Monday, December 09, 2013

Edward Sellner on the Archetype of the Double and Male Eros, Friendships and Mentoring


According to Lisa Wade in a recent article, American men are facing a "hidden crisis" in that they are failing to make the same kinds of intimate friendships many women have – even though they want to.

Writes Wade:

When asked about what they desire from their friendships, men are just as likely as women to say that they want intimacy. And, just like women, their satisfaction with their friendships is strongly correlated with the level of self-disclosure. Moreover, when asked to describe what they mean by intimacy, men say the same thing as women: emotional support, disclosure and having someone to take care of them. Men desire the same level and type of intimacy in their friendships as women, but they aren’t getting it.

This lack of deep, intimate friendships has consequences, says Wade, as having a friend to whom you can disclose your feelings is a "major determinant of well-being."

I mention this article as earlier this year I had the honor of being invited to write an endorsement for a book all male bonding and intimate friendships. The book, entitled The Double: Male Eros, Friendships, and Mentoring – From Gilgamesh to Kerouac, is written by my friend and former college professor Edward Sellner.

Following is what I wrote about Ed's latest book . . .

The Double is a remarkable accomplishment as, with insight and verve, Ed Sellner illuminates the archetype of male bonding and relationships in contexts both ancient and contemporary. Weaving scholarship, informed analysis, storytelling, and personal sharing, Sellner takes his readers on a compelling exploration of a long-ignored archetype. It's a journey that affirms the energy that inspires and sustains a range of male-to-male relationships, including those of fathers, sons, brothers, friends, comrades, and lovers. In a world that routinely views the expressing of emotion between men as suspect, Sellner's The Double is a much need and healing balm.

The double is, without doubt, an intriguing archetype. Early in his book Ed (pictured at right) reminds us that archetypes are "psychic patterns . . . constellations of energies, blueprints of basic human drives and qualities that we all share." Like all archetypes, the double has both a positive and negative side. As examples of the latter, Ed identifies a number of behaviors that are both self-destructive and harmful to others. These include sexual compulsiveness (including pornography), sexual abuse and lack of respect for other males' integrity and vulnerability, and the acting out of various narcissistic tendencies. In terms of the positive side of the double, Ed suggests that perhaps the most powerful symbol of male friendship and mentoring offered by the Christian tradition is that of Jesus and the "beloved disciple," a relationship that he devotes a chapter to in his book.

Throughout The Double Ed defines and celebrates eros as a transforming spiritual power of love and connection. In the excerpt I share below from The Double, this understanding of eros is explored within the context of "the ancients" – the Celts, in particular. I hope this excerpt provides a sense of the importance of Ed's book for our world today, a world in which, as Lisa Wade notes in her article, so many men, especially in the industrialized west, are in crisis around their lack of guidance and support in developing intimate friendships with other men.

Ancient peoples, including the Greeks and Celts, were convinced that eros is a unifying power, a source of creativity and meaning, an opportunity for spiritual growth. It is definitely associated with attractions and needs, both physical and spiritual, which often overlap, especially when people are intimately involved or living in close proximity with each other. For warriors [such as] in the stories of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Achilles and Patroclus, and Cú Chulainn and Fer Diad, the battles and wars in their lives brought them closer together than probably any other situation might, and because of their deep friendship as well as their crucial dependence on each other for survival itself ,any of them responded both emotionally and physically.

The ancients, especially the Celts, thus knew of the power of eros, acknowledging the inherent mystery of attraction and celebrating it in stories, rituals, and dance. They knew that attraction contains all sorts of elements – from childhood experiences, dream figures, fantasies, to the basic human need to touch and be touched. They knew too that. among both women and men, some might be more strongly pulled to the opposite or to the same gender as themselves, while some might be drawn to both. This, the ancients thought, was a matter of personality and taste, like the preference for red wine rather than white. They didn't divide people nor themselves as we do today into strict categories labelled "heterosexual" or "homosexual." They simply acknowledged erotic feelings in relationships when they became aware of them, and were often grateful for them as a sign of genuine love. They recognized that although eros can be expressed genitally, and at times self-indulgently, its presence is also a manifestation of the deeper levels of the soul, and the soul's needs for wholeness and meaning, friendship and community. They did not seek to demonize eros or erotic attraction as the later Christians did by turning the god Cernunnos into Satan himself, replacing the stag horns of the Celtic god of fertility in art, icons, and spiritual literature with demon's horns, tail, and cloven feet.

. . . The ancient Celts did not limit the erotic to the human body alone. Their eros included the beautiful landscape in which they lived which caused them to be filled with wonder and awe at its mysterious beauty and power. They believed that the rivers and trees had a melodious voice and that one could hear music in the moving waters and rustling leaves. The positive side of their erotic traditions included a profound appreciation of physicality, of natural beauty – whether in nature or in the feminine and masculine expression of beautiful bodies. Above all, their sexuality was perceived as a sacred phenomenon, including even when Celtic men expressed themselves with one another as bed-partners or simply as friends.

We today can learn from them, or we can try to contain our eros, as St. Kevin and later Celtic saints did, with cold baths, sparse diets, sleepless nights, and immersion in our work. For many of us, however, our struggle is not to suppress our passions, but to somehow find ways of channeling them into creative expressions of our love and spirituality, of our soul.

Related Off-site Links:
American Men's Hidden Crisis: They Need More Friends – Lisa Wade (Salon, December 7, 2013).
The Double Archetype: Men Loving Men – Edward C. Sellner (Aisling Magazine, 1998).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Manly Love
A Fresh Take on Masculinity
Rockin' with Maxwell
Learning from the East
The Trouble with the Male Dancer

For more on eros at The Wild Reed, see:
"More Lovely Than the Dawn": God as Divine Lover
In the Garden of Spirituality – Diarmuid Ó Murchú
In the Garden of Spirituality – James B. Nelson
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 1)
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 2)
The Dancer and the Dance

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