–Christopher Penczak, Sons of the Goddess, p. 51
Our oldest son is rapidly sliding into manhood. Creaky voice. Height stretching on a near-daily basis. Fuzz on upper lip. I am finding it hard to hold
space for his transition as a teenager while still caring for a not-quite-two year old small boy as well, one who reminds me regularly of my first baby boy and what it was like to be a mother to only one, focused on each stage of development, each new word, each successful identification of a new color. Now that first baby boy swings that last baby boy onto one hip with practiced ease, washes dishes, helps to cook, pours milk for his sister.
Several years ago, I was asked to work on a coming of age/manhood ceremony for a friend’s son. It never quite came together—I didn’t feel like I could do it and I still feel regret about having let that boy down. At the time though, and still now, I felt that I’m not “qualified” for the job—I don’t know the men’s stories either. The council of men needs to prepare his ceremony. Where is the men’s council, the circle of men? I think we have them around us, but that there is much less cultural permission for them to gather in groups to honor transitions in sacred ways. Much as women’s circle work feels radical and transformative and even threatening to patriarchal culture, men gathering in circle to honor and guide one another, that is perhaps even more so. I see Red Tents around the world. I see women’s circles springing up with a glorious passion and far flung expression. I am guiding other priestesses in circle work, and Red Tents and Pink Tents, and holding ceremonies for our daughters coming of age. What about our sons? Where are their ceremonies and welcomes into manhood? Where are their stories in the desert? Is it a mother’s job to provide the container for those stories? Can I call the circle for my son and then step back? I know what it means to be a girl reaching into womanhood. I know what it means to circle with other women. Does it have to be different for boys and men?
When I was reading books, looking for ideas for my friend’s son, I noticed that most pagan rituals described for boys include the element of the son being “kidnapped” from the mother, women, and girls and being taken away by the men and left alone. I hate these rituals. Every time I read one like it, my heart screams, “NO, we want more than that for our sons.” Despite being promoted as part of an alternative spiritual framework, how does this type of ceremony support and honor the type of world we wish our children to grow up in? Why do boys need to be kidnapped from their mothers and left alone in order to be men? Isn’t that the very root of patriarchy on this earth? No thank you.
I bought another book specifically because it mentioned including a rite of passage ceremony for boys. I read it with eagerness and was dismayed at what I found. The circle was called, held at dusk, and each person was instructed to bring a rock for the newly fledgling boy. They were to go around the circle and share what they learned, what they were imbuing into the stone…so far, so good, right?…and then, throw it into the darkness and say, “find it for yourself.” When I read this, I had an epiphany. If this was a ceremony for girls, we each would have handed her the stone and welcomed her into the circle with our wisdom, we would have made sure she knew that she was strong, powerful, and capable, but also that part of that power meant that we were standing with her and offering our wisdom in support. She would not have to crawl in the darkness alone looking for rocks, because we’re there. And, that is the core message of most women’s circles and ceremonies for girls. We’re there. You are not alone. So, then I knew…a ceremony for a boy need look no different. Maybe I do not know the stories from the men’s desert, but I do know what it is like to celebrate someone for their unique gifts and strengths, look them in the eye and affirm their power, and sing to them with love of my support of their dreams. This is not a gendered thing, this is humanity. How do we want to welcome boys into the world of adults? By casting away our wisdom and telling them to search in the darkness for themselves? Or by standing next to them, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, and offering all that we have, all that we are, in support, and trust, and honor of their evolving selves?
This summer, we gathered in sacred circle for a chanting workshop and a summer ceremony. The men at the chanting workshop sang just as wonderfully together as the women do in the Red Tent. The boys in the summer circle joined hands just like anyone else.
We do know how to do this.
This song below was recorded during the chanting workshop and feels appropriate for this occasion…
Molly has been “gathering the women” to circle, sing, celebrate, and share since 2008. She plans and facilitates women’s circles, seasonal retreats and rituals, mother-daughter circles, family ceremonies, and red tent circles in rural Missouri and teaches online courses in Red Tent facilitation and Practical Priestessing. She is a priestess who holds MSW, M.Div, and D.Min degrees and finished her dissertation about contemporary priestessing in the U.S. Molly and her husband Mark co-create original goddess sculptures, ceremony kits, and jewelry at Brigid’s Grove. Molly is the author of Womanrunes, Earthprayer, and The Red Tent Resource Kit and she writes about thealogy, nature, practical priestessing, and the goddess at Brigid’s Grove.
16 thoughts on “Rituals for Our Sons, by Molly Remer”
Thanks Molly. You ask the question: “How do we want to welcome boys into the world of adults?”
The circled picture of you and your child at the end of the post enraptured me somehow. Your faces are identical. Looking at him — that’s you as a boy. Looking at you — that’s him as a woman. Both of you seem deeply graced by your loving family relationship. And so all he needs is what he already has — your unconditional love. Namaste.
So beautiful! Your sons and daughters are fortunate to have such a wise priestess for a mother. May your post inspire many!
I remember the men’s so-called liberation groups of the last quarter of the 20th century, some of them based on Iron John, a book by Robert Bly. They were famously “wild.” I think they were intended to be imitative of women’s liberation. I never thought they were anything I wanted my son to be part of. How do we welcome our boys into the adult world? Perhaps by not sending them off to wars, perhaps by modeling kindness to them. Thanks for writing this throught-provoking blog.
Thank you, Barbara. These gendered rituals leave me deeply uneasy.
As a mother of adult sons I watched with dismay two boys leave home and become men I didn’t know…What happened – how had I failed? These two were the products of an early divorce – my fault they didn’t have a father, I thought grimly. Guilt ruled my life. Confusion did too. This was before I gained enough distance to begin to name what I had witnessed – my children becoming the “sons of patriarchy “- This is an inevitable outcome unless a mother intercedes to stop the transition. And at that time I couldn’t name what patriarchy had done to me, let alone to them. But now I can…and many decades later I can see that in spite of the culture I had raised two sons who found solace in different aspects of Nature. I taught them both to love the sea, and to choose country living as a way to reconnect to the earth…this is Something… I can’t even imagine what possibilities might be ahead for boys who are ushered into adulthood with meaningful supportive rituals…
Much to think about, Molly. Not only in relationship to our sons, but in respect to the grown men we meet?
MOLLY, I was not able to find the song link on this blog?
Marilyn Ashe Wilson http://www.JustABeatAway.com ‘Live It, Love It, Pass It On’
It is embedded right below my words–there is an image and “play” button, but it takes a minute to show up in some web browsers (or perhaps doesn’t show up in all!). You can listen to it here:
It would be interesting to know what the coming-of-age ceremonies in relatively non-sexist societies are like — the Minangkabau of Indonesia, the Hopi, and the Moso/Mosuo of the Chinese-Tibetan borderlands.
FAscinating focus … wow. I’m thinking the man ceremony is what you have in your home– the practiced are of a younger sibling is a beautiful ritual. Perhaps time with young children, and time with adults need both be part of the transition into adulthood. Who are a boy’s resources? What does he fall back on– both courage to love with fierce strength and courage to love tenderly… balance.
What an awesome perspective–part of his man ceremony is caring for his siblings and helping in the home! Thank you for that comment.
Hello, Molly! Yes, definitely, I completely agree. Boys and men do need companionship, sharing, circles and support. Patriarchy strives to make lonely wolves out of them who fight each other. The new world that we are growing now must be a loving and a nourishing world for boys and men.
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In matriarchal societies boys are taught to be as loving and kind as their own mothers, and nobody has to make it on their own.
Great post, Molly. I was VERY busy with my book (it’s being published soon) when you posted this, so finally I have time today to respond. Your conclusion that we (ritualist, feminist) women DO know how to welcome our boys into manhood is very important for us, especially now with its unbelievably bad role models for boys (Donald Trump, for instance). The reason we need Red Tents and other women-only gatherings is patriarchy. I would say what you came to in this post even more adamantly: The reason boys need mothers as well as fathers to usher them into manhood is also patriarchy. When we don’t have such divergent concepts of what it means to be a man or a woman OR when we understand those differences in a way that doesn’t punish people, i.e. when patriarchy is dead, maybe we could do it differently. But I’m with you: We women need to be teaching our sons how to be men with the help of male allies who are also feminists and see a way forward without all the trappings of sexism, misogyny, masculinist values, etc.
I just now saw your response, Nancy! Thank you for your comment and insight!
Sweet sister Molly,
Thank you thank you thank you for writing this beautiful, heartfelt, soul-centered piece. I’ve been asking this same question for years. I was placed a man on vision quest to recover his shaman self and the separateness from the women confused me. I had priestesses in training in a surrender to the mystery weekend at the same time and I felt his isolation. What you describe in your own searching has helped me create something for my own son who is 6 and not far from twelve. Can a mother call the circle? YES! Let’s do! I’m going to call all the men in Logan’s life to have a fire together and tell the stories and share their wisdom. Teach a song close to their heart. This is a way to integrate these Rites of Passage rituals into our modern world. “And the Priestesses of Earth quietly and steadily brought back the ceremonies of Old, weaving the Soul of the World back into the hearts of the boys and girls. Thereby the whole world awakened and was made new again.” Love and blessings,