Insofar as any of us are aware, we are blessed with only one life.
If you’re a frequent reader of this site, I am able to assume that you possess an inherent desire to distinguish yourself from the men around you through your deeds and their consequences.
If that doesn’t sound like what you’re after here on earth, I advise you to stop reading and save yourself the time and energy — this article and the corpus to which it belongs is not for you.
Becoming a man worthy of the esteem of your peer group is not an easy task. Cross-culturally, the rites that separate boys from men, and men of status from men cut out of more ordinary cloth, are primarily distinguished by sacrifice, hardship, and the triumph of the self over the experience of suffering.
Naturally though, for those of us living in the west, the vast majority of even the most mundane of these structures have disappeared. In a world too cowardly to worship the flame of tradition, a society that has shaken the ashes of the fire out and scattered them on the wind, many of us still feel the draw to the principle of initiation.
We choose pursuits that are familiar to our blood memory in their nature of triumph-via-ordeal: we form tribes, join gangs, and compete at martial arts that award us belts that represent our competence.
But unlike those who came before us, who were part of an unbroken lineage of men experiencing manhood in a traditional way, long before the advent of modernity of the social changes brought about by the restructuring of the world in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and the wars of the early 20th century, we are missing vital context.
Consider, for example, the concept of the Spartan Agoge – the system used to prepare men for war, the highest and most virtuous condition of their society. This graduated system of cultivating qualities that met the standards of the city state began when boys were as young as seven years old.
What is the consequence of this? Men of Sparta, effectively from the beginning of their lives, were trained to understand the caliber of man to which they ought to aspire; they were raised with the quality of being estimable as an achievable goal.
For those of us who were not brought up drinking the black broth of Sparta, the But zōmós, we are left to contend with the inner condition that must be addressed before we can begin to measure up to the external rites of initiation that we hope to undergo.
As adult men, alive and kicking among the ruins, beyond the death of a society that values the qualities that make men great cross-culturally and supra-chronologically, it is imperative that we make holy the mind and the spirit before attempting to adhere ourselves to a standard that exists outside of ourselves; as always, the exoteric is downstream from the esoteric, and that which one experiences materially must be tempered by the law of the interior.
Naturally, we must construct for ourselves a kind of internal Agoge, a remedial balm for men born swaddled in the polyester palace of irrelevant A.D., and commit ourselves to it fully.
In order to understand what this must look like, we must look to the structure of coming of age rites externally, or more specifically what context informs them.
While we cannot hope to actually enforce any real processes of sacrifice, hardship, or the triumph of the self over circumstance in an exclusively internal sense, without actual experience, and call it holistic life transformation, all of these values of the external must be mirrored within: the principle of self-denial and temperance, the principle of intentionality-that-precedes-triumph, these can be cultivated spiritually and intellectually regardless of external circumstances.
I am not suggesting that you live in your head. The process of the Agoge and the myriad cultural practices that echo its purpose in countless human cultures may be downstream from the internal transformation that comes with preparation for initiation, but they are still highly, highly important – especially within the context of a man who wishes to increase the efficacy of his manhood.
The truth is that, almost without exception, even those of us who have lived unbelievably difficult lives by modern standards have still grown up with the guarantee that we might coast by living a life of astronomical inaction by historical and mythological standards, so is the mediocre narcotic curse of the modern world. Unlike those Hellenic youths who were born and raised in the martial culture of the Spartans, even the keenest among us are ignorant to the principle of true initiation, and must be prepared through an internal process to reap the greatest benefits from our commitment to our commitments in the material world.
Is the jiujiteiro an athlete, or is he a monk whose devotional walking meditation consists of exercising his physical prowess on the mats against his teammates, drilling endlessly until his limbs move as seamlessly as the gears in the transmission of a precision machine?
Is the strongman akin to a hydraulic press, diffidently moving chunks of rock around for the simple, absurd purpose of picking them up and putting them down, or is he the focused manifestation of Indra exerting himself over the cosmos, he who so conquered the rain and thus brings it to earth?
It’s an easy choice, a simple dichotomy – the tyranny of the mundane or the transformative power of material allegory.
We in the west, alienated from antiquity and the spiritual and intellectual contexts that prepared the heroes of old for hardship, we have no choice but to accept the challenges available to us in modern life (physical training, mountaineering, et al.) with the cloistered aggression of a furious anchorite, and find transformation therein, or otherwise join or develop an honour group in which we construct our own.
But through this mosaic of smaller rites, through the tapestry of Agoges that we might expose ourselves to, with the wisdom and judiciousness of a Cæsar flashing behind our focused eyes, we can hope to make savage the body, sharpen the mind and the spirit, and live at the potential of estimable men: the path to which only initiatory experience can unlock.