The Tempering of Men

by Walton Stanley, featured story-carrier

by Walton Stanley, featured story-carrier

There is a civilized way of being that says human beings are one thing and “nature” is another. This way of being leads us to believe that there is a mechanism that produces the seasons, that has put time in motion, that controls the functions of “matter.” If human beings can sufficiently understand the mechanism, then we will be able to manipulate it for our benefit. We will be able to cheat the mechanism of death and decay for ourselves. These ideas formed about 6,000 years ago in a few places among a small number of people, but, like a virus, they have been an ever-expanding colony on the body of the world. We call this idea “civilization.” Civilization is not to be confused with culture. People have had rich and varied cultures since long before civilization. Civilization is an attempt to take humans out of nature. To extract wealth without consequences. Now the world has a great fever that has been induced by the spread of these ideas. 

There are, however, other ideas, other ways of being; ways of being that human beings followed for hundreds of thousands of years. This older way of being says that human beings are one animal in the web of life, that we have some original biological instructions to play a role in the living cosmos. Among the gifts we carry are a curiosity and capacity for amazement, a foolish ability to tinker with things, hearts that can be filled with empathy; an extravagant ability to create beauty, the capacity to sense absurdity and to laugh deeply, and a talent for eloquent grief. 

For 35 years the Minnesota Men’s Conference has called men to experience this old way of being. Why men and not men and women together? Because men are great carriers of the virus of civilization. In any system, males are more expendable. It only requires a few of us to carry on the next generation. On some level, men sense this natural hostility toward them and can become overwhelmed with fear. It is only through a tempering process, in the company of older men, that men can come to peace with their fates. At its core, civilization is an attempt by improperly tempered men to escape from death and to overpower a perceived hostile nature. In short, un-tempered men are dangerous and are well on the way to causing a mass extinction. The Men’s Conference is a small attempt to create the conditions for the tempering of the male soul. 

The tempered male is powerful in different way than that in which masculine power is typically conceived of in Western civilization, that is as domination, hierarchy, and bending the world to one’s will. Tempered male power is rooted, is cooperative, is protective, is at peace with life and with death. Hierarchies exist, but they are hierarchies of capacity. Some men can work a magic on guitar or drum, some can shape wood or metal, some can read tracks and signs, some can carry poems or stories, some have a quicksilver wit that can flip the world upside down in an instant. The tempered masculine power is as breathtakingly beautiful as it is eternal. It is not about domination. It is about a growing ambit of connection and beauty. That is not to say that to grow these capacities, these gifts, is without effort. Long ashy years of discipline are often involved, but such discipline is different than mere will. One may or may not rise to the top of a corporate or political ladder by force of will, but one cannot will a great poem or song into being. One can only prepare one’s capacity to receive and carry a work such as that. 


We center the conferences around mythic stories, because these stories are the remembered wisdom of those who have gone before. They are the oral recipes of the process for tempering souls and when the stories are replanted in human beings, the images sprout and grow and put down new roots. 

So, once again, this Spring, we will gather at Blue Beech Coulee to pick up the work. As the roots reach down to find dark cold water after a long winter, men will again gather together and voices will be raised as the fires are lit in the longhouse for the first time and for times past remembering. An old story will be unfolded, and the Earth will tremble with the sound of seeds cracking open. 

The souls of men long to feel the awakening Earth cradling our bodies and to sit shoulder-to-shoulder round the fire. The longhouse is the forge of souls where slag is smelted off and the pure ore is tempered with bone coal. 

The Earth craves the feeling of her men’s feet upon her, of men singing the Spring into being, into becoming. As an old song says: “To be alive to hear this, is a victory.”

So, to men for whom what I have said about what we do has some ring of truth to it, or to men for whom it sounds completely insane, but still intrigues you, I invite you to join us.



Spring Minnesota Men's Conference—What Was Said to the Wild Rose to Make it Open
May 17, 18, 19, 2019

This is a camping-only event held on a beautiful private property, Blue Beech Coulee, near Plum City, Wisconsin.

Fee is only $175 for a weekend of feeling, healing and annealing.