The Death and Resurrection of Pan

pan dead

Several springs ago, I wrote about the Death of Satan, ruing his demise, fretting that without the fetters of everlasting, agonizing imprisonment, Christianity offers no concrete constraints on human misbehavior, a simple, “I’m sorry, Jesus,” sufficing to cleanse a lifetime of sadism, bigotry, predation.

Poof!  Forgiven!

 

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With Satan alive and well, imagine Josep and Idi facing the everlasting wrath of Jonathan Edwards’ or Father Arnall’s God!

First, Preacher Edwards:

Tis everlasting Wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this Fierceness and Wrath of Almighty God one Moment; but you must suffer it to all Eternity: there will be no End to this exquisite horrible Mis- ery: When you look forward, you shall see a long Forever, a boundless Duration before you, which will swallow up your Thoughts, and amaze your Soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever hav- ing any Deliverance, any End, any Mitigation, any Rest at all; you will know certainly that you must wear out long Ages, Millions of Millions of Ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty mer- ciless Vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many Ages have actually been spent by you in this Manner, you will know that all is but a Point to what remains. So that our Punishment will indeed be infinite. Oh who can express what the State of a Soul in such Circumstances is! All that we can possibly say about it, gives but a very feeble faint Representation of it; ’tis inexpressible and in- conceivable: for who knows the Power of God’s Anger

Your turn Father Arnall.  Can you render “the faint representation” of eternity a little more concretely?

You have often seen the sand on the seashore. How fine are its tiny grains! And how many of those tiny little grains go to make up the small handful which a child grasps in its play. Now imagine a mountain of that sand, a million miles high, reaching from the earth to the farthest heavens, and a million miles broad, extending to remotest space, and a million miles in thickness; and imagine such an enormous mass of countless particles of sand multiplied as often as there are leaves in the forest, drops of water in the mighty ocean, feathers on birds, scales on fish, hairs on animals, atoms in the vast expanse of the air: and imagine that at the end of every million years a little bird came to that mountain and carried away in its beak a tiny grain of that sand. How many millions upon millions of centuries would pass before that bird had carried away even a square foot of that mountain, how many eons upon eons of ages before it had carried away all? Yet at the end of that immense stretch of time not even one instant of eternity could be said to have ended. At the end of all those billions and trillions of years eternity would have scarcely begun. And if that mountain rose again after it had been all carried away, and if the bird came again and carried it all away again grain by grain, and if it so rose and sank as many times as there are stars in the sky, atoms in the air, drops of water in the sea, leaves on the trees, feathers upon birds, scales upon fish, hairs upon animals, at the end of all those innumerable risings and sinkings of that immeasurably vast mountain not one single instant of eternity could be said to have ended; even then, at the end of such a period, after that eon of time the mere thought of which makes our very brain reel dizzily, eternity would scarcely have begun.

A whole long lot of misery, O my brothers and sisters!

***

When I posted “Satan Ist Tot,” it hadn’t dawned on me that Satan is Pan’s doppelgänger, hoofed and horned, half-human and half-bestial, our intermediary between the celestial and the cesspool, heaven and earth.

Perhaps one of the most curious events in the ancient world is Plutarch’s announcement of the death of Pan, which occurred during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE). Here’s Plutarch relating the story via Philip the Historian in On the Obsolescence of Oracles:

As for death among such beings, I have heard the words of a man who was not a fool nor an impostor. The father of Aemilianus the orator, to whom some of you have listened, was Epitherses, who lived in our town and was my teacher in grammar. He said that once upon a time in making a voyage to Italy he embarked on a ship carrying freight and many passengers. It was already evening when, near the Echinades Islands, the wind dropped, and the ship drifted near Paxi. Almost everybody was awake, and a good many had not finished their after-dinner wine. Suddenly from the island of Paxi was heard the voice of someone loudly calling Thamus, so that all were amazed. Thamus was an Egyptian pilot, Cnot known by name even to many on board. Twice he was called and made no reply, but the third time he answered; and the caller, raising his voice, said, ‘When you come opposite to Palodes, announce that Great Pan is dead.’ On hearing this, all, said Epitherses, were astounded and reasoned among themselves whether it were better to carry out the order or to refuse to meddle and let the matter go. Under the circumstances Thamus made up his mind that if there should be a breeze, he would sail past and keep quiet, but with no wind and a smooth sea about the place he would announce what he had heard. So, when he came opposite Palodes, and there was neither wind nor wave, Thamus from the stern, looking toward the land, said the words as he had heard them: ‘Great Pan is dead.’ Even before he had finished there was a great cry of lamentation, not of one person, but of many, mingled with exclamations of amazement. As many persons were on the vessel, the story was soon spread abroad in Rome, and Thamus was sent for by Tiberius Caesar. Tiberius became so convinced of the truth of the story that he caused an inquiry and investigation to be made about Pan; and the scholars, who were numerous at his court, conjectured that he was the son born of Hermes and Penelopê.”

Of course, the death of Pan coincides with the life of Jesus, and Christian philosophers have taken Plutarch’s pronouncement as the ending of the old order and the beginning of the new.

James Hillman (whose prose style I detest but whose anti-Buddhist ideas intrigue me) writes

When Pan is dead, then nature can be controlled by the will of the new God, man, modeled in the image of Prometheus or Hercules, creating from it and polluting in it without a troubled conscience.  (Hercules who cleaned up Pan’s natural world first, clubbing instinct with his willpower, does not stop to clear away the dismembered carcasses left to putrefy after his civilizing creative tasks.  He strides on to the next task, and ultimate madness).  As the human loses personal connection with personified nature and personified instinct, the image of Pan and the image of the devil merge. Pan never died, say many commentators on Plutarch; he was repressed. Therefore as suggested above, Pan still lives, and not merely in the literary imagination.  He lives in the repressed which returns, in the pathologies of instinct which assert themselves, as Roscher indicates, primarily in the nightmare and its associated erotic, demonic, and panic qualities.

Perhaps, then, Satan hasn’t actually died but merely morphed back into his prototype, Pan.  They both have served as lords of the underworld, Satan in his hell, Pan in our unconsciousnesses.  Certainly, it’s difficult to imagine Jesus smiling and nodding his haloed head as he looks upon Jonathan Edwards’ and Father’s Arnall’s visions of eternal damnation.  After all, Jesus himself supposedly comes from the primordial ooze of Mary’s stock as well as from the stars.  Part of Pan no doubt dwelt in him as well.

It’s a shame, by my heretical reckoning, that the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas didn’t make the ecclesiastical cut.  In that quizzical compendium Jesus strikes me as being much more soulful.  For example, here he is in “Saying 70”:

Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you
bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is
within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Here is Elaine Pagels, the Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion Princeton University:

The Gospel of Thomas also suggests that Jesus is aware of, and criticizing the views of the Kingdom of God as a time or a place that appear in the other gospels. Here Jesus says, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘look, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds will get there first. If they say ‘it’s in the ocean,’ then the fish will get there first. But the Kingdom of God is within you and outside of you. Once you come to know yourselves, you will become known. And you will know that it is you who are the children of the living father.”

O for a rapprochement between Jesus and Pan, lamb and goat, inside and out, here and now!

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The Nowhere That Is Not Necessarily Everywhere

Reading the late James Hillman’s Selected Writings (edited by Thomas Moore) frustrates me because Hillman deals with terms  — soul, archetype, spirit – that by his own definition defy definition.  He creates metaphors, uses Greek gods and goddesses as examples.  The gist is that like Steppenwolf’s Harry Haller, we have an infinite number of selves that slosh around the in a murky swamp of soul, a sort of neuronbuzz that connects mind to body.  What frustrates me is his lack of empiricism – where does he get his ideas? from an oracle? Nor does he provide case histories to help embody these archetypal inner beings.

Nevertheless, I agree with much of what says about our contemporary world, and he offers some wonderful turns of phrase.

illustration of James Hillman by Jason Stout

For example:

Dumb sex is cultural. Our white American speech doesn’t provide good words for genitals and intercourse – and hardly any phrases about places, rhythms, touches, and tastes.  Listen to the marvelous language of foreign erotica; jade stalk, palace gates, ambrosia!  Compare these with cock, prick, dick, nuts, balls, with suck, jerk blow, yank, and with gash, bush, frog, slit, clit, hole.  A Chinese plum is to be deliciously enjoyed; our cherries are to be taken, popped, or broken [. . .] Our Puritan prose cannot encompass the sexual imagination to which great temples are built in India.

The human person as a data bank does not need to read more than functionally.  A data bank deciding yes or no on the basis of feedback (i.e. reinforcement) need not imagine beyond getting, storing, and spending.  Just get the instructions right; never mind the content. Learn the how rather than the what with its qualities, values, and subtleties.  The human agent becomes an incarnated credit card performing the religious rituals of consumerism.

[. . .] places tend to remind us of history, of ethic and earthly differences that cannot be homogenized into the universal sameness of our contemporary utopias, the nowhere everywhere of our shopping centers and roads to and from them.

West Ashley (Charleston, SC at rush hour

So, according to Hillman, materialism has triumphed over spirituality.

Although perhaps generally true, it certainly isn’t universally true.  I cannot think of one close friend who prefers things to experiences, who would drive a Range Rover at the expense of not being able to travel.  The few very wealthy acquaintances I know are interested in both mind and spirit and never flaunt their fortunes.  And my Chico Feo bar buddies, many who live from paycheck to paycheck, seem well satisfied with their lives.  Before work each morning (and perhaps, even more impressively, on weekends), my friend Jason watches the sun rise above the Stono River and then posts a photograph with an accompanying prose passage, poem or song.

Today’s (11 July 2018) sunrise captured by Jason Chambers

Nevertheless, fighting traffic at rush hour through a wasteland of billboards and cell phone towers on the thoroughfares Hillman describes does indeed suck/blow/yank — especially if you’re in a hurry.  But if you’re riding in an air-conditioned vehicle with a system that plays music or words you select, you shouldn’t complain too loudly.

Summon your inner Apollo or Athena, or, in my case, given that I’m likely to be listening to James Brown or the Rolling Stones, inner Dionysius.

And remember (see the story of Lazarus for an example) Jesus was never in a hurry.

Jason and Me at Chico Feo (photo credit Caroline Traugott)

 

I Annihilated This Post on Violent Language!

As I was squandering precious moments of the twilight of my existence marveling at how happy and well-fed my Facebook friends seem to be, I suffered this epiphany: the American English vernacular is steeped in violent expressions with positive connotations. That violence permeates our language shouldn’t be surprising given that mass shootings have become a monthly occurrence, as routine as severe thunder storms.  However, the fact that violent diction projects positivity seems, at least on the surface, perverse.

I have long realized how much the foes of drug use, like youth ministers, rely on the argot of the drug scene, like when they cop some Grace or score a convert or pull CS Lewis from their lit stash, but for whatever reason, the predominance of violent expression, especially when extolling a performance, had never blasted its way into my consciousness, which is strange since I overuse the word killer all the time, as in Frederick Seidel is a killer poet who obliterates his readers with his brilliant use of language.

What sparked this illumination concerning the positive connotations of violent words was a post from a friend of mine, a sweet, gentle, funny, articulate soul who wrote:

Man, Mad Men and Hannibal both really crushed their season finales.

Crushed is a great sounding word, the sibilant volition of rushed lengthened and hardened by the hard initial C-sound.   In a social media forum crushed sounds better than “really masterfully executed their season finales.” Though I suspect that if you had learned English from Rosetta Stone, you might take crushed in the above Mad Men/Hannibal context to mean that the shows mangled their finales, wrecked or ruined them, especially since episode is the direct object of crushed.

But, of course, crushed here means the opposite, that the episodes were triumphant cliff hangers, huge successes, like when you destroy your exam by acing it.

These ruminations on language reminded me of an essay by James Hillman where he mused on the harshness/violence of sexual English compared with the much gentler, more loving elocutions of the East.

Listen to the marvelous language of foreign erotica: jade stalk, palace gates, ambrosia! Compare these with cock, prick, dick, nuts, balls; with suck, jerk, blow, yank; and with gash, bush, frog, slit, clit, hole. A Chinese plum is to be deliciously enjoyed; our cherries are to be taken, popped, or broken. (The Blue Fire 179)

America, land of the free, land of the mass shooting, land of the perverse.