The Rite of Pan

Pan - The Goat-Foot God of Arcady

The image of Pan is a familiar one - half a goat and half a man, Pan looks like no other god.  His body is that of a muscular man with a broad chest and strong arms, whilst below the waist he was the shaggy thighs and cloven hooves of a goat.  His face is bearded and upon his head are a pair of horns.

Pan has his origins in the Greek region of Arcadia (sometimes called Arcady).  This is a secluded, rural mountainous region in the Peloponnesian peninsular.  This name was originally derived from a word ‘paein’ meaning ‘pasture’ and he was the god of shepherds, fields and wild places.  Because Pan means ‘all’ in Greek, the classical Greeks of the ancient worlds considered Pan to be the god of greatest rank.

Pan is a rustic god.  His domain is pastures, fields, woodland groves and mountainous regions.  He is also associated with the sudden fear that can be felt in wild, dangerous places and, as such, he gives his name to the word ‘panic’.   He has been known to cause sudden panic in large crowds and even armies on the field of battle.  It was said that when he was born, his mother ran in fear after seeing his


As a god of nature he is associated with the Spring and fertility.  The ancient Greeks often depicted him as a phallic god who attempted to copulate with anything that he could catch - whether it be maiden, nymph, shepherd or goat.

Pan is also a musical god and often shown carrying or playing a set of pipes.  These are so closely associated with him that this instrument is commonly known as the Pan Pipes.  These pipes are also sometimes called a Syrinx.  There is a famous myth about how Pan first obtained his pipes.

Syrinx was a beautiful, chaste, Arcadian water-nymph and the daughter of the river god Ladon.  She was devoted to the goddess Artemis and loved to hunt.  One day as she was returning from hunting she met Pan, near Mount Lycaeum. 

Pan was very much taken with her beauty and greatly desired her.  She, on the other hand, had no interest whatsoever in him and ran away.  Pan pursued her until they came to the river Ladon, where he had her trapped.  In desperation, he cried out to her sisters for help.

Syrinx (1892) by Arthur Hacker

As Pan grabbed hold of her to embrace her, the other water nymphs turned her into a bunch of tall marsh reeds in his hand.  The wind blew through the reeds and made the sound of musical notes.  Pan was entranced by the sound and fashioned a set of pipes from the reeds, so that he might always be with her.

Telling us how fair, trembling Syrinx fled

Arcadian Pan, with such a fearful dread.

Poor Nymph — poor Pan — how did he weep to find

Nought but a lovely sighing of the wind

Along the reedy stream; a half heard strain,

Full of sweet desolation — balmy pain.

(John Keats, 1817)

One of the most oft-repeated myths about Pan is that of his supposed death.  The Greek historian Plutarch told that an Egyptian traveller named Thamus, was sailing from Greece to Italy.  As the ship neared the island of Paxos, a loud voice was heard to cry, “Thamus, When you reach Palodes, tell them that the Great God Pan is dead!”.  Christian tradition places this tale on the night that Jesus was born, though it actually dates from the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 14-37).  This tale has been a popular theme in poetry.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1891) wrote in 1844:

Gods of Hellas, gods of Hellas,

Can ye listen in your silence?

Can your mystic voices tell us

Where ye hide? In floating islands,

With a wind that evermore

Keeps you out of sight of shore?

Pan, Pan is dead.

Though as a Christian, she seemed pretty pleased about his supposed demise.  We know, of course, that Pan was not dead.  In the late 19th and early 20th century there was an enormous revival of interest in him.  As a god of unbridled sexuality, he was the antithesis of the repressed sexuality and rigid morals of the Victorian era.  Many books and poems were written about him, though he was often used as a symbolic motif, rather than an actual deity.  Thus we have Oscar Wilde writing, “O goat-foot God of Arcady, This modern world hath need of thee!

Despite Pan being one of the most popular deities of the early 20th Century occult revival, his popularity has not endured.  Modern neo-paganism has subsumed Pan, along with Herne and Cernunnos, into a generic ‘Horned God’.


Pan and Maenad

Plaque by Goran Gecovski.

The Maenads were wild female worshippers of Dionysus.  Pan claims to have seduced them every one of them.