The Men’s Wilderness Quest
Purpose, passion, courage, strength, heart…these are a few words that describe the experience of men who choose to undergo the classic initiation ritual of the Wilderness Quest. There are three constrictions* that are in place during the solo time: no food, no people, and no four-walled shelter.
(*note: The solo can be modified to meet individual needs, especially where there are medical concerns).
The Rites of Passage Wilderness Quest can work very well for men who are in an ongoing men’s group or team. We do feel it provides an experience that cannot be achieved in a weekend intensive or large group, and it differs from many such programs in these ways:
- This program is nature-based, and relies on nature to be the ultimate teacher
- This is a 9-day intensive, with a full 3 days of solo fasting in a wild place.
- We provide a rich spiritual framework, based on sacred traditions and on over 30 years of offering this work, that will help you to go to your depths.
- We limit the program to 10 men.
- This is not a group initiation, but a personal journey of confirmation that will differ for each man. But we use practices such as Council to create a safe and powerful container for the work
This work follows the ancient pattern of the hero’s journey, where the hero goes to a wild place and faces the many challenges that await him there, with the support of the spirits that know his true purpose. The journey can be looked at in three stages:
The Severance stage begins as soon as you register and continues through the first three days of the program. During this time, we’ll work with each man to clarify intent: what are you questing for, what changes are you marking, what do you hope to receive, what challenges do you expect to face, what needs to die, and what is waiting to be born? We’ll introduce Council with its five intentions, so that we can sit together and share deeply; and other important tools: the Medicine Wheel, the Purpose Circle, the Death Lodge. We’ll suggest ways you can create your own ritual, enact the truth of your own story.
Crossing the Threshold on the 4th morning of the program, you begin three full days of solitude at a wild place of your own choosing. This experience is beyond description, but could be seen as living with your deepest self, dying to your old life, and being born to the new. During this time, you will have as potential allies all the powers and spirits of nature, your own spiritual guides, ancestors, and your own soul’s voice.
The Return stage begins when you return to base camp on the 7th morning of the program. Here you begin the process of returning to the world you left behind. This can be the most challenging part of the program, this preparing for “the Wilderness Quest of your life.” We engage in a series of processes, from Story Mirroring to the Return Council, that serve to illuminate and support your re-entry into the life that is awaiting your return.
The Men’s Wilderness Quest
By Munro Sickafoose
I fasted ceremonially for the first time at the age of 40. Although far past physical adolescence, there was a part of me that felt like I had not really grown up yet. I was scared to spend those days and night alone on the mountain, and even more scared that I would not be able to do it, that I would somehow fail.
The first evening I was greeted by a violent desert thunderstorm, and the rain and lightning kept me awake much of the night. I finally slept from exhaustion, and woke to deep silence under a brilliant moon and a black sky laced with fat white clouds on a stately wind-swept journey to the south. The four days passed faster than I could have imagined. In the end, I left the mountain like one of those clouds – light and airy, suspended between heaven and earth – and feeling very, very alive.
That was nearly 15 years ago, and I have fasted many times since. I now know I can meet the physical challenges, and I have a more positive relationship with failure – but there are always new and different tests, and new challenges to fulfill. Sometimes I fast as an offering: “So that the people may live.”. Other times I fast to reconnect with Spirit. And sometimes I fast for no other reason than my almost visceral need for powerful ceremony in my life.
In the years that followed, I began to guide a few young men on their fasts of initiation and to become more involved with the needs of men in our society. Men have needs that are hard to fill in a deep, soulful way in our culture. This is getting better, thanks to the work of many men for many years, but we still have a long way to go.
Men have a deep need to be challenged and tested. When we are young men, these challenges allow us to find the limits of what are capable of, and to explore the possibilities of who we can be. As we get older, the challenges deepen who we are, make us richer in our souls and wiser in our hearts.
Men have a deep need for initiation. On many deep levels: psychologically, socially, spiritually, mythically – it takes a purely masculine circle of power to initiate men into the brotherhood of men. While not all vision questers seek initiation, if becoming an initiated man is part of your intention, then you should consider a men’s vision quest.
Men have a deep need to love and be loved. As adults, we are tested by the demands of love and friendship, work and family, and we forget that we can care for and nurture not just ourselves, but other men. Nurturing is not just the province of women – ask any father. The hardest part of nurturing ourselves is to finding the time and the right nourishment for our souls, to make them rich and full.
Men have a deep need to be part of something larger than ourselves. We feel pride in being there for our children and our families. We feel real satisfaction in providing, protecting, and serving. These things give us meaning. When we reach the age of becoming elders, we want to be able to look back and not only know that we lead good lives, but that we still have something to give: our love and wisdom.
Not surprisingly, it is only with other men that we can speak of these things in a way that makes us feel truly understood. For we also have the need for brotherhood, to be in the company of other men, without the distractions of responsibility, of work and family, if only for a short time.
And as much as we need brotherhood, we also need solitude. Our culture gives us little time alone to listen to our inner voices. You might say it actively tries to prevent us from doing so. Except when we sleep, and sometimes even then, we are constantly exposed to a stream of other voices – from tv, radio and other people. I know from experience that for most of us it takes a day or so alone for those other voices to fade… and for our own unique voice to rise up. If for no other reason, this should be the one reason that calls you to the mountain. Not to seek a vision, but the opportunity to hear your own inner voice! The inner voice that can only be heard in the stillness of the stars and sun and wind.
When men go out together on Quest, we can meet these needs together, no matter what stage of life we are at. Our time alone fasting meets our need for glorious solitude and soulful reflection. As brothers, we can honor the young men among us, and help to challenge and test them in a good way as they enter into adulthood. As brothers, we can become initiated. As brothers, we can honor the rich deepening of the mature men, and hear their sorrows and joys without judgement. As brothers, we can honor the elder voices, and learn from their experience and share their wisdom. As brothers, we can.
It’s one of those things you have to experience to fully understand.
Some Thoughts on Men’s Initiation
By Mike Bodkin
When I was in South Africa a few years ago, I had the opportunity to ask a Khosa man about his culture’s initiation ceremonies into manhood. Mark about 30 years old, had been through the ritual at puberty and was concerned about the lack of qualified elders to continue the tradition. He explained that the ceremony served to lay up the young men for about a month, so they would be open to receiving important instructions from the elders–how to be a man, how to treat women, how to contribute to the community, how to carry oneself humbly. Later, after looking into the initiation practices of different cultures, I realized that this sort of initiation into manhood could be called a “social initiation”, reflecting the need to join with the men’s culture and its traditions and expectations.
There is another sort of men’s initiation I have been studying over many years. I’ll call this “soul initiation”, reflecting the need of men to listen to, and be guided by, their soul truths on the journey through life. This kind of journey opens up the unique and individual gifts of each man, brought back to the community for the sake of the people. It’s not about how you “should” act, it’s about your calling, the dream of your wild soul. It’s about recognizing why you were placed on this Earth, and finding the courage to follow that understanding. For this initiation, the elders do not instruct in how to behave; instead, they hold space for the sacred vision to manifest, for the signs that the Mystery has given as to your nature. I believe that the Rites of Passage Vision Quest is a vehicle for soul initiation, and I invite men who are hearing that inner calling to join us on the Men’s Vision Quest.
Feedback from the Men’s Wilderness Quest:
The Quest experience has allowed me to access a deeper understanding of myself and how I am able to contribute to my own growth as a person and to the growth of those close to me. The time spent in the bush allowed me to connect with the earth and through that connection take me to a higher level of consciousness. The experience will have a lasting imprint on my being. Thank you to Mike and Rob [co-leaders] for their insight and wisdom.
-Michael Griffiths, LEAP Management Consultants
I was feeling a bit lost in my life. Even with all the activity such as work, family, friends and community interests. Something just wasn’t quite right. After the quest, I feel settled within myself, my self-confidence has been restored and my love of life has been reaffirmed in a way that really means something to me. I highly recommend the experience to anyone who feels the call.
This program was a wonderful hugely transformative journey that I enjoyed very much. I thoroughly recommend it for those seeking self-knowledge, acceptance and clarifying the way ahead.