Toxic Masculinity and the Mythopoetical Movement

Books like Michael Meade's Men and Waters of Life are just as important as Feminist classics in the fight towards equality

The book Men and the Water of Life by Michael Meade is not particularly well known. Michael Meade is a writer and mythologist who rose to prominence as part of the mythopoetic Men’s Movement of the 1980s and 1990s, which originated ultimately in psychoanalysis, stemming primarily from the work of Carl Jung. This book explores problems of masculinity within the frame of various mythological traditions, particularly those of the Hausa in Africa, and the celtic traditions of Ireland. Meade writes a dense and poetic form of English. At the beginning of each section of the book, Meade tells a story – a son who angers his father when he throws away a rat, a son who disobeys his father, a great hunter, when he eats some forbidden honey, and a boy who angers a half-giantess by a lake. He then explores each myth in depth, examining it’s implications and it’s meaning within the frame of the male journey.

Men and the Water of Life sprung from Meade’s experience running workshops and conferences for men, in which “executives, ex-cons, priests, war veterans, doctors, healers of all kinds, students, craftsmen, professors, and artists of every descriptions…wandered and laboured in the “forest of stories”, and…relived life’s wounds”. Meade uses these old stories to cut inroads into the male psyche and to explore the forces that drive the masculine.

The Mythopoetical movement, and in particular Michael Meade, identified an absence of mythological spirituality in most people’s lives, and Meade discovered, through his own participation in rituals which explore the spiritual lives of men, that many men sought ‘re-entry to the unfinished initiations of youth and the timeless forest of spiritual adventures.’ ‘Men and the Water of Life’ offers to it’s readers a insight into the unfinished initiations.

It might at first seem that writers like Michael Meade and Sam Keen, having written books  like Fire In The Belly which seeks to challenge masculine obsession with the ‘WOMAN’ and to change the “WOMAN to women into Jane (or one certain woman)”, are working on a different wavelength from the feminist movement which came into existence the generation before them. However part of initiation into manhood is the ability to temper oneself, to cool one’s anger with the metaphorical ‘water’, addressing in the process the existential anger and personal uncertainty that lies at the heart of violence against women: “A man must be tempered; he must have his temperament made and remade through repeated immersions in fire and water” Meade writes. Sam Keen’s central purpose, moreover, of finding ways for men to see women as people rather than an idealised “creatrix or goddess”,”mother and matrix” or “erotic-spiritual power” is fundamental to ending sexualisation and objectification.

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There is a myth often perpetuated (mostly by men themselves) that men lack the emotional complexities of women. This is a deeply untrue. Men need emotional and spiritual support just like women, but there are far more women’s groups than collective support for men, and there are far more books in the vein of Simone De Beauvouir and Jermaine Greer than those like Keen’s or Meade’s. There are reasons why complex initiation rituals are a fundamental part of most pre-modern societies; initiation into manhood tempers the man and allows himself to understand his place within his order. The mythopoetic movement exemplified by books like Fire In the Belly and Men and the Water of Life present ways for men to undertake these initiatory journeys in the modern world and in their own way