Mythopoetic Perspectives of Men's Healing Work

Mythopoetic Perspectives of Men's Healing Work:
An Anthology for Therapists and Others

E. R. Barton (2000)

An excerpt from:
Barton, E. R. (2000). Mythopoetic perspectives of men's healing work: An anthology for therapists and others. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

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Chapter 5
A Proposed Model for Comparing Writers in the Mythopoetic Branch of the Contemporary Men's Movement

By: Thomas M. Brunner

Since the Enlightenment, psychologists - competing with priests - have had an ever-increasing influence on how humans view their interior and exterior lives. In the United States since the beginning of the twentieth century, professional psychology has fared as well as or better than in any other country in the world. Today it is estimated that one in three Americans will seek some form of psychological help during their life course. A U.S. News and World Report news poll reported that 81 percent of respondents agreed that if they had a problem, they believed some form of psychological counseling could help hem (Goode & Wagner). In times of mental distress, Americans increasingly turn not just to a priest, but to a psychologist. Not surprisingly anyone surveying the New York Time's Best-sellers List, for the past ten years will have noticed that books which integrate psychology and religion consistently rank highly. One prime example is F. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled (1978), on this bestseller's list for the past ten years.

American mainstream society's receptivity to Peck as well as others who integrate psychology and religion (e.g. Robert Bly, Clara Pinkola Estes, Thomas Moore) may represent a hunger for a kind of healing beyond that offered by contact solely with priests of institutionalized religions. The integrative writer I will most centrally focus on here is Robert Moore, a leading member of the mythopoetic branch of the contemporary men's movement. Other members of this men's movement branch (James Hillman, Robert Bly) as well as a mythopoeticist who has widely influenced mainstream culture in general (Thomas Moore) will be compared to Robert Moore to exemplify the usefulness of this proposed model. The four-celled grid in Figure 5.1 may be used to reveal differences and similarities among these four (Bly, Hillman, Robert and Thomas Moore) writers and others.

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Figure 5.1
The Theoretical Grid. The vertical line represents the typical tone of the writer, and the horizontal line represents the typical medium used for delivery of the message.

By the end of this chapter it should become clear why these mythopoetic writers have been placed in particular locations on the grid. As the process of locating these writers ensues, the following threefold argument will be posited: (1) these four writers exhibit distinguishable modes of thinking, (2) this grid is useful toward hypothesizing why these writers have been absorbed into the center of American mainstream society to differential degrees and (3) this grid is useful toward understanding the intellectual and social tensions in the mythopoetic branch of the contemporary men's movement.

What is meant by mythopoetic will be analyzed more from an empirical rather than an essentialist viewpoint. A common indication of the essentialist attitude is an obsessive concern with defining terms and concepts before the search for knowledge begins (Stanovich, 1996). Discerning the true essence, if there is one, of the term mythopoetic (as well as other) writers. In short, the explanation of the phenomenon of mythopoeticism, not the analysis of language, is the leading goal of this chapter. Thus, instead of chasing the term mythopoetic linguistically, the effort here will be to operationalize the term by examining

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some systematic intellectual characteristics (and dynamics) exhibited by those reasonably considered mythopoeticists.

The term reasonable does not imply that any randomly selected author may be called mythopoetic. If the author's writings are outside poetry and mythology yet would change to the degree such that one of their regular readers would immediately notice, the writer may be considered part of the mythopoetic group. As will become apparent, the term mythopoetic represents not simply a class of writers but also a method with discernible stylistic derivatives.

By the 1990s, several of these integrative thinkers had become nationally acclaimed writers, at least in terms of literary popularity among mainstream society, while others had not. Although he writes for the mainstream, Robert Moore, coauthor (with D. Gillette) of King, Warrior, Magician, Lover (1991), has not become as popular to the mainstream, though his theory of masculinity has become widely influential in the mythopoetic branch of contemporary men's movement. Unlike Robert Bly, Robert Moore's books have never become best-sellers. Yet both integrate mythology and poetry into their writing as they address men's issues. Why is Moore not more popular with mainstream readers?

Even if one is uninterested in the possibility of superficial question of mainstream popularity, there is an underlying question: Why is it that the ideas of these writers, though they all draw from mythology and poetry to present a message to culture, are absorbed by mainstream culture (as indicated by book sales) at seemingly differential paces? These questions become more perplexing if one notices how Thomas Moore freely admits that his teacher-mentor - the one he draws many ideas from - is James Hillman. But Hillman's books have never reached the level of sales that Thomas Moore's have, through he has published a series of books, and is as active as a lecturer. This is where the grid is useful: it seeks to explain how these writers may be examined as quite different, though in content area - their mythopoeticism - they are similar.

A significant difference between Thomas Moore and Robert Moore becomes apparent by observing their respective focuses as writers: Thomas Moore on the proximity of sacredness and Robert Moore on the proximity of evil. Thomas Moore locates it close by, as he talks about the closeness (or immanence) of "sacredness" or "soulfulness" in everyday life (T. Moore, 1992, 1994a, 1994b). Conversely, one of Robert Moore's main purposes is to elicit in the reader a sense of the ubiquity of the presence of evil, especially if the human "shadow" is not accounted for consciously.

Why Robert Moore spends more time and energy on explicating the dark side of the human psyche becomes understandable after hearing about the experiences he considers indelibly etched in his memory. Robert Moore specifically talked about what he called a "foundational experience" while riding in a cab

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through the streets of a city in India. As he rode along, he says he realized how real the presence of evil is as he noticed how casually his cab driver accepted the reality of young prostitutes being bought and sold. "I realized just how real the presence of evil is on earth," Moore said (Brunner, 1995).

That Thomas Moore's work focuses more on the nearby existence of sacredness, is illustrated in what he entitled his best-seller: Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life (1990). Thomas Moore's book reads like a poetic collection of meditations, as have his later books (1994a, 1994b). As a former Catholic monk, Thomas Moore uses his book as a magnifying class; in small secular things he finds profound sacredness hidden. He says, "You can see already that care of the soul is quite different in scope from most modern notions of psychology and psychotherapy. It isn't about curing, fixing, changing, adjusting, or making healthy, and it isn't about some idea of perfection or even improvement. …Rather, it remains in the present, close to life as it presents itself day by day, and yet at the same time mindful of religion and spirituality" (T. Moore, 1992, p. xv).

In contrast to tranquil pondering, Moore issues a diagnosis of what has gone wrong - a twofold idea of what needs to be fixed: (1) the disappearance of meaningful ritual processes and (2) the consequential rise of patriarchy. As he says in his introduction, "Along with the breakdown of masculine ritual process for masculine initiation, a second factor seems to be contributing to the dissolution of mature masculine identity. This factor, shown to us by one strain of feminist critique, is called patriarchy" (R. Moore & Gillette, 1990, p., xvi).

One might argue that the two Moores simply differ in how they talk about the sacred. Some truth is captured in this statement. But beyond their content, they substantially differ in terms of their tones, something not as easily seen by simply looking at content. To flesh out this subtle difference between the two Moores, it becomes essential to invoke another distinction: the priest versus the prophet.

How the priest is to be distinguished from the prophet may be a question that was addressed even before biblical times. Sociologist Robert Bellah (1980) draws this distinction when he speaks of politicians who use the presence of a "civil religion" in America to influence the masses. Bellah suggests the role of the priest is more as a communicator of the sacred, who talks with the people about the presence of the divine. This is the role Thomas Moore seems to have filled according to the reviews his readers have given him on talk shows across the country; he has served as a divine writing correspondent. In contrast, the prophet, according to Bellah, speaks more from an aloof position. The prophet does not so much talk with the people as to the people. The tone of the prophet's messages goes beyond that of the priest's claim to special knowledge;

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to the prophet their answer is the only answer, not simply a commodity in the marketplace of ideas.

Robert Moore's writings concentrate on how sacredness, if it is to be found, must involve a confrontation with the darker aspects of the male psyche. In this way, Robert Moore calls not just for a shift of focus from the material to the spiritual (as Thomas Moore does), but also for a moral accounting for the darker aspects of the male psyche. Robert Moore, as he writes about this darker aspect of the male psyche, highlights the presence of a shadow (R. Moore & Gillette, 1992). In doing so, Robert Moore writes in the spirit of Jung, who believed one becomes enlightened by making the darkness (i.e., the shadow) conscious.

As Bellah points out, both prophets and priests traditionally have claimed to have some special knowledge to pass on to audiences. Thus, prophets often assume that the fate of a people hinges on the acceptance of their ideas. That Robert Moore casts himself in the role of the prophet is illustrated in one of the closing sentences of King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: "If contemporary men take the task of their own initiation from Boyhood to Manhood as seriously as did their tribal ancestors, then we may witness the end of the beginning of our species, instead of the beginning of the end" (1990, p. 156).

Furthermore, Robert Moore in his 1995 speech to the New Warrior Network, "Masculine Initiation for the 21st Century: Facing the Challenge of a Global Brotherhood, amplifies the urgency of his message: "We are in a time that is more subtle but the forces of chaos and destruction on our planet are far greater at this moment than they were in 1942, and most people are in massive denial about it" (Brunner, 1995). Robert Moore also says this regarding the series of books (1993a, 1993b, 1994, 1995) he published, which explicate the archetypally based theory he proposed in King, Warrior, Magician, Lover (1990): "The fact that I have published these five books to a popular audience was a political act; because I see the situation as so serious, I felt that to simply continue working in a much more circumscribed scholarly debate would be really immoral - it would be my own declaration of [moral] bankruptcy: (Brunner, 1995).

The priest-prophet distinction may also extend into different ways of using symbols. The priest, such as Thomas Moore (1992), uses symbols to view life in a sacramental way - that is "with the belief that there is some sacred significance or mysterious reality allowing the observer some degree of accessibility." A quotation from Care of the Soul illustrates this: "There are two ways of thinking about church and religion. One is that we go to church to be in the presence of the holy, to learn and to have our lives influenced by that presence. The other is that church teaches us directly and symbolically to see the sacred

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dimension of everyday life" (1992, p. 214). By using poetical and mythological references, Thomas Moore's main idea seems to be that trivial events in life can be symbolically representative of more significant realities.

In contrast, prophets like Robert Moore often use symbols in a more politically edged way. The sacramental use of symbol may be nested within this approach, but ultimately the symbol is used for much more than simply seeing what is already present. The proclamational use of symbol emphasizes what is missing but yet must be present, else the world faces a dire fate. This sense of urgency is commensurate with the role the prophet places himself in, since she or he believes it is his or her symbol on which the fate of a people hinges.

Robert Moore approaches some symbols sacramentally, such as religious symbols from various historical periods, but he uses one symbol to define his stance on masculinity, the diamond body, and he uses it proclamationally (R. Moore & Gillette, 1990). This diamond body model is not just a symbol to Moore; it is a reality that must be accepted by culture. Enhancing the reader's sense of mystery is clearly not his ultimate mission, through it may be for Thomas Moore. Robert Moore's mission is to invade the center of culture with his symbol, as prophets often do. That he has approached mythopoetic branch associates such as the New warrior Network, with a message of urgency, while proposing his diamond body model of the human psyche, is an example of his wish to carry his message into organized groups.

While Thomas Moore's books may be sifted down to maxim, "The sacred is closer than you think," Robert Moore's books exhibit the central idea that "the demonic is closer than you think." In other words, as Thomas Moore addresses the question of healing by addressing how to take care of that which is immortal, the soul, Robert Moore sends out a much more mortal message: We are a species that is aggressive by nature, and society and individuals need to have these primal energies regulated through ritual (R. Moore & Gillette, 1990). In this way, the division between what may be called the "sacredmindedness" of the priest and the more "evil-focusedness" of the prophet extends to a division between the sacramental and proclamational use of symbols. A pattern develops.

What this grid also helps to point out is that sometimes "the medium becomes the message, insofar as the message may be judged based as much (or more) on the medium than the content of the message. This is to say the prophet in society may be thwarted in his purpose to invade the center of culture because of his tone, not merely (and sometimes unrelated to) the accuracy of their idea. The prophet may be received as a visionary, or merely a proselytizer, depending on how the message is connected with currently prevailing ideas the mainstream holds.

In saying this, a theoretical priest might be someone who, rather than offering a new model for the masses, might instead justify or examine a contemporary belief system by creating a descriptive model, The difference, then, between the prophetic and priestly theoretician is that the priest's model may simply be

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descriptive of something already present, while the prophet's would be descriptive of something absent yet believed to be necessary. Of course, since various sectors of society may have different belief systems, they may have different priests. But these priests do not, like the prophet, seek to invade the center of culture with a politically edged idea. This is not to say they would block efforts to disseminate their ideas, but the prophet more aggressively seeks to invade the polis with an idea.

At issue is not simply the degree of a writer's popularity in mainstream culture. The distinguishable tones and thinking styles these writers use also factor into the intellectual and social tensions present in the mythopoetic branch of contemporary men's movement.

There are two basic types of mythopoetic men's writing: theoretical (e.g., Robert Moore) and artistic (e.g., Robert Bly). These types can be in tension or in alliance. If tribalism exists, then factions within the mythopoetic branch of contemporary men's movement may believe that only one kind of thinker can be considered their leader.

Many other options exist as to how to view more artistically laden ideas versus more theoretically laden ideas. From this grid, ways to view the mythopoetic branch of the men's movements include seeing Bly and Robert Moore as different wings of the mythopoetic branch. Bly and Robert Moore may be considered similar since they could both be part of the center, but they are also different in many ways. Robert Moore is more like Freud, in that institutionalization is his ultimate goal, and he speaks from a prophetic voice based on a theory, while Bly has no one model of humans or men. In this way Bly is more like Thomas More, in that both of them are significantly less theoretical than Robert Moore. As Robert Moore says,

I am more systematic than Bly, in that I believe there is a sense of the need to confront the shadow in a much more comprehensive and in-depth manner based on the best in contemporary psychoanalytic theory. Bly does not have training to go to those levels. I am trying to work on masculine psychology at the species-specific level to understand why - particularly now - the male of our species is the most dangerous creature on Earth. So when I speak of masculine spirituality and initiation, I am not referring to any indigenous or tribal spirituality however profound - but to a human spirituality which can help contemporary men face their narcissism and relate to their archetypal grandiosity in constructive and creative ways. In this I am heir to C.G. Jung's "Answer to Job" and Edward Edinger's "Ego and Archetype," as well as to many other scientific theorists. (Brunner, 1995)

How Robert Moore can be compared with others within the mythopoetic branch of contemporary men's movement becomes clearer as he speaks of

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how people disagree with and even try to negate what he has to say. The following quotation further reveals how this grid can be said to be a place of tension: "That is why I get a lot of criticism from some of the guys like Shepard Bliss [another major figure in the mythopoetic branch of the men's movement], who really are rather antagonistic toward me because they see me as too interested in organization, too interested in institutions" (Brunner, 1995). The tensions of the two lines of this grid are felt from what Moore has to say. One way to think about the reason behind these tensions is the different goals the writers have for their ideas. The reality of differing goals is exhibited as Robert Moore speaks about a tension he perceives within the mythopoetic branch of the contemporary men's movement:

Part of the problem in building an effective men's movement which might respond adequately to the masculine crisis of our time can be traced to the early impact of founding personalities. Without Robert Bly there would be no men's movement as we know it today. We are deeply indebted to him as a founder. It is important for us to note, however, that when the founder is a poet - even a great one - the archetypal lover energy is privileged. Lover energy does not understand or value organization - in fact, it is highly distrustful of any institutional forms. Mid-life men make up the core of the men's movement - and they are ineffectual enough without having the lover energy privileged over other archetypal potentials. Even the New Warrior Network, which at least struggles with the challenges of adequate institutionalization, is hampered by an uncritical privileging of lover energy. Without more balance at the archetypal level the mythopoetic men's movement can never realize its potential or meet its critical challenges. (Brunner, 1995)

Moore fleshed out the reality of tensions within the men's movement by also voicing his perspective of Hillman's influence on the men's movement:

James Hillman, another key early figure in the men's movement is in my view a brilliant postmodern philosopher of the soul, but he does not have a serious psychological theory, of personality in general or of masculinity in particular. Many in the men's movement do not have the philosophical or psychological sophistication to understand this. There is nothing in Hillman's work on which to ground an adequate understanding of masculine maturation or initiation. In my view, in spite of the obvious luminosity of his mind, his real impact has been to lead men in the movement away form the serious engagement with the specifically masculine shadow or with the enormous task of masculine maturation in our time. (Brunner, 1995)

In terms of this grid, one might say that Thomas Moore and F. Scott Peck (1978) are on the lower left corner. Robert Moore, James Hillman, and others are more on the upper right-hand corner. One might also say they are intellectual compensations for the others, as Bly is for Robert Moore and Thomas Moore is for James Hillman.

The usefulness of this grid in understanding the disparity between the popularity levels of Thomas Moore and James Hillman is suggested by Emily Yoffe

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author of the New York Times Magazine (1995) who asks how Thomas Moore becomes a best-selling author overnight, and James Hillman remains considerably less popular and yet is similar in terms of the content of the ideas. Yoffe explains that it is a matter of packaging, of how the ideas are presented. Hillman's writing is denser, harder to follow, and less accessible to everyday readers. Thomas Moore writes in a gentle, flowing manner and is more accessible.

Historically, movements that have splintered into tribalistic sectors (Hilgard, 1987), each adhering to one sole method of examining a phenomenon, often die more quickly than if an attitude of critical multiplism pervades. Critical multiplism is a research strategy whereby heterogeneous methods are used to examine a phenomenon. The mythopoetic branch of the men's movement, as this grid shows, is at a point where several intellectual methods are differentiating themselves from neighboring methods. The grid offers a visual image of how any of these four intellectual styles complements the weaknesses of the others. This realization may transform any attitudes of tribalism into attitudes of inclusiveness in the name of strengthening the mythopoetic branch, as well as the whole men's movement. This evolutionary transformation seems necessary for the men's movement to be optimally influential in the twenty-first century.

To be sure, other models delineating different systematic dynamics among mythopoetic writers are necessary. Assuredly, this grid will fall short of "cutting Nature at her joints," the goal of any empirical theory worth its salt. This assumption has been integrated into the grid; the dotted lines denote how these rough boundaries are able to be traversed. However, insofar as authors exhibit some consistency in their intellectual style, the lines signify that they are distinguishable. Flexibility also enters the picture as there is room for degrees of allegiance; the further along a writer is from the center, the more allegiance they may have toward the emphasis at the end of that line. This grid, as a kind of template, may become not simply a lens to contextualize the various mythopoetic methods of analysis, but also those intellectual styles of the profeminist and men's rights thinkers.

How these quadrated intellectual styles may be differentially affected by the needs of mainstream society may have been partially answered by cultural historian Philip Rieff (1966), who suggested that the seller of products is parodied by the preacher of psychology since both may have something to sell. What Rieff fell short of realizing, but writers like Robert Moore cannot, is that the buyers - whose shopping for an alleviation of their suffering - may prefer, with their purchase, to be located closer to the sacred than to evil. This may translate into the desire for a gentle sermon given by a priest. And what is unmistakably true is that the failures of a prophet may be more precisely understood in the context of a successful priest.

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One purpose of this model is to offer a holistic vision of how various intellectual styles that mythopoetic writers use may be seen as complementary and yet distinguishable. Nested within this first purpose is a derivative purpose: to encourage communication among the various quadrants. A key issue for those trying to meld this movement into an integrative force will be how to engender interanimation between its more scientific or theoretical types and its more artistic types. The goal is more than trying to get the rival camps to shake hands. A more future-orientated question asked on a global level is, Can the mythopoetic branch seek to create a third culture - one further evolved than the traditionally opposed cultures (or communities) of the scientist and the artists, who often draw mainly from the humanities? Addressing this divisiveness, C. P. Snow noted in his classic book, Two Cultures (1959), how serious the nonrelationship seemed to be: "I believe the intellectual life of the whole of Western Society is increasingly being split into [these] two polar groups." And, he lamented, "There seems to be no place where the cultures meet" (pp. 11, 21).

In this way, the tensions in the mythopoetic movement may be seen as tensions echoed across a significant span of human history. This sort of polarization is a sheer loss to us all. This is one reason that the number two is a dangerous number; it may create unnecessary tribalism. In this way, any attempts to divide anything into two ought to be regarded with suspicion, as Snow pointed out.

Fifty years ago, Snow intimated the coming of a third culture: "When [the third culture] comes, some of the difficulties of communication will at last be softened; for such a [common] culture has, just to do its job, to be on speaking terms with the scientific one" (p. 67). Snow prophesized the coming of what Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson (1998) argues has arrived: a spirit of united efforts at knowledge he calls "consilience." Wilson speaks to those dissatisfied with the current fragmentation of knowledge by saying, "The ongoing fragmentation of knowledge and resulting chaos in philosophy are not reflections of the real world but artifacts of scholarship" (p. 8). To Wilson, the key to a unification of knowledge is consilience, literally a jumping together of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation. Optimistically, Wilson sees our time as more opportune than any other in terms of possibilities for collaboration between kinds and thinkers, where they meet in the borderlands of biology, the social sciences, and humanities. In some ways, Robert Moore serves as an exemplar of how one might account for data from biology and the social sciences because he also integrates in accounts of the human garnered from the humanities. In looking at his work, data from all three of these areas are utilized. But Robert Moore and others could go much further toward integrating their perspectives.

Anyone viewing the proposed four-celled model must be aware of certain

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caveats. One is the danger of the dialectic presented from the bipolar lines. Yet to account for the necessity of bipolarity to map the current mythopoetic branch, all those enlisting themselves in the collective effort to envision the future of the mythopoetic branch might ask themselves the following question: What is the relation between science and the humanities, and how is it important for advances in our understanding of what it means to be a man?

Like all other profound questions, this query may be broken up into smaller questions. One more specific question is this: How may the various strains of the mythopoetic branch be integrated so as to account for what is best about both the artistic endeavor (the expression of the human condition by mood and feeling) and the scientific tradition (the explication of logic and order)? Clearly, there is a need not simply for loose integration, but rather, systematic synthesis.

Will the mythopoetic branch take advantage of the collaborative opportunities the sprouting third culture affords? Will various strains of the contemporary men's movement join and even synthesize into multidisciplinary examinations of masculinity? On which side the majority falls may prove to be one of the most decisive events for the history of the men's movement. The contemporary men's movement may be enhanced through a collective strength or weakened by divisiveness, as has already happened in the profeminist and men's rights/father's rights branches.

Regardless, no doubt may be cast on the fact that as our culture evolves, social movements that integra