Exploring Masculinity: An Interview with Ian MacKenzie

Many of us are strongly drawn to storytellers who share their lived experience. There is something wildly captivating in the autobiographical accounts of men and women who wear their heart on their sleeve. Who stand up with dignity and share their stories no matter how horrific or dramatic, no matter how simple or sweet. We resonate with honesty, we are reflected in shared humanity — simply put, we can trust an authentic and reliable narrator. This is why I respect and listen to Ian MacKenzie as he navigates his own journey of what it means to be a man in this century. He confessionally asks what it means to unburden himself of the old indoctrinated ways of expressing his masculinity. He has the balls to embrace and explore concepts of the feminine in his male form. It’s big and it’s complex. It’s political and it’s stagnant in religious ideology. It’s neither black nor white. It’s a brave person who takes these bold enquiries first hand and shares them with the world.—Paul C. Pritchard, Uplift.com


You have a strong affiliation with what you call the soul of the masculine. What motivates you to tell a truer story of masculinity which is now perhaps buried and lost in the rubble of the false patriarch?

I grew up in the suburbs outside Vancouver, Canada, a modern middle-class existence and I saw a degree of violence and corruption. I remember seeing the movie, ‘Spartacus’. I still have a sense of the effect on me seeing the aftermath of a war; bodies piled, most men had been killed. I remember feeling like, ‘What is wrong with men?’ It was so clear to me. I definitely grew, as often men do, with this understanding or this sensitivity that there’s a deep wound there. There was a distancing from that expression of Masculinity and shifting into what it is to be a ‘good guy’.More recently, the narratives around the ‘Me Too’ movement and the emergence of the sound-bite ‘toxic masculinity’, are pointing to systemic oppression, trespass and violence against women. There’s a sort of irredeemable brand that is stamped on men and masculinity, in particular young men. That’s what it’s all about for me: to bring forth a redeemable narrative of masculinity that I feel is actually deeply connected to its true soul.

Storytelling is your gift, your offering, your opportunity to make amends — to not just do the right thing now, but really take on the responsibility, as a man, to own the past mistakes and learn from them. Is every story you tell via film, podcast, essay all to reclaim the true sacred masculine, to allow the soul of the masculine to speak?

 I’ve been a filmmaker now for about thirteen years and a full-time creative. The medium of choice definitely shifts depending on the project. I didn’t start out to reclaim ‘the sacred masculine’ but I do feel I’ve been tracking that trail. I was really looking at what it means to connect one’s passion with meaningful work? I connected with Velcrow Ripper, a veteran Canadian filmmaker, who was looking at the zeitgeist and made a film called, ‘Scared Sacred’, which was looking at the ground zeros of the world and trying to find if there was anything good that came from these horrific events. He found there was — there was Hope in the mushroom cloud.There’s the sense of wanting to step outside of this insane death machine that modernity has become. And so really all my work has been following that. Simultaneously, I was tracking the rise of the feminine. I got curious about female DJs and producers and electronic music as a way to tell this story. I recognized by diving into the feminine and feminine archetypes and feminine story mythologies how little I knew about the masculine. And of course, that brought me up to my own story and how I had distanced myself from masculinity. I recognized I had banished aspects of myself and I knew that I had to turn towards them in order to truly understand and to integrate them. 



Revisiting Iron John: A Six Part Online Exploration of Mythic Masculinity for Today

In 1990, Robert Bly’s book Iron John: A Book About Men ignited a generation of men towards what would become known as the mythopoetic men’s movement. What might Iron John offer in the era of COVID, the #metoo movement, AI, post-truth, multi-generational trauma, and biospheric breakdown?

As a man what are you most hurt by?

I’m soul hurt when I look to leaders or who ‘should’ be leaders who demonstrate an immature, egoic, narcissistic petty way of being. It is deeply unbecoming to their positions of leadership. Certain men have risen to positions of power and have failed so utterly. The privilege and the power granted to them are squandered by not recognising and not taking seriously their responsibilities to people and to life. It’s deeply painful to be in the presence of that. To be powerful and to really harness it into purposeful service is a great privilege. 

What advice can you give to young men who feel as you did; lost and without any real rights of passage ritual or strong authentic masculine rules? Where can they start their journey into strength and vulnerability?

This is really why I created Mythic Masculine Podcasts. Initially, I really did struggle to find places to go. There’s now a plethora of books, articles and resources but there’s been a struggle to find real embodied modelling that men can directly connect with and I think that’s changing. The broad subject of men’s work as a whole has certainly begun flourishing. We’re in the process of rebuilding healthy masculine culture.Often the literature, for example, archetypal psychology, can feel over the heads of younger age groups. So I’m really grateful that there are certain organizations that are deliberately providing pathways and offerings to younger men: Journeymen which is in the Seattle area; Rites of Passage Institute in Australia etc. There are organisations springing up all over. Best to google in your local area and follow any leads. Someone will point you in the right direction. 

What are your feelings or thoughts about the ever-evolving sphere of sexual identity and sexual orientation?

I’m thinking of Robert Bly’s book Iron John, I believe he talks about how homosexuality and how it changes depending on the culture and the time. You know whereby in ancient Greece homosexuality was actually just one part of masculinity. It’s much more inclusive now because of gender activists and social media which gives a much more expanded set of expressions of sexual orientation, gender identity etc. and leads to the natural deconstruction of what gender is — is it a spectrum or is it a social construct? The polarities are dissolving and energetic expressions of orientation becoming more fluid. The conversations around male, masculine and masculinity just get more interesting and diverse.

What medium of storytelling really lights you up? Favourite story-tellers and creatives?

I’ve been a documentary filmmaker for thirteen years, this has been the medium of my choice. There’s something in filmmaking whereby it unfolds and has a dynamic beauty to it but it takes far longer to bring that story to the world. It can take several years. So I’m really drawn to the tradition of oral storytelling which is what we crafted for A Gathering of Stories. It’s so immediate, so alive in the moment and there is this connection between the audience and the storyteller and the story itself. It’s an art form that I’m pretty excited by and I’m stepping into more but at this event, I really want to just be in the field of these other talented folk who have really given their lives to this craft. Favourites at the moment are Jan Blakes and the rest of our awesome lineup: Bayo Akomolafe, Sharon Blackie, Michael Meade, Tom Hirons, Pat McCabe, Andreas Kornevall.

What potential lies in the power of story?

Story is a kind of nourishment for our times. Stories have the capacity to bring forth new insights which often don’t fit into the clean binary narratives that maybe we’re unconsciously used to. People are tired of these polarities, especially in politics that produce a kind of deadlock. The left and the right are utterly convinced of their own ‘rightness’. Stories have the capacity to delve into the light and the shadow before drawing obvious conclusions. Its very nature is to arc, to explore, to find transformative ground. We need to develop this quality and to light alternative pathways otherwise invisible to us — a visionary possibility! People have innate energies that desire fresh future possibilities. Often those energies are stuck until we have the capacity and practice to envision, to imagine, to tell stories about where we might go. There is a deep longing for that energy to be put into service for the greater good — an intelligence of life that needs to find the right way to flow. Stories with a particular visionary capacity create the subliminal scaffolding for the conscious participation in bringing those narratives and ideas to life. 



Over the last 15+ years, Ian has used a variety of media (film, writing, photography, podcasting) to amplify seedlings of emergent culture, from the desert of Burning Man to the heart of Occupy Wall St. His work spans the themes of activism, culture, and relationships, and emergence, as facets to understanding the question: how humanity might reach a thriving future? Among his films are Sacred Economics, Amplify Her, and Lost Nation Road. Ian’s recent work includes The Mythic Masculine podcast exploring masculinity and A Gathering of Stories, a live series bringing together renowned storytellers, musicians and poets from around the world, providing new insight and perspectives on the most vital themes of our time. The latest series, The Pandemic is a Prism, aims to offer a mythopoetic bridge between divided worldviews.

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