Barry’s Blog # 86: Male Initiation and the Mother in Greek Myth, Part Eight of Eight


The story of Dionysus getting Hephaestus drunk (in Part Seven) symbolizes not literal inebriation but male initiation into a psychology where the feminine is welcome and the mother complex no longer threatens the marriage bond.

Dionysus, says Murray Stein, is both the “agent and the product of initiation… the integration of feminine spirit into masculine consciousness.” The male ego co-exists with the animating feminine nature it had previously suppressed. This initiation reveals the Other as part of oneself; it sees the unity of the two adding up to something greater than the sum of its parts. “Know Thyself” becomes “I am we.” It’s possible that in relaxing his macho armoring, a man may release the mother – and women – from their dual captivities in his kitchen of misogyny and the pedestal of unrealistic idealization.

Not only does he see real women for who they are – and for how they want to be seen – but he also begins a relationship with the divine feminine, as mater, the material world. Michael Meade writes:

In most tribal cultures, nature becomes the body that holds and carries someone who has outgrown his or her mother’s arms, and culture or artful living becomes the next womb. Thus, the inner mother moves to…the Great Mother in nature and the Mother of Inspiration, who presides over the well of memory and art.

In the Greek imagination, art and culture are symbolized by the nine Muses (root word of museum, amuse, etc),


Apollo and the Muses

and their mother was Mnemosyne, or memory.



Comparing these images of young men in myth leads to this question: must the changes necessary for a boy to become a man – or for a nation to drop its myth of innocence – come through the violent initiations symbolized by the horrible death of Pentheus or through the happy relaxation – the “letting go” of outmoded values – of Hephaestus?

David Ignatow concludes his poem “Kaddish,” in which he describes his mother’s death, by acknowledging an internal transformation:


Earth is your mother as you were mine, my earth,

my sustenance, my comfort and my strength

and now without you I turn to your mother

and seek from her that I may meet you again

in rock and stone: whisper to the stone,

I love you; whisper to the rock, I found you;

whisper to earth, Mother, I have found my mother

and I am safe and always have been.

Having made some peace with the mother and with his own feminine nature – and in almost all cultures, not by himself – a young man can begin the journey to find his father. That father, perhaps, is waiting, like Odysseus in the swineherd’s hut, for that moment.

I quoted Martin Prechtel earlier: “Only an initiated man could marry a woman and not be miserable and disappointed.” Untransformed male energy cannot approach actual women without resulting in abuse or dysfunction. Now we can begin to reframe those statements.

It is a most profound mystery – with respect to those who identify as unconventionally gendered, most men will still see women as other, and perhaps they should. But now we have the possibility of relating to the other from positions neither of fear nor of power. With the re-emergence of true initiation rituals; the realization of the Other within; and new generations of men and women who know themselves, we can say, as certain Mayan people still do, En-Lakesh: You are the other me.

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1 Response to Barry’s Blog # 86: Male Initiation and the Mother in Greek Myth, Part Eight of Eight

  1. billd41b says:

    For some reason I only receive you blog posts sporadically. This one showed up yesterday, I think. In any case, I will go back and find V-VII and read them. Your conclusion resonated even with out reading the middle posts–not just from my own personal life experience but especially now Is I have just re-read Robert Johnson’s small book, He, and also an essay on the mythology of love by Joseph Campbell, which covers some of the same territory. I am grateful that your passions for mythology and psychology and history and the arts and life itself have led you to consider our male relationship to the feminine and that you have taken on the task of articulating and sharing your thoughts and discoveries. It feels like such an essential effort for our times. Glad you are doing it!

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