MenWeb - Men's Voices Magazine

Men, Men's Groups, and Men's Movements

Book reviews

Copyright © 1993 by by Dr. Shepherd Bliss

 

  Kauth, Bill. A Circle of Men: The Original Manual for Men's Support Groups. St. Martin's Press, $12.95. 140 pages.

Liebrnan, Wayne. Tending the Fire: The Ritual Men's Group. Ally Press, $7.00. 60 pages.

 

Shepherd Bliss


So you want to understand men? Or the growing men's movements? Perhaps you are in a men's group? Or thinking of joining one? Why are thousands of men today drumming and going to the woods?

Such questions are addressed in two recent books by experienced activists in the men's movements: organizer Bill Kauth's A Circle of Men, a basic book, and physician Wayne Liebman's Tending the Fire, an advanced book. Though designed for men in or considering groups, each offers much to women interested in understanding men and to men outside groups. Both are practical how-to books grounded in soulful wisdom. These authors tell their personal stories of many years working with men and draw lessons from them. They are full of helpful sources and details, but it is the authors' direct experiences with men that make the books breathe.

Kauth writes about "support groups," whereas Liebman considers "ritual groups," their differences being important. Support groups tend to process feelings by talking, usually guided by a leader or leaders. Ritual groups tend to be without leaders and use tools such as mythology, poetry, and drumming. "It's a mistake," according to Liebman, to try to combine being a process group and a ritual group, though I have seen it done well in the San Francisco Bay Area by The Sons of Orpheus. Amidst theft differences, a symbolic similarity in the books is that instead of the usual Lone Ranger author's photograph, both authors appear with their men's groups -- Liebman with the Lost Dog Men's Council and Kauth with his first men's group (1972 to 1975).

Two dozen humorous cartoons are woven throughout Kauth's well-presented book. Though some may find them distracting, I found them funny. Too many men are overly serious and become workaholics, which more humor can help us overcome. The cartoon on the opening page, for example, shows a man sorting out boxes and commenting to another man, "It's a bunch of stuff my Dad gave me. I'm going to go through it and save some, throw some away, and add some of my own."

In the spirit of brotherhood, Kauth also includes short articles by other men active in men's work. Inspiring words by other men's studies writers, such as Sam Keen and Aaron Kipnis, are woven throughout A Circle of Men. Kauth has clearly done good work with men -- in the field and now in this helpful book. This jewel of a book provides readers with the benefit of years of hard work and the sweat of hundreds of men who went into it. Kauth and A Circle of Men are trustworthy.

However, I must voice a reservation -- Kauth's overuse of the term "New Warrior." Though I like the work Kauth describes, I do not appreciate the men's movements' attempts to reclaim the word "warrior." Though I affirm values such as courage, bravery, loyalty and fighting for what one believes, the term "warrior" is forever associated with its root war, and has been sullied beyond redemption by modern technological warfare. So I call men to get BEYOND THE WARRIOR! I prefer terms such as Guardian and Husbandman to describe the positive qualities born before the warrior in the hunter. Fortunately, the use and misuse of words such as "warrior," "king," and "wildman," particularly in the problematic writings of Robert Moore, are being challenged from within men's movements by various participants. These words are easily misunderstood and distorted by the media.

Tending the Fire begins with a quotation from women's ritualistZ. Budapest. "The purpose of ritual is to wake up the old mind ... the old ones inside us ... those parts do not speak English. They do not care about television." Liebman draws on his ample work with poet Robert Bly, who recommends this book for its "cunning and generosity."

The chapter "Inviting the Mythological" begins with a quotation from the Jewish Baal Shem Tov: "When the bond between/heaven and earth is broken/even prayer is not enough;/ only a story can mend it." The book's final chapter, "Building a Container," is initiated by lines from the thirteenth century Sufi poet Rumi, "Start a huge, foolish project, like Noah./It makes absolutely no difference/what people think of you."

Among some of the stimulating affirmations in Tending the Fire are the following: Speak from the heart. "Fear is the guide to be completely trusted." Being lost can be important. Ritual is a vessel, a protected space where imagination can awaken. Men often have "ambivalence about their feelings," which Liebman encourages us to accept. A substantial resources section concludes the book, with recommendations of "Freud and Jung," "Myths and Fairy Tales," "Inner Work," "Poetry and Essays," "Literature, Movies and Music," and "Catalogues, Presses, Periodicals, Men's Studies and Conferences."

Storytelling drummer Michael Meade praises the book in the introduction because it "challenges men to create their own forms, to ask themselves the hardest questions, and invites them to reach into art, their own memories, imagination and skills to enlarge their sense of their own souls as individuals and as men ."

Shepherd Bliss directs the Kokopelli Traveling Lodge and farms a few acres in northern California. A sample of his Men's Gender and Soul Newsletter is available: P.O. Box 1040, Sebastopol, CA 95473.


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