Why Men Need Psychedelics: Masculine Initiation

Psychedelics can be a powerful tool used by therapists to help men break free of unhealthy patterns and face the Shadow. 

In this Article, Simon Yulger a specialist in psychedelic integration will be sharing his insights in using Psychedelics to heal deep masculine wounds that have fissured our society. 

Following written by Simon Yugler – a depth psychotherapist and psychedelic integration coach. 

In The Immortality Key, the author Brain Muraresku tells the story of a Roman statesman and priest named Praetextatus who pleaded with the emperor Valentinian II not to outlaw the ancient rituals practiced at the Greek temple of Eleusis. 

Trying to reason with the most powerful man in the world at the time, Praetextatus insisted that civilization would be “abiotos”–literally anti-life, or unlivable–without these powerful initiatory rites. 

The events of this past year, such as the many incidents of racially-motivated police murders, as well as the shootings that occurred this March in Colorado and Georgia, are confirming Praetextatus’ prophecy so many centuries ago. 

Yet something he failed to tell the emperor, likely due to the code of secrecy surrounding the rites themselves, was why the Elusinian mysteries were so effective in transforming the lives of those lucky enough to attend them, and why he believed them essential for a healthy society.

As a depth and psychedelic integration therapist who works mostly with men, I believe that psychedelic medicines have the potential to address this crisis of public violence, which as we will see, is actually a crisis of masculinity. 

Speaking from both personal and clinical experience, as well as academic research, there is mounting evidence showing how psychedelics might heal many of the unique wounds that are driving many men to be depressed, violent, and in pain.

I don’t believe masculinity is inherently toxic or flawed. 

My men’s group is composed of sincere, compassionate individuals who vulnerably open themselves up to each other nearly every week. 

I am grateful to be involved in insightful community conversations on masculinity, decolonization, and cultural change within venues such as the Mythic Masculine Network

On most days, I’m proud to be a man.

This isn’t about shaming, blaming, or being “woke.” This is about healing a very real and dangerous problem and exploring the role that psychedelic medicines might play in healing this critical issue which has gone unaddressed for far too long. 

The Walking Wounded

A 2018 publication titled, APA Guidance for Psychological Practice with Men and Boys, cited multiple studies showing that almost every school shooter in the past 3 decades has been an adolescent male. 

Statistics from this same report show that males commit around 90% of all violent crimes in the United States

A 2013 Australian study identified that men are four times more likely than women to die of suicide worldwide, yet are less likely to be diagnosed with depression.

Additionally, a World Health Organization report found that in high-income countries, 3.5 times as many men die from suicide than women (2014).

Lastly, a 2018 New Yorker article by journalist Jia Tolentino highlighted the recent development of the incel, or involuntary celibate, subculture—an Internet community of males who lionize school shooters and violently denigrate women.

Taken collectively, one can begin to see mass shootings, police violence, femicide, and other violent tragedies not as a problem of gun control legislation or public policy, but rather as a profound crisis within the modern masculine psyche.

Mythologist and storyteller Michael Meade, considered one of the founding fathers of what is now called the “Mythopoetic Men’s Movement,” along with the late Robert Bly and James Hillman, wrote:

 “Men are particularly dangerous when they reach maturity without initiatory experiences that crack the ego and open the heart and mind” Men and the Water of Life by Michael Meade

One can easily see this dangerousness playing out in shopping malls, religious centers, and households across the world.

Yet according to Mircea Eliade (1995), a preeminent scholar of comparative religion, modern society can be defined by the lack of these very experiences:

“It has often been said that one of the characteristics of the modern world is the disappearance of any meaningful rites of initiation. Modern man’s originality, his newness in comparison with traditional societies, lies precisely in his determination to regard himself as a purely historical being, in his wish to live in a basically desacralized cosmos” By Eliade, M. in Rites and symbols of initiation: The mysteries (p. 17).

Perhaps the many tragedies mentioned above are revealing what living in a “desacralized cosmos” actually results in. 

Liminal Rites

Eliade also addressed the unique need that men in particular have for initiation, writing:

“For boys, initiation represents an introduction to a world that is not immediate— the world of spirit and culture. For girls, on the contrary, initiation involves a series of revelations concerning the secret meaning of a phenomenon that is apparently natural—the visible sign of their sexual maturity.”  Rites and symbols of initiation by  Eliade, M.(p. 47)

While this by no means implies that women are devoid of their own mysteries—quite the contrary—it does suggest a psychosocial pattern evidenced by indigenous cultures and religious traditions across the world.

If we are to take Eliade at his word, the natural solution would be to find ways to re-sacralize the cosmos, and to explore reliable ways of introducing modern men and boys to the concept of right relationship with the earth and its inhabitants–human and otherwise. 

For a more in-depth discussion on initiation, readers can refer here

For our purposes, it is important to mention several things. European ethnologist Arnold van Gennep first wrote that rites of passage can be broken down into three different phases: separation, transition, and return. 

Anthropologist Victor Turner built upon van Gennep’s work by focusing on the central phase of initiation, which he called the liminal, stemming from the Latin word limen, or “threshold”. 

According to Turner, liminality aids in the “recognition of an essential and generic human bond, without which there could be no society” The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure by Anthropologist Victor Turner

While Turner was about 2500 years too late to join in the ecstatic rites at Eleusis, his message about the importance of liminal experiences and initiation seems strikingly similar to that of our old friend Praetextatus, and his plea to the Roman emperor.

The Best Kept Secret 

How could it be that a modern, British anthropologist and an ancient Roman aristocrat both understood the importance of collective, ritualized experiences of altered states of consciousness in maintaining a healthy, life-affirming society?

The ultimate thesis of Muraresku’s (2020) text is that psychedelic plants such as Ergot, the rye fungus from which Albert Hoffman synthesized LSD, were used by European culture for millenia in religious rituals up until the outlawing of the Eleusinian mysteries and the advent of institutionalized, and by then male-dominated Christianity (though the early roots of the religion were most likely female). 

Of additional note is the fact that the rituals at Eleusis were stewarded entirely by women, which the Christian church, over centuries of draconian suppression, firmly erased from European memory

Yet current research is beginning to help us remember the initiatory potential for psychedelic substances, despite two millennia of cultural amnesia. 

In his pivotal 2014 study, The Entropic Brain, neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris et al. demonstrated how psilocybin disrupts an area of the brain known as the default mode network (DMN), which is likely the physical residence for the psychic processes we call “the ego”. 

Experiences of initiation and liminal states of consciousness are not possible without a minimization of the ego. 

Carhart-Harris’ research findings show us that psilocybin and other psychedelics can be viewed in the context of initiation as a way of inducing a seperation, descent, or ordeal experience–essential aspects of every traditional rite of passage we know of.

There’s a certain humility required here. 

Is it any wonder that many traditional initiation rituals required immense amounts of sacrifice and suffering? 

Take the Matsés tribe of Peru and Brazil, for instance, who still employ the practice of initiating their young men by inserting their hands into woven mits filled with stinging bullet ants – one of the most painful insects known to exist. 

Psychiatrist Roland Griffiths’ et al. famous 2006 Johns Hopkins study demonstrated psilocybin’s capacity to “occasion mystical experiences” (pp. 268-69). While this study may be old news to some readers, it is worth mentioning because of what it suggests about psychedelics in the context of initiation. 

Participants reported an increase in the quality of their relationships, their creativity, and their relationship to spirituality after a self-described mystical experience produced by psilocybin. 

67% of participants rated the experience as either the most significant or one of the top five most significant experiences in their life

Looking at Griffiths’ study with an initiatory eye, it is clear that psychedelics can produce an experience with a level of psycho-spiritual significance that the psyche may interpret as archetypally initiatory in nature.

Lastly, the research being done by MAPS on MDMA and the treatment of PTSD, especially for military veterans, can be seen as one more significant body of evidence demonstrating the potential for psychedelics to treat psychological issues which modern men have historically neglected, buried, or denied. 

Perhaps psychedelic medicine as a whole might allow for the rediscovery of healing spaces suited to the particular needs of men, veterans, divorced fathers, or simply young searchers on the path. 

Men & La Madre

Ayahuasca has been one of the most profound initiatory teachers in my own life, and played a central role in guiding my decision to become a psychedelic integration therapist. In addition to the fear experienced on an almost nightly basis when faced with a cup of this enigmatic, black liquid, ayahuasca helped me clarify my life purpose, understand the notion of right relationship, and affirm how I want to be of service to others – issues that I regularly hear men grappling with.

In the words of medical doctor and ayahuasquero Dr. Joe Tafur,

“What happens in ayahuasca ceremony is that we connect to a spiritual intelligence beyond our ordinary comprehension. Most often people report contact with a form of plant consciousness. They call it the spirit of la Madre Ayahuasca. In [the Shipibo] tradition, ayahuasca is regarded as feminine, a Mother Nature spirit of the forest.” Joe Tafur, The fellowship of the river (2017, p. 8)

Notions such as “plant consciousness” are antithetical to the very foundations of modern European thought, especially the legacy of Descartes, which cleaved a distinction between living, thinking subjects and dead, unthinking objects.

 Again, we’ve found ourselves back to the “desacralized” cosmos within which modern Western culture is currently attempting to function (Eliade, 1995, p. 17). As the news continues to point out with heartbreaking detail, it’s quite clear how that appears to be going.

Lastly, the feminine aspect of the ayahuasca experience is of particular importance for the healing of men. 

For what is toxic masculinity if not a complete, pathological disconnection from the feminine itself?

Towards an Initiatory Model of Psychedelic Healing

I am not advocating for psychedelics as a magic pill to cure all men. 

In fact, I have seen up close that, in the wrong hands, psychedelics only simply amplify narcissistic or sociopathic qualities already present within certain people. 

The many incidents of abuse within the ayahuasca community have made this abundantly clear, not to mention the many instances of drug-induced sexual assault that plague certain communities, which you can be sure is perpetrated by exclusively men. 

What I am advocating for, however, is a sincere reexamination for how boys and men are socialized in our modern culture, and the role that psychedelics might play in this process. 

For as Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to raise strong children than it is to fix broken men.” And make no mistake – the men perpetrating these acts of public and private violence are profoundly broken.  

Men’s work, as well as the field of psychedelic psychotherapy, must grow to embrace an initiatory model of healing in this era such drastic change. Such a shift would position this emerging field towards prioritizing group experiences, community involvement, and reconnection to the natural world–things traditional rites of passage sought to instil in every initiate.

Like a psycho-spiritual inoculation, initiation can provide a source of life-long meaning, guidance, and community support for men who would otherwise be lost, alienated, and in pain.

“The symbols of our inherited traditions lay broken around our feet,” wrote Joseph Campbell (2004, p. 61). If current events tell us anything, it is that now more than ever, we need to pick up the shards.

References:

American Psychological Association. (2018, August). APA guidelines for psychological practice with boys and men. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/about/ policy/boys-men-practice-guidelines.pdf

Campbell, J. (2004). Pathways to bliss: Mythology and personal transformation. Novato, CA: New World Library.

Carhart-Harris, R., Leech, R., Hellyer, P. J., Shanahan, M., Feilding, A., Tagliazucchi, E., . . . Nutt, D. (2014). The entropic brain: a theory of consciousness states informed by neuroimaging research with psychedelic drugs. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8(20).

DeLeo, D., Draper, B. M., Snowdon, J., & Kolves, K. (2013). Contacts with health professionals before suicide: Missed opportunities for prevention. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 54(7), 1117-1123.

Eliade, M. (1995). Rites and symbols of initiation: The mysteries of birth and rebirth. Woodstock, CT: Spring.

Griffiths, R. R., Richards, W. A., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2006). Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology, 187, 268-283.

Meade, M. (2006). The water of life: Initiation and the tempering of the soul. Seattle, WA: Greenfire Press.

Muraresku, B. C. (2020). The immortality key: The secret history of the religion with no name. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

World Health Organization. (2014). Preventing suicide: A global imperative. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mental_health/suicide- prevention/world_report_2014/en/

Tafur, J. (2017). The fellowship of the river: A medical doctor’s exploration into traditional Amazonian plant medicine. Phoenix, AZ: Espiritu Books.

Tolentino, J. (2018, May 15). The rage of the incels. The New Yorker. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-rage-of-the-incels

Turner, V. (1995). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyere.

Simon Yugler
Simon Yugler
I'm Simon Yugler - a depth psychotherapist and psychedelic integration coach. I'm passionate about men’s work, mythology, initiation, and helping my clients explore the liminal wilds of the soul.

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