Reflections on Under Saturn’s Shadow from the Masculinities Think Tank

by Lukelarner May 23, 2019 A

The Masculinity Think Tank have been reading the first half of James Hollis’ book “Under Saturn’s Shadow; the wounding and healing of men”.  Here, think tank member Luke Larner reflects on his reading of the book so far.

There was a lot in the first two chapters of ‘Under Saturn’s Shadow’ which resonated with me. The “Three W’s” of work, war and worry definitely reflected my own experience of masculinity, especially as a working class man from a long line of hard-working servicemen. This sense of destiny or calling – the need to pursue greatness in some way, albeit in a way which would probably result in my destruction. The need to be strong and impressive – I recall that when I was a kid my dad used to crush coke cans with his shovel-like hands, – as the author writes it seemed “Big folk did not feel pain as we little folk did.”


The discussion of the “sizing up” which often occurs when men get together (even in the context of men’s movements) seemed important. We all agreed that so much in life can descend in to a penis measuring competition for men. We discussed how some environments, often dominated by ‘Alpha Males’, enable a ministerial and spiritual posture that can feel like the desire for dominance, control and ownership sometimes expressed in sexuality. This was a thought I’d held for a while but not really shared before – it seemed to resonate with others.

The section I found most challenging was the chapter on the ‘mother wound’. I connected with parts of it. I’ve certainly experienced the loneliness and displacement which can come from a strained relationship with one’s mother. It did seem a bit reductionist to land so many of men’s (and society’s) problems as the feet of the mother, and I would echo Think Tank host Natalie Collins’ concern that this can feel like victim shaming in a world where women often get the worst outcomes.


While reading the book I was struck with some of its resonances with the writing of Jordan Peterson (also a Jung fan-boy). Albeit in a subtler way ‘Under Saturn’s Shadow’ seemed to promote that same problematic individualised approach to both individuals’ and society’s struggles. Certainly, it failed to address questions of power, culture and hegemony. (I hesitate to use the term patriarchy as although much of the hegemony is men, only a small number of men belong to the hegemony.)

At the bottom of it all, when I reflected on the wounds I carry, and the ongoing deconstruction of toxic masculinity which I’m experiencing, I was led to the painful words of the Leonard Cohen song:

“Like a baby, stillborn,
Like a beast, with its horn,
I have torn, all who reached out
To me”

I’m inclined to agree with Hollis on this point – “No society can prosper if its men are immature”, or as the cheesy Christian cliché puts it – “People who are hurt, hurt other people.”


“Under Saturn’s Shadow” is a book about the wounding and healing of men. The first chapters certainly offer some connection points in diagnosing the cause of wounds which many men carry. I look forward to exploring the pathway to healing the book offers, and contrasting it with my own journey of healing and integration. I have already noted the comparisons with the work of Jordan Peterson and his best-selling work “12 Rules for Life” – a highly controversial book which has been critiqued as overly individualistic and contributing to toxic masculinity. Whatever his intentions, Peterson’s work certainly seems to have been co-opted by narratives and movements that I, as a Christian, can’t connect with.

For me, the path to healing and integration through a de-construction of toxic-masculinity has largely been shaped by a faith and spirituality informed by the ‘kenosis’ of Jesus Christ – the letting go and ‘self-emptying’ of the ego’s will to power, a challenging of structures of power and domination, and a solidarity with the suffering and oppressed (Philippians 2:1-11). This is causing me to think about how I can leverage my privilege to see others empowered and heard.


I have mentioned already the danger of an aggressive and ‘toxic spirituality’. Through this year’s Holy Week and Easter, I am finding hope through the journey from the foot washing of Maundy Thursday, through the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, to the hope of Resurrection. I am finding a different way.