Pan: an odd sort of god
“Down the long lanes and overgrown ridings of history we catch odd glimpses of a lurking rustic god with a goat’s white lightning in his eyes. A sort of fugitive, hidden among leaves. and laughing with the uncanny derision of one who feels himself defeated by something lesser than himself.”
D. H Lawrence, Remembering Pan
It’s probably my Wiccan roots, but I’ve always associated this time of the year – Beltain – with Pan, and in particular, the urge to plunge headlong, heedlessly, into the wild. A couple of weeks back, we were in Bournemouth, visiting Jenny, and we went down to the beach after dark. The moon, reflected in the waves made it look as though the sea was lit from below with dancing lights, and as I stood on the beach, I felt, then, that call to just dash into the water and join that dance. Fortunately, Jenny & Maria managed to persuade me that it wasn’t a good idea. For me, Pan is very much bound up with a particular sensibility – the thrill of the unknown encounter that waits around the corner; a presentiment that “something” (exciting, weird, strange, who knows?) is about to happen.
A correspondent recently asked me if I knew of any extensive queer pagan-oriented readings of Pan. I didn’t, although it strikes me that Pan is a quintessentially queer diety, embodying numerous tensions, contradictions, ambivalences, from desire and panic/possession; marginality and the liminal, the transgressive, musical lure of the wild, of monstrous and hybrid forms, animal and human, human and divine, simultaneously present and absent; both embodied and transcendental; dangerous and alluring.
What to say of Pan? Plutarch not withstanding, reports of his “death” are greatly exaggerated. There is a vast literature (and art) for Pan, and so too a multitude of Pans, ranging from his shadowy Arcadian origins, the flowering of his cult in the Hellenistic period, the rise of the pastoral tradition through to the “revival” of enthusiasm for Pan during the Fin de siècle (perhaps the point at which Pan becomes distinctly “queer” in the modern sense) and beyond to the present day. So too, the presence of Pan has flitted through the modern revival of Paganism and the Occult, through the influence of Dion Fortune, Aleister Crowley, and Victor Neuberg, through to modern Paganism, with its tendency to – as Ronald Hutton points out, treat Pan as an Jungian archetype, his distinctiveness partially erased in the comparative impetus to to relate him to other deities (often Cernunnos, sometimes Krishna, occasionally Baphomet):
“Just as Diana, Artemis, Demeter and Hertha had lost their ancient individual identity and become aspects of a single universal female divinity of the green earth and night sky, so Pan became in the mid-twentieth century the most famous ancient aspect of a being characterized, with increasing frequency, simply as ‘the horned god’.”
Triumph of the Moon p50
This tendency to treat deities archetypally is being increasingly challenged, particularly through the rise of reconstructionist approaches to Pagan praxis. Pan is often invoked (sometimes uneasily) when Pagans & Occultists discuss and represent matters of sexuality.
So there’s quite a lot to explore here. For this series of posts then, I’m going to wander across this vast and fascinating territory, and in no particular order, attempt to focus in on some of these themes and explore how Pan is represented in various way – literary, artistic, mythopoetic or academic – and how the visioning of Pan has changed and mutated across history and culture – adding (occasionally) my own reflections on my own encounters with Pan over the last thirty-odd years.