KATHERINE NEVILLE’S Paean to PAN Newsletter (Don’t Pan-ic!) May 15, 2020

Paean to PAN Newsletter (Don’t Pan-ic!)
May 15, 2020

The Great God Pan

In Greek myth, the “Great God” Pan–whose name means “All”–was one of the most ancient gods, perhaps the most ancient, existing since pre-Greek pagan times.

Pan is a wild, goat-legged nature boy, born in the craggy mountains of Arcadia, in central Greece. He plays the Pan-pipes, which he created from reeds, and he runs about in the mountains with fauns, nymphs, and crazy Dionysian Maenads–creating Pan-demonium. He is a force of Nature, whose sudden appearance in the woods causes people to Pan-ic. (The sudden arrival of the unexpected often causes us to panic!)

Pan was the child of unknown parents, though most reports say he was fathered by Hermes (who actually arrived far later in the Greek “Pan-theon” than Pan did.) Hermes was also born in Arcadia, to father Zeus and a beautiful woodland nymph named Maia–the month of May. Read more about Maia in my Merry May Day Newsletter.

Hermes–who was later transformed into the Roman god Mercury–always sits atop my desk, holding aloft a giant purple button, reminding me of that simple rule (especially important when we are weathering a PAN-demic!):

Don’t Panic!

The Death of Pan

Pan is the only “god” who was reported by “eyewitnesses” to have “died!” Pan’s death was witnessed at the dawn of the Roman Empire (coincidentally the same epoch when Christ also died) and this event was reported in detail, to the emperor Tiberius, as magically described by Plutarch. I expanded upon the scene of the Egyptian ship pilot, bringing Tiberius the news, in an opening chapter of my book, The Magic Circle. (Read an excerpt of The Magic Circle.)

The death of Pan, this wild, abandoned son of nature, marks not only the birth of the Christian Era, but also the triumph of “civilization” (meaning life in civitas or cities, the root concept of “civilized” behavior)–over the unruly, wild, unpredictable natural world. The Roman Empire soon conquered much of the natural world, building towns and highways to connect them, constructing dams to create lakes, aqueducts to reroute water, an empire to rule it all….

Pan in Today’s World

Though Pan is long dead, these 2000 years, we often find unexpected tributes to him in places where we can still revel in the earth’s glory, and mankind living in harmony.: Here is Pan in Ravello, my favorite place along the Amalfi coast of Italy. (A magical spot I’ve also described in The Magic Circle.)

Pan in Italy

And here is the perfect poem by Catullus, which is carved on Pan’s temple at Ravello!

O quid solutes est beatius curies/
cum mens onus repent ac peregrino/
labore fessi venimus larem ad nostrum
desidiratoque acquiesimus lecto/


Ah, what is more blessed that to put cares away,
when the mind lays by its burden, and tired
with labor of far travel we have come to our own home
and rest on the couch we have longed for.


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