Chuck’s early reflections on: Ritual Reenactment Rite of Initiatory Life Event formulation

This 2010 post was an early capturing of some of my thoughts about our men’s work, via A Ritual Reenactment of Initiatory Life Event model.

Modern men do not lack initiation altogether. Life initiates us. In surviving childhood, we each have suffered initiatory experiences. Joys and sorrows bring us into fuller awareness of what it means to be human, to live in Nature. Whatever our age or developmental readiness, woundings occur, tearing the fabric of the life we’ve known. Severe woundings generate overwhelming affect, demand submission, cause us to lose balance and fall overboard; it is as if a part of us drowns.

At times like this, we are rarely blessed with the presence of what have been described as “good enough ritual elders.” Their prayers and songs are essential to bring us through fully alive, witness the event, ritually mark us, connect us to the age appropriate teachings, and wed us to the center of community life.

Without such help, wounds of overwhelm trigger Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders. We go to pieces, are dismembered; the episode(s) is split off from awareness . The full story comes to live lodged in our bodies, outside ego-centered consciousness. There is incomplete recognition of what has occurred at the community level, and the individual does not get connected to the community collective vision.

Until the lost story can be fully reclaimed, the teachings are not directly available; as such, the experience is not integrated; these events/episodes live on in psyche as incomplete initiatory experiences.


First half of life dynamics favor the development of a strong ego, capable of repressing anything we are unable to deal with consciously. In truth, all that is forgotten to our conscious mind remains entirely conscious, but not to the ego. Infants as early as 2 – 7 months old demonstrate the capacity for episodic memory, the ability to remember whole events without abstracting out any of the details. What happens to all the experiences we can’t remember? From a Jungian perspective, just as the ego is the center of the conscious personality, the Self is the ordering and unifying center of the total psyche (conscious and unconscious). While the ego uses blinders to manage what is experienced as a threat to optimal functioning, the Self has continuous access to all our experience. Ego repressed experiences live on in the body and psyche.
In mid-life a shift in dynamics calls for a depth of remembering that simply can not come through the existing ego structures. Re-membering trauma from this side of the veil means confronting the dismemberment we suffered at the time of injury. This is accomplished through suffering the reactivation of an axis or bridge between the ego and the Self, over which the scenes of trauma must then parade back into ego awareness. For this to occur, defenses called into service to protect the ego from overwhelm must surrender to radical restructuring. To the extent trauma is 220 plus voltage and the uninitiated ego is wired for 110 volts, we have a container problem. Ritual space pulls for the destructuring of the ego and the derepression of trauma in the service of healing.


In ritual space, the conscious intentional wounding of the initiate serves to bind, bundle, and energetically transform all prior unconscious woundings, and bring them into service for the community good. In this way, the heat of initiation process functions as a crucible, pivotal in turning one’s attention from the personal past to the community present and future. Men need ritual support to move from woundedness to awareness and full power.

Effective ritual works symbolically to aid the psyche in moving energy that can not be fully grasped by the conscious mind. By definition, wounds of overwhelm occur when we can not grasp some horror. In approaching activation of the bridge to the deep psyche we are at risk for flooding by all the affects and images associated with our personal trauma history. And yet, to grow we must come into conscious relationship to all that has been.

On the problem, timing, and solution, Donald Sandner observes:

“Death and rebirth are the mythological symbol for a psychological event: loss of conscious control, and submission to an influx of symbolic material from the unconscious. Personality growth is usually thought of as cumulative, a gradual expansion through time as ego consciousness gains experience and wisdom. But often it turns out to be only a pursuit of illusory ideals. Then there is cessation of growth, stultifying depression, or, more ominously, severe illness. At that point no halfway measures will do; a thoroughgoing transformation is necessary for the individual’s survival. Like the sun, the ego must prepare itself for a plunge into the darkness of the unconscious underworld, there to experience rejuvenation.” (Symbolic Healing, 1979)

How can we modern men approach creating effective transformative ritual?

The Ritual Reenactment Rite of Initiatory Life Event: a Model

Men at this crossroad need community support to remember and ritually re-enter the core of their specific life and death experiences. Taken collectively, with the good enough ritual elder in attendance, these episodes hold all that is needed to complete the initiation.

We start with the call to recognize when and where the mythological world entered everyday life. We support the telling of the story that holds the story. We use this story to generate a collectively held and maintained symbolic terrain for the purpose of revisiting this space ritually. We honor the images by making regalia and sacred props to assist us in enacting the myth. Months of preparation for the initiate and the team of men who will serve him culminates in the Initiatory Rite, consisting of an attempt at return to the crossroads of one’s personal history with the mythological world. This is a Ritual Reenactment Rite of Initiatory Life Event.

During the enactment, we work with the known facts to create a point of departure and return. Somewhere in the process, we call for an opening to make a spirit boat journey to the other world. There, following ancient shamanic tradition, we seek help to restore full vitality to the petitioner. We pray for guidance, full awareness, healing. We pray to collectively constellate the good enough ritual elder in the service of ritually containing the re-activation of the deep connections to the full experience and complete meaning of all that has been initiatory, recognize the significance of what has happened, mark the event for what it was, and bring the initiate back into the community in a good way. In this way, with grace, we get connected to soul, to the spirit helpers who have guided us all along. We come into knowing the archetypal psyche.

Explore posts in the same categories: Initiation, Uncategorized

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