In almost all cultures the world over, young people undergo rites of initiation. It normally marks the passage into adulthood. However in the recent west this has become less and less a feature of our culture, such that we live in what Sergio refers to as a “partly initiated society”.

We need to rediscover and reconnect with these ancient practices. These rituals are in essence an emotional and spiritual phenomenon, meant to be felt and internalised. While women encounter this naturally through the overt changes of puberty, this has become highly problematic for the modern male. What remains of these rituals – confirmation, or boy scouts, lack the visceral power of traditional initiations. It is left to gang membership and the military, which hardly transform us in the right direction.

According to Rohr, “men must be tried, limited, challenged, punished, hazed, circumcised, isolated, starved, stripped and goaded into maturity”.  This separates him forcefully from the feminine energy, and this experience wounds him ritually and “prepares the young man to deal with life in ways other than logic, managing, controlling and problem solving.” [P 31] Without this wounding, paradoxically, we shall never heal.

In small groups, a story was shared by a participant in which at 13 years old, he was told by his wise mother to get on his bicycle, and not to return home until he had a job. He was faced with the terror of the fact that he did not know when he would sleep at home again. He went from restaurant to restaurant adding his name to long waiting lists. But eventually he was offered a kitchen job and a beginner’s wage. He went home a changed person, and for 8 months, proudly made enough money to comfortably cover his weekend dream activities.

Initiation needs to be rediscovered in our society, Rohr : “Initiation always taught the young man to die before he died … a constant truth taught by Jesus, baptism, the prophets, Mohammed, the mystics… as St Francis put it , ‘if you have once faced the great death, the second death can do you no harm.'” [P 36]

Note, I have explored in some depth the topic of “The Shamanic Shadow” which inlcudes the biblical basis for a more feral spirituality including the sort of initiation proposed by Richard Rohr.

This post is part 6 in the series Richard Rohr “From wild man to wise man” with Sergio Milandri of The session was held on the 30th November 2009 at Sans Pareil, Hout Bay, South Africa.