PAN: DARK LORD OF THE FOREST AND HORNED GOD OF THE WITCHES
I must confess I had a lot of fun writing this book – in fact, I didn’t really ‘write’ it at all because it was ‘received writing’ and only took five weeks from proposal to publisher …
In The Wind in the Willows Mole asks Rat if he is afraid in the presence of the ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, and Rat replies: ‘Afraid! Of Him? Oh, never, never! And yet – and yet – I am afraid!’ Those who have grown up with Pan as a playmate would know exactly how Ratty felt at that precise moment. Back in those days it was possible for a young child to disappear into the woods with only a dog for company for hours on end without there being a hue and cry raised in its absence; and it was on those woodland rides and pathways – summer or winter – that I often encountered Pan.
The day would be peaceful and calm with a soft breeze whispering in the treetops, and the whole wood alive with bird calls. The woodland floor would be carpeted with bluebells in the spring; or summer sunlight filtering through the overhead canopy; crisp, dry leaves crackling underfoot in autumn; or the frozen quiet of a late winter afternoon as a fiery sun began to sink in the west, casting long shadows beneath the trees. Then, almost imperceptibly, there would be the sound of muffled footsteps following quickly in the undergrowth. Your pace quickened and so did that of your stalker. A suddenly flurry of old dried leaves would be picked up by a passing zephyr and flung into the air like a mini-whirlwind. All the hair on the back of the neck would be standing on end, heart thundering in the chest, breath almost impossible to take. Then you turned to confront this persistent intruder only to find...nothing. The wind died away, carrying with it the faintest sound of laughter and a voice in your head saying: ‘Gotcha!’
I knew this experience long before I was ever aware of who had been with me all those years ago, and he still catches me out from time to time. Out with the dogs in the woods or the lonely lane when there’s no one else about, Pan will still be up to his old tricks. The long track stretches away into the distance; sunlight filters through the trees on either side and suddenly there’s that sensation of someone coming up behind, ready to pounce. The old panic is there and you turn to confront...nothing. I’ve long since learned to laugh with him, but I can still hear that laughing voice saying: ‘Gotcha!’
By contrast, The Age of Fable (1942) holds to the more generally accepted view that, ‘Pan, like other gods who dwelt in woods and forests, was dreaded by those whose occupations caused them to pass through the woods by night, for the gloom and loneliness of such scenes dispose the mind to superstitious fears.’ This is the evocative image Kenneth Grahame also created in a chapter called ‘The Wild Wood’ that conjures up the wood when it is feeling hostile towards any intruders: “The pattering increased till it sounded like sudden hail on the dry-leaf carpet spread around him. The whole wood seemed to be running now, running hard, hunting, chasing, closing in round something or – somebody... And as he lay there panting and trembling, and listened to the whisperings and the pattering outside, he knew it at last, in all its fullness...the Terror of the Wild Wood!”
There is a genuine, irrational fear of woods, forests or trees and the term hylophobia is derived from the Greek _λη hylo-, meaning ‘wood or forest’ and phobo- meaning ‘fear’, and many people do suffer from the complaint. As I mentioned in Traditional Witchcraft for Woods and Forests: “The Wild Wood, however, is the dark, untamed part of natural woodland where unearthly and potentially dangerous beings are still to be found. This is not everyone’s favourite place and many urban witches never get over an ‘atavistic fear of Nature uncontrolled …”
On a magical level, the Wild Wood refers to those strange, eerie places that remain the realm of Nature and untamed by man. Ancient gnarled oaks, festooned with ferns and draped with lichen, carry an air of solitude and remoteness that is deeply unnerving—here birdsong and the trickle of running water are the only sounds to break the stillness. It is the Otherworld of the ‘unearthly and potentially dangerous’. It is the realm of Pan and the Wild Hunt. In modern psychology, it refers to the dark inner recesses of the mind, the wild and tangled undergrowth of the unconscious. Here, among the trees, we are never sure that what we see is reality or illusion.
Pan’s original stomping ground, as we know, was Arcadia – a vision of pastoralism and harmony with Nature. It is an allegory derived from the ancient Greek province of the same name, whose mountainous regions and sparse population influenced the term ‘Arcadian’ to become a utopian catch-word for an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness and bountiful natural splendour.
And yet … In Coven of the Scales schooling, Meriem Clay-Egerton always saw Pan as the Horned God...and the Horned God as Pan. This was a traditional British Old Craft coven that honoured Aegocerus the ‘goat-horned’ – an epithet of the Greek Pan – not Cernunnos, the stag-horned deity the Celts had brought with them from northern Europe. It should also be understood that although Coven of the Scales held firmly to the philosophy and opinion that all faiths were One and all Paths led to the same Goal, it did not advocate what is now referred to as ‘eclectic paganism’. So how on earth could this ancient, pre-Olympian Greek deity find his way into the beliefs of traditional witchcraft in Britain?
What CoS did teach was the desire for knowledge and experience, regardless of source. Each new experience was, however, studied within the confines of that particular religion, path or tradition, but each new discipline was kept completely separate from the other. Only when the student had a thorough understanding of the tenets of each discipline were they encouraged to formulate them into their own individual system. So why, despite the fact that no other foreign deities were ever added to the mix of traditional British Old Craft, was Pan accepted as a facet of the Horned God so far from his native shores?
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