Friday, November 20, 2009
In the comments of a previous post, a commenter with the blogger profile name Tragedy 101 asked me the rhetorical question, "isn't Pan the devil?" I thought I would address that, because, of course, like all Pagan gods, he very easily can be seen as such, and in, fact, can be a devil.
One of the most common divides between Pagan religions and most others, especially in regarding the Abrahamic faiths, is the concept of divine perfection. Within the confines of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, there exists only one God (or in the case of most Christian denominations, the "Godhead", seen as "three persons in one God"), and while practitioners hold that mankind can never even approach perfection, God can be nothing but perfect. Therefore, we worship him who is perfect and strive toward acceptance by him. Christians do this by trusting in Christ to forgive them their sins through the blood their Savior shed on the cross, saying that he sacrificed himself willingly to atone for our sins. Thus, when Gods looks down upon the Christian, he sees a person covered in the shed blood of Christ, and accepts that person, whereupon when he looks upon an unsaved human, all he sees is the myriads of sins by which the human race is afflicted. and presumably turns in disgust. Such a person can never enter into the presence of a perfect God, we are warned.
Jews and Muslims see it differently, of course, and devote their lives to prayer, ritual observances, and good works in order to placate their God's expectations of them, which I assume they must know they can never hope to meet, however hard they try.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of significant differences between them and the practitioners of the other major world religions, though of course there are some that exist on the surface, and some pretty significant ones as well involving expectations of the afterlife. Whereas Hindus want to escape the cycle of rebirth and achieve spiritual perfection, and Buddhists just hope to fade away into some extract nirvana, they, like the monotheist faiths, all adhere to the notion that mankind is at best a flawed creation.
The one thing they all seem to have in common is the ideal of perfection, and the goal of attaining it, one way or another. For those who are successful, they stand to spend the rest of eternity in some blissful paradise. For those who fail, they face an eternity of torments (or in some cases a very brief but intense time of torment before they are destroyed forever), or they might come back as some vile, loathsome creature with the prospect of undergoing countless eons of progressions before they even approach their former relatively advanced state-in fact, the danger of such descents is given by most Hindus and Buddhists as the major reason one should strive to escape the circle of rebirth. No matter how good and worthwhile a life you incarnate into, you always run the risk of going backwards to a significant degree.
The old pagan deities, of course, were not perfect, not by a long shot, and this is including even the best of them such as Athene. Others, of course, such as Ares, were a little less perfect than others-or significantly so. Pan is perhaps the greatest example of an imperfect God.
So then then the question becomes, does Pan even deserve the appellation of Godhood? How can any reasonable person worship such a loathsome creature as this half-man, half-goat lecherous satyr who seems to spend his time chasing after fauns with the intention of seducing them (or outright raping them), more often than not unsuccessfully at that, and in fact seems devoted to the prospect of having sex with everything that moves?
And that's where the great conflict comes in, really, in the concept of "worship". I never did particularly like the word, as it involves more than merely the idea of bowing down and acknowledging a superior power. What it really means to worship something is to hand over your life to this entity. In reality, you no longer are the captain of your own life, but must of necessity devote your life, time, and energies to pleasing the deity in question.
It becomes obvious from the start where this can lead to problems. It has led to problems within the parameters of all religions, including the major ones, and including even the Abrahamic followers of the ideal of perfection. It actually comes with a very high price, this ideal of perfection, which I personally hold never existed-anywhere. You can see this for yourself. Just consider the ideal of perfection. What is perfection? No one really knows what perfection is, and really, how could you? You have to look beyond your expectations of what is perfect.
A bear is perfect. They are extremely difficult to kill, they can handle any other predator that comes their way, as long as they themselves are at their peak, and they can sleep throughout the winter so long as they have eaten enough before the winter sets in. In other words, they have evolved to the point that they have PERFECTED the skills necessary to survive within their environment. Take them out of their environment, suddenly, and they are as weak and helpless, in the grand scheme of things, as a rabbit surrounded by a den of coyotes.
Of course, a rabbit, and a coyote, is also a perfect creature, after their own natures, as they too have evolved in specific manners in order to best live and thrive in a particular set of environmental conditions. It's the natural cycle, then, the balance of nature itself, which is the closest we can ever come to understanding the nature of perfection.
And make no mistake-we are all nature worshipers, of one stripe or another. I know that many of you might respond by saying, "well I don't worship nature, I worship the All-Mighty God that created nature."
That doesn't change the fact that you put on your coat in the winter, bath to cleanse away the daily dirt and sweat, heat your house or cool it according to the demands of the temperature and your own particular needs, and you eat, in most cases meat, but in all cases, you eat, or you starve. At the end of the day, you sleep. You are attracted to a man or woman whose chemical composition is just such that it sets in motion those chemical components that cause you to be desirous of him or her.
Everything you do, and even those things you don't do, revolves around nature. Is it any wonder ancient man reached for an ideal of perfection, in a world in which failure to acquire sustenance means a certain death? Nature may not be a God or a Goddess, but He/She/It is certainly a harsh, cruel, and demanding Master/Mistress.
The desire for perfection, then, is nothing more nor less than a natural progression rooted in the tendency to seek to improve one's lot in life. A perfect being, of course, would not only be all-powerful and immortal, He or She would have no constraints of limitations, no inclinations to veer towards folly, or to engage in demeaning or degrading activities. He or She would experience no heartaches, sadness, disappointments in life. There would be no death, no misery. There would only be peace, contentment, happiness, and bliss.
Of course, if such a loving and all-powerful being created us, and the universe, then arises the quite natural question-what went wrong? That of course inspired yet another explanation that doesn't quite pass the smell test. We were once created as perfect beings, but due to the gift of free will, we chose sin, and fell from grace. We have suffered ever since, so the story goes.
In reality, of course, we were never created at all, let alone perfectly, and we have spent eons evolving ourselves. Perfecting ourselves, you might say. We don't always succeed, and in fact, we don't always progress. Many times, after taking a few steps forward, we take a few more back. We learn from that, as a species at least, and evolve some more, and move on.
One of the things we used as a tool to understand the world, and our places in it, was the creation of Gods, many if not most of whom mankind looked to for guidance alone specific lines, others of whom we sought to placate in order to achieve at least some degree of compassion.
Pan was one such God, and in the following post, I will try to explain what I consider to be his meaning and purpose.
Posted by Patrick Kelley at 2:27 PM