The Gift Of Maleness


After a lifetime of study, anthropologist Richard Lee concluded in Man the Hunter, “To date, the hunting way of life has been the most successful and persistent adaptation man has ever achieved.” Our hunter-gatherer heritage goes back at least 1.8 million years to our Homo Erectus ancestors. We may live in the 21st century, but our hearts and souls still roam on the savannas of Africa and all men alive today possess the warrior spirit.

This is the 6th part of a series of articles. You can read the rest here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, and Part 5.

In my book, The Warrior’s Journey Home: Healing Men, Healing the Planet, I quote marriage and family therapist Dr. Jonathan Kramer. “The first fact we need to know about men is that men have the warrior spirit,” he tells us. But what is this warrior spirit that is at the core of what it means to be a man?  Is it the spirit of the soldier, the spirit of Rambo?  Or could it be the spirit of the ancient hunters, a cooperative, reciprocal, egalitarian spirit rooted in sacred respect for all life?

Richard Strozzi Heckler possesses a fourth-degree black belt in aikido and a doctorate in psychology. I studied aikido with him. His 40 years of research about the tradition of men as warriors has taken him from the study of Australian aborigines to the training of army Green Berets.  In his book, In Search of the Warrior Spirit, he says that warriors, throughout human history, shared the following virtues:  Heroism, courage, selflessness, service to others, personal authenticity, life-long mastery and skill, and a love and reverence for the earth and all its creatures.

Heckler says that these traditional warrior virtues were first found in the behavior of men during the time before agriculture and the domestication of animals when all men were hunters. “The true heart of the warrior is developed during the hunt when men were at the center of the twin mysteries of life and death, in spiritual union with animal they pursued.”

Living within our current paradigm, what Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael, calls our Taker cultureand Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade, calls our Dominator culture, the warrior is seen as a mindless killer, a soldier of fortune, who protects the interests of the dominant culture. However, with our true roots in our hunter-gatherer history, there is a different understanding of the warrior.

Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa says that we must separate the life of the warrior from the destruction of war. “Warriorship here does not refer to making war on others,” he says. “Aggression is the source of our problems, not the solution. Here the word ‘warrior’ is taken from the Tibetan pawo which literally means ‘one who is brave.’ Warriorship in this context is the tradition of human bravery, or the tradition of fearlessness.” Trungpa concludes by saying, “Warriorship is not being afraid of who you are.”

I’ve always found this to be a wonderful and hopeful way to look at our warrior tradition. Not being afraid of who we are as males involves embracing our 2 billion year heritage as males, our reptileand dinosaur natures, our mammalian emotions, our kinship with the other chimpanzees, and our warrior nature as hunters and scavengers (yes, early man scavenged for meat long before we evolved to create cooperative hunting parties to go after larger game).

In Robert Bly’s work, we see the connection between the ancient hunters and the male archetype he calls the Wild Man. In ancient times the Wild Man was known as the Lord of the Animals and says Bly “has been associated with the initiation of young men for at least fourteen thousand years.”

In retelling the old stories, Bly says that when the boy goes off with the Wild Man he learns four things:

“That sexual energy is good;
That the hunting instinct, which mammals possess without shame, is good;
That animal heat, fierceness, and passionate spontaneity is good;
And that excess, extravagance, and going with Pan out beyond the castle boundaries is good too.”

Bly seems to be saying that this deeply embedded male spirit must be sought outside the bounds of civilization, out in the wild.  For men to reconnect with the spirit of the Wild Man is to connect with the spirit of the ancient hunters, the first warriors.

We might think of our ancestors as living in an “affluent partnership societies” since equality, cooperation, and abundant leisure are such key elements of hunter-gatherer societies. In this model–beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species, between male and female–diversity is not equated with either inferiority or superiority. For hunter-gatherers in the past, as well as those living in the present, men and women had quite different roles, yet neither dominated the other. Women generally gathered food while men hunted game animals. Basic needs were generally well met and there was ample leisure time.

In The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game, environmentalist and author, Paul Shepard describes the hunter-gatherer life this way:

“It is a life of risk gladly taken, of very few wants, leisurely and communal, intellectual in ways that are simultaneously practical and esthetic. Most pertinent to our time, it is a life founded on the integrity of solitude and human sparseness, in which men do not become a disease on their environment, but live in harmony with each other and with nature.”

Shepard recognized that our view of “man the hunter” was inaccurate. We were not big meat eaters. In fact, the gathering of fruits, nuts, berries, and other non-meat goodies by the women made up most of the hunter-gatherer diet. But hunting was important to men for another reason than for the nourishment from large quantities of animal protein.

For males, the hunt was a sacred ritual and a key to manhood. “The whole of man’s hunting endeavor must be understood as a symbolic, cultural, and social activity.” In other words, the hunt was an opportunity for men to be with each other in nature, to connect with the spirits of life and death, and to test themselves. “Though he is a highly capable social predator on large, dangerous mammals, he is singularly without the nutritional necessity of eating meat. He is a polished runner and stalker who eats meat as a sacrament.”

It’s time for men to return to warrior path, one that is in tune with our times. Sam Keen, author of Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man says:

“The radical vision of the future rests on the belief that the logic that determines either our survival or our destruction is simple:

The new human vocation is to heal the earth.

We can only heal what we love.

We can only love what we know.

We can only know what we touch.”

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It’s time for men to get back in touch with who we truly are. It’s time we woke up from the destructive disconnection we’ve been on for the last 6,000 years and return to the true path of the warrior. If these ideas resonate with you, please let me know. Drop me a note and put “warrior” in the subject line. Together we can change the world.

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.