Transcending Toxic Masculinity

Max Ernst, “Pieta or Revolution by Night”

There is a deep collective need to rewrite the scripts of masculinity. “Dig deeply into any man and one would find not only the lake of tears but a mountain of rage, layers of anger accumulated since childhood, slowly pushing its magma towards the surface, there to erupt,” says James Hollis in his book Under Saturn’s Shadow: The Wounding and Healing of Men. Toxic masculinity pervades our culture, keeping us all in shackles. Our culture offers no rites of passage into adulthood; and consequently men, as suggested by Tim Winton, author of The Shepherd’s Hut, are forced to construct themselves from spare parts, found on the heap of toxic waste of outdated cultural values. Lack of rites always means lack of soul depth.

Hollis reveals five secrets that men carry within and proceeds to explore them in his book:

  1. Men’s lives are as much governed by restrictive role expectations as are the lives of women

  2. Men’s lives are essentially governed by fear

  3. The power of the feminine is immense in the psychic economy of men

  4. Men collude in a conspiracy of silence whose aim is to suppress their emotional truth

  5. Because men must leave Mother, and transcend the mother complex, wounding is necessary

  6. Men’s lives are violent because their souls have been violated

  7. Every man carries a deep longing for his father and for his tribal Fathers

  8. If men are to heal, they must activate within what they did not receive from without

One of the most fascinating chapters in Hollis’ book deals with the mother – the one that “incarnates and models the archetype of life” and “embodies all sorts of messages about our relationship to the life force.” Her power is undeniable and this is why for centuries men have sought to diminish Her, since “one oppresses what one fears.” So many men live their lives gripped by the mother complex. They consciously and more often unconsciously define themselves in relation to the feminine. If they did not receive enough affection from their own mother, they will seek to turn their partners into “good mothers.” Some will seek to control women as a result of their unconscious fear of the power of the feminine. The ultra-masculine type does not understand that he is cutting off a vital part of himself and defining himself in stark opposition towards it. His life is as much dominated by the unrecognized power of the feminine as the “weak, effeminate man” whom he so much despises. While he playboy is “literally a boy at play; he can never be a man until he has wrestled his eros from the powerful mother-world within.”

Pablo Picasso, “Mother and Son on the Shore”

Transcending the mother complex must lead to pain and suffering. Our wounding carries soul gifts but unfortunately, very often the wounds that modern men suffer do not result in transformation. This is because we are devoid of rites of passage, as there are hardly any elder male mentors that could offer any guidance. The wounds rarely bring deepened consciousness. Because there are so few positive male role models, men are obliged “to function at the persona level, defining their reality primarily in terms of collective parameters such as salary, car, home, social status.”

The mother and the father are the two great archetypes governing our inner lives. Every archetype polarizes into light and darkness. The Great Mother creates life and takes it away, while the archetypal father gives strength and energy on the one hand but he can also crush the fragile psyche of the child. Hollis illustrates the negative father complex and its danger for the child by summarizing a short story by Kafka called The Judgement. In the story, a young man lives with his elderly tyrannizing father, while simultaneously and secretly exchanging letters with a male friend in a foreign country. The youth longs to emigrate but the father finds the letter and says to his son, “I sentence you to die by drowning.” The story ends with the son promptly and obligingly committing suicide by jumping into the river. Hollis comments:

“The complex… has the power to cut off his spirit, to tamp the fires of life and plunge him into the obliterating waters of the unconscious. So instead of bringing his son light, the father brings suffocating darkness.”

This is masterfully demonstrated by Kafka in the following exchange in The Judgement:

“Ah, George,” said his father, coming up at once to meet him. His heavy night shirt opened up as he moved and the ends of it flapped around him. “My father is still a giant,” said George to himself.

Then he spoke up: “It’s unbearably dark in here.”

“Yes, it certainly is dark,” his father answered.

“And you’ve shut the window as well?”

“I prefer it that way.”

Francisco de Goya, “The Colossus”

I have recently listened to an interesting podcast on planetary nodes (  Adam Sommer was interviewing Mark Jones about the implications of a large number of planetary nodes being stacked around the Capricorn-Cancer axis. This particular configuration has been the sign of our times for a long time and will be further emphasized in 2020. What that means, according to Mark Jones, is that the world soul speaking to us through the planetary nodes is drawing our attention to the need of balancing the Capricornian toughness, ambition, relentlessness and austerity with the Cancerian softness, empathy and sensitivity. Our society was built on Capricornian values, which on the bright side have brought us structure and the whole backbone of civilization, but on the dark side resulted in competitiveness, rigid hierarchies and elitism, not to mention the permanent oppression of those considered weak. Also James Hillman was thinking along the same lines while writing his Senex and Puer, where he said this of the Senex archetype:

“As principle of coagulation and of geometrical order, it dries and orders, ‘builds cities’ and ‘mints money,’  makes solid and square and profitable, overcoming the dissolving wetness of soul emotionality.”

Furthermore, serving superficial values such as material status or professional success, has meant that one had to forego the soul’s calling. In his book Healing the Soul: Pluto, Uranus and the Lunar Nodes, Mark Jones explains that the evolutionary intention of the north node being in Cancer means that the soul is called upon to “recover the inner child and to allow the sensitive and expressive emotional nature to flow again unimpeded.” He adds that “this involves a process of identifying the positive aspects of responsibility (connected with Capricorn) so that the archetypal split between the two signs can be healed. This entails infusing “the family and societal structures of the past with the warmth and love that was missing.” A recovery of the inner child also connects with a greater value put on the feminine.

Among the greatest words ever written by Kafka were the ones included in a letter to his narcissistic and abusive father. Here they are:

“…it is, after all, not necessary to fly right into the middle of the sun, but it is necessary to crawl to a clean little spot on Earth where the sun sometimes shines and one can warm oneself a little.”

Frederic Leighton, “Elisha Raising the Son of Shunnamite”

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13 Responses to Transcending Toxic Masculinity

  1. Rings all true.
    Love the Kafka quote. And yes, that child needs embracing …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jeanraffa says:

    Thank you for this excellent review of an excellent book by James Hollis, a man who embodies the Wise Old Man archetype. Jeanie

    Liked by 1 person

  3. litebeing says:

    Such a lovely post and the Kafka quote is so elegant.

    May this eclipse and transits bring you peaceful evolution and boundless love. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amber Foxx says:

    Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A very interesting subject, and a great read.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Transcending Toxic Masculinity – lampmagician

  7. ptero9 says:

    Hi Monika,
    I love the insights that you so easily articulate here. The archetypal background that might influence us more than any other are those that involve aspects of mothering and fathering. These powerful dominants, linked back to primordial creative and destructive forces, so readily can be seen to be actualized in the lives and relationships of every one of us. Without understanding the mythical background as expressed through so many ancient and modern stories, we find ourselves entrenched in the powers we are easily subsumed by.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I absolutely agree with this. I also think and hope there is a saving grace in the archetypal world – we can always find new patterns, new soul-making moulds if the ones we are surrounded by are oppressive or destructive. But “without understanding the mythical background,” as you say, we may just remain at the mercy of these forces.


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