“The God Pan is doing his work, creating mayhem and forcing us into contact with a wildness we won’t forget….Pan who brings unbridled change without discernible order or structure. Pandemic, Panic, Pandemonium. This virus.” ~ Elaine Mansfield
My friend Elaine Mansfield is an author and blogger. Her latest post, “The Greek God Pan, Pandemic, & Nature’s Healing Balm,” is filled with warm wisdom. She thinks of Pan as the shadow side of the Green Man, a gentle greening life force.
Yet, in another sense, Pan, which means “all” in Greek, represents all nature, both the wild and tame, the sacred and profane, the birthing, dying and ecstasy and suffering in between. In this sense, he’s an all-inclusive nature god, a masculine counterpart to Gaia, Earth Mother, Mother Nature.
Pan makes a memorable appearance In one of the finest animal fantasies for children ever written, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908). In this classic, the adventures of talking animals highlight the joy and sacred meaning to be found in life and the seasons of nature. It begins with Mole who emerges from his underground home. With a spirit of divine disconnect and longing, he interrupts his spring cleaning to leave his lowly little house and rush out to enjoy the wonders of nature “without even waiting to put on his coat.” p. 11
In his ramblings, Mole discovers a river.
“Never in his life had he seen a river before — this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver — glints and gems and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, enchanted, fascinated.” p.17
Mole, Rat, Mr. Toad, and Mr. Badger have many wild adventures, but one scene in the slower, more lyrical chapter, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” is the heart of this story. Mole and Rat are on a night-time search for Otter’s missing son, Portly, when they are drawn to a haunting melody carried on the wind. It is the sound of pipes played by their god.
“Suddenly, the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror — indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy — but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend, and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.” p. 121.
It is Pan. At his feet lies Portly, fast asleep.
Pan, the wild god of chaos and unbridled sexuality is also a gentle, motherly protector of vulnerable children. How strange. Humans have a very long history of associating Nature — with its cyclical seasons, the return of moles, mysterious secrets in dark forests, riotous rivers, haunting wind, beautiful music and sparkling light — primarily with Goddess.
But masculinity, symbolized in the mythical forms of Pan, the Green Man, and Dionysus, is also associated with the numinous power of nature. Dionysus is the God of the vine, wine-making, the grape harvest, religious ecstasy, and fertility, as well as animals like dolphins, bulls, panthers, and goats. So is nature masculine or feminine? God or Goddess? What is the meaning of this paradox? How do we reconcile it?
The answer lies at our core. The source of nature’s numinous power is the ongoing, ever-present fertility of life. Life, a merging of opposites, created by the sacred union of masculinity and femininity.
I believe the message of the coronavirus is that we have lost touch with our essence. We are life. We are nature. Not just rigid intellectual machines of rationality, objectivity, reason, and logic, but also organisms that feel, intuit, imagine, change, experience awe. We are wild and tame, terrifyingly powerful and lovingly tender. As part of nature, we too hold every paradox together in ourselves: feminine and masculine, sacred and profane, life and death. To live a full life, we must integrate both.
“It is the denial of death that is partially responsible for people living empty, purposeless lives; for when you live as if you’ll live forever, it becomes too easy to postpone the things you know that you must do.” ~Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
“I rebel against death, yet I know that it is how I respond to death’s inevitability that is going to make me less or more fully alive.” ~Madeleine L’Engle
Life is an ongoing reality within and around us. But so is death. No one is immune to either, because this is the stuff we are made of. We die a little every day we are alive, yet we are alive. The answer to the pandemonium raging in us and our world lies in full acceptance of our true, mysterious nature.
You are nature. You are alive. What are the things you know you must do to feel your life more fully? May this song by Kris Kristofferson help you find the answer.
Image Credits: Pan, Google images, and The Wind in the Willows, source unknown.
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Watch for her new book, The Soul’s Twins, to be launched by Schiffer Publishing this October.