Pan and the she-goat controversy

Pan and goat

Pan and goat

Statue of Pan and the she-goat on display at the ‘Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ exhibition: British Museum. On loan from the Museum in Naples where it is normally kept behind a curtain with an age restriction of fourteen. This was not thought necessary by the British Museum curators.

The ancient statue was unearthed from the Villa dei Papiri in 1752 and the King and Queen of Naples and all the court were present as it was brought to light . They were horrified when they saw what it depicted as a contemporary report explains:

“Amidst a flotilla of courtiers in silks and befurred velvet finery, Charles and his Prussian wife Queen Maria Amalia arrived in a rustling, stately procession and took their seats on folding chairs. From the bowels of the earth the carved white marble group of two embracing figures, which Weber had found in the Great Peristyle, appeared at the mouth of the tunnel, borne upon a litter carried by prison labourers.  A shiver of excitement rippled through the court. Already the dainty turn of that horn revealed the prized Greek look. When the whole sculpture group hoved into view two heads could be seen and two bodies. One seemed to be a man of sorts, though at closer look he wore two small horns on his head. He gazed fondly into the female’s languid marble eyes. For locked in his embrace was a female goat, surely the prettiest in the flock, whom he was in the act of penetrating.”

The King was so shocked that he ordered the excavation to be halted and the statue was thereafter hidden away and kept under lock and key in the gabinetto segreto. It was not actually viewable  to the general public until the year 2000. More on its subsequent history here:

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The Great God Pan

PAN - by Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844)

PAN – by Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844)

Pan, or “The Great God Pan” as he is often referred to, is one of the most recognizable and revered pagan gods of the ancient world. Pan is a satyr whose striking image is that of half animal (having the horns, tail, and prancing legs of a goat) and that of a divine god.  He is an erotic god, usually depicted as ithyphallic (fully erect), wearing a lusty smile, accompanied by his panpipes (syrinx) and a shepherd’s crook. His name is said to come from an old Greek word that translates to paein, meaning pasture. Other sources, say that his name means all or universal.

According to the ancients, Pan was born in pastoral Arcadia, a rugged mountainous area of Greece, where his worship first originated. He became the patron god of Arcadian shepherds, who prayed to him to protect their flocks from wolves and other predators. These herdsmen hid their sheep in nearby caves after consecrating them to Pan. They sacrificed lambs to him as offerings and left bowls of milk and honey.

Pan’s exact parentage is shrouded in mystery. Some sources say that he was fathered by the god Hermes and his mother was a nymph, while other sources depict Pan as a child of Zeus. And while Pan is often referred to as a one of the youngest of the gods, his lore suggests otherwise. It was Pan who gifted Artemis with her hunting dogs, located Demeter after she left Olympus to mourn the abduction of Persephone, when no other god could find her, and Pan avenged the Titanus mother goddess Rhea against the king of Kyzikos, for slaying one of her lions (he filled the town of Kyzikos with panic). Many of these ancient stories predate the Olympian gods.

As a Nature deity, Pan is associated with forest groves, mountain wilds, and all isolated rural areas. He is a god of shepherds and their flocks. He is a god of the wild hunt and ruler of all animals. He is connected to beekeeping, fertility (especially animal fertility), and the season of Spring. Pan is also a god of rustic music and dance; he was known to dance wildly and lead the dance of the nymphs throughout the mountains of Arcadia, while playing his panpipes. The goat, tortoise, bees, and perhaps the wolf, are all sacred to Pan, as are the mountain fir tree, pine tree, mountain beech, and water reed.

Aside from his role as a Nature god, Pan has many other attributes, of which some are lesser known.

He is a bringer of panic, and can do so at will. In fact, the word panic is derived from him. He would entertain himself by frightening travelers who passed through lonely mountain or wilderness areas that he roamed. It is also said that Pan naps during the midday hours, and anyone who dares to wake him from his sleep, will feel his wrath.

Pan is a wise prophet. This was demonstrated when he taught the god Apollo the gift of prophecy. The ancients also believed that the Corycian cave, associated with the oracle of Delphi, was very sacred to Pan.

He is described as amorous; a lusty phallic god of carnal gratification. He possesses a powerful kind of magic that inspires rampant sexual energy in whomever he chooses. Pan was known to chase and seduce countless nymphs, shepherd boys, and other goats in ancient times.

Pan is also a powerful war god, in many cases. He is able to diffuse entire armies with his terrifying yell that causes instant, groundless panic. Pan was there to aid Zeus in a war against the Titans, hurling his terrific shout through a conch shell, resulting in mass chaos that sent the titans running in a panicked frenzy. He also assisted the Athenians in their battle against the Persians, called “The Battle of the Marathon”. He brought tremendous panic to the Persians which subsequently helped win the war for Athens.

It was written by a famous Greek historian named Plutarch, that Pan is dead. He wrote that a sailor named Thamus heard a “divine voice call out from across the sea” and say to him that “The Great God Pan is dead”. Furthermore, Plutarch wrote that this voice instructed Thamus to announce the news of Pan’s death as soon as he reached the shore, so Thamus did. There is still much speculation as to whether or not Thamus accurately heard what this “divine voice” told him, and it is more than likely that this rumor of Pan’s death, is allegorical and not literal. Pan’s “death” was just a way to bring an end to Paganism, and to usher in the start of a new religion – Christianity.

Nowadays, Pan is still worshiped and honored throughout the Pagan community, and is known as the god of witches. In Wicca, he is reverenced in the form of the “Horned God archetype”, alongside other horned deities such as Cernunnos and Herne the hunter. Anyone who has truly connected with him, will tell you that the Great God Pan is not dead, and that he is very, VERY much alive.


Sin Madison, 2013