Ohio Illuman Monthly Update - August 2019
We hope you're enjoying the summer and finding ways to keep cool!
by Brian Mueller
Board Member, Ohio Chapter of Illuman
I hope you’re having a good summer here in Ohio or from wherever you call home. After a seemingly cool and prolonged spring season, things really started heating up in June. Nonetheless the signs of fall are starting to appear as students return to school and the sporting news returns to football. My favorite part of this time of year are the many festivals that offer the opportunity to get outside, mingle with others, and enjoy a local brew while listening to music or strolling through booths filled with crafts and good eats.
Throughout Illuman, the summer marks the height of the “Men’s Rites of Passage Season.” During this time of year many of our chapters here in the U.S. as well as our fraternal organizations in Australia and Europe sponsor rites for men of all ages. In fact, the formation of the Ohio Chapter of Illuman was motivated by men in our state who attended a rites of passage in New York and wanted to bring this spiritual ritual and work to their sons and the men closer to home.
The very first big event and ritual held by the Ohio Chapter of Illuman was the Crossings Ohio, a young men’s rites of passage for men ages 18-30. This ritual of rites was developed and fostered by Joel Blunk and our brothers in Illuman of Pennsylvania, who mentored the men in our state and gave them the blessing to use their program and the rituals they had developed.
Those men in our chapter who created and administered the Crossings Ohio are Tom Simmonds, Bob Farmerie, Shawn Witmer, and Chuck Rihm. For several years they’ve done much of the work involved with putting on this event, from financing to logistics, and even the recruiting of initiates. Having participated in many rites rituals, as well as from several perspectives, I can tell you this is a tremendous amount of work.
I don’t honestly know the first year the Crossings Ohio was held, but I do remember my first experience serving as an elder was in 2015. I had just participated in the Illinois M.A.L.Es Men’s Rites of Passage the summer before and had also attended Soularize that fall. For me the rites were an affirmation of the many changes and developments that had transpired as I entered mid-life. And I knew from that moment forward my existence would be forever different. One of the "new" parts of my life would involve becoming involved with and supporting men’s work/men’s spirituality wherever I may be living.
So, I decided I wanted to help out with the Crossings Ohio and inquired from the other brothers I was just beginning to know here in Ohio. They told me what to bring and when to show up. I also decided this might be a good event for my godson Shawn. He was eighteen and struggling with the many challenges of becoming a young man in our culture. I invited him to come along as initiate. To my pleasant surprise he accepted and we went off to Dover, Ohio together.
Looking back at that summer, I believe both Shawn and I got more than we bargained for in the experience of the Crossings. This was my first time participating as an elder, and I was able to witness the effects of the rituals and nature on men as they were experiencing them. This moved me deeply, and in some ways it brought me into deeper connection with the earth where I grew up. The heat, the rain, the insects and all the fauna spoke to me as a native son.
By the time the four-day event ended everyone was exhausted. There’s a lot of emotional release involved with the rites, not to mention all the physicality involved with spending so much time working in the outdoors. Quite frankly, most of us just aren’t used to these things. So when Shawn and I packed up and started the three-hour drive back to our part of the state, we were silent for a long time.
At some point we stopped for gas and to get something to drink. When we got back into the car we began talking about the Crossings. Shawn spoke about his experience as an initiate, and we both shared some of our favorite memories of the weekend. After a while, I realized this was the first adult, man-to-man, conversation that Shawn and I had ever had. Something had obviously shifted within him too.
In the weeks and months that followed, a great deal changed for both Shawn and me. He resolved to finish his high school diploma and enrolled for his senior year. He and I also spent more time together as he learned to drive and got his license. I decided it was time to make some deeper commitments to my own life, moved into a new apartment and started to date after being divorced for several years. That next year both Shawn and I once again participated in the Crossings Ohio, this time as mentors and elders.
I guess telling you this history and my experience is a long way of lamenting that the Crossings was canceled this year. Even though I was unable to participate, learning this news saddened me. Actually, it was the third year in a row that the event was canceled. Despite the best efforts of the men I mentioned earlier and of everyone involved, it’s been difficult finding enough young men to commit to and show up for the rites. And because this event requires significant work and expense, it isn’t feasible to hold the rites with fewer than five initiates.
I don’t know if the Crossings Ohio will happen in the future. I’m not even sure the men who created this event know for certain. Perhaps it is time for our chapter to move on from this ritual and to focus on other programs for which there is more demand and participation. Some have suggested to me that men in mid-life and beyond are better served by the rites in our culture. Maybe this is true as life and traditional roles seem to continue changing and evolving for young people all over the world. Nonetheless, I just wanted to recognize the men in our chapter who gave deeply of their wisdom and energy to put on the Crossings Ohio, and also to share one of the many stories from those of us who benefited from participating in these rites.