Pan, Pan, Io Pan,
If He can’t do it–
What’re we saying,
Of course He can!
I Call strong Pan, the substance of the whole, etherial, marine, earthly, general soul,
Immortal fire; for all the world is thine, and all are parts of thee, O pow’r divine.
Come, blessed Pan, whom rural haunts delight, come, leaping, agile, wand’ring, starry light;
The Hours and Seasons, wait thy high command, and round thy throne in graceful order stand.
Goat-footed, horned, Bacchanalian Pan, fanatic pow’r, from whom the world began,
Whose various parts by thee inspir’d, combine in endless dance and melody divine.
In thee a refuge from our fears we find, those fears peculiar to the human kind.
Thee shepherds, streams of water, goats rejoice, thou lov’st the chace, and Echo’s secret voice:
The sportive nymphs, thy ev’ry step attend, and all thy works fulfill their destin’d end.
O all-producing pow’r, much-fam’d, divine, the world’s great ruler, rich increase is thine.
All-fertile Pæan, heav’nly splendor pure, in fruits rejoicing, and in caves obscure.
True serpent-horned Zeus, whose dreadful rage when rous’d, ’tis hard for mortals to assuage.
By thee the earth wide-bosom’d deep and long, stands on a basis permanent and strong.
Th’ unwearied waters of the rolling sea, profoundly spreading, yield to thy decree.
Old Okeanos too reveres thy high command, whose liquid arms begirt the solid land.
The spacious air, whose nutrimental fire, and vivid blasts, the heat of life inspire
The lighter frame of fire, whose sparkling eye shines on the summit of the azure sky,
Submit alike to thee, whole general sway all parts of matter, various form’d obey.
All nature’s change thro’ thy protecting care, and all mankind thy lib’ral bounties share:
For these where’er dispers’d thro’ boundless space, still find thy providence support their race.
Come, Bacchanalian, blessed power draw near, fanatic Pan, thy humble suppliant hear,
Propitious to these holy rites attend, and grant my life may meet a prosp’rous end;
Drive panic Fury too, wherever found, from human kind, to earth’s remotest bound.
— translated by Thomas Taylor, 1792. From Theoi.com.
Muse, tell me about Pan, the dear son of Hermes, with his goat’s feet and two horns —a lover of merry noise. Through wooded glades he wanders with dancing nymphs who foot it on some sheer cliff’s edge, calling upon Pan, the shepherd-god, long-haired, unkempt. He has every snowy crest and the mountain peaks and rocky crests for his domain; hither and thither he goes through the close thickets, now lured by soft streams, and now he presses on amongst towering crags and climbs up to the highest peak that overlooks the flocks. Often he courses through the glistening high mountains, and often on the shouldered hills he speeds along slaying wild beasts, this keen-eyed god. Only at evening, as he returns from the chase, he sounds his note, playing sweet and low on his pipes of reed: not even she could excel him in melody —that bird who in flower-laden spring pouring forth her lament utters honey-voiced song amid the leaves. At that hour the clear-voiced nymphs are with him and move with nimble feet, singing by some spring of dark water, while Echo wails about the mountain-top, and the god on this side or on that of the choirs, or at times sidling into the midst, plies it nimbly with his feet. On his back he wears a spotted lynx-pelt, and he delights in high-pitched songs in a soft meadow where crocuses and sweet-smelling hyacinths bloom at random in the grass…
Engaging with the gods of the wild means engaging with wildlife, as a part of the natural world which is not human–though we as humans have no inherent separation from that world, even though we often act as though we do, there is nothing like an animal encounter to bring home both our kinship with these nonhuman intelligences, and the differences between us and them.
The ancient Greeks had a different relationship to wilderness than those of us who have grown up with it as a form of recreation do. There are reasons that Artemis patrols the liminal, Pan incites panic, and Dionysus’s entrance into the city from the wild mountains is a time of upheaval and terror as well as joy and celebration. We push back the wilderness for our own safety and comfort, but it will come in, as sure as a dandelion pushing up through a sidewalk or a squirrel invading your attic.
Wildlife are pursuing their own stories: food, shelter, reproduction, play. Seeing them at
these pursuits is an unusual occurrence, one that few besides hunters, wildlife scientists, or determined backwoods adventurers experience. But in tracking, you can learn something of the stories that passed through a place before you came there.
Among other more practical reasons, this is why I study tracking. Realizing that the seemingly undisturbed landscape along the logging road or hiking trail is actually awash in activity is a humbling and eye-opening experience. The wild isn’t something that occurs out there. It’s going on all the time, all around us, in the most unlikely places. Knowing that an elk or a bobcat or a bear or even something as humble as a wood rat or a deer mouse was right here, perhaps just a few hours ago, brings home how we are not the only inhabitants of this world.
It’s not just for us, and it is of this that the gods of the wild remind us. Artemis is both
hunter and steward; delighting in slaughter as the hymn says, but also concerned with sustenance and renewal. Thus a goddess of violent death is also a goddess of birth. Pan is the wild, the will toward life of all that is, both the deer mouse trying frantically to escape the coyote’s jaws, and the coyote in desperate need of this tiny meal. Dionysus is both our footsteps on the earth, and the mountain lion’s; He brings the wilderness into the city, and brings us out into the wild.
When next you are in the forest, stop and sit. Breathe. Imagine who else might have been here, as recently as a few hours or minutes ago. What sign did they leave of their passing? What sign will you leave behind you?
Notoriously difficult to cultivate, the madrona tree thrives when it roots where it chooses, and does better in community with its fellows. It survives wildfire when mature and can be found in company with Douglas fir, a tree whose regenerative cycle also incorporates wildfire. Ironically, forest management techniques involving wildfire suppression have led to a decline of this tree.