Initiation Increases Human Potential
Cultural anthropologist Robert Bly stated in his book Iron John, that people (and men in particular) have an inherent need for initiation. As Robert Bly also remarked in Iron John, this need was traditionally filled by men's clubs and societies, which, lamentably have declined since the 1960's.
There has been an increasing sense of social alienation and individual isolation in American society during the last forty some odd years, reflected in the corresponding demand to create men's and women's self help and/or self initiation groups - drumming circles, Promise Keepers, shamanism, Goddess groups, and popular fiction such as Don Juan (Carlos Castanada), The Pilgrimage: A Contemporary Quest for Ancient Wisdom (Paulo Coelho), and The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield), etc. - to compensate for that lost sense of community and to create much needed transitional experiences in life which are being lost.
Bly asserts in Iron John, that as evidenced by the proliferation of such groups, the social need for initiation to demarcate the transition into adult hood has not declined, and that the solution still lies in ritual. In fact, Bly asserts that, the American psychological salvation is via ritual. According to Bly, "The ancient practice of initiation then -- is still very much alive in our genetic structure -- offers a third way through, between the two 'natural' roads of manic excitement and victim excitement. A mentor or 'male mother' enters the landscape. Behind him, a being of impersonal intensity stands, which in our story is the Wild Man, or Iron John."
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows is the type of initiatory society described by Bly that can still fulfill people's need for initiation to mark important life stage transitions. As Columbia University Professor Mark C. Carnes noted in Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America, pp. 121-123 (Yale University Press; New Haven, CT, 1989), the degree structure of the Odd Fellows is at its heart a means for the older members of the Lodge to impart its wisdom to the young initiate, and for that initiate in the process grow to gain the acceptance of his elders and become part of their community. In light of these studies, it is hardly coincidental that we recall the late 20th century witnessed the new phenomena of extended adolescence, during the same time that fewer young adults took advantage of the initiations offered by societies like the IOOF.
Yet, for those seeking growth in their lives through initiation, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows remains a tried and true vehicle. Simply knock at the door of your local Odd Fellows Temple ...