The Years European Men’s Gathering Report
(Republished from Parallax)
by Andrew Sweeny
I’ve just come back from the wild and windy country Northern Denmark, where I participated in this year’s European Men’s gathering. What follows is my report, which will not be a description of the private, intimate goings on of the event but rather some thoughts and feelings on the themes presented.
At last years EMG I wrote about mens work in the context of my own personal journey: from being a long haired hippy gender-bender to somebody celebrating fatherhood and valuing manhood on its own terms. I also offered an apology for men’s groups and why I feel they are important. This year I will explore the three archetypes presented at the retreat: the priest, the warrior, and merchant as well as the main theme of fatherhood.
But first let us try to answer the question: Why men’s groups anyway? Today we live in a time where masculinity is often described as a toxic pathology to be overcome. Men are associated with power abuse, rape, and colonialism — and they are spoken of in terms of being ‘the oppressor’. The postmodern ideology would have you believe that man is something to be transcended in a brave new genderless world. And yet at the same time, men are increasingly medicated, depressed, and lackluster — lacking in primordial meaning and energy.
Men’s groups have arisen to counteract the trend of ennui and depression among men, and to orient us towards meaning. Contrary to the popular culture discourse, there is actually an intelligent and vital form of masculinity, beyond football games, beer, and pathological ‘boys clubs’. The fact is: most men aren’t rapists and we are quite loving and respectful to our sisters, mothers, and lovers. But many men today are also adrift in self loathing, addicted to porn, opiates, and computer screens. They need a positive male principle.
How could we love and respect women if we don’t love and respect ourselves? In fact, if we don’t learn to become good men through the example of other good men, women will suffer enormously, and men will become increasingly antisocial and isolated. As recent historical events like school-shootings and lone terrorist attacks have shown us, there is nothing more dangerous than an antisocial and isolated man — a man without a healthy team or tribe.
Men’s gatherings are actually traditional, even if they have become a sort of radical act in the modern world. Aboriginal societies, for instance, have always known that the sexes need time apart to become more powerful in their essence. Tyson Yunkaporta, author of the book Sand Talk, has pointed out in traditional medicine men are said to have a bitter salty essence, compared with the sweet unctuous essence of a woman. If the mixing of essences is unconscious or unskilled, sickness results.
The masculine essence and the feminine essence come into right relationship with each other (in same-sex relationship as well) not through endless contact, but through periods of separation and union. Without the polarization of man and women necessary to generate the heat and sparks of eros — we become asexual vegetables.
Men attending The European Men’s group reliable testify that men’s groups have made them feel more valuable and attuned to women. And — not an insignificant or unimportant detail — they reliably report on having great sex with their partners after a men’s group weekend! Being in a non-sexualized space where meaning is more important than seduction is liberating and empowering in many ways.
While the postmodern worldview has taught us to deny the existence of any kind of essence, archetypes keep arising, and become pathological if denied. Without acknowledging a great mother and father archetype, for example, we risk being possessed by the peter pan archetype, refusing to grow up and and make the necessary sacrifices which adulthood entails. To become strong men (and women) we need to bow down to a lineage of elders — to principles and principalities greater than ourselves — or we risk getting caught in a state of permanent adolescence.
We need elders to introduce us to the archetypes, in other words. Growing up means coming into the right relationship with the archetypes. What is our primary archetypal mode of being? Some of us are intellectual and spiritual types (the priest), some are body oriented (the warrior), some of us are creatives and playful (the merchant). Of course, discussing these three archetypes might be a crude form of finger painting, but it can orient us nonetheless.
What is the purpose of working with archetypes? For example, I have a friend who is a therapist – a modern priest of sorts; he’s a bit fed up with his occupation and would like to get into business. My friend needs to decide if he is more suited to his present occupation or if it is time for a change. Perhaps he could benefit from the blessings of an elder merchant, who could give him encouragement and direction.
The priest archetype, as it was presented, could be an alchemist, a scholar, or a mystic. If you have a book in your bag and are interested in politics, philosophy, prayer or meditation, you are animated by the holy fire of the priest archetype. If you have monkish ways, are in search of wisdom and knowledge—if you are a scientist, a philosopher, or a political advisor—you might be priest at heart. The priest serves humanity by keeping the fire of learning alive, to communicate both practical and secret esoteric knowledge. For the priest, the pen, the laptop, and the meditation cushion are mightier than the sword.
Some of us however may identify with the warrior archetype. The warrior is a man of action: devoted to incarnation and protection, to dignified embodied expression. To find a good model of the warrior we can look to the aboriginal traditions, to Japanese Bushido, to medieval christian chivalry. The warrior is both a civilized lover, a troubadour poet, and perhaps a rambunctious party animal. The warrior attracts women easily, while at the same time he has strong filial love for his brothers. And the warrior is devoted to and protects family and clan.
Thirdly, the merchant. The merchant brings a bit of technology and fun to the community; he is full of innovation and gifts. He’s a bit of a trickster; he’s both very intuitive and socially intelligent without being an intellectual necessarily. The merchant doesn’t fit well in standard institutional structures and prefers to make and break his own rules. He is also a gambler and is quite able to function in the realm beyond good and evil — in the realm of power — which is why the ‘evil capitalist’ merchant so often falls prey to black magic. The good merchant however enriches his community by keeping the flow of innovation and creativity alive.
It goes without saying that these categories mix quite a bit — they are playful tools and not absolutes (and of course women can work with them too). In my own case, I’ve always been a bit of a priest, enjoying philosophy, literature, and spiritual practice; I’m a teacher and on my podcast I discuss intellectual and spiritual matters with my guests.The warrior in me loves sweaty physical challenges and practices yoga and martial arts and writes songs and poems. As a musician, there is a performative aspect to what I do that requires I be a bit of a salesman. In general, I aspire to be a very serious priest, a wild lover and warrior, and relentlessly creative merchant. So, I feel I’m a mix of all these categories and I’m not sure which is the dominant one—I guess I’m one of those in-between category people.
At the EMG this year, besides work with the archetypes, the principle theme was ‘make fathers great again’. There was much therapeutic talk about ‘forgiving the father’, which seems to be an issue for many people in the present age, where misandry is commonplace and where the major father figure of culture, God himself, has been declared dead. Everybody is mad at daddy it seems.
Personally, I find less need to ‘forgive’ my father (or God) than to just express my love for him and for fathers in general — and to express my devotion to the father lineage. As a new father of a 10 month old boy, I aspire to be the best father I can be, and, of course, I need other men who are fathers to help me in this regard, and to valorize fathers in general. I hope that in the future we can celebrate fathers, and not just complain about them.
On a mundane level this year’s EMG helped me remember my love for my own biological father and my own devotion to a higher father — the principle which some people call God or Brahma or Buddha whatever you like.
To conclude and my take home from the event:
May all fathers, great and small, be blessed. Make fathers great again indeed.