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Initiation With Michael Light

An interview with Mark O’Brien

Michael Light was for years involved with the Byron Bay local community, and has seen himself as a medium through whom healing can happen.

He’s worked in the prison system, as a social worker on the streets, in schools where he teaches how to play in a non violent, non competitive way, (the essence of Aboriginal culture) and created the Uncle Project, a project through which men from the community become involved with boys growing up without a father, as uncles.

Recently he received confirmation that he is part Aboriginal, having first being told he was of Italian ancestory, and later, when the dark skin appearing throughout his family raised doubts about that, that he had a Maori grandfather.

He realised that most of what he’d been working on was somehow an unconscious striving of his being, a “genetic compulsion” of his DNA, to reconnect him with his heritage, to where he came from.

Once he learnt of his heritage it all made sense to him as he’d always felt he wasn’t really a part of Western society.

He sees himself as a tree that has some Aboriginal roots, as well as others, and feels that there is an essence in him which is very Aboriginal.

In particular the Uncle Project was a reflection of his heritage, as all Aboriginal initiation, mentor type work, was done by uncles, men of the tribe excluding the father, or even from another tribe altogether.

“It was uncles who taught initiation, who taught the law, who would inflict punishment to law breakers, who were there to support fathers in their relationship with their sons.”

“Most of the problems in modern society stem from an inability to deal with emotional pain, mainly cause kids aren’t taught, aren’t taken aside and shown how to handle fear, anger, jealousy.

This is one of the aims of the Uncle Project, and eventually I hope that it reaches a critical mass in terms of numbers, experience and intention where we can instigate rites of initiation relevant for today, and have it for free.

If the men actually accept the responsibility for teaching the young, of passing on whatever wisdom they have gained, and this is open to all without anyone receiving any monetary “reward” for doing their (existential) job, then the next generation will hopefully be free of much the problems relating to alienation and disconnection from our roots”.

Some of the things we have done include day trips to Mt Warning, a traditional site of men’s business. Milestone experiences tend to be initiatory in nature. Breaking through fear is an important factor’

In Aboriginal society initiation was an ongoing thing, and a man was not be fully initiated until he was middle aged.

Entry into the deepening levels of ritual, of painting, of the tribal secrets, of the dreaming, of the law, of knowledge, was guarded by various rites of initiation, of passage.

The man would have to pass through these portals in order to prove his worth, his intent, integrity, his maturity and commitment, to carry the information for the next generation.

Status was endowed upon those who know the most songs, those being the custodians of the oral history. The initiations are as much about instilling as well as proving maturity, and bestowing authority for law men.

In some West African cultures the boys are given powerful hallucinagens, and some of them don’t come back, they die.

*Perhaps conquering fear in the external sense is overrated as often when faced with a fearful situation we don’t feel the fear, avoid even acknowledging its existence, and come out the other end unchanged because the breaking through hasn’t been conscious.’

Published in the Here & Now magazine, January 1999

See also interviews with Darpan, Graeme Innis, and Anna Davidovich on initiation elsewhere on this site.

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