(Originally published in Druid's Progress 13)
I really enjoy hearing stories about what we actually get when invoke the goddesses and gods, nature spirits, spirits of place, ancestors, or particular deities. To me, it shows that what we are doing is actually working; that we are actually connecting. In order to encourage people to share their experiences, I'm relating a true tale of what happened when Norma Hoffman and I inadvertently invoked the great god Pan.
There is a park that lies along the Delaware-Raritan Canal that is a half-hours' drive from our apartment in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It's usually not very crowded, and the ride is enjoyable, past farms and woodlands. It was a hot July day in 1990, a Saturday. We packed some crackers and cheese, an old Indian blanket, pillows, juice, and some books we were reading, dropped the top on the VW Rabbit and drove off to the park.
I had been reading a book by Philippe Borgeaud called The Cult of Pan in Ancient Greece (1). I'd seen it in the Rutgers University Bookstore, opened it up, stood there for about ten minutes reading it, and subsequently bought it. The book is full of stories about Pan, customs, rituals, and invocations translated from ancient Greek.
We drove into a parking lot, gathered our stuff, and walked to a spot where the park curved along the woods, close to the canal. There were a few people about a hundred yards away up a small rise, but we were pretty much alone- the woods on our right, the rise behind us, the canal in front of us.
Our tired bodies stretched out in the warm sun. It felt good to he on a blanket, close to the earth, the sky high above. We were very relaxed, our brains clear of the mundane nonsense of working life.
I was really enjoying The Cult of Pan, and when I got to a good story I read it aloud to Norma. She was taking a tarot course and absorbed in the cards. We were just your typical Pagan couple in the park. The sun was hot, and I took off my shirt. There were sounds from the woods of birds, squirrels, and other small creatures. It was quiet and peaceful. I was really moved when I read this one particular invocation, so I read it aloud to Norma:
To Pan, leader of the naiad nymphs, I raise my song, Pride of the Golden Choruses, Lord of the Frivolous Music; from his far-sounding flute he pours an inspirited seductive melody; he steps lightly to the song, leaping through the shadowy grottoes, displaying his multiform body, beautiful dancer, beautiful face, resplendent with blond beard. As far as starry Olympus comes the panic echo, pervading the company of the Olympian Gods with an immortal muse. The whole earth and sea are stirred by your grace; you are the prop of all, O Pan, Ah Pan.(2)
About five minutes later, as we looked over to the rise, (both of us at the same time, I think), we saw a rather shabby looking person walking, or, really, kind of gracefully staggering, toward us. He was five foot four or five, kind of swarthy, muscular, and wore dark blue trunks and a loose flannel shirt. He looked like a homeless drunk, and I remember thinking that that was unusual this far from the city. He looked like he was heading straight for our blanket.
The first thing he said as he reached us was: "Nobody wants to talk to me anymore."
Well, of course, I thought, you look like a bum and you smell like you haven't had a bath in weeks. On top of that, you're fly's undone. But Norma and I talk to the homeless in New Brunswick, so we asked him where he was coming from. He pointed to the rise. "Over then." "They're mostly yuppies," I said.
He agreed "Yeah, fucking yuppies. You see they're taking all the dead trees out of the woods? Don't they know that the forest needs dead wood? They just don't care. They just take whatever they want."
I thought this was a strange thing to say, but as he continued the conversation got even stranger.
"There's no deer in these woods anymore. You know how I can tell? By the smell of the dirt". He picked up a clod of dirt and shoved it at me. "Smell it. The deer have all gone."
As he talked, he kept glancing at the woods. He said that people didn't understand that they had to take care of the earth, that they would be dead without the earth. Yet, he didn't sound like your typical environmentalist.
Then he told us about his life, about his ex-wife and his kid. He said he couldn't find anyone he could live with. He saw my book lying on the blanket, and asked what I'd been reading.
"Mythology," I answered.
"Schoolwork," he said, and he made this gross snorting sound. Then he told us how he was visiting a friend and how they'd climbed a hill the night before to "howl at the full moon," and how they'd finished off five cases of beer, he and his friend.
That got me thinking. Five cases of beer; twenty-four cans in a case. That's sixty cans of beer each. That's not human. And then I started thinking about Pan.
He is the Lord of the Woods, God of goatsherds and huntsmen; Ecstatic Dancer; God of laughter and good humor; God of excessive sexual desire (hence his opposition to marriage)(3), He is called 'the lonely God'(4), and 'the last arrived of the Gods'(5). Half-man, half-goat, He is the original party animal. He is the mediator between nature and the Gods. He is a God of strength - the marathon torch race in the original Olympics was dedicated to Pan (6) - and He saved the Greeks at Marathon. He was not an Athenian God, but an Arcadian, from the rugged mountainsides. He fought the Titans with Zeus, yet His panic (7) makes battle impossible, breaking the artificial bond of an army and causing everyone to run away. He has connections to Artemis, Goddess of the hunt: He shares Her nymphs and must obey Her. Pan is the one who led Persephone's wedding dance, happily piping His pipes as She was led into the underworld, yet it was Pan who found Demeter in mourning when no one else could find Her. And it was Pan's daughter, Iambe, who got Demeter to laugh and forget Her grief for just a moment. When you clap your hands, you are doing homage to Pan (9), when you laugh, and when you dance.
By the time the homeless guy finished talking, I was convinced that if he wasn't Pan in person, we had met a very Pan-like person - an unwitting (?) emissary of Pan, an ambassador from his court of homeless wandering shepherds, drunkards, foresters, and bums. Someone who smelled like a beer-soaked goat. Someone on the borders of civilized life, which is just where Pan would be. The cave that the Athenians set aside for Pan was neither in the city proper, nor within the sacred closure on the top of the acropolis. It is beneath Propylaea, on the northwest slope of the acropolis; a wild place.
We shook hands with him, after a while, and he said he'd look for us if he was in this park again. By that time it had dawned on me that I had invoked Pan, and that the invocation had actually worked. I don't remember if I was frightened, or just amused. I think I was a bit of both. Norma said that I just kept looking up at him with this big grin on my face.
He asked for our names, and then he introduced himself. He said his name was 'Dick'. Norma smiled and told him his zipper was undone. He said, "Shit. It always falls open like that."
And off he went, walking up toward the rise. Norma and I looked at each other, and when we looked back, he was gone - over the rise, I assume, although he must have reached it pretty damned quick.
I'm writing this down, nearly four years later, because I'd like to encourage others to write down and publish what actually happens when we invoke something. A religion that had been a fairly abstract exercise for me ("schoolwork", indeed!) turned miraculously real after this experience. We can think of invocation as a kind of test of our religion, the proof that we're connecting. Like the story of the appearance of Athena at last year's Panathenaia, it means that what we are doing is real and working. Please send your own true invocation stories to Druids' Progress editor Bryan Perrin. I know there are lots of them out there, because I've heard people tell them. At some point in the future, perhaps we can even collect these stories into book form.
- The Cult of Pan in Ancient Greece, by Philippe Borgeaud (translated by: Kathleen Atlass & James Redfield) The University of Chicago Press, 1988, Chicago, IL 60637.
- Ibid, page 149. An inscription from the fourth or fifth century B.C.E., found on a stone with another hymn addressed to Demeter describing her anger and the condition upon which she will return to Olympus.
- In fact, Pan was the original 'Onanist', given that gift by Hermes after he fell in love with Echo and was unable to reach her. The Greek Myths, Robert Craves.
- Duseros - unlucky in love.
- Theos Neonatos.
- Pan mid the runner who was racing through Arcadia to warn the Greeks of the approach of the Persian army that he, Pan, would help the Greeks if they would build a shrine to him in Athens.
- Panic - loss of order, discipline, structure,
- Op. Cit. Borgeaud.