Masculinity and earth gods

John Finn believes our planet needs a mature masculinity that is grounded in its own sense of connection to Earth, a masculinity that is committed to life continuing in ways that are in harmony with natural cycles and ecosystems.


Several years ago I heard Robert Bly declare; "Men need to grieve, they need to grieve over many need to grieve over the loss of the hunting grounds". This simple concept affected me profoundly. I could feel the grief that he spoke about and not just in relation to Native Americans, but regarding my own land based ancestors. The deep sense of loss stimulated my imagination. My mind's eyes scanned pristine landscapes, hordes of grazing animals, and dense lush virgin forests. I looked back to what could have been one hundred years, two hundred years, a thousand years and more, to a time when men knew that the environment and themselves were one. There was no sense of separation, their intellects had not split Nature off as something other than them. A time when the Earth breathed us and we breathed the Earth, or in Australia the Earth dreamed us and we dreamed the Earth. An era when the idea that Homo sapiens were somehow separate from their surroundings would have been as alien a concept as killing for sport or pleasure. Somehow men, in the main, have forgotten their oneness with Nature.

What has happened that we as men have forgotten this connection to the Earth. Was it the transition from hunter gatherers to pastoral peoples? Was it that we were once Goddess/God worshipping peoples and became dominators and acquisitors? Or was it the Judeo/Christian teachings of dominion over Nature, the Inquisitions, the closing of the commons, the industrial revolution? In fact it is likely that all of these and more factors are responsible for the amnesia, a progressive path of forgetfulness that has left us dangerously disconnected, as we destroy our life support, Earth.

I invite you to imagine a time when we as men did not experience ourselves as separate bodies inhabiting a blue green planet, that is floating in a vast cosmos. In fact there is evidence to support that we were in awe of and honoured our deep connectedness to the plants and animals, the rivers, lakes and mountains. We sang songs, danced and created images and rituals that celebrated the complex web of life. Many of these remain intact, passed on generation to generation in unbroken lines spanning thousands of years. Indigenous peoples around the world are the custodians of this history.

In workshops with men where I give a guided meditation inviting them to visit their special place in nature. It lasts no more than five minutes, and then the men are asked to return. The return often takes fifteen minutes or more. Men come back from this 'visit' refreshed, relaxed, and somewhat somber, saying things like, "I should do this more often". Some men experience a sense of grief over not being able to reconcile this part of themselves with the rest of their lives. The responsibilities and busyness of their daily routines take priority over everything else. What this simple exercise has shown me is that, given the time, men easily connect with nature. Three years ago seventy men gathered in an amphitheater like cave on the shores of New Zealand's largest lake. They were there as part of a welcoming ritual to a men's leadership gathering. The cave ritual opened with a man doing a dance of challenge, then moved into a guided meditation asking men to connect to the man beside them, the cave, the earth and the ancient ancestors that met like this in caves. A one point of the drama a man dressed to represent the Earth Father appeared and anointed each man. There was singing and chanting, and the ritual concluded with drumming. It lasted twenty-five minutes. Many of the men present had not done anything like this before. For all the men there it was a profound experience, for about a dozen men, profoundly disturbing. Besides learning how profound these earth based rituals can be, I saw how available this powerful connection is for men. A central part of this ritual was a masculine earth deity, this I believe made the experience very accessible for men.

Aaron Kipnis, an American men's movement figure, has written about the need for men to view nature through 'masculine eyes'. In other words, look for the masculine imagery within nature such as trees being symbols of the erect penis and fertile river flats as having been created by the ejaculation of the river. Many of us have heard much about the earth as mother or Goddess, but mostly lost to men is the male identification with the earth. Aaron warns that viewing nature as only mother or feminine risks men remaining forever boys in her service, disconnected from the mature masculine power to heal, engender and support life. "If men cannot image a masculine connection to nature, if it is conceived as being other than them, then their feelings of separation may breed alienation from life" (A.K).

Shepherd Bliss is spearheading a movement for men called 'Coming Home' a return to land based lifestyles. He has coined the term ecomasculinity in response to ecofeminism, and containing a notion of partnership with women in working for the Earth. Shepherd has adopted Kokopelli a Native American earth deity (a dancing, singing Johnny Appleseed like character) as a symbol of male connection to the Earth. This, I believe, is what is missing for men; the archetypal images that relate masculinity to the earth. The earth gods. We have a plethora of sky god archetypes often war like, either youthful invincible heroes, or older dominant males who rule in the name of an all powerful sky god, who is often wrathful. These 'heavenly' models are often abstract and inaccessible to our imagination and reminiscent of remote and disembodied fathers. Taken alone they are dominating and oppressive. For centuries these sorts of mythological images have served as our primary idea for masculinity, an idea that sees masculinity as essentially a journey of ascension. The Earth gods offer a different journey, one of descent - a "going down" into, initially for many men, grief.

Looking at New Zealand Maori mythology we find numerous masculine Earth based gods including Tane-mahuta, the father of forests and all things that inhabit them, Tangaroa the god and father of sea, fish and reptiles and Haumia-tikitiki, the god and father of the food of man that springs without cultivation. There is Tawhiri-ma-tea, the god and father of the winds and storms and Tu-matauenga the god and father of cultivated food. Among Maori and Hawaiian and probably other pacific cultures is the story of Maui (the man god that made a deal with the sun to shed more light on the earth) renowned for fishing the lands up from the sea.

In ancient Sumeria, the Earth Father was known as Dumuzi. In other parts of the world he was also known as Adonis, the Green Man, Iacchus, Freyr, Karora, and Ymir, and in medieval Germany simply the Wilde Man. The Greeks and Romans imagined the oceans as male deities they named Poseidon, Neptune, or Oceanos. In Egyptian mythology there is Osiris, son of the Earth Father Geb and Sky Mother Nut.

The American men's movement has revisited the mythology of the Green Man and the Wilde Man posing the question: why is it valuable for modern men to embrace earth based masculinity and to understand our archetypal nature? My immediate response is that if we don't it is likely that we and our children will witness the extinction of many more species, including our own. A less dire response is that a 'regreening' of masculinity is called for if we as men are to learn new ways that bring wise leadership and health to our lives, families and communities. The above two archetypes remind us of the ways in which men are directly connected to Nature. As well as being in some writings servants, or the young lovers of the Earth Mother/Goddess, they are manifestations of the Earth Father, a wild mature masculine power that is our mythological heritage and deeply embedded in our experience as primal beings. This masculine expression is passionate, sensual, unashamedly sexual, protective of nature, grounded, and not the slightest bit homophobic.

To view the Earth as only feminine and the Sky as only masculine is a baneful notion that exiles both genders to a form of monotheism. Men need to identify with the masculine magnificence of Nature and become fathers of the Earth if we are to make a difference to the rapid despoiling of our expanded selves - Earth. In my work as a deep ecologist, the workshops I attend are mostly populated with women, some of which hold to the contention that it is men that are destroying the Earth. These women care passionately and deeply about what is happening to the Earth, in terms of deforestation, pollution, mining, ozone depletion, the impact of agricultural monocultures, the depletion of species, and the threat of nuclear dumping. Whilst I do not concur with the ecofeminist notion that it is solely men who are destroying the Earth, the opinion that men do not care becomes compelling, when observing the lesser numbers involved in this vital work. I know that men care, and contend that it is due to a disconnection from our own earthiness that often leaves us in a somewhat numb or dissociated state. This has a lot to do with the lack of archetypal images that ground us into the Earth.

"The deep masculine archetypes draw on male images connected to depth of feeling, soul and Earth. When a man moves into the area of accessing deep masculine archetypes such as the Wilde Man, the Trickster, the Green Man, the Hermit, the phallic gods and gods of the underworld such as Dionysious and Pan he forms a potent balance to the myths of the ascendant male and the Sky gods that overarch them". (Kipnis, Bly, Meade, Hillman, McCann, Finn).

For men to take the journey to awaken these deep masculine images in his psyche is a courageous step.....

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