This should probably be three posts, but I’m too tired of dealing with it to break it out. I may or may not edit it into decent shape — some day. This is the culmination of three months’ events, so just try to suss it out or go read Girl Genius or something.
Recently a friend of mine became a crone; wise, broad-minded, insightful, possessed of calm depths that cannot be plumbed by lesser, younger folk. It put me to thinking; females, for all the things they must contend with, have a clarity of definition that males do not, granted by biology. Menarche, you’re a young woman. Birthing, and you’re a mother. Menopause, and you’re a crone.
Boys are boys, then older boys, then teenaged boys — when you refer to a male teen as ‘young man’ you are usually trying to be generous or hinting that behavioral changes are in order. They become fathers only because they are relating to the woman who actually did something and had to change. Men do not become crones. There has been some discussion that they might become sages, but I asked when this took place — and it’s when the woman becomes a crone.
Men are only defined as maturing because of their relations with a woman who is maturing.
All right, this pretty broad talk, but you get the idea. There are no landmarks where men must tread. One of the reasons that males are such — well, boys – is that there isn’t, for most of us, a point at which we must admit that, for all of our lack of interest in taking it up, the mantle of manhood is ours to bear. There are some exceptions; bar mitzvah, killing one’s first deer, that sort of thing, but most of us don’t go that route and are thereby left to wander without posted signs saying where we are.
I was probably 25 before I could refer to myself as a man in public without looking furtively about to see who was going to deny the name in my case. I had married, fathered two children and kept them housed and fed, served in the military and gotten jobs afterward … but wasn’t certain what “man” meant, so was uncertain that I’d attained it. I mean, I knew I’d acted as one ought to, but I knew what I was inside, and I didn’t want all that responsibility. Didn’t that disqualify me?
I still don’t know. Pretty sure I’ve hit grown-up, though, whatever that means in my case.
That’s not what I’m here to talk about, though.
I kvetch about things like this from time to time, and there was a Boys Night In recently where I was venting on this to a Sage, a trans-man, and my 20-year-old son. ”No landmarks,” I said. ”No recognized border conditions,” I added. ”Blah-blah, whine, complain,” I concluded. Lips were pursed all around with varying degrees of understanding, agreement, and amusement. I felt like I was the orator at an Allegory.
I targetted the Sage; he was in moderate agreement, although did not appear to be feeling much concern over it. He tends not to be concerned over horseshit, so that was normal. The trans-man understood exactly when he’d become a man, so there wasn’t much help for me there. That left the Wretched Offspring.
“Do you ever feel the lack I’m talking about? No is an okay answer.”
“Yeah, maybe.” He considered. His sister had decided when she had grown up, had notified the world that the event had taken place, and that was that. He had no such conviction. To be fair, no one has the conviction that my daughter does, on any front. ”Yes. Yes, I do.”
And Boys Night In continued as they do. Time passed.
We were at Norwescon, and I was with Crone, Sage, and Shannon. In the midst of our third bottle of wine my mouth opened and I heard someone say, “I need to stage a manhood ritual for Wretched Offspring. He’s bootstrapped himself to adulthood, but still doesn’t know he’s there.”
Now, Crone is a Priestess, and Sage is a priest. Shannon is several sorts of witch. They were right behind the idea, but I anticipated that they’d have different outlooks on what that might entail. I knew the Wretched Offspring; anything heavily scripted, he’d be bored; anything heavily religious, he’d be distant; anything low in dramatic effect and he’d be unmoved. But I knew my crowd, as well; it needed to fill their needs for what they believed they were taking part in. I mean, Crone likely needed to cast a circle, while Shannon would feel pretty good about just clubbing the Wretched Offspring upside his head and saying, “you’re a man, dumbass.”
So. The requirements were that it needed to permit varying degrees of non-denominational religious observance to the individual while not requiring any, needed to be spontaneous, needed to accomodate Wretched Offspring’s short attention span, and needed to incite thought in him down the road. That last seemed to require souvenirs he could take away. So I knew just what was called for.
“It needs to be set up like a video game. He goes places, interacts with what’s there, and gets something important to winning the game. At the end he’s got stuff, and it followed a dramatic path he can respond to.” We refined this a bit through the night, the four of us coming up with a dandy list. A couple weeks later Crone & Sage added a place; Elk Rock Island.
We built the rite to take place in parts, relating to the suits of Tarot and some things in Neo-Pagan lore that I don’t understand enough to relate. I was going to play Psychopomp (go ahead, make the jokes) and one of the points in the rite, as well. Crone, Sage, Leah (Wretched Offspring’s owner), and Shannon would be on the island before us. I would put Wretched Offspring on the path, and then be present to guide him when he needed it. I would also be present to keep him focused and drive things in what I considered an appropriate direction.
The path of events was to be this:
- Delivery of WO to the island, unaware of what he was to under go. (Me)
- Explanation of events to come and creation of proper mindset (Me)
- Walk to island
- Station 1: Passion & Will – Suit of wands – symbolized by a staff (Me)
- Station 2: Emotional Honesty – Suit of Cups – symbolized by an unfinished goblet (Shannon)
- Station 3: Practical Consideration – Suit of Pentacles – symbolized by a platter (Leah)
- Station 4: Intellectual Honesty – Suit of Swords – symbolized by a hand-smithed knife (Sage)
- Station 5: Spirit – No suit – no symbol (Crone)
- Celebration – No suit – symbolized by milk & cookies because we just can’t treat anything entirely seriously (All)
I’d abandon WO just before Station 2, but appear again after 3 to guide him in to 4. I’d be present after 5 to direct him out.
That was the blocking. The script was left to the station’s representative. Shannon, I’m certain, was entirely unscripted but sounded very thought out and role-played, and included a “dumbass” here or there to lend it veracity. The goal in each case was to have certain things covered, but to have it sound out in the person’s true voice; if the person tends to sound scripted, then they do, but WO wouldn’t hear a script being read.
We all went to Crone & Sage’s for breakfast. I stood during coffee. ”Have I ever led you … no, I have led you astray. Have I ever guided you wrong?”
Fear painted WO’s features. ”Why?” I repeated the question, and, guardedly, “…no. I suppose not.”
“Then let’s go.” I got my hat (a hat which everyone should envy) and my staff (gotten the day before, that WO had vocally envied) and we left. We drove around for a bit, and discussed this and that, letting his tension build. Finally my cell phone rang.
“We have taken the island. There’s some water, so you may get your feet wet.” I took us in and we parked.
“Here’s what this is about. You’ve begun to take care of yourself. You take responsibility for what you’re doing, and clean up after yourself. You’ve even begun to be pro-active in doing things for your long-range good. Would you say that those are the marks of an adult?” He allowed that they were. ”We think so, too. Not just me, not just Shannon. You don’t get a biological landmark to tell you when you got here, so we’re going to give you one. I tried to find a Bris Milah knife, but couldn’t turn one up on short notice, so we’ll do something different.
“Rites of passage are serious things, and frequently religious. It’s pretty clear to anyone who knows you that you wouldn’t respond particularly well to that, but some of the people taking part would prefer it over any other sort, so this is tailored. It can be read as a ceremony, utterly empty of meaning, or a psychological dramatization to create an emotional experience and mark the time for you … or an acting out of the philisophical discussion that you, I, and some others will be having, or a religious rite with full spiritual accompaniment. That’s up to you, and the others taking part. What you have to do is stay on task, and every time your mind wanders, treat it as a creative impulse and ask yourself ‘how does this distraction relate?’” I grabbed my staff.
“I will, of course, be acting as psychopomp for this journey.” His eyes widened in panic.
“Oh God – Rafiki — you’re going to hit me. A lot.”
“Well, not now. It’s no fun if you know it’s coming.” We went over the rise and down to the river. Which was between us and the island.
A lot of river was between us and the island. We didn’t quite have to swim. It was only waist deep, but we were expecting dry land. There was about 150 feet to cross, and the staff was handy.
I talked a little bit about some things I don’t remember now, but they went chiefly to motivation and will and like that. He was paying attention, and taking things seriously, and was still grinning like an idiot.
He almost walked past Shannon. I’d ducked behind a tree to let him notice that I’d mysteriously evaporated, but I had to step out to whistle him back. He went thataway and I went back the way I’d come and trotted around the island to get ahead of him. I called upon my patron metaphor (if it is one), a loose compilation of Papa Legba (linguist and trickster and psychopomp) and Coyote (clown and trickster and horse’s ass, always losing his penis and watching it float downstream), thanking him for giving us the island to ourselves and wondering if it couldn’t have been done without a flodd to cross. The trail I need to run had become overgrown with blackberries at about that point, with slippery mud underneath.
“Oh, hilarious.” I was grinning when I said it, though, because it was at the time. Timing is everything.
I was just in time to have the WO come from Leah ’round a tree and see me, so I pointed him up the end of the island, where there was a cliff. Sage waited for him at the top, and the knife was tendered.
The plan was that Crone would chat him up a bit, guide his thinking, and leave him on the rocky point of the island to meditate. She came past and gave me what she’d been carving while she talked to him; a penis.
WO was pretty close on her heels. I knew when we planned this that he wouldn’t be able to sit still long enough for a good think, and it tickled me to see that I was right. I stopped him and recapped some things, gesturing with the carved penis. ”Is that what Crone was carving?”
“It looks like –”
“A penis. Yep. And, like everything on this island, it has everything to do with you. You follow in my footsteps to a degree, and get yourself in a bit of trouble from time to time by amusing yourself.” Gesture, poke, wave with the penis. And that staff you got from me, passion and will symbolized — yes, it’s phallic, get over it — is wrapped with a bit of fur at the top. Coyote, that is, and it’s just right for you.” I grinned. ”So — everything here is about you and everything here is yours. Fetch!” And I chucked the wood cock out into the river.
Milk & cookies was the perfect thing to eat after a Manhood event. WO talked about the penis. Crone said, “There was supposed to be a dildo in a little life preserver floating downstream past you, but there wasn’t time to get it together. This was the best we could do at short notice.”
WO: ”A dildo?”
I put in, “In fact, a dildo. You keep bad company, and it was only my mature influence that reined this lot in from turning this into a burlesque.”
“By which I take it that the dildo was your idea.”
The river was actually higher on the way back. Somebody has a very basic sense of humor.
Crossposted from Epinephrine & Sophistry