Meditations on Modernity and Masculinity

Hephaistos.  The Greek God of the Forge and the Patron Saint of Sensitive Men. 

Hephaistos.  The Greek God of the Forge and the Patron Saint of Sensitive Men. 

I am not the first, nor hopefully, shall I be the last to inquire about the unhealthy, archaic wound that resides in all men. Regardless of how many candles you light, back rubs you give, seminars you intend, nor how good your crow pose is, or how well you get along with the gals at the office--we all have it.  So no amount of media-attention, warlock-hunting and allegations are going to change or lessen the fact that misogyny is a blight on the masculinity-an injury so archaic and so grievous that it drives men viciously to war with one another, and has shaped the world around us, and it's not going anywhere, anytime soon. 

This essay is a 'work in progress.' Like my own life, and life itself-nothing monolithic has proven particularly useful in solving age-old problems. I am speaking of religious and political institutions and systems here. As such, before any discussion can be had about what is wrong with me-we must discuss what is wrong with society. 

The point of this writing is not to preach. Men have, in many ways castrated themselves as warriors, brothers, and fathers long ago, so I needn't add to that general embarrassment. I am also not interested in political correctness, radical feminization, or pro-emasculation. Far from it. I intend to empower people. Men exceptionally, but women as well. I think we all wish to be better partners, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers and most of all, friends.

First, It is shameful to consider that many of us have safeguarded our masculinity in such a way as to blot out the possibility of our own evolution--that the collective male ethos is so insipid as to ignore that the most significant tragedy on this planet is the subjugation and repression of girls and women.

What is required is no less the reformation of men first-our attitudes, our ignorance, our weakness. With the ascendency of women, men will feel uncomfortable. We will lose our footing. We will handle shame. We will explore what it feels like to be embarrassed for ourselves and one another. It is through these feelings that we will evolve. With the inevitable ascent of the feminine, men will find another way because this is what is intended. We cannot, by any means, continue to course through history on testosterone and bloody vengeance and ancient attitudes. 

I am predisposed to a specific sensitivity about women because I grew up in a home that was simultaneously macho (the men in my family are Marines) and violent (there is also a history of alcoholism and abuse). On the positive side of the things-my family is also made up of intelligent readers, most especially the women. 

My grandmother, aunts and my mother all read voraciously. Because of these women, I have the tremendous fortune of a life-long acquaintance with literature and myth. I was enrolled in a weekly book club by the time I was four and was reading at high school level by the time I was six or seven. I am gifted this way.  The ability to read and write with some talent is the extent of any divine providence in me, and it has served me extraordinarily well.  I do not regret being outspoken because of this. Francis Bacon cautions, "Would you forsake reputation for truth?"  

My answer is yes. 

As a child, I read everything I could get my hands on. I was enthralled and comforted by the Anglo-Celtic writers--CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, Hawthorne, Twain, Emerson, Thoreau, the poetry of Robert Frost. I traced the lineage of their prose to Gaelic, Icelandic and Nordic myth. By twelve or thirteen years old, I'd managed to read all of Darwin. I found The Voyage of the Beagle, and On the Origin of Species first. Somehow, though it escapes me how, this led me to Freud's The Ego and the Id.  Then came a serendipitous discovery of Jung by reading the cover text on Police's seminal album Synchronicity.  Later, I studied Greco-roman literature and philosophy at boarding school and at University. As an adult, I continue to explore esoteric and mundane teachings from Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Tibetan Mahamudra, as well as the mystery schools of Asia and Europe. 

I invoke mythological archetypes throughout my work—but for the specific topic of this essay—I cite the Greek God, Hephaistos, pictured above.

Hephaistos protects inventors, sculptors, metalsmiths, and workers. He is undoubtedly a very masculine archetype, yet like his fellow brother of the abyss-Hades, he is depicted as introverted and wounded, or lame. He is the Goddess Hera's parthenogenous child, rejected by his mother because of his deformity and thrown off of Mount Olympus and down to earth.  The symbolism is easy. Hephaistos is made lame and immobile by the wound with his Mother. There is no more fitting analogy for controlling men, crippled by their lack of depth, and in unconscious pain than Hephaistos.  He really is, all joking aside--the patron saint of sensitive or wounded men.  We could do worse than look to Hephaistos for lessons on manhood-both excellent and not so. 

At his worst, Hephaistos is the epitome of a bitter, resentful and thwarted man-child, demonstrated by how he takes revenge against his mother Hera for rejecting him. Hephaistos fashions his mother a wondrous golden throne, which, when she sits on it, does not allow her to stand up. The metaphor should be obvious. He seeks to control his mother, and by extension, women. When the other gods begged Hephaestus to return to Olympus to let her go, but he refuses, saying "I have no mother."

Hephaistos' wound is that of “the motherless child."  The same archaic injury that is acted out again and again in his jealous chronologies and in the lives of men for whom their relationship to their mothers is flawed. Men who spend extravagantly on their women, only to eventually try and control them and incapacitate them. Men with "trophy" wives who care nothing for a deep, spiritual connection, or somewhat worse, men who choose to be controlled by their partners for fear of speaking up and asking for what they need. I do not wish to demean men who are effeminate, or gentle-natured. I am referring to men who want to overcome what is infantile and chauvinistic. I speak to men who wish to treat our partners with all the deep love and respect that two people can share. This can only happen when men go to the forge and learn to temper ourselves like steel. We must, especially now define who we are. Otherwise, the worst of us will speak for us. 

Hephaistos is also a fitting archetype for many technologists. He is in fact, the first robotist. Hephaistos built automatons of metal to work for him. This included tripods that walked to and from Mount Olympus. He is at his best, the God who creates all manner of wonders, who forges the new, and blasts the old. For men, we could do worse than look to Hephaistos for guidance. He works diligently and proudly behind the scenes, forging the new and discarding the old. No coincidence again, that in the "brogrammer culture" of Silicon Valley, developers toil away late into the night alone. They look to succor themselves with juvenile pastimes, video games and have even created entire anti-cultures built on the premise of being alone, dejected and emasculated.

All men suffer from Hephaistos' wound. I am wounded, and I became fully aware of my strength as a man by admitting it. I struggled with my scar, my own ego, and with self-control like anyone else. I struggled with accepting the many influential women in my life. I don’t anymore because I have a relationship with the wounded Hephaistos in me, and I fashion myself anew from the inner material of the wound itself. 

My intention (with the not so subtle help of more than one partner) is to clean the ash from the ancient baffles. I wished to rid myself of resentment and take control of me (not her), and we could together fire up and forge a new relationship with one another and to women in general.  I still make mistakes, more often than I'd like to admit--but I know from whence they come--the dark, subterranean place where the wound lives, still burning. The Forge. 

I am not trying to take men down a notch or judge my brothers. I will tell you unequivocally—I want to lift us up. I want us to be better men. Most of all, I want to talk to about how to do that, how to become that and how to honour what is sacred within us, whatever is left of it.