Re-Membering Men: A Conversation with Patrick Dougherty
“So men are lost, and we cannot be found by orienting to the past as a new world is in emergence”
~ Patrick Dougherty
Patrick Dougherty, MA, LP, is a Minneapolis, MN-based psychotherapist, author, and Qigong teacher, who specializes in working with men and trauma. His recent book, a memoir, is entitled, A Whole-Hearted Embrace: Finding Love at the Center of it All. www.theheartembodied.com.
David M. Odorisio, PhD, is an author and educator who specializes in archetypal and depth psychologies, and the integration of Jungian psychology and religious studies. www.ahomeforsoul.com.
Over the course of a few weeks, Patrick and I explored issues surrounding men’s work, the relationship of masculine energies to the feminine, and the evolution of men’s and women’s psychologies from an archetypal perspective. What follows is a segment of our conversations. I value Patrick’s insights into these topics, culled from three decades of clinical experience, and many years – including early involvement – with the men’s movement.
I'm a psychologist, Qigong teacher, and writer, and have a special focus in my private practice of working with men and trauma. I’ve been hungry for new material [regarding men’s work] as well as creating my own. I work with the energies of the Green Man, and am curious to hear more about the Dark King.
The Dark, or “black,” King is an image that came to me quite strongly and speaks to what I feel is missing from much of the men's work today. There's always been a strong emphasis on the "4 archetypes" and the Wild Man, but something that has been absent for me (and took me a while to articulate) was an acknowledgement of the deeper, darker energies in the male psyche – the chthonic, or "underworld," forces – represented in figures such as Osiris, Dionysos, Orpheus, and to a certain extent, Christ. Male deity figures who are not "heroic" in the traditional sense, but more like "anti-heroes" in the sense that they are dismembered, either by a certain evil "force," or by their own grief or sadness. There is a journey of going to pieces, and then a "re-membering," often times by a feminine or female figure (Isis with Osiris, for example), which then leads to a pregnancy and birth of a divine child. I see this entire trajectory as part of the mythos of a "dark" or "black" King, perhaps rising in relation to the return of dark goddesses (Kali, Black Madonna) in women's collective consciousness.
I am aware of Osiris and Dionysos, but returned to Orpheus after reading your response. What an
exciting story and energy! A man with a lyre, and song and poetry, who is willing to go into the underworld to look for the feminine armed only with those attributes. I love the thought of him only having art and creativity – which, if it is true, is sourced in the heart – with which to do his beckoning. Just the last 6 months or so I have been drawn deeper into the mystery of creativity and art as a necessary element in the healing of trauma, which is a major focus of my work. This story has that at its center.
I think that art, music, and creativity are incredibly important for the renewal of the psyche (“soul”). The fertility of the psyche is so bound up in – and often equated with – the feminine, and so vital for the regeneration of a man’s life force. I think Orpheus represents an untapped form of masculinity. Through his descent in search of Eurydice, he is able to work through his own rejection of her, personified by the snake, who takes her life on their wedding day. The snake can be interpreted as Orpheus’ own fear of the feminine. I think much of the men’s work today can be subtly – or overtly – anti-feminine. A psychic descent can lead to the renewal of the masculine and feminine within, which I think is the real "solution" or "goal" – not for a group of men to gather together to become more "masculine" – but to become more integrated. Only when men can come to accept all sides of the soul, can we move forward in the work.
I also resonant with your thoughts on the need to go into the chthonic, the dark, and to be dismembered in order to find the feminine.
I see this as a necessary decapitation of the hyper-masculinized ego, and I see it reflected in the
rise of dark feminine figures such as Kali, perhaps the archetypal female deity that represents the Mother in her negative and devouring as well as life-giving and renewing capacity. Why would this image be rising so strongly now in women's collective consciousness? I think it has everything to do with the collapse of a particular kind of masculinity – what Hillman would call the "negative senex" - the encrusted old man who is so stuck and rigid in his ways that there is no receptivity, fluidity, or openness to change. When the masculine is so stuck at this extreme, the only way for renewal to occur is for its opposite to “return” as the “repressed,” which is happening through the rise of the dark feminine, both so she can return to the pantheon, so to speak, but also, I believe, so that a more authentic masculinity can be redeemed. So much of American manhood has been about rejecting the feminine, repressing the body and emotion, and subjugating the earth in the name of progress. Of course She's going to come back as very pissed off.
The decapitation you are talking about I see in the diminishing of the relevance and control men have over the economic world. That is not to say that men still don’t control most of it, but those guys at the top have a limited life span, I believe. What I am talking about is men’s dominance in the work place. The statistics are pretty clear: the male-dominated jobs of manufacturing, agriculture, mining, jobs of labor, etc. are all in steep decline. And the new jobs, the jobs of the future, are going to women. I read a couple of years ago that in the next decade, out of the top 15 growing fields,12 out of the 15 are jobs better suited to woman. These are jobs where you need to be relational, where communication skills and working in groups is important. The vertical paradigm is waning; the horizontal is waxing, and women’s buying power is increasing, as are their college graduation rates, etc.
Where you see Kali, I see the shift to the feminine in the new emerging consciousness, which I have been involved with for many years, where they talk about how it is the time to stop worshipping the heavens, and attune to the earth; not to save her, but because she is able to save us. And part of that teaching is that the day of the teacher/guru/leader is over, and it is time for us to find our way with each other, in groups, in our communities, and neighborhoods. A lot of women are part of this movement, and not so many men of course.
So men are lost, and we cannot be found by orienting to the past as a new world is in emergence; therefore, there is nothing to organize around except our inner landscape – hopefully with other men in this process.
The "end” of masculinity is not possible, but a deep and lasting transformation of the masculine is, and that is what I feel is the necessary – and immediate – work. And I agree; it’s a move towards the relational and the horizontal, although what we've been missing is the chthonic end of the vertical. It’s always been about heights and not depths. Going down. Descending. Recovering fertility within the male soul. Hence Orpheus, Dionysos, Osiris, etc... all "dark" underworld and very potent male gods...
I have found in my own personal work and my clinical practice that when men try and get to their feminine energies without going into the darkness in them, they end up getting in touch with their feelings or emotions but that is it.
One of the things the mytho-poetic approach missed is our rage at the feminine, which of course is the polar end of our longing and dependence on it.
I think this is what is at the core of the "fear of the feminine" that Erich Neumann articulated so
well. If the primal male fear is being devoured or emasculated by the Mother, and the opposite end of that is the "longing and dependence” for her, then men are caught in this terribly polarizing complex which I think can manifest as an extreme ambivalence towards women and the feminine in general. It’s a total "catch-22," and I think it’s a situation that many men feel trapped in – consciously or not. One of the men I did the weekend retreat with, David Harshada Wagner, has a new book out called Backbone. I think this is a piece that's missing for many spiritually-inclined men and speaks to the continual pendulum swing of American masculinity. For centuries there was this "self-made man" - hyper-controlled, hyper-masculine, very "fixed" in his definition of who and what it means to "be a man," which often meant not being feminine, or "effeminate." And then there was the “new age” sensitive guy. We need to have a soft belly and an open heart, as well as a strong spine in order to be both strong and tender enough to father a child or be intimately involved with a partner. To me, this is “men’s work” at its best: encountering men who consciously strive to walk this balance; strong and powerful men who use that power in relationship with others, rather than over or against them.
The Catch-22 that you refer to is that we can’t seem to get it right according to women. They told us to stop being so hard and self-centered and aggressive, and now they are telling us to stop being soft and passive and submissive. And when we get caught in the frustration we are truly screwed because it leaves women telling us how we should be. We both lose when that happens, of course, because we will resent the hell out of them and make them pay, often passively and indirectly. To make this more specific and bring it into therapy, I cannot tell you how often I hear from men “I just can’t get it right with her,” or, “it is never good enough for her,” both of which speak to the “catch-22” men feel. I have felt this in my own life and I am sure complained about it to my therapists along the way. This leads nowhere.
DAVE: So this goes back to what you were saying about resentment and untapped rage against the feminine…
I am working a lot with “the story,” which many people are talking about these days. The stories
we have about ourselves, about others, about life, etc. We know the world is held together by stories as the indigenous peoples tell us. But the specific stories I am interested in are the ones we tell ourselves about our partners that excuse our behaviors that lack integrity. An example is a man that told me about his wife who was so angry and demanding that he “could never get it right.” He said this with a slight eye roll, trying to invite me into a knowing about the impossibility of ever pleasing that very powerful archetypal energy of the demanding, controlling, bitchy woman. We men know about this woman, and all agree that it is impossible to please her, because of course if it is archetypal, it is impossible. So the issue here isn’t if it is true or not that his wife acts like that, as there almost always is some truth to that. The issue is that he has this story about her which has a conclusion that he can never get it right, and the result is that he doesn’t have to try, because its impossible, and consequently is avoidant, passive, and contemptuous.
He excuses his lack of integrity because of her. His story about her allows him to avoid the vulnerability of being direct, and acting with integrity, as it might not work, and she may get more angry, or might challenge him to deal with repressed material, or might challenge him to engage energies in himself that he has never encountered that might send him into his own depths where he would have to look at himself in a way he never has. So he uses her to stay away from the descent into the chthonic. He was caught in a victim loop that perpetuated him being a victim of his abusive wife; never going into the darkness to find his heart and backbone as you were suggesting.
This pattern is almost archetypal in itself – in how we’re fed this image of the impotent male, and the demanding wife-mother on TV, in the movies, etc. It’s emasculating, and disempowering for men and women, and in this case, each are trapped in each other’s stories about the other.
Given our unprocessed psyches’ I think a big piece of it is facing our hate of the feminine. So a
dilemma for men has been how can we embrace in ourselves what we hate. Hence, the need for the deep descent, and in that process facing some of the darker energies in us in order to find what would heal them.
Which takes us back to the root of it: encouraging the recognition of darker forces within, and recognizing their ultimate positive value in the psyche – the “gold in the shadow,” so to speak.
Yes, and embracing the fertility/generative elements of the feminine as a necessary energy to open to, and come to terms with, in this evolutionary process. This energy, personally, is what I find so exciting and frightening, which is why I find myself being drawn to the Green Man energy.
I have thought for some time about how clever it was of men, given that we all come from the womb of a woman, suckled at a breast, and need Mother Earth to nourish us every day in order to exist, and then to spin a story of how woman came from the rib of man, well, it is perhaps the greatest ruse of all time. The Taoist in me knows without the feminine, we are nothing.
I think those harder, warrior-like energies were very much true in the 1980’s [men’s movement] on, but I think what has gotten worse is how disconnected men are from the earth, from relationships, from organic evolutionary processes that could help us develop more in the ways that are so needed. I think the fast-moving pace of the world, the internet, texting, gaming, etc. have really done such damage to men’s capacity to be embodied, in its fullest sense.
Exactly, and that is why I believe we need to unlock the creative and embodied energies of the chthonic masculine now more so than ever. These energies hold an immense amount of healing potential for contemporary men as a curative for widespread cultural disembodiment, and are immensely connected to the regenerative nature of the earth and the feminine as well.
The Green Man offers a way to help me become re-membered by using the earth energy. He
softens the “hardness” while still allowing some warrior energy in. If we can stay connected to the earth energy, it is hard to be “anti-life,” to act in hard and destructive ways, be it in wars or towards each other. I think the Green Man would help us be more in touch with the energies of building, connecting, and creating. But the hard part of course is that in being connected to the forces of creation, we can’t avoid that all things that are born must die, are swallowed by the earth, and become just more compost. Ernest Becker coined the phrase, “We are gods that shit,” meaning we think we can defy the evolutionary process, but our shitting is a constant reminder that we are human and one day going to decay. I think this is quite frightening for most of us. But the hope I have is that in being with my masculine energy in a way that is deeply connected to the earth, I can feel deeply masculine in a way that is in service to life, as long as my life exists.
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