“The Lord of Animals or the Releaser of Animals, in the time before time, crossed the line from the animals’ side of things to the human side, and back. Tales of the Lord of Animals or the Master of the Hunt are everywhere present in Mediterranean, African, Siberian, aboriginal, Chinese, North European, and American Indian cultures.”
- Robert Bly, Iron John
Of all the archetypal forces, perhaps the most misunderstood and often the most feared is the Wild Man. From the beginning of time, this archetype has played a tremendously important role in the human psyche. And yet, in our society it has been relegated to drunken fratboy-esque debauchery at best, and at worst it is associated with extreme physical and sexual violence. This is what the Wild Man is perceived as in an adolescent, uninitiated culture.
This is more a reflection of where we are as a society than what the Wild Man is. It is also intimately tied to the problems our society faces with its millennia or so of wounded, pathological masculinity.
The Wild Man is something, or I should say someone, that exists in the liminal regions, the in-between spaces of our psyches and of our societies. It is a central figure of the dawn of human history, and one that has been subsequently pushed aside and demonized as societies became increasingly more agricultural. See, the Wild Man is the intimate link between humanity and the living wilderness. It is the gatekeeper of our animal nature. In a culture that has attempted en masse to create a myth of its own exceptionalism and superiority above nature, the Wild Man is at once a reminder that we are all part of something greater that moves through us, that we cannot control, and that we are just as animal as the creatures we claim intellectual and spiritual superiority over.
This archetype arises in the periphery of eco-psycho-spiritual movements that are growing in size and intensity day after day. It is calling to many of us through the re-wilding movement that grows momentum in our culture. In new and arising trends in nutrition, fitness, psychology and spirituality, people are slowly turning their eyes toward a distant and often idealized past where we as a species had more awareness of our connection with the Earth and with all of our more-than-human relations.
This is a good thing. At the same time, like all things in our instant-gratification centered society, it is often consumed and taken on as an identity by people that have no idea of the scope and power of such a force. Recently, Maitreya Wolf, a friend of mine wrote a beautiful commentary on the hyper-sexualization and consumerism of the Wild Woman. (I’m not going to get into it because her words deserve your eyes and thoughts. You can find them here and here.) Like this commodification of the Wild Woman, the Wild Man is sometimes put on a pedestal as the part of the self that must be reclaimed. In the early nineties, and into the present in some circles, it is a central figure in the men’s movement (WTF? there’s one of those? Yes, and with good reason.) However, as an archetypal force it is often commodified and wielded by people that have only a superficial understanding of what something of that magnitude is.
One of my teachers, a wise woman whom I greatly respect once said to me:
“The old gods are alive and well, and they’re really pissed off.”
This is one of the most powerful statements that I have heard. Whatever a person’s religious doctrine says about it is irrelevant. What lies beneath and throughout this statement is woven into the fabric of the world we live in. Our choice to look away from the “old gods” and refer to them merely as marketing ploys and psychobabble playthings matters little to the fact that these archetypal forces are very real and moving through us and through our world in very real ways.
What happens in our reluctance or inability to look at them is that we deny ourselves the initiatory experiences that these archetypal figures present and often demand of us. And without initiation we have a society of rampant adolescence that can only destroy everything around it in its me-centered hunger for self-gratification.
With evidence dating back to 13,000 B.C. in the Trois-Fréres Sanctuary of the Ariège region of France, the Wild Man steps on the stage of human spiritual and cultural development as a figure in the initiation of young men. It is a central figure in cultures throughout the world, one that bridges the space of human and animal, and at once calls us to connect with humility to what is wild and animalistic in us. However, it is largely demonized because as a whole we struggle with separating what is wild from what is savage.
In a society that does not practice ritual initiation, and perilously denies our place within the larger scope of the Nature by assuming sovereignty over it, we attempt to sidestep our own animal nature and all that that entails. Essentially, it is a relationship of interdependence with all things that co-exist on this planet with us. To acknowledge this relationship by acknowledging our own wildness removes us from center stage on Planet Earth. It makes us part of the great unfolding of Life as opposed to the reason for it.
From this perspective, there is nothing sexier about you because you “reconnect” with the Wild Man or Wild Woman. It doesn’t make you hotter, stronger, faster, more fuckable. What it does, when the interaction holds true, is humble the shit out of you and show you that you are just a tiny piece in this vast orchestra of life.
The thing about archetypal figures, “old gods,” is that they are very real and much bigger than you or I could ever control, embody or hold. They are not identities for you and I to wear as a part of our most recently crafted or gaudily overpriced burner outfits. They are forces that wear us. They move through us like hurricanes sweep across the ocean. And let’s not get it twisted, friends, we are not the ocean. We are, each and every one of us: salty, dirty, little drops of water amidst countless others that collectively ebb and flow in that oceanic magnificence.
What wants us to believe we are the entire ocean, or that we can embody the Wild Man or Woman, is the adolescent part of us that has not been through the crucible of initiation. When you meet the Wild Man you know that your hedonistic “wild man” antics are childish bullshit. Until then, you will potentially live out your life buying into every new spiritual, psychological, self-help or personal development fad thinking that you can one day be the hurricane that stirs the sea and bends it to your will. When we all act this way collectively we leave in our wake a devastated planet, torn apart by wars, dominated by the greed of corporate entities that take on identities of their own and drive us to accept sending countless young men and women to the lands of other people to slaughter and be slaughtered so that someone somewhere can rack up more imaginary digits at the end of their bank account. Sound familiar?
The old gods are alive and well, and anyone that tells you that we’ve become too civilized to offer human sacrifice to them is woefully naïve or willfully blind. We sacrifice men, women, and children by the millions to the gods of greed and avarice regularly. It doesn’t matter what names you give them, they are here and they are hungry and for the most part well fed. But they are not the Wild Man or the Wild Woman. They are the sinister forces that make you think that you too can reclaim your sexiness by calling yourself the Wild Man or Wild Woman without ever stepping foot into the ritual space of initiation, where you would embrace your own part to play in this greater orchestra of life to the sound of weeping. There is nothing sexy about where we must go and what we must do if we wake up to the reality of our times. There is hard work to do. To paraphrase Stephen Jenkinson: awakening in our times does not happen to the sound of hallelujahs and choruses of angels, it happens to the sound of weeping.
There is hard work to do. May we all meet the Wild Man soon.
*Originally published as Inlak'ech Transpersonal Coaching
Illustration: "Trois Frères" by Louis Wood