A Tribe, Dangerously

At sundown men begin trickling through the gate to my property. Their hands are filled with various implements for the night—firewood, weights, alcohol, or other sacred offerings  Laughter, some nervous chatter, or even serious faces file in. Some of these men have driven from an hour away to participate in the ritual we’ll co-create this evening  

First time visitors extend awkward handshakes or shuffle their feet reluctantly. They don’t know what to expect, or how to act. Being told to “just be themselves” forces the awkward acknowledgment that many men have not actually cultivated a distinct Self in the first place. More often than not men are awash with the cultural programming of consumerism, preferences, civilities and fear. It is too easy to simply be a second hand human, a carbon copy of a person—without a sense of real solidness. As Nietzsche once quipped “one should not assume that many men are ‘persons.’ There are some men who are composed of several, but the majority possess none at all.”  That’s alright. Here, in the company of a real brotherhood, they may begin to see themselves as a Self. It’s a distinct possibility, one that has drawn many of them here. 

Gloves for sparing are put on, sticks for various tug of wars or “counting coup” are hefted. The physically exerting portion of the evening begins. Men are never so much themselves as when iron sharpens iron and their metal is tested by another man. This is an easier arena to perform in than most are used to. In the grind of Modern daily life our accusers are more often than not faceless, those that hunt us are masked by internet avatars, and those that would destroy us are called friends or followers, right before they block us. Inertia, sedentism and soft abundance are also cruel adversaries. At least here, behind the gates of my property men can face their opponent, see his eyes, and extend good will even when knocked on their ass.  

It doesn’t take long for the men to exhaust themselves—half an hour for those of us who are new to moving our bodies. Our heart rates rise, the laughter begins to bubble up naturally and bitter foes in the sparring ring suddenly are made into fast friends. 

The agenda for this evening is similar to the others we have held—while at the same time maintaining a unique gravity. Our little band is openly derivative. We aren't purists. We have pieced together a patchwork quilt of techniques and technologies from various traditions as far afield as Boy Scouts and Native American tribes, to the Vedic streams, Abrahamic faiths or Norse tradition. Here it is less about belief and much more about learning a way of being.  Here, we struggle to be authentic, to express our wounds, to confront our shadows, and to summon the gold that we each possess as men. 

One of the senior men begins to ritually purify others with sage smoke and make markings on their faces with ash from previous fires. Another man starts to ceremonially light the torches that maintain the perimeter to the circle. We invoke those who could not participate tonight. We call out those who we wish to hold this space with us. They are here, even if their bodies are not present. 

Together the individuals begin to file into the circle, the fires are now being lit, and the invitation to let go and let come is set. We have ceased to be isolated. We are now no longer parts--we are a whole. 

The most dangerous organism on the planet is a group, or tribe, of men. 

For roughly 300,000 years homo sapien sapiens (our unique genus) roamed various parts of the African savannah. Then We were a little lower than hyena on the food chain. Our species existed as scavangers, picking the marrow out of bone, the steaming remains of fresh meat off of a discarded carcass. When the larger or faster predators advanced, we ran. While we hunted in packs like the big cats, we were weaker, slower, and less likely to form cohesively. We hadn't fully developed a method of communication that allowed us to band together towards big goals.  That came just about 70,000 years ago. Language. 

We don't know why humans first started talking to one another. There are theories. The Gossip theory (which suggests that as our populations grew we needed to communicate about one another to the rest of the Tribe), the Commerce theory (in which we correlate almost every other advance in human history being centered around the art of making a buck to the advent of language), the Stoned Ape theory (a fringe idea, but fun, involving the mass ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms and collective hallucinations)--to name a few. The truth is we have no clue. But we do know HOW they began to use them. Stories.

It would seem that the singular innovation of our species was our ability to tell big stories, to cast big shadows, and in so doing bind Tribes, and gangs of individuals together. These stories often took the form of myth, or ritual. We sold the drama and inspired one another. Our form of communicating allowed for collective goal setting, risk taking, and achievement. We moved from simply observing and participating in the world to now describing it, effectively. This created untold advantages. We witness homo sapien sapiens sky rocketing in their ascendency. We went from a low level omnivore, to the apex predator.

Today, dominant culture wishes to subvert places where gangs of men may exchange collective stories and shared rituals. There is an overwhelming assault on all forms of such places where the way of men can be practiced. With good reason--a tribe of men is dangerous. By sharing in the sacred imagery of story making and ritual, a group of men transform themselves into the shape of our ancestors who rose to preeminence. By connecting ourselves to one another in a space of naked authenticity.

I watch as one of the men present challenges us towards our highest intentions. As we make various sacrificial offerings on the fire, connecting us to the path of our ancestors--indeed the trail of humans extending our entire history--we remember that Mastery requires sacrifice. We become our self, in spite of our self--as one philosopher said. Tonight I am called to lay down the comfortable and lazy, the affluent and risk adverse, to take on a greater sense of fidelity, of honor, of courage, and generosity of heart. The fire crescendos. The music, present throughout the night, becomes a relentless drumming. I notice tears trickle down my face. My body is registering the sacredness of this space--the Holy Ground we are on.

While the fires eventually die down, and men begin to trickle away, we embrace. The physical contact is closer and more natural than before. Companionship feels both expected and earned. Inevidably, visitors are now resolving whether this was not for them. Some men will cling to their dogma, demanding affinity groups over ruthless authenticity. Some will feel the fear of performance, the terror of potential failure. Some will simply judge that their priorities lie with any number of responsibilities: job, family, girlfriend/wife, or their own pursuits.   Some will be frightened of being known, of having questions asked of them. Still others decide that the risk is worth the reward, the output of energy creates untold abundance. Some will, indeed, realize they can't live without the company of men--they must cast their lot in with us.   

At last the torches are dimmed. The embers are scattered. And the lawn once again is empty except for the shadows the waning moon casts.

We are not our ancestors, but we are a rope. We are learning to form a bridge between the greatness of those before us, and the potential of what may come next. More than anything, we are men learning to be authentic, to become a self, and to practice the virtues seemingly foreign to us that form our very birthright. 

I cannot say how long we will be companions, beyond the evening magic. But tonight--we are a tribe, dangerously. 

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