The Initiation of the Eagle

“The nearer we approach to the middle of life, and the better we have succeeded in entrenching ourselves in our personal attitudes and social positions, the more it appears as if we had discovered the right course and the right ideals and principles of behavior. For this reason we suppose them to be eternally valid, and make a virtue of unchangeably clinging to them. Many – far too many – aspects of life which should also have been experienced lie in the lumber room among dusty memories; but sometimes, too, they are glowing coals under grey ashes.”

 – Carl Jung, The Stages of Life

Changes are part and parcel of life, a demonstration present everywhere in the cycles of nature. Trees flaunt their green foliage in summer, lose their leaves in autumn, bear through winter and then regenerate new growth in the spring. As the Sun goes through seasonal changes, so do we as Men experience various seasons of life. Our bodies, our minds, and even our characters naturally tend to develop and change with time and experience. Sometimes this change feels desirable, sometimes it seems undesirable, but nevertheless it’s inevitable. 

As Solar Men we follow the path of the Sun, which is also a path of seasonal change.

Even illustrious apex predators such as the Eagle, king of birds, go through life changes. The Eagle must, as we all must, go through periods of molting, of shedding the old for the sake of regenerating new growth.

There’s a story that circulates concerning the peculiar life process of Eagles who generally live somewhere between 30-40 years. It’s sometime between these years that the Eagle begins to lose its feathers, and a molting process begins. The ordeals of this period, if regeneration is not successful, often lead to the end of the Eagle’s life. 

Yes, even the Eagle, the indomitable “Lord of the Sky” feels the burden of accumulated age.  

During this time the Eagle molts, losing its worn out feathers. Without its feathers it cannot fly. At about this same time the Eagle experiences a phase of decline in its powers. Its beak is no longer able to catch prey, having become calcified over the years. Its talons become dull from years of hunting. During this phase the Eagle begins to lose both its appetite (symbolically its drive and lust for life) and its strength (vitality). During this molting period its vision (for which the eagle is known) is also weakened. It’s in this humiliated state that aging Eagles have been seen walking around “like turkeys,” no longer proudly dominating the sky. This is a depressing period for the Eagle.

During this time the Eagle retreats to some isolated mountain range to either die or go through a regenerative process which, if completed, can almost double the Eagle’s life span. We will refer to this event as “The Initiation of the Eagle.” 

This event represents either the end of the Eagle’s life or the beginning of a new life cycle. During this period the Eagle seeks a place where “the Sun can shine directly on them.” The Eagle retreats to an isolated mountain, somehow instinctively realizing it must either face death, or experience a symbolic death via a painful regenerative initiation, using rocks to break off its calcified beak and tearing out its old talons so that they can grow back renewed. 

Renewal is a central solar theme.

I stumbled upon this story a little while ago and was impressed by how closely this resembles the initiatory process itself, especially as it deals with Men at midlife.

While researching this idea I found numerous references to this event in the life process of the Eagle. I did notice there is some debate about whether or not this occurrence is actually true. Some people have suggested that the Eagle could never survive the approximate 150 days it takes for its feathers, beak and talons to grow back. It was suggested that without the ability to hunt the Eagle would die of hunger. This seemed like a good point. 

However, I eventually came across an interesting reference. During this molting process Eagles will assemble in small groups, all at the same stage of life, and will go through this molting process together as a sort of group initiation.

With the Eagle’s reputation for being one of the most enduring symbols of sovereignty, amongst many nations, as well as the familiar animal of sky Gods such as Odin and the immortal Zeus, it is almost difficult to imagine the most majestic of birds in this pathetic, vulnerable state — dethroned from the sky, weakened, unarmed and without vision.

It’s in this apex predator, suffering the ordeal of its mid-life crisis, that our own story finds its metaphor. 

It’s during this initiation into a (possible) second half of life that the Eagle seeks out two things: a remote refuge and the light of the sun. It’s while bathing in the glow of solar rays that it performs the painful extraction of the old, dulled, calcified parts of itself. Those sharp talons, that precise predatory beak, those noble feathers were once the very things that defined its glory. From its earliest days they were the very means through which the Eagle secured its livelihood. Now, during the molting phase, they become the very things it’s forced to shed.  Knowing this, the Eagle gives itself over to the solar light and prepares the way for its own resurrection.

In this story it’s the following event that struck my imagination the hardest:

The molting Eagle, with life seeming to have waned toward an inevitable death, without beak, without talons, and weakened by hunger, without feathers even to fly – suddenly hears a loud, rousing screed from above. For the Eagle going through this ordeal it must be a miraculous, redemptive moment (as witnesses to this event have reported) when other fellow Eagles, screeching in support from the sky above, begin dropping food to those Eagles, who without the means to fly or hunt, would otherwise perish. 

These soaring providers of nourishment from up above are, allegedly, not the young but rather the older Eagles, the ones who themselves have already gone through this painful initiation. It’s these initiated elders, already familiar with the ordeal and wiser from the experience, who offer their willing assistance to those below. It’s as if these Initiated Eagles had become initiators themselves, screeching in encouragement from up above and sustaining them through the ordeal with nourishing mana dropped from heaven. It’s as if, in their own way, they are offering their support and affirming that yes, there is a life on the other side of this drama. 

Renewed by this ordeal, the Eagle’s beak and talons grow back afresh, its noble feathers return with a shine, its sharp eyesight returns, and it once again takes command of the sky, soaring higher than before as an Initiated Eagle.

I found this to be a deeply inspiring metaphor. 

We, as Men, need more initiated elders because all Men must face a similar challenge at some point in life. Like the Eagle, we must renew parts of ourselves. At mid-life our “vision” must also be renewed. We too must regenerate so that we can return to the sky, where Eagles truly belong.

While researching this idea I noticed that some sources were contradictory on the nature of this event. However, for our purposes here as Men, this can not only be a profound metaphor for what each Man must go through as he approaches middle age, but also a powerful symbol for the life of Man himself.

It’s rare to meet anyone who is excited about worn out teeth, loss of strength, weakened vision or the painful initiations that greet us as the seemingly limitless energy, and previously forgivable foolishness of youth finally begin to wear-off. In the current cultural model, youth is the prize of all prizes, and the wisdom gathered over years of experience seldom holds the same social esteem that it held for ancient cultures such as the Romans.

One reason for this is the lack of modern initiatory rites. Today little emphasis is placed on urging Men to “pass the threshold” of true masculine maturity.

We all get older. We all have experiences. We all learn some things along the way. But with the lack of modern initiation rites, fewer men have the experience of synthesizing all those years, all those trials-and-errors, all those experiences – both the triumphs and the painful lessons into a “summary realization” capable of leading them past the threshold of middle age.

Too often a Man will get to the threshold of mid-life and hesitate to walk through its door. He clings to what he once was because he’s unclear what, if anything, lies on the other side of that threshold. To relate the earlier quote from Carl Jung to the Initiation of Eagle, we get to mid-life with our beaks calcified, our talons worn, and our feathers no longer supporting the heights of flight that we once took for granted. We approach a necessary and much needed phase of renewal and yet we hang on to ways that are no longer capable of serving our best interest. We “make a virtue of unchangeably clinging to them.”

When approaching this uncertain threshold, it’s understandable why we might hesitate to cross over into the mature masculine. It’s nice to be able to just cram our mistakes into the overstuffed file labeled “folly of youth.” It’s not always pleasant to have to admit that our style, our perspective, and our attitude might need to be updated. 

But what the lack of modern initiation rites means is that many men today are robbed of the immense satisfaction that comes from graduating to the distinguished status of an “initiated elder.” 

If rather than seeing middle age as the end of an idyllic youth, Men could instead envision themselves proudly passing that threshold as “Initiated Eagles,” then the second half of life could be seen as having as much, if not more, perspective value than the first half. It would be these initiated Men, who like Odin, have waxed with wisdom from accumulated experience, who willingly made the sacrifices necessary along the way, who have taken their share of hard-hits, have loved some, have lost some, and have won some – and have earned the distinguished position of having a truly great story to tell, and along with it some very valuable wisdom worth sharing.

It dawned on me while writing this, that essentially, this is really what the mature masculine spirit is all about. It’s about the gnosis that comes with experience. It’s about becoming a Man who has “made his bones.”

The bones that we make in initiation are our own. They are the beaks broken in the struggle of life and the talons worn down in the fight to become initiated Men. 

These bones are set ablaze upon the funeral pyre of initiation. Mythically speaking, this is the self that must die so that the SELF can be reborn. Like Odin, it is the sacrifice of our self, to our SELF. It’s a glorious thing, though painful. It’s an epic thing, though fraught with peril. It’s the renewal of life and WILL that renews itself as it announces from one phase of life to the other, “I WILL ENDURE.”

Initiation represents a refusal to be frozen in a mold. It’s an affirmation of the regenerative power of the solar force. To be initiated is to be renewed, born again like both the Sun and the Initiated Eagle – to become a force rising once again high into the sky, upward to the glory which is the divine right of Man.

So, how do we as Men achieve this mark of distinction? What does it take to transverse the dark passage of middle-age? What light will lead Man through that shadow whose chill begets a premature resignation of the WILL and an unhappy descent into “old age?” 

The process outlined here follows, (roughly) the storyline embedded in The King’s Curriculum, Self-Initiation for Self-Rulers book.

Step 1.) Understand that endings and beginnings are a united occurrence. One leads to the other. Be ready to lay what is old, dead, and worn-out upon the altar of sacrifice. Light the funeral pyre of habits and outdated modes of operation that are no longer resourceful. Let the funeral fire become a new flame to life, the light of new day.  Say to yourself “I AM THE DAWN.”

Step 2.) Start doing something new. Break the trance of repetitive reactions. Ask yourself “What will this new flame, this new life mean to me?” This flame is your self-made torch, carry it through the dark night. Get in your proverbial ship and boldly start rowing toward some new horizon. 

Step 3.) Reevaluate your goals. Early in life we often have goals. Sometimes they are really just wishes. After the fact, we often find they really were just “fantasies.” Some of these goals could never be attained. Some of them will be attained only to find that the desires that originally drove us to seek them were actually misguided. Some goals will prove valuable and necessary to our development. But even with their attainment, we cannot just rest on our laurels forever. With experience we mature. As we do, we come to understand the world more deeply. At mid-life we often need to develop new goals, ones which have grown out of our accumulated experience. 

Step 4.) Edit your story. We all have a story. Much of our early story begins in childhood when we didn’t have much formative control over the narrative. We often try to modify our story beginning in adolescence, but social pressures often distort our efforts and disrupt our ability to take full authorship of our lives. We must decide when it’s necessary to strategically break away from the past. It served us then and that was fine. We can even feel a sense of gratitude for the service those old talons served, they may have caught a lot of meals and won a lot of battles. Time to grow a new pair. Time to add a new chapter, what will be its theme?

Step 5.) Construct new rituals. Spirit must be renewed, and so new rituals must be created. Ritual is a purposeful action, performed with intention toward a specific effect. What will be your new rituals? What will you actively do to give life to your new story? Action is key here. New workout, new social group, new relationship, new career horizon, or even a new way of greeting the sun in the morning. A new ritual represents a new life. Set in motion those thoughts, words, and deeds that have the intention of bringing your new life into being.

6.) Centralize. The Sun is the central component of the solar system, everything else revolves around it. One of the greatest difficulties experienced during periods of extraordinary change is that the Individual’s world can seem to go into a sort of chaos. The normal patterns are no longer there. The old order crumbles before a new order solidifies to take its place. This is the initiating Eagle, without beak or talons, face fixed toward the Sun. This is the most uncomfortable part of the process and so we want to begin regenerating as soon as possible. Develop a new center of gravity around those components in your inner cosmos that can provide stability. Avoid lingering in this chaotic place. Immediately begin developing, like the Eagle, a new vision. Ask yourself, what will become my primary aim, what will my inner cosmos revolve around for unity and order? Conceive of a new vision capable of binding your inner world together. 

7.) Coordinate your efforts. Once we have a new vision, as grand, mystical and inspiring as it may be, it’s important to begin the practical work of mapping out its realization quickly. Dreaming up a new vision is relatively easy compared to the real work of bringing it through to reality. Once you know the context of your renewed vision, a period of deliberation and decision is necessary. What resources are required to attain this vision? How will you acquire them, what is the most effective route, the one most likely to succeed? What are the possible weaknesses in your plan, what strengths will you rely on? Practice thinking through the consequences of different actions, thinking several steps ahead. Things rarely turn out exactly as we plan. Develop elastic strategies, with alternative routes. Craft a plan with branches. To do this ask yourself a series of “IF-THEN” statements in relation to your objective. If one way is blocked, find another. If no well-worn path exists, start trailblazing.

8.) Be guided by your own inner light.  One of the foremost qualities of initiated Individuals is that they develop a sort of inner guidance system. When the Eagle molts there’s no guarantee from nature they will make it through, actually some of them don’t. Making it through the “dark night of soul” that often accompanies moments of change is exactly what reveals “the Sun Within.” During difficult moments we might feel like we’re on the precipice of a great fall. The sense of security sometimes evaporates. The familiar is gone. Yet, making it through this dark night helps a person to realize that there was an inner light sustaining them the whole time. During the dark night of intense change it sometimes feels like the Sun no longer even exists. Yet that’s precisely when the dawn of the “SUN WITHIN” finally emerges on the horizon. 

This is just a brief account of an experience which almost all men who reach middle age experience, even if unconsciously. For many Men mid-life is experienced as an intense internal struggle, one accompanied by the need to resist the downward pull of an eminently threatening inertia. 

This is the struggle of the Initiated Eagle. This is the Struggle of Man. This is the struggle of all life.

Man by his nature wishes to soar above the Earth, to escape the downward pull of gravity and with it the limiting decrees of “fate.” This is the story of Odin, the story of the Eagle, the story of every Man who wishes to distinguish himself from the dirt.

From this gravity the initiated Man rises, wings renewed, brilliant as the Sun of a new dawn, soaring aloft to reclaiming his proper place in the order of heaven, renewed as an INITIATED EAGLE.

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Johnny Mannaz is a Hypnotherapist, Master Practitioner of NLP and author of The King's Curriculum, Self-Initiation for Self-Rulers.