This year, the fifth European Men’s Gathering will be held on the 5th – 8th August. It will be a tour de force of the dynamic, robust and potently masculine vision for men’s work which we have developed in Maniphesto.
The theme of the 2021 EMG is “The Death of the Patriarchs”. This reflects the broad mainstream feminist narrative of the need to “smash the patriarchy” and reject all forms of previous authority and structure, to remake society in a new image. This narrative has gained an unstoppable momentum and strength now, and is heading like a train straight into a brick wall. We do not intend to try and stop it. We are interested in what is going to happen after the wall.
That is why, the overall narrative structure of the EMG this year will be a journey through “Death, Burial and Resurrection”. We have planned a journey which will transport every single man through a taste of the pain of a small death, re-seeing and reinterpreting the events of his own life and receiving a new map of the territory to understand what is happening to him and to society.
The journey begins
The journey starts on Thursday the 5th August at a retreat center in Thy, far off in the Danish countryside. The 140 attendees would have travelled from more than 25 different countries. English is the shared language we all speak. The men are welcomed and we start by agreeing on the conditions for the container of mutual assumptions and agreements which enable us to trust and let go. This includes open and direct communication, respect, confidentiality and taking responsibility. This is a gathering of Men. Many of them work with men as teachers, coaches, facilitators or therapists.
Once this is done, each man is placed in a Core Team or small tribe with a facilitator and the 10 men who live geographically closest to him. This is the primary vehicle for navigating through the weekend and making sense of the journey. It will also be the most obvious connection point for him when he gets home after the event to ensure integration of what he has learnt.
Already on that first Thursday evening, the participants start the work of sharing the stories of their lives, and clarifying the concrete as well as symbolic elements of the story that they are living. They identify themself as the main character of their story. And they see their story in a new light, in which they are being called to an adventure to attain a personal “sacred desire”.
Meeting the Warrior
Having created a strong container for the journey, Friday is about going fully into it and testing the mental, emotional and physical strength of every man. Before a man can be civilized, he needs to be in touch with his warrior core, with the dangerous and darker parts of himself. He needs to know what he is capable of. As Jordan Peterson says, “if you think that tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.” From the 70 year old pensioner to the sportsmen in their 20s amongst us, everyone is given the right level of challenge to lean into his edge.
This is the training of the warrior. Humans resort automatically to a fear response of fight, flight or freeze when they are confronted with direct, uncompromising reality. A man who lives in comfort all his life will not know his warrior spirit or his power. When the situation requires strength, he will fight in an ineffectual and emotional manner. Or he will flee in cowardliness. Or he will simply freeze. We want men to know their power and bring it under their conscious control. Not to stop feeling fear. But to act with clarity of positive purpose through fear.
Each man identifies the tyrant in his own life, the unjust authority that is holding him back from his sacred desire. He sees the malevolent, selfish dragon, sitting on the unjustly hoarded treasure. The anger that is normally kept under the surface rises up and is felt. And expressed. Tribal loyalty and competition play out against each other. There is a Bear and Bull. There is a light king and a dark king. Food and drink become scarce during the day. Betrayal. There is a mob and a scapegoat. Tribal effigies are constructed and burnt to the ground. Each man has an opportunity to feel his edge and establish his boundaries. Finally the Tyrannical Patriarchs are overthrown, stoned and burnt, to make way for the new.
And, as we stand on that cusp, we will pause. Stop up, stand there, and notice. We broke down a wall. What is this like? We achieved what we had set out to do. We saw something that we hated, and we destroyed it. And as we stand there, in silence, and in rest, we will look at each other, and we will look at ourselves, towards our own hearts, and to our loved ones. And we notice.
The story has reached a turning point and a new map of the territory has been revealed. As we enter Saturday, our Core Teams are again the forum for making sense of the occurrences of the day before. We continue to unfold our personal stories with each other, with each man identifying and sharing the concrete support and symbolic divine helper in his life. Who are our allies, and how can we ensure that we are recruiting them to their full value?
Without a tyrant to point towards as the source of pain and suffering, each man sees and experiences in a very real way, how it is his own choices which determine his path through life. There is no more space for stories of victimhood. We are all victims of this gift called life. We will all die. And we will all suffer pain before we get there.
Steve Jobs has said “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values, and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” So the question is, what kind of story do we want to tell with our life? Are we living in a comedy? A tragedy? Or are we willing to shoulder the responsibility of being the hero of at least our own story, if not yet that of others? And more importantly, are we willing to do what it takes to become that hero, or do we want it to be served on a silver platter? Collectively, how do we as men ensure that we are creating the best possible framework for moving ourselves collectively forward and upwards?
Each man considers where he needs to find forgiveness inside himself. And for himself. He weighs and considers the price that must be paid to move forward. There are no shortcuts and there are no easy ways out. Reality must be faced. Alone, most of us would never have the courage to do it. But standing with a tribe of brothers, we see clearly, not only how chickening out will not only cause us to lose face in front of all the other men. But also how the man at your side is counting on you lifting your part, holding true to your integrity and staying to your path, so that he can be strengthened in holding true to his alongside you.
A new map
So on the Saturday evening we bury that which we killed on the Friday evening. And we see it far more clearly than before. The Tyrannical Father is recognised for what he represented – our projection of the darkness of our own heart onto the world around us. We can withdraw the projections back to ourselves. Stop being afraid of all the shadows around us, and realise that they are merely shadows cast from the masks we place over our own heart. The real shadow that needs to be harnessed lives within and is a part of ourselves.
And having put our fathers to rest, we are able to fully experience a true rebirth, a resurrection of body, mind and soul. From the desolation of a culture of wokeism where the highest virtue is signalling your niceness and your Mr Goodyness to the world through your choice of climate friendly cafe lattes, and the nihilism that follows the rejection of that, we are now ready to step out into a new world. A new world where we are no longer the victims of circumstances beyond our control, but rather the synergistic mediators between the chaos of raw existence and the wisdom we have received. And importantly, no longer the atomised individual, standing alone as a solitary tree in the desert, but an integrated part of the forest of existence and community, finding my contributive role and enjoying the shade, shelter and nourishment of my brothers and sisters around me.
Why we do this
That is the story of the EMG this year, and the state we want to send the participants home with – a state of empowerment and inspiration. But not only that. We also want to send them home with the concrete connections with real men living in their near geography as well as a concrete plan of action to engage in men’s work, by starting a men’s group, bringing in members of their community, and then spreading the mission, like ripples in the water.
By connecting men and engaging them in men’s work, our ambition is no less than to disrupt the therapy industry, which we see as, to put it bluntly, having largely abandoned and failed men and boys.
A good definition of masculinity is the character traits and values which men love getting from other men. The explicit goal of many therapists and the American Psychological Association these days is to make men less masculine. We are told that, for men to be okay, they need to become more like women. They should become, we are told, feminised and “nice”. There are good therapists, and there are men who will continue to need to go to therapy. But for the broad range of men, we do not believe that the solution to our challenges is to be found from sitting and talking about our emotions with a therapist. I am saying this as a trained psychotherapist myself.
Modern psychotherapy is a product of an individualised and fragmented society of men who are separated from their tribe and thereby weak. No one benefits from weak men. Everyone benefits from strong men. We need more strong men. We men stand strongest when we are able to take our place as a contributing part of a team or a community.
We see joint action in the world through men’s work as the optimal path right now to the betterment of men. By committing to shared goals with others, and working towards them, men meet difficulties and opportunities for growth. By building the strong relationships required for joint action, we create the network of support that we need to get through the tough times and face our shadows. Making stuff happen in the world is not easy. Men’s work is a space where men can ensure they are gathered around an explicitly positive vision and purpose, and where they can try, fail, learn from it, and try again.
Bringing it all together
Finally, we must note, men’s work is not a goal in itself. Our communities benefit from being diverse and inclusive, and certainly from including men and women. Given the current political climate however and the attacks on masculinity and manhood we are seeing from the woke movement, there is a need for men to come apart for a while. To meet other men and strengthen each other in our masculinity. To call each other to account. To inspire each other. To challenge each other to face our fears. And to come back to our partners, our work, our communities and society, with renewed strength, focus and integrity.
That is why we are members in men’s groups. That is why we do men’s work. That is why we are going to the European Men’s Gathering this August.