother and made his peace with his father, the hero, according to Campbell, has reached the stage of Apotheosis. He is now the possessor of the grace of the Gods, "the Ultimate Boon" which can restore his culture.

Briefly formulated, the universal doctrine teaches that all the visible structures of the world--all things and beings--are the effects of a ubiquitous power out of which they arise, which supports them and fills them during the period of their manifestation, and back into which they must ultimately dissolve....Its manifestation in the cosmos is the structure and flux of the universe itself (pp. 257-58).
The Departure and the Initiation completed, the hero now begins the third and final stage: the Return. "The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of Wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet, or the ten thousand worlds" (p. 193). In the stage of Return, the Hero returns from the Dark as Master of both worlds, the world of everyday existence and the Mysterious Void beyond all Imagining that underlies it
According to Campbell, "the work of the hero is to slay the tenacious aspect of the father (dragon, tester, ogre king) and release from its ban the vital energies that will feed the universe" (p. 352). His job, in other words, is the destruction of the status quo in order to permit renewal and restoration.
“Finding Our Way Home: ‘The Wizard of Oz’ as Communitas” by Brian T. Hartley
Featuring over 40 cites published sources, a brilliant compelling and important case for The Wizard of Oz as a primary myth for our age and a balance to the more masculine Hero's Journey articulated by Joseph Campbell .greenville.edu/faculty/bhartley/wizard.htm
Dionysian Greek Mystery Initiation


 One would feel at one with nature, in all its intensity, both light and dark. A total egoless union with the other initiates present, thus identified as the collective Dionysos, along with the liberation, gained through the removal of all ‘masks’, and the realisation of one’s own inner divinity, also identified as Dionysos.

Greek Mysteries

One of the chief reasons for the sustained popularity, which saw the Elysian Mysteries last for 1000 years, was the democratic nature in which they ministered to the needs of the individual man. Completely denationalized and liberated from racial prejudices, they welcomed men of all races to their membership. They were genuinely democratic brotherhoods in which rich and poor, slave and master, Greek and barbarian met on a parity
Dionysus Mysteries


Greek Mystery Initiation
The soul on the point of death has the same experience as the initiand in the great mysteries . . . at first wanderings and wearisome hurryings to and fro, and unfinished journeys half-seen as through a darkness; then before the consummation itself all the terrors, shuddering and trembling, sweat and wonder; after which they are confronted by a wonderful light, or received into pure regions and meadows, with singing and dancing and sanctities of holy voices and sacred revelations, wherein, made perfect at last, free and resolved, the initiand worships with crowned head in the company of the pure and undefiled looking down on the impure, uninitiated multitude of the living as they trample one another under foot and are herded together in thick mire and mist.
Plutarch on Greek Initiation:'


The Initiation Chamber 
 Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii 50-60 BC

The frescoes from the Villa Item ("House of the Mysteries") outside Pompeii were discovered in 1909. We are honored to present such stunning work from the past which speaks so clearly here in the present.

Dionysiac initiation is entry into the Dionysiac community, the thiasos.  The thiasos is a mythical community, a collective power capable of insuring a blessed afterlife. Through initiation an initiate become a mythical follower of Dionysos, a Maenad or a Satyr and insured a place in the underworld after the current life passed.

The term "mysteries" refers to secret initiation rites of the Classical world. The Greek word for "rite" means "to grow up". This ancient fresco cycle depicts statuesque women engaged in activities that have often been connected with the initiation of a young woman into the mysteries of the cult of Dionysus in preparation 

The Greek term mysterion derives from the verb muein, meaning to close the mouth or the eyes -- a going into the darkness therefore, as the candidate or mystes after purification or katharsis withdrew into the mysterion, the darkness of the initiation chamber, where he suffered a symbolic death, to be reborn into the light of a new revelation, called the epopteia.

The great merit of the Mystery Schools was that they made the universal wisdom-traditions available to anyone capable of grasping them and allowed the initiate to live with understanding and to die without fear, as Cicero tells us.


I fear to breathe any treason against the majesty of love, which is the genius and god of gifts, and to whom we must not affect to prescribe. Let him give kingdoms or flower-leaves indifferently. There are persons from whom we always expect fairy-tokens; let us not cease to expect them. This is prerogative, and not to be limited by our municipal rules. For the rest, I like to see that we cannot be bought and sold. The best of hospitality and of generosity is also not in the will, but in fate. I find that I am not much to you; you do not need me; you do not feel me; then am I thrust out of doors, though you proffer me house and lands. No services are of any value, but only likeness. When I have attempted to join myself to others by services, it proved an intellectual trick, -- no more. They eat your service like apples, and leave you out. But love them, and they feel you, and delight in you all the time.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), Essays, Second Series.


Archetypal or Mythopoetic
Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn't, you've got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.
--- Joseph Campbell
Essentially, mythologies are enormous poems that are renditions of insights, giving some sense of the marvel, the miracle and wonder of life
Our demons are our own limitations, which shut us off from the realization of the ubiquity of the spirit . . . each of these demons is conquered in a vision quest.
"Tell me thy company, and I’ll tell thee what thou art."
Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), Spanish writer.


Archetypal or Mythopoetic is Polytheism: Suppleness is an important quality of soul. In Greek mythology the flexibility of the gods is one of their chief important traits. They help sustain their interrelationship of polytheism. Polytheism is a psychological model, not religious belief.

In the early nineties, the Mythopoetic men's movement garnered much attention. It's leadership resurrected the cannon of great mythical stories told in a rhythm favored by the soul. This poetry reading, was accompanied by books by Robert Bly, Michael Meade and James Hillman. However, as quickly as the movement rose, it largely disappeared. The charge of moving past its own narcissistic initial stage of self or mid-life initiation to initiation of boys to manhood was too great a task for these prophets without institutional or strong local support to take on. This short-lived men's movement amounted to university teaching outside the university setting, yet the truths and needs remain as urgent as ever. 

Whatever happened to the Mythopoetic men's movement?
The amount of  and Michael Meade read or recited to the men's groups. The three of you gathered many of those poems in The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart. In a sense, .

As a natural centring and unfolding of the personality, individuation is an alchemical cycle of separation and synthesis which involves the dethroning, or relative abolition of the ego. This mythic process takes place through the gradual distillation of the Self - the ambivalent archetypal core of the personality - out from a latent condition of unconsciousness into its rightful place at the centre of consciousness. Individuation is a lengthy process, indeed one which once begun, never ends, for becoming centred in the Self is merely the starting point of a new journey which, like the Medicine Wheel, moves outward in an ever-widening spiral to embrace the fate and soul of World and Cosmos.

In this interweaving waltz, through the Dionysian explosion of the isolated ego, soul's diffusive movement outward meets soul's infusive movement from outer to inner, and the two merge in an imaginal Cosmos, whose Centre, as all shamans know (through imaginal 'gnosis'), is everywhere.

If "soul" refers also to an anima mundi, a world soul, then as alchemists such as Paracelsus stated, the soul in one sense lies beyond the individual and belongs to a mode of reality beyond our control. In the Neoplatonic Fourth Ennead, Plotinus discusses whether all individuals are one soul,

James Hillman has undoubtedly contributed more than anyone in the post-Jungian camp to stressing our need to honour the Dionysian, or 'dis-integrating' dimension of therapy. Conversely, positive thinking - as a psychological theory - assumes that anything that's broken, or off-centre (eccentric!), or suffering, or in darkness, depression, neurosis, or symbolic death needs to be immediately fixed up, centred, unified, or brought into the light of health.

As Hillman notes, there is a soul-world of difference here between 'spiritual discipline' and therapy. As he puts it: 'Anyone who tends to dismiss pathology for growth, or anima confusions for ego strength and illumination, or who neglects the differentiation of multiplicity and variety for the sake of unity is engaged in spiritual discipline.'(2) Therapy, on the other hand, concerns itself with 'soul' which, as Hillman stresses, is inherently pathological, multiple, prone to wandering, death, depth and depression.

The re-connection with soul, then, is not equivalent to the re-enthroning of the monotheistic myth of psychic unity, but is rather on one level the reinstatement of soul in all its imaginal complexity and fragmentation, its meanings and meanderings; for if the psyche protects against splintering, it is also prone to splintering its protection. Perhaps, in other words, we need to 're-vision' soul retrieval by viewing it not only as a reintegration of the personality, but also as an affirmation of polytheistic soul that is at the heart of the "I-Thou" of human and Cosmic life. If soul is both one and many, then the centripetal re-connection to multiple soul compensates the centrifugal re-collection of an original unity of soul.

Just as shamans, through initiation death-rebirth must heal themselves, so the effective depth therapist is one who through individuation as the ongoing "re-collection" of wholeness, has transcended the "dis-ease" of imbalance and conflict by becoming consciously centred in the Self rather than in the one-sided ego. This re-centring does not obliterate conflict, multiplicity of soul, or pathology, but rather allows for the coexistence of a more central and detached vantage point from where an untouchable core of the personality serenely views the conflict, while the pathologizing soul is unavoidably immersed in it. Our wounds, after all, parent our destinies and keep us in the body - and in the world. They stop us from the temptation to escape upward along the vertical axis of "spirit" and keep us anchored instead in the World, hence along the horizontal human axis of Keatsian "Soul-making", with all its attendant yet necessary limitation and suffering.

by Maureen B. Roberts, PhD

The Father is the world generating spirit and his power passes through the transforming medium, who is the Mother of the world. When men become attached to forms, and forget the Power of the Void, then the time comes for the Hero to make the journey back to the Source, reminding men of all that is Eternal and Unchanging.

The Hero is represented in two ways - he is either a man who has to make the psychological journey back to the Source or else he is a God come to life whose Hero hood is predestined and preordained. This God Hero then makes the journey and returns and goes forth slaying tyrants. The Tyrant stands for the earlier Hero who is now attached to the ego and is unwilling to forsake his personal gains. Once the tyrant is got rid of, the Hero then returns to the Void. Thus the cycle continuously repeats itself.

To learn more about the Mythopoetic men's movement, visit the Men's Center Los Angeles. Here is founder Dr. Stephen Johnson's The Quest for the Masculine Soul (Whole Life Times, August, 1995); and "Natural Allies: In Search of a Mentor" (Man!, Spring, 1992). Also, see Stephen's interview "Healing the Masculine Wound" (Whole Life Times, August, 1992).

The Branches of Mentoring, the Roots of Elders offers orientation and training in the core ideas and purposes of mentoring. The word 'mentor' refers to 'lived knowledge,' it comes from an old myth in which Mentor acts as guide and teacher using inspired ideas and a keen knowledge of survival.
When Bill Moyer's PBS special on the Robert Bly aired in the winter of 1990, it brought forth an unprecedented flood of calls and letters from both men and women attesting to the pain and confusion experienced by many contemporary men. This was the author's long-awaited book on male initiation and the role of the mentor, the result of ten years' work with men to discover the truths about masculinity that get beyond the stereotypes of our popular culture.
In the tradition of Blake, Yeats, and D.H. Lawrence, the author has turned to the most ancient stories and legends to remind men and women of welcome images long forgotten, images of a vigorous masculinity both protective and emotionally centered. He takes as the frame of his book the tale of "Iron John", which the Grimm brothers collected in the early nineteenth century, but which in its themes and motifs goes back thousands of years. In the story, an ancient "hairy man" - Iron John - becomes a mentor to a young boy, and each event or adventure is regarded as a stage in male growth. As the author retells the story, he stops at times to reflect on initiation rituals for men which still go on in some parts of the world or are still remembered in epics such as The Odyssey. As the book progresses, it brings together a rich and coherent picture of what it has meant through time to pass from boyhood into manhood. Throughout that long history of initiation the role of the older men has been central. Yet in our own time, the young men he observes are hungering for the father and the mentor as intensely as they hunger for food. Some say stuck in the "tough guy" mode. Others linger in the naiveté that destroys relationships, so doubtful of themselves that they can be life preserving...but not life giving. This book is at the same time a new version and a very ancient vision of adult manhood, one that has depth, vividness, and solidity. It reconfirms the power of ancient stories to guide, to heal, and to convey the deepest truths.



menstuff.org/books/byissue/ritual-initiation.html books on Ritual - Initiation and Ritual - General

Mystic Death, Marriage, and Rebirth at theosophy-nw.org



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