I love mythology. Have always loved it. Admittedly, more than most theology. Mythology throws pebbles at the window of imagination’s bedroom and with a whispered call, says, “Come out in the moonlight and play!” Theology, on the other hand, often marches around the living room with heavy boots of conviction.
Unlike theology, mythology doesn’t have an ax to grind. Ain’t gonna send you to heaven or hell depending on your beliefs. Doesn’t care if you’re gay or straight or even if you behave yourself in public. Theology and mythology both, however, can lead you into your soul’s attic and open the trunks of your ancestors, offering you a potentially life-changing look at where you come from and where you might be headed.
We recently had a life-sized statue of Pan carved in our yard. It’s carved from a beautiful red oak tree (maybe 200-250 years old) which had root rot and needed to come down. Losing the tree broke my heart. So we cut it to about 20 feet and hired master woodcarver and Jubilant, Jack Bailey, to create a statue of Pan – the half-goat-half-human, Greek God of woodlands, beehives, nymphs and fertility.
Ida Jolly Crawley, who owned this lovely home from 1919— 46, called her home “The House of Pan” because, like Pan, she felt the house attracted muses and nymphs of art, music and nature. And, indeed, it has. And does!
One enchanting story of Pan describes him as the offspring of Hermes and a wood nymph of the earth. But when he was born and the mother saw that her child had horns and goat hooves, tail and pointed ears, she ran away in horror. Papa Hermes, however, was intrigued by this strange little offspring and carried him to Olympus. There, young Pan entertained the gods so well with tricks and antics that he became a favorite of all the immortals. And it was these happy gods who named him “Pan” – meaning “all” – because all the gods were amused. He was invited to stay on Olympus, but chose not to.
Pan felt that his place was in the fields and woods, so off he went.
One of the things I like most about Pan, however, is that, because he was a god of the woodlands, he was therefore worshipped by the ancient Greeks in caves, groves, meadows and rivers. No temple or tabernacle for this cloven-hoofed gallivanter. No shrine or sanctuary for this merry flute-tooting wanderer. No monastery or mosque for this horned (and horny) lover of mischief.
It was in the wild and woolly wilderness that his followers worshipped this wild and wooly lover of life. His devotees knew that this untamed flute-playing, nymph-and-nature-loving goat/man would not – could not – be tied to a temple. I’m pretty sure that if Jesus had his choice, he would side with Pan and choose the open air over any confined and cloistered cathedral – no matter how opulent – for his followers to gather.
There are some who claim Jesus’ birth triggered Pan’s death – that Christianity crowded out Roman and Greek mythology. I wonder, however, if in some mythic way, Pan simply passed the torch to Jesus – the torch of delight in life – the torch of love for the earth – the torch of music to stir the soul. “Consider the lilies,” taught Jesus, “consider the birds of the air.” And it was those earthy gifts that Pan was protector.
But what of Pan’s erotic nature? Matthew Fox reminds us again and again that the erotic is not the same as pornographic. Not even close. It is, rather, the opposite. Eros is life-giving. Pornography life-degrading. Pornography reduces God’s gift of Eros to a money-making enterprise.
Be that as it may, for me, mythology is alive and well; and fun-and-life-loving Pan stands tall outside my window, watching over the bees and all the many critters of this incomprehensibly mythterious creation.