A Book of Myths

Page: 103

While the sun shone and the herdsmen could see the nodding white cotton-grass, the asphodel, and the golden kingcups that hid the black death-traps of the pitiless marshes, they had no fear of Pan. Nor in the daytime, when in the woods the sunbeams played amongst the trees and the birds sang of Spring and of love, and the syrinx sent an echo from far away that made the little silver birches give a whispering laugh of gladness and the pines cease to sigh, did man or maid have any fear. Yet when darkness fell on the land, terror would come with it, and, deep in their hearts, they would know that the terror was Pan. Blindly, madly, they would flee from something that they could not see, something they could barely hear, and many times rush to their own destruction. And there would be no sweet sound of music then, only mocking laughter. Panic was the name given to this fear—the name by [Pg 214] which it still is known. And, to this day, panic yet comes, and not only by night, but only in very lonely places. There are those who have known it, and for shame have scarce dared to own it, in highland glens, in the loneliness of an island in the western sea, in a green valley amongst the “solemn, kindly, round-backed hills” of the Scottish Border, in the remoteness of the Australian bush. They have no reasons to give—or their reasons are far-fetched. Only, to them as to Mowgli, Fear came, and the fear seemed to them to come from a malignant something from which they must make all haste to flee, did they value safety of mind and of body. Was it for this reason that the Roman legionaries on the Great Wall so often reared altars in that lonely land of moor and mountain where so many of them fought and died—

To Pan, and to the Sylvan deities”?

For surely Pan was there, where the curlew cried and the pewit mourned, and sometimes the waiting soldiers must almost have imagined his mocking laughter borne in the winds that swept across the bleak hills of their exiled solitude.

He who was surely one of the bravest of mankind, one who always, in his own words, “clung to his paddle,” writes of such a fear when he escaped death by drowning from the Oise in flood.

“The devouring element in the universe had leaped out against me, in this green valley quickened by a running stream. The bells were all very pretty in their way, but I had heard some of the hollow notes of Pan’s [Pg 215] music. Would the wicked river drag me down by the heels, indeed? and look so beautiful all the time? Nature’s good humour was only skin-deep, after all.”

And of the reeds he writes: “Pan once played upon their forefathers; and so, by the hands of his river, he still plays upon these later generations down all the valley of the Oise; and plays the same air, both sweet and shrill, to tell us of the beauty and the terror of the world.”

The Beauty and the terror of the world”—was not this what Pan stood for to the Greeks of long ago?

The gladness of living, the terror of living—the exquisite joy and the infinite pain—that has been the possession of Pan—for we have not yet found a more fitting title—since ever time began. And because Pan is as he is, from him has evolved a higher Pantheism. We have done away with his goat’s feet and his horns, although these were handed on from him to Satan when Christianity broke down the altars of Paganism.