The Woods

crepuscular_rays_in_the_woods_of_kasterlee_belgiumI’m not an outdoors person. That’s not to say that I enjoy the urban environment either. For me, both represent a kind of wilderness that undulates with the barely contained overgrowth of natural urges. Perhaps it’s probably why I retreat to the wilderness of interpersonal pseudo-isolation since the desert seems, at the very least, slightly more peaceful than city or woodlands. Nonetheless, I find that I ache for brotherhood and connection which is interesting to meditate upon through choosing to mortify myself to abstain from it. After all, I find that most modes of “connection” in the modern world are terribly mundane and promiscuous. There is rarely a sacred space for young men to experience brotherhood. There are no more hunting parties that ritualize a shared danger. Nowadays, initiation is no longer done communally in most modern locales, but individually. Initiation no longer marks the passage of a spiritual ascension, but a strictly material one. Age, rather than character, has become the criteria for “adulthood” and individualistic parties, rather than communal hunting parties, or ritualistic dances wrapped in symbol and pain, mark such a celebration.

Despite these difficulties, I have endeavored, in my own personal way, to achieve a level of connection with the men around me. Quite often—almost every other year or so—I’ve taken men with me on retreats into the woods. I don’t lead these myself. Rather, they’re offered by a Catholic group who wish to foster fellowship and masculinity between Catholic men.

People who know of my present preferences in spirituality would probably be surprised that I would subscribe to a quasi-protestant “camp” setting. Most would be surprised that I would seek out such exoteric and dogmatic means of expressing religiosity. But that’s taking things too superficially. Yes, there are those external elements, but, in a sense, they are merely the “historical” or “literal” expressions of the events. What I endeavor to do on these weekends is to establish a “metahistorical” or “allegorical” experience with my brothers.

One such example is when we are asked to construct a chapel in the woods by clearing out a section of trees and creating pews out of logs and an altar out of rock and wood. While most of the men on the retreat take it upon themselves to engage in “mentoring” other men in the masculine art of craft, I try to induce an understanding in the men I bring that this is the microcosm of our Edenic responsibility. That we are meant to be imperators of the Earth—to exemplify the ideal of paternal authority over the undergrowth. I try not to be so explicit with my theories with them—after all I am just a novice like anyone else and to claim that I hold some special ability to create a curriculum for other men in this regard would be bordering on charlantry.

Nonetheless, in the absence of a society that offers paternal guidance to men and offers them circles of cooperation between peers—in a world that destroys peerage—I find it beneficial to make circles of my own by covertly sanctifying the “mundane” enthusiasm of bourgeois religion. I try to exercise that internal priesthood that transubstantiates “inert” matter into spiritual sacrament. For us, the church building exercise is a cooperation in the Cosmogeny as Mircea Eliade might put it. We “conquer” the earth by following the steps God, our Father and Teacher, has done by instilling Order upon Chaos. Thus we, as a circle, while working on the material clearing and meditating on the eternal Order, apply it to the garden of our lives and our souls like three points on a vertical line. This supernatural eye by which the lot of us look upon our actions helps to create a lasting friendship. Although none of us can claim to be masters or have been graduated by masters in this world that has now killed our forefathers, we nonetheless strive with groping earnestness towards creating a round table for ourselves. That, in the very least, gives us comfort that we are not alone.