The Great God Pan is (never) Dead

An ancient story tells of a couple of fishermen on the Ionian Sea. The wind suddenly drops, the air thickens, and their boat sits in odd stillness all day long. Finally, toward evening, an omnipotent voice calls out to them: “The great god Pan is dead!”

From the hills and the streams, from little valleys, temples, and holy groves, from mountain pastures, and ferny cliffs, there rises a cry of lament, a vast wave of wailing and weeping, anguish and keening. It echoes across the land. Pan is gone.

After this day, the oracles no longer prophesy accurately. The old gods and goddesses of the classical world, nymphs of sacred sites, fauns and satyrs, the centaurs and all the other wild beasts fall silent. The Lord of the Wood is dead, and the new god’s domain is not of this earth, but of heaven. Spread by the followers of Christ.

A statue of Pan in my garden

A statue of Pan in my garden

Pan’s features included the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat. With his uncertain parentage, he was the god of the wild, of shepherds and their flocks, nature, overgrown mountains, and the dark. He was connected to fertility, the season of spring, and romantic imagination. He lived in that untamed zone of forest and rock, always just beyond the village boundary. Despite Pan’s affection for beautiful nymphs, his greatest passion was for Selene, a lunar deity.

All the greats new Pan–Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, Dickinson, and Whitman. And so did all the 19th-century American landscape painters, especially those belonging to the Hudson River School–Cole, Durand, Church, and Kensett. They were eager to tell the world, Pan isn’t dead. He just moved to America!

Have you ever gone past the city limits to that place, a remote brambly hillside say, near rushing water, stood there in wonder until it hit you, the breathless sense that something lovely and terrifying could happen? That’s Pan.

Let’s pledge together, you and I, this spring, to find Pan. In our yards let’s grow more trees, bushes, vines, ferns, and flowers. Let’s NEVER mow the grass, and then, on some moonlit night, we’ll bushwhack thirty or forty feet into the holy thicket and call to him. We won’t worry because we know he will appear.

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