Hammering Hot Iron
A Spiritual Critique of Bly’s Iron John
In 1990 American poet Robert Bly published a book entitled Iron John: A Book about Men, which was a major factor in the development of what was (or is?) called “the Men’s Movement”. Distressed at the de-masculinization of men in an era of Feminism and modern technological society, Bly turned for insight to the Grimms’ fairy tale “Iron John”, the story of a massive chthonic figure lying in a swamp in suspended animation, who is awakened from his sleep to aid a young hero in the understanding and development of his manhood; Iron John was his exegesis of this tale largely from the perspective of Jungian psychology. The “Mythopoetic Men’s Movement” that Bly headed for a time earned a certain amount of ridicule, and was more often satirized than seriously engaged with. One exception to this flippant response was Charles Upton’s Hammering Hot Iron: A Spiritual Critique of Bly’s Iron John, which took Iron John seriously and made a serious attempt both to praise its intent and refute its errors. In this book the author also draws to a degree upon Jungian psychology, but places it in a wider and higher context from which its strengths and weakness could be more clearly seen: that of the Perennial Philosophy. The keynote of Hammering Hot Iron is the notion that, while it is important for men to regain their “earthy” humanity, the central archetype of the Masculine Principle is celestial, not chthonic—which means that if men fail to regain their lost connection with the Spirit of God, their earthy masculinity will remain within the circle of the Great Mother Goddess, whereas if they succeed in re-establishing this connection, then the Great Goddess will be transformed from a Mother into a Wife and Consort—into the Shakti of the Absolute Witness within the Spiritual Heart.