Home > Lessons for the Modern Man, Men's Movements > Comments on “Numen, Old Men” – Part 6: Conclusion

Comments on “Numen, Old Men” – Part 6: Conclusion

Chapter 8 of Dr. Gelfer’s book: Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy is titled: Conclusion. Here Dr. Gelfer provides both a summary of his findings and some thoughts on the way forward in his last section: Constructing a New Relationship Between Men and Spirituality. In discussing this chapter I’d like to present some of my own conclusions about his findings as well.

By way of introducing this chapter Dr. Gelfer refers to the “intentions” of the various men’s movements and masculine spiritualities he has explored versus their “effects.” As we’ve dialogued about this through the last 5 posts I have argued that my experience of the mythopoetic men’s movement does not match Dr. Gelfer’s reporting and criticism. He has stated that my intentions and experience do not match what has been reported in the literature and that it is the effects of the movement which he has criticized. It is my belief that there have been good effects from the movement, not only personal but in general. Dr. Gelfer has investigated a narrow slice of the movement, much narrower than my experience. I do realize that my intention influences my experience and tends to bias it to a degree. However, the movement touches on much more than what is reviewed  in Numen, Old Men.

An example here is the subject of “archetypes” which Dr. Gelfer titles the first section of this chapter. He has emphasized the Moore/Gillette King/Warrior and the Robert Bly Wild Man archetypes presuming these are the only (or even main) three which influence the mythopoetic movement. This isn’t the case.  Bly is a poet and to neglect the Lover/Poet archetype in this review is an oversight. For my first Men’s Conference in 2002, Martín Prechtel was one of the leaders; he is a “magician/shaman/healer” (among many things) of the highest caliber. All four of the Moore/Gillette archetypes are emphasized. Furthermore, Dr. Gelfer’s claim that “the masculinity promoted by archetypes is of a patriarchal nature and results in a patriarchal spirituality” is a stretch. The archetypes I experienced are not all of a “patriarchal nature.”

He also criticizes the use of myths in these various movements. It’s the claim that “all the versions of masculine spirituality look to myths for inspiration when suggesting how masculinity should function both socially and spiritually” which, again, is a stretch. The words I object to here are “inspiration” and “should function.” I agree that myths, stories, poems are used as metaphors, teaching tools, in my experience of the mythopoetic movement. Sometimes these stories are examples of how NOT to function, either socially or spiritually. Archetypes and myths offer models for how humanity views itself either historically or mythologically. These are lessons for us. Archetypes may not be “hardwired” into our reptilian brains as Moore/Gillette may claim (an example of over-exuberance in their modeling). But they represent a structuring of the vast and otherwise incomprehensible collective unconscious so we can take advantage of all that has gone before us as humans. We can even learn about the limitations and exploitations by patriarchy when looking closely at the archetypes and their contexts in mythology.

I have reviewed Dr. Gelfer’s other main points along the way, so I won’t repeat those here in this summary. I’ll jump now to the final section of his Conclusions.  He spends several pages discussing the categorization of this field of study; he places the current work in ‘men’s studies in religion’. As noted yesterday, he moves away from the category ‘masculine spiritualities’ to the preferred ‘men and spirituality’. A useful suggestion in all of this is to open up the field of study to all – this is not a study “by men, on men, for men” but needs rather be “on men, by everyone, for everyone”. In the end he concludes “It is not always necessary to coin new phrases to describe ‘new’ realities.” But it is necessary to move beyond the idea that we can simply ‘rediscover’ useful ways of doing masculinity”. I agree, but in my mind this does not require us to discard archetypes and myths but to use them as teaching aids about how things went wrong before so these old lessons aren’t repeated.

Dr. Gelfer embraces this idea that engaging the Jungian shadow elements of archetypes may be a step forward for the men’s movements. He claims this is an unrealized potential for the mythopoetic men’s movement; but here, too, I need to disagree because, in my experience we did engage with the ‘human shadow’ to learn from and move beyond our limiting beliefs and sociologically defined gender biases. Dr. Gelfer would like to refute archetypes altogether but realizes they are so ingrained in our thinking that this would be difficult. Perhaps they are so ingrained because there really is something to them. And, yes, I agree these archetypes can be revisioned: “let us turn them into calcifications of a liberatory rather than a patriarchal worldview.” We need to remain open to and encourage discussion of men’s experiences of spirituality and that rejects patriarchy. Such a conversation “is a pro-man conversation because it is pro-person, which by necessity must invovle the liberation of all people.”

I enjoyed Dr. Gelfer’s book very much; and I learned a lot from recent studies he cites in several fields I have not explored before. I think he was overly critical and one-sided in his review of the mythopoetic men’s movement and their achievements; but I am admittedly biased here because I have had positive growth experiences from my involvement, not back to a patriarchal or hegemonic masculine role, but forward to a fuller and more balanced human role. He does conclude with some thought about a way ahead in this important field of study and I look forward to further reading and exchange.

But I plan to take a break from his work and turn toward one of Matthew Fox’s recent books, The Hidden Spirituality of Men. Interestingly this is subtitled “Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine”. Hopefully these metaphors will not reawaken the patriarchy!

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  1. Joseph
    April 27, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    Thanks again for the comments. Again, without going over old points, it is worth remembering what we bring to the table. You may see a more subtle result because you hold a more subtle position. Other readers are less subtle, and find less subtle messages in the movement to affirm their position. It is the less sublte position that is more widely held, IMHO. There will be further opportunity to unpack these issues in The Masculinity Conspiracy!

    BTW, here’s my review of Fox’s recent book:
    http://www.jmmsweb.org/issues/volume3/number1/pp94-96

    • April 27, 2010 at 11:49 pm

      Yes, Joseph, you are right about “what we bring to the table.” And perhaps I was willing to turn a deaf ear to the less subtle messages of the movement in favor of the subtle and positive benefits and effects I did hear. And you are right that my personal experience, one guy in the crowd, cannot stand against the weight of evidence you offer. Moving on I do look forward to the opportunity to further unpack these issues!

      And thanks for the pointer to your review. I’ll read it after I read Fox.

      • April 28, 2010 at 2:44 am

        Of course, I’m not blind to the fact that Numen, Old Men is colored by what *I* bring to the table: I always claim academic objectivity to be something of a myth.

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