A Book of Myths

Page: 106

“In Being’s floods, in Action’s storm,
I walk and work, above, beneath,
Work and weave in endless motion!
Birth and Death,
An infinite ocean;
A seizing and giving
The fire of Living;
’Tis thus at the roaring loom of Time I ply,
And weave for God the Garment thou seest Him by.”

[Pg 216] So speaks the Erdgeist in Goethe’s Faust, and yet another of the greatest of the poets writes:

“The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the hills and the plains—
Are not these, O Soul, the Vision of Him who reigns?

And the ear of man cannot hear, and the eye of man cannot see;
But if we could see and hear, this Vision—were it not He?”


Carlyle says that “The whole universe is the Garment of God,” and he who lives very close to Nature must, at least once in a lifetime, come, in the solitude of the lonely mountain tops, upon that bush that burns and is not yet consumed, and out of the midst of which speaks the voice of the Eternal.

The immortal soul—the human body—united, yet ever in conflict—that is Pan. The sighing and longing for things that must endure everlastingly—the riotous enjoyment of the beauty of life—the perfect appreciation of the things that are. Life is so real, so strong, so full of joyousness and of beauty,—and on the other side of a dark stream, cold, menacing, cruel, stands Death. Yet Life and Death make up the sum of existence, and until we, who live our paltry little lives here on earth in the hope of a Beyond, can realise what is the true air that is played on those pipes of Pan, there is no hope for us of even a vague comprehension of the illimitable Immortality.

It is a very old tale that tells us of the passing of Pan. In the reign of Tiberius, on that day when, on the hill of Calvary, at Jerusalem in Syria, Jesus Christ [Pg 217] died as a malefactor, on the cross—“And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness all over the earth”—Thamus, an Egyptian pilot, was guiding a ship near the islands of Paxæ in the Ionian Sea; and to him came a great voice, saying, “Go! make everywhere the proclamation, Great Pan is dead!

And from the poop of his ship, when, in great heaviness of heart, because for him the joy of the world seemed to have passed away, Thamus had reached Palodes, he shouted aloud the words that he had been told. Then, from all the earth there arose a sound of great lamentation, and the sea and the trees, the hills, and all the creatures of Pan sighed in sobbing unison an echo of the pilot’s words—“Pan is dead—Pan is dead.

“The lonely mountains o’er
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard, and loud lament;
From haunted spring and dale
Edg’d with poplar pale,
The parting genius is with sighing sent;
With flow’r-inwoven tresses torn,
The Nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.”


Pan was dead, and the gods died with him.

“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.

[Pg 218] Gods! we vainly do adjure you,—
Ye return nor voice nor sign!
Not a votary could secure you
Even a grave for your Divine!
Not a grave to show thereby,
Here these grey old gods do lie,’
Pan, Pan is dead.”

E. B. Browning.

Pan is dead. In the old Hellenistic sense Pan is gone forever. Yet until Nature has ceased to be, the thing we call Pan must remain a living entity. Some there be who call his music, when he makes all humanity dance to his piping, “Joie de vivre,” and De Musset speaks of “Le vin de la jeunesse” which ferments “dans les veines de Dieu.” It is Pan who inspires Seumas, the old islander, of whom Fiona Macleod writes, and who, looking towards the sea at sunrise, says, “Every morning like this I take my hat off to the beauty of the world.”

Half of the flesh and half of the spirit is Pan. There are some who have never come into contact with him, who know him only as the emblem of Paganism, a cruel thing, more beast than man, trampling, with goat’s feet, on the gentlest flowers of spring. They know not the meaning of “the Green Fire of Life,” nor have they ever known Pan’s moods of tender sadness. Never to them has come in the forest, where the great grey trunks of the beeches rise from a carpet of primroses and blue hyacinths, and the slender silver beeches are the guardian angels of the starry wood-anemones, and the sunbeams slant through the oak and beech leaves of tender green and play on the dead amber leaves of a year that [Pg 219] is gone, the whisper of little feet that cannot be seen, the piercing sweet music from very far away, that fills the heart with gladness and yet with a strange pain—the ache of the Weltschmerz—the echo of the pipes of Pan.

“... Oftenest in the dark woods I hear him sing
Dim, half-remembered things, where the old mosses cling
To the old trees, and the faint wandering eddies bring
The phantom echoes of a phantom spring.”

Fiona Macleod.

[Pg 220]


“Ich weiss nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
Dass ich so traurig bin;
Ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.

Die schönste Jungfrau sitzet
Dort oben wunderbar,
Ihr gold’nes Geschmeide blitzet,
Sie kämmt ihr gold’nes Haar.
Sie kämmt es mit gold’nem Kamme,
Und singt ein Lied dabei;
Das hat eine wundersame,
Gewaltige Melodei.”


In every land, North and South, East and West, from sea to sea, myth and legend hand down to us as cruel and malignant creatures, who ceaselessly seek to slay man’s body and to destroy his soul, the half-human children of the restless sea and of the fiercely running streams.

In Scotland and in Australia, in every part of Europe, we have tales of horrible formless things which frequent lonely rivers and lochs and marshes, and to meet which must mean Death. And equal in malignity with them, and infinitely more dangerous, are the beautiful beings who would seem to claim descent from Lilith, the soulless wife of Adam.

Such were the sirens who would have compassed the [Pg 221] destruction of Odysseus. Such are the mermaids, to wed with one of whom must bring unutterable woe upon any of the sons of men. In lonely far-off places by the sea there still are tales of exquisite melodies heard in the gloaming, or at night when the moon makes a silver pathway across the water; still are there stories of women whose home is in the depths of the ocean, and who come to charm away men’s souls by their beauty and by their pitiful longing for human love.

Those who have looked on the yellow-green waters of the Seine, or who have seen the more turbid, more powerful Thames sweeping her serious, majestic way down towards the open ocean, at Westminster, or at London Bridge, can perhaps realise something of that inwardness of things that made the people of the past, and that makes the mentally uncontrolled people of the present, feel a fateful power calling upon them to listen to the insistence of the exacting waters, and to surrender their lives and their souls forever to a thing that called and which would brook no denial. In the Morgue, or in a mortuary by the river-side, their poor bodies have lain when the rivers have worked their will with them, and “Suicide,” “Death by drowning,” or “By Misadventure” have been the verdicts given. We live in a too practical, too utterly common-sensical age to conceive a poor woman with nothing on earth left to live for, being lured down to the Shades by a creature of the water, or a man who longs for death seeing a beautiful daughter of a river-god beckoning to him to come where he will find peace everlasting.

[Pg 222] Yet ever we war with the sea. All of us know her seductive charm, but all of us fear her. The boundary line between our fear of the fierce, remorseless, ever-seeking, cruel waves that lap up life swiftly as a thirsty beast laps water, and the old belief in cruel sea-creatures that sought constantly for the human things that were to be their prey, is a very narrow one. And once we have seen the sea in a rage, flinging herself in terrible anger against the poor, frail toy that the hands of men have made and that was intended to rule and to resist her, foaming and frothing over the decks of the thing that carries human lives, we can understand much of the old pagan belief. If one has watched a river in spate, red as with blood, rushing triumphantly over all resistance, smashing down the trees that baulk it, sweeping away each poor, helpless thing, brute or human, that it encounters, dealing out ruin and death, and proceeding superbly on to carry its trophies of disaster to the bosom of the Ocean Mother, very easy is it to see from whence came those old tales of cruelty, of irresistible strength, of desire.