In my personal pantheon of spirit guides, Pan, the satyr-god of shepherds and flocks, wood-lore and pastoral life in general, is el jefe. It is he, I feel, from whom the highest orders come. He shares his name with the Greek word "pan" that means "all"... but the true etymology of his name is said to be the verb "paein"... "to pasture." His native abode was supposedly Arcadia, the central mountainous region of the Peloponnese—corresponding to the province where my own family is from.
Pan is as old as the forest. Older than the institution at Olympia; a natural anarchist. Artemis got her hunting hounds from him. Apollo learned the arts of divination from him. When he plays those rustic melodies on his pipes - translating the green language of the forest - he is able to inspire stampedes - to instill either fear or lust in his object, depending on his intentions. It is from this power that the word "panic" comes down to us English speakers. Panic is primal, visceral, dancing around the center of our being with its consort; lust. Eros (sexual love) and Thanatos (death) are the electron and the proton of our cellular being. Pan represents the continual consilience of these forces, and he transduces the energy from this yin-yang reaction through a caprine, whimsical dialectic with the environment. Pan is the ultimate swashbuckler—an ironic gentleman in spite of his wildness. He seduced Selene (the Moon), by cloaking himself in a sheepskin. The nymph he chased (and chases forever) was Syrinx, who, unlike the others, rejected his advances and hid from him by transforming into a grove of reeds. It is out of these reeds that Pan fashioned his pipes, which are also called Syrinx, the name of his Beloved... thus when he plays those old tunes, casting spells and chaos, his incantation is achieved with an artifact of his own sorrow. He is Majnun, the insane, itinerant lover whose divine poetry to his Beloved becomes part of the landscape, performing to no one and everyone, his verses repeated perennially by all who hear; a virus that carries the fingerprints of the consuming fire of the Apostles and of the Sufi mystics. He seduces, he loves deeply and often, he reminds us that our heart is a muscle full of blood. An eternal mercenary for Gaia's green revolution, he also is. Importantly, to me he also embodies the trickster, who appears in many guises across the space-time of earthling ecology. Tricksters come in many different forms, languages, and cultures... be they kokopelli, the raccoon, the fox, the coy-dog, Eris or Anansi, machine elves or a gaggle of leprechauns, what is the same about them all is the way they are in the world - the way they form relationships with their natural/social/built environments. It is these whimsically-wise, eternally newborn-curious and tree-ancient game-players that we today have so much to learn from. Oscar Wilde agrees with me, for he wrote:
O goat-foot God of Arcady!
This modern world is grey and old,
And what remains to us of thee?No more the shepherd lads in glee
Throw apples at thy wattled fold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!Nor through the laurels can one see
Thy soft brown limbs, thy beard of gold,
And what remains to us of thee?And dull and dead our Thames would be,
For here the winds are chill and cold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!Then keep the tomb of Helice,
Thine olive-woods, thy vine-clad wold,
And what remains to us of thee?Though many an unsung elegy
Sleeps in the reeds our rivers hold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!
Ah, what remains to us of thee?IIAh, leave the hills of Arcady,
Thy satyrs and their wanton play,
This modern world hath need of thee.No nymph or Faun indeed have we,
For Faun and nymph are old and grey,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!This is the land where liberty
Lit grave-browed Milton on his way,
This modern world hath need of thee!A land of ancient chivalry
Where gentle Sidney saw the day,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!This fierce sea-lion of the sea,
This England lacks some stronger lay,
This modern world hath need of thee!Then blow some trumpet loud and free,
And give thine oaten pipe away,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!
This modern world hath need of thee!
Tricksters, to me (and other fans of this such game) are characters that teach by prank-playing. Loving mischief. Their didactic technique consists of doing things that are affective, whimsical, playful - that having teaching power, particularly in the face of adversity. They are, like shamans or medicine men, translators - weaving sense out of the chaos of nature on the behalf of their fellow humans - although unlike medicine men, they do not (necessarily) translate to heal; they translate to reveal new ways (or re-vive OLD WAYS) of looking at the environment - (whether artificial or natural). It seems like they are often concerned with re-connecting people to primal desires and urges, reminding us of the roots(routes) of our behavior in a time when it has become increasingly difficult to "trace" such routes through the layers and tangents of the culture that envelops us. Consequently, tricksters are often responsible for moments of profane illumination. Another hallmark is that it is ever-difficult to tell whether tricksters "teach" deliberately or whether their behavior is completely whimsical and arbitrary (and in the end, this is a pointless inquiry anyway). It seems that they act in their own interest - always - (e.g. raccoons in Native American tales) and it is their steadfast focus and graceful navigation along this path that becomes an 'ipso facto' source of wisdom for any who choose to observe. Thus, they make good spirit guides, because they love games of connect-the-dots, and treasure hunts... But they are not gods. They are not transcendent - existing somewhere abstractly - but imminent, in nature, in flesh both growing and dying and exploding. They are connected to the circuitry of the animate forces - plant and animal consciousness, elemental consciousness, earth consciousness. We can see them rounding a corner, feather in cap and medicine-bag slung over their shoulder - and if we watch them we find that they ground themselves by being able to adapt - being always where they stand - being shapeshifters - ready for change but never prepared, because preparing wastes time. But being ready only takes a moment of prayer. They are the animals of humans. They embody the irony of being human.
As heroes in mythology, they conquer through wit - or wit disguised as whim - as opposed to brute force. Thus... they are hackers...
They are also rather QUEER. To quote the Wiki entry:
"Frequently the Trickster figure exhibits gender and form variability, changing gender roles and engaging in same-sex practices. Such figures appear in Native American and First Nations mythologies, where they are said to have a two-spirit nature. Loki, the Norse trickster, also exhibits gender variability, in one case even becoming pregnant; interestingly, he shares the ability to change genders with Odin, the chief Norse deity who also possesses many characteristics of the Trickster. In the case of Loki's pregnancy, he was forced by the Gods to stop a giant from erecting a wall for them before 7 days passed; he solved the problem by transforming into a mare and drawing the giant's magical horse away from its work. He returned some time later with a child he had given birth to--the eight-legged horse Sleipnir, who served as Odin's steed."
This is a picture of me and El Comandante at the stone circle at Four Quarters in Southern PA. An annual three-day hoof-stamping ritual takes places here the weekend of the summer solstice. Pan is ever-present at such dionysian celebrations, winking through the trees... but this time he graced us with a rare sort of presence...
Bless all of dem trickstars. Bless ya.
"A life without festivity is a long road without an inn."
Further reading (with primary source citations): Pan: Greek God of Shepherds & Flocks