The rite of man-making takes place when a boy is deemed old enough to be counted among the men. Although there is no single clear sign of manhood, as there is of womanhood, this is generally about the age of thirteen or fourteen. The essence of man-making is that of a test: a boy must prove his right to be counted as a man. The form in which such an initiation is carried out will depend wholly upon the men of the youth's family, Hearth, or Garth; no precise rite is given here, not only because circumstances and abilities of groups and individuals vary so greatly, but because it is important that the specific events come as something of a surprise to the candidate. The initiators should do their best to keep him off-balance all the way through; he is judged by how he responds to surprises and unfamiliar situations, for one of the defining characteristics of manhood (and indeed adulthood) is the ability not only to plan for all possibilities, but to shift and adjust so as to deal well with events that have not been (and perhaps could not be) planned for.
Though much of the lore of our forebears has been lost, manly initiations have survived better than most other rites - not only in tales, but in the folk practice of the "men's bands" of the Northern countries. Such bands are made up of men who, at certain times (usually festivals, especially Yule and Carnival), are allowed to withdraw from the "normal" society of their town or village and take on wild personas, often masked. Degrees of wildness vary: in Germany, England, and Switzerland, this is more to be compared to the masking and "Crewes" of Mardi Gras, but in Scandinavia, and in Germany in earlier days, there is much evidence that the men's bands were closely tied with the belief in the Wild Hunt (Höfler). In Norway, such bands were called "Jolesveinar" (Yule-Youths); during the Yule season, they went masked from house to house, demanding beer and food, and when they did not get it, they often broke in and took it. Gifts (or sacrifices) were often left out for them to keep this from happening. The Jolesveinar also took horses from the stable and rode them to exhaustion, and might beat unwary wanderers. They travelled with much noise; descriptions of the blowing of horns and pipes are especially common in Wild Hunt tales. Wild Hunt legends of Germany, as well, speak of processions of the dead running through the town in daylight as well as at night, and causing much disturbance; and in the last century, there are records of both a supernatural and a natural "Perchtenlauf". According to Höfler's theory, these groups were bands of men who, in their masked/ecstatic state, actually embodied the unrestful dead or were likely to have those ghosts running among them. The berserk-bands are thought to be like groups, closed societies of men who, for a certain time, entered into a state of furious wod in which they could lawfully terrorize normal society.
The most typical example of this in the Northern tradition, cited by Mircea Eliade (Rites and Symbols of Initiation), is the passage from Völsunga saga in which Sigmundr and his son Sinfjötli become werewolves. The two of them find wolfskins and put them on, but cannot take them off. They then separate, but agree that if one should come on a group of seven men or more, he will howl to call the other. Sigmundr lives up to the agreement, but when they part again, Sinfjötli finds a group of eleven men and kills them all. When he sees Sigmundr again, he taunts him with having needed help for seven men, while Sinfjötli, only a youth, was able to slay eleven. Sigmundr leaps at him in a rage and bites him in the throat, wounding him near to death. A little later, he sees two weasels playing; one bites the other's throat through, then lays a leaf on it, and it is healed. A raven then flies to Sigmundr with a leaf in its beak; he puts the leaf on his son's throat, and Sinfjötli springs up hale again, as if he had never been wounded. Sigmundr and Sinfjötli are then able to take the wolfskins off again.
This is a basic paradigm for a manhood-initiation. The first step is the physical withdrawal into the wilderness in an all-male society. The second is the soul-passing outside the realm of humanity, shown here by the taking of the wolf-shape, in Wild Hunt legends by the masking which makes the masker one of the wild dead. The candidate must fare alone for a time; then he is hunted and must fight for his life. He is successful in his first two battles, but, at the judgement of his initiator, loses the third and experiences near-death or a symbolic death. This is followed by a healing given to him by the messenger of his clan-father and patron god, Óðinn. We will remember how a raven had earlier brought an apple to the parents of Sinfjötli's grandfather so that they could conceive a child; in bringing this leaf, the raven is clearly re-creating that earlier event, so that Sinfjötli's healing is actually to be seen as a rebirth. Both Sinfjötli's defeat and healing by Sigmundr, as well as being a death/rebirth initiation, serve to establish his place in male society (and prepare him for re-integration into normal society): though Sinfjötli is young, strong, and cocky, it is the older man who must remain the band's leader. With this settled, the two of them are finally able to take off their wolfskins and come back to humanity.
Another form of manhood-initiation is the Monster-Slaying type, best seen in the story of Sigurðr the Völsung. Sigurðr's father is dead, but he has two initiatory-fathers - one who turns out to be adversarial, one who is helpful. The first, the dwarf Reginn, is actually his foster-father; Reginn has raised Sigurðr and reforged Sigmundr's sword for him, but means that Sigurðr shall die while fighting the dragon Fáfnir (who is also Reginn's brother). The second is Óðinn himself. Reginn goads Sigurðr on to fight Fáfnir, reproaching his courage and suggesting that he will be unworthy of his clan if he does not battle the dragon. He leads Sigurðr to the dragon's path, telling him to dig a pit and stab up from beneath; he then leaves the youth alone. Óðinn comes to Sigurðr and tells him that Reginn has given him bad advice; Sigurðr should dig several pits for the dragon's (poisonous, corrosive) blood to flow into. Sigurðr kills Fáfnir as advised: while dying, the dragon is able to answer the hero's questions about the world, warns him about Reginn, and makes a prophecy of his future. Reginn then comes back, cuts out Fáfnir's heart, and has Sigurðr cook it. While the heart is cooking, blood froths out of it; Sigurðr burns his finger on the blood and puts it in his mouth. He can then understand the speech of birds, and the birds warn him that Reginn means to work his death. Sigurðr kills Reginn and takes Fáfnir's hoard for himself.
The basic elements of this initiation are the setting up of the situation by the adversarial father; the isolation of the candidate, which makes it possible for the helpful father to come to him and give him advice (and for the candidate to make his choice between them); the actual deed of slaying the large and dangerous creature from wild space; the gaining of lore from it both by questioning and by intaking of its heartblood, which gives Sigurðr the ability to understand other creatures of the wild. Finally, the slaying of Reginn represents not only Sigurðr's triumph over the plan for his death, but also his claiming of independence. As a child, Sigurðr had been dependent on the guidance and wisdom of his foster-father (which had even determined his participation in his own man-making!), but as a man, he is guided by himself alone; Óðinn, who had given him advice several times before, does not appear to him again after he has slain Reginn.
A similar tale, which is thought to preserve a description of how a "Monster-Slaying" initiation might have been carried out in elder times, is found in Hrólfs saga kraka. A great flying troll-beast has been terrorizing the land at Yule-time (mark the hint that Yule may be especially fitting for man-making). Bjarki goes out to deal with it, dragging the reluctant, weak, cowardly, sniveling wimp Höttr with him. When Bjarki has slain the beast, he makes Höttr drink a draft of its blood and eat of its heart. Höttr is suddenly infused with heroic strength and will by this drink. Bjarki then props the dead troll-beast up as if it were alive, giving Höttr certain instructions. When day comes and the men come out of the hall, they see it there. Höttr then says that he will slay it or die, but he has no weapon; the king must lend him his gold-hilted sword. Hrólfr does so, and Höttr rushes at the corpse and "slays" it again. It topples over, quite dead. Höttr is praised with much surprise; Hrólfr kraki has an idea of what has happened, but he can see the great change in the youth, and gives him the sword for his own, together with the name Hjalti ("hilt"); Hjalti then becomes one of the greatest heroes in the king's warband. From this, it is thought that, in elder days, a mock monster-slaying might well have taken place in public at the climax of a boy's man-making. Both the gift of the sword and the new name given to the candidate are particularly significant in seeing this tale as a description of an actual initiation; the public presentation of a man's weapon and a man's name or title would naturally crown an initiatory ceremony.
The various appearances of manly initiatory rites in the holy images and literature of the Germanic folk have been written of at some length by A. Margaret Arent in "The Heroic Pattern: Old Germanic Helmets, Beowulf, and Grettis saga" (collected in Polomé's Old Norse Literature and Mythology, pp. 130-199). The great trials and triumphs of the heroes of our folk - the monster-slayers, the mighty warriors - mirror the trials of the soul and body of the youth on the threshold of manhood, and his triumph of achievement when he passes into the realm of grown men.
Yet another aspect of manly initiation is the recitation of lore by an older and wiser man to the young candidate, as seen in Grímnismál and Hávamál. In the former, Grímnir ("the Masked" -Wodan), tortured between two fires for eight days and nights, is given a horn by the king's son Agnarr and then recites to him the lore of the worlds, which qualifies Agnarr to succeed his father as king immediately thereafter. In the latter, Hár ("the High One" - Óðinn) gives a long list of redes ranging from the most practical to the most magical, many of which are directed to a (presumably young) man called "Loddfáfnir". Both of these take place inside by the fire; it may be guessed that the darkness, warmth, and flickering firelight are important elements - a sauna, especially a traditional smoke-sauna or "sweatlodge" would probably be an ideal place for such a recitation. Although these two examples are Wodanic, part of the inscription of the Rök stone (as spoken of under "Thonar"), may be read as telling how a ninety year-old man instructed a young, dedicated initiate in the mysteries of Thonar.
With these models in mind, a general format for a man-making can be constructed. The men of the group, or a single man who has chosen to be the youth's chief initiator, come masked to the door of the house at dawn and take him away, preferably to a wilderness area or relatively natural park. He is told that he will be wandering on his own, perhaps sent on a quest for a symbolic natural item or a specific spiritual discovery. When he has found or realized whatever he was meant to find or realize, he should come back to the designated meeting-point. If aspects of the berserk/Wild Hunt mysteries are to be invoked, this is when it should be done. The candidate is now to be hunted or assailed in whatever form seems most feasible in the circumstances. Those who live in the city may find some high-tech version of this (for instance, Quasar or various forms of virtual reality games) more reasonable than chasing the candidate through the city park with sticks. The important thing is that he must feel himself isolated, fighting against impossible odds with every man's hand turned against him.
When the candidate has been brought to bay and "slain", he must be brought back to life again. Völsunga saga does not say what kind of leaf the raven brought Sigmundr, but we might guess that it was a sprig of mistletoe, which opens the way back from Hella's realm as well as into it. His chief initiator lays the leaf on his forehead and sprinkles hallowed water on him, speaking his name (or new name). He stands up as a man.
By now it should be getting dark. The oldest and/or wisest man in the group takes the candidate to a house with a fireplace (if one is available), sauna, or sweatlodge. At need, a small dark room with candles burning in it will serve. He then recites (not reads, recites!) choice bits of traditional lore, such as sections from Hávamál, interspersed with his own wisdom, things his father and grandfather told him, and so forth.
The men then take the candidate to a place where the whole group is gathered. A mock monster (either constructed or consisting of two or three men in a "dragon" costume, with a small flask of drink and a piece of smoked meat hidden inside) threatens the crowd. The candidate is given a real sword or a wooden one, depending on what kind of monster it is, and thrusts it into the dragon's "heart". To the sound of loud cheering, his initiator then takes the meat and drink from the dragon's body and feeds them to the candidate. If the candidate did not use a real sword, the initiator now gives him one, proudly announcing that the youth now stands among the men of the Kindred/Hearth/Garth. He is embraced by each in turn. The highest-ranking woman of the group brings him a horn of drink; other women may crown him with wreaths or cast flowers at him. Those folk who love him should give him gifts, as if it were his birthday (and this rite may well be held on a youth's thirteenth or fourteenth birthday).
When given his first drink, the young man should take it up and vow "not to be less of a man than his fathers". As Grønbech mentions, the moment a youth had spoken this particular vow, "he had taken up his ancestral luck and entered himself as one of the clan...A man uttering such promise drank off a cup into which his forefathers had brewed their fate; he tasted their hamingja of holding great feasts, of gaining victory on the battlefield, of sailing boldly and skilfully on the sea, favourable winds always standing full into their sails; and in so doing, he had made all feasts and victories his own. He was now the incarnation of the clan, he counted as the one who had achieved the past" (II, pp.193-94).
The feasting begins.
Many variations on these themes are, of course, possible. The elements of adversarial father and helpful father can, for instance, be introduced; the monster-slaying can be left out or, as in the Sigurðr-story, the hero's lonely battle with the beast can replace the isolation/hunting. Likewise, the death/reawakening can either be left out or, if the Balder-story is followed as an initiatory model (see "Balder"), can become the center of the rite. As with the Wild Hunt tradition, especially if the man-making takes place at Yule, the band of men with the candidate among them may play at terrorizing the "normal" society of the women and those men who are not taking part before the candidate is symbolically re-socialized. The rede-giving may be a communal, rather than an isolated, activity; and so forth. What matters most is that the candidate be in a wholly male framework; that he has some time alone, preferably away from all signs of other human beings, to consider himself and the nature of manhood; that he stands outside of society and undergoes a combative test of some sort in which he is at a severe disadvantage; and that he is then welcomed back into society as a man grown, with love and honour.
Once a youth has done this, he must be considered a man in all ways, wholly answerable for himself and his own choices. Within the home, he should be given more freedom, but also more responsibility; at Kindred/Hearth/Garth events he has the same rights and the same duties as every other man of the group.