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Under Saturnís Shadow

The Wounding and Healing of Men

Review copyright © 1998 by Bert H. Hoff


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James Hollis, Under Saturnís Shadow: The Wounding and Healing of Men (Toronto ON: Inner City Books, 1994). Order on-line


Book cover
Under Saturnís Shadow: The Wounding and Healing of Men
by James Hollis
Order on-line

Saturn is the Roman equivalent of the Greek God Cronus, the son-eating father. The one who tells his son, as Robert Bly so delicately puts it, "You have shit for brains." We all have those wounds, and all have that healing to do. Hollis offers us a highly-readable exposition of this from a Jungian perspective. His writing is insightful and, at times, poetic.

He opens with a new perspective on ritual. Rites are not invented, they are found, discovered, experienced, and they rise out of some archetypal encounter with depth. He expands on the Joseph Campbell trilogy of "separation, initiation and return." to describe six stages: separation, death, rebirth, teachings, ordeal and return.

He then uses an artful blend of his own experiences, the experiences and dreams of analysands and poetry to reveal the eight secrets men carry within. Menís lives are governed by restrictive role expectations as are womenís lives. Menís lives are essentially governed by fear. The power of the feminine is immense in the psychic economy of men. Men collude in a conspiracy of silence whose aim is to suppress their emotional truth. Wounding is necessary, to leave Mother and transcend the mother complex. What modern man most suffers from is wounding without transformation. Menís lives are violent because their souls have been violated. Every man carries a deep longing for his father and his tribal Fathers. If men are to heal, they must activate within what they did not receive from without.

He concludes with seven steps to healing. Re-member the losses of the fathers. Not your loss of father, but what your father lost. Tell the secrets. Seek mentors and mentor others. Risk loving men. Heal thyself. Recover the soulís journey. Join the revolution.

Hollis is not optimistic about the menís movement. One reason might be an experience when he visited his son in Santa Fe. Immediately the man grilled him about who he knew, what he new, and if he drummed. He then said, "Iíll throw you a fast one now. Why do you spend so little time with your son?" In a short time, he had raised competitiveness and shaming in the author. All the old male issues. And the relishing of position and power. When meet and size each other up, the shadow of the power complex emerges. He then points out that the average man will never join a group, would feel ridiculous meeting out in the forest to beat a drum, and will seldom risk being vulnerable with other men. This has not been my experience. When I show my vulnerability, a surprising number of men will begin to open up to their feelings and their pain.

Hollis says that while he respects the men in the men's movement, he does not expect their efforts will result in much. Already, aspects seem faddish and passť. Collective change will occur only when enough individuals change. There, I believe, lies my own optimism about Menís Work. As long as all we do is beat drums and listen to tales in Wisdom Council, not much will happen. But when we meet in small groups, do our individual work, stop hiding our vulnerability and pain from other men - when we do our soul work - a shift begins to occur.

Men are reading poems of the soul to each other. How likely was that, ten years ago? In this magazineís interview with Robert Bly last summer, he told of giving Swedish poet Tomas TranstŲmer a discouraging report on efforts to end the Vietnam War. TranstŲmer said, "Those ups and downs donít mean a thing! Actually the middle class has been moved this much, and thatís what has really happened." As more and more men are exposed to Menís Work, more and more begin to do their soul work. They do the individual work that Hollis calls for, and begin building a critical mass for social change.

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