Pan and Satan

topic posted Sun, August 1, 2010 - 7:17 PM by  Unsubscribed
It's my understanding that the Medieval Roman Catholic Church co-opted the image of Pan to represent Satan and otherwise subverted his image. (As many Christians still do, "demonizing" a good thing that they disagree with to scare converts away from it.) Pan represents a positive sexuality and nature among other things, and not the dark world.

What do the members of this tribe think about "horned god" as a demon rather than in its original Pagan context? When I see anything that tries to connect Pan and Satan or describe them as the same, I become irritated, thinking that the same old Church ideas are still being propagated. Am I off here? Am I missing something?
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  • I think you're mostly right in that the idea that a horned god or masculine sexuality figure is evil or "demonic" is unique to Christianity. How it got that way, though, is a bit more complex than you might realize.

    Bear in mind that Pan is actually NOT a good representative of the "horned god" archetype. The horned god archetype is much more than a symbol of unbridled male sexuality, and it's much more Celtic in origin rather than Greco-Roman. Cernunnos the Horned God represents the male half of the life force in general. Yes, that includes sexuality. But other concepts associated with the Horned God include the Lord of the Forest, Leader of the Wild Hunt, the Summer King, the god of material prosperity, the god of agricultural plenty, just to name a few.

    Pan and Cernunnos were very different gods. In the few representations we have of Cernunnos, he is pictured with deer antlers, and is associated with the stag, the forest, the horn of plenty, and dominion over the animal kingdom. He is the stag hunted by Brighid the virgin huntress. He was the Summer King who was sacrificed annually, his blood spilled on the earth to fertilize Mother Earth to produce fertility and a good harvest. He was the Lord of Animals in the same way that Ceres/Demeter was the mother of plants and agriculture. He existed in a dualistic concept of male/female balance that was peculiar to Celtic culture.

    Pan, on the other hand, was more a product of Greco-Roman society. Pan was a farm and hill country god, representing the simple pleasures of life - natural landscapes, wine, farm animals, cultivated farm fields, and the wild hill country. Pan was the god of everything that was "anti-city" - keep in mind the importance of the city-state in both Greek and Roman society, and the striking dichotomy between Greco-Roman city living and the life of the villas and country estates. Pan was the romanticized incarnation of country living, representing everything that was foreign to city dwellers. His consort in Greek mythology was the clan of nymphs, spirits of trees and water that typically hid themselves from city dwellers. In Roman mythology his consort was simply Fauna to the male Faunus, a female incarnation of virtually identical powers and scope of responsibility, rather than an equally balanced female opposite (such as Brighid and Cernunnos). And Pan was associated more with a lack of discipline with regard to sexuality - sexuality without responsibility - rather than a simple incarnation of male sexual power itself (that role was occupied by the separate deity of Priapus).

    Most significantly, Pan was a goat god, a god of domesticated farm animals, rather than a stag god representing the wildness of the life of the forest. Goats and stags both have horns, but they are very different horns - and the significance of the horns was very different for the two gods. Pan had horns almost by coincidence, because he was half-goat, half-man; his association with animals was a by-product of his association with farming and the domestication of cattle, goats, and other animals. Cernunnos was a full man-figure in most representations except for his stag horns, which have connotations of magical power, lordship over wild animals, etc. In other words, Pan's horns were incidental to his mythos (his power was in his pipes), whereas Cernunnos' horns were an intrinsic part of him, more like a crown representing his lordship over the animals, and a badge of power and magic.

    Pan was an easy target for the early church because his imagery was NOT completely "positive." Along with most of the Greco-Roman mythos, Pan had his good side and his bad side. His powerful male sexuality was sometimes uncontrolled, leading to mass ritual rape of young women. His pipes that played music to soothe and seduce nymphs could also induce madness - the words "panic" and "pandemonium" are both directly derived from descriptions of the effects of Pan's pipes.

    Christianity is almost unique among the world's religions in that all of its deistic concepts are either good OR evil, but not both. Non-Christian gods and goddesses lied, stole, seduced, killed in anger, etc. - but not the Christian God. Even the Old Testament God's wrath and destruction were interpreted as righteous anger and justifiable punishment for the sins of man, rather than the vagaries of a God who was capable of losing control and doing as much harm as good. Early Christians rejected the idea that their God/Christ/Spirit could have any negative elements - so anything that was negative was separated from God and incarnated as a separate entity of evil - an "anti-God."

    Also keep in mind that early Christianity was very much a product of city life, because it encouraged uniformity of belief and practice (as opposed to Greco-Roman religion, in which every town, settlement, river, forest, etc. had its own native god or goddess), and virtually demanded group worship in a church (most of which were located in towns) rather than individual, family-based worship. Priapus was a god of unrestrained male sexual power and therefore would seem to be a logical target - but it was Pan/Faunus that was the patron of everything that was foreign to the city which formed the matrix of early Christian experience. So it's understandable that Pan/Faunus would be most powerfully targeted as standing for everything that Christian civilization opposed.

    The concept of "demons" is much more of a Judaic concept than a Greco-Roman one. Most cultures have some sort of concept of negative, harmful energy that can affect the living. But the idea that negative energy can have conscious will and intent that are directed in a deliberately malicious agenda - that's much more a product of Judaism and related Fertile Crescent mythologies rather than a product of Greco-Roman or Celtic mythology. Early Christians would have brought this concept of demons to Rome with them. So once they identified and targeted Pan/Faunus as an "anti-God" figure, they naturally would have applied the concept of deliberate, demonic evil to him.

    It is only comparatively recently that Pan and Cernunnos have been conflated into a single "horned god" archetype. During the time period when Christian concepts of evil, sin, and sexuality were being formulated, Pan and Cernunnos were gods of totally different societies and cultures that did not overlap to a great extent. Roman troops occupied much of Gaul and the Celtic world, but to assume that their two mythos, which were already mature and fully developed when the two cultures first clashed, would immediately merge into one generic "horned god" concept is to make a huge and unsupported assumption. Other than Caesar's writings on his experience with Celtic religion in Gaul, very little written material existed in the Greco-Roman world that mentioned Celtic gods and goddesses - and even Caesar described Gaulish deities mostly in terms of attempting to visualize them as (sometimes wildly inaccurate) parallels to Greco-Roman deities. Early Christianity's thinking on sex and evil were much more powerfully influenced by Greco-Roman mythology than by Celtic mythology. The early Church had much more contact with the Pan image than the Celtic concept of Cernunnos.

    Greco-Roman Christianity most likely wouldn't have understood just how different Pan and Cernunnos were from each other. To the Christians, both Roman mythology and Celtic mythology were simply "non-Christian," and the Christians didn't invest a lot of time or energy in understanding the multiple non-Christian cultures with which they came into contact. By the time that the Roman Empire fell and Celtic Christianity moved to the forefront of religious thought and doctrine, Pan/Faunus had already been demonized as an evil concept of unrestrained sexuality, lack of city culture and civilization, and sinister "panic." This is a concept that the Christian missionaries to Gaul and Britain would have carried with them from Rome, well before they ever had exposure to the Celtic concept of Cernunnos as horned god. It was only a continued exposure to Celtic culture, and the influence of Celtic Christianity, which led to Cernunnos being conflated into an already-existing concept of Pan as "anti-god."

    The most significant indicator I can think of is that most Christian imagery of Satan, even today, shows him with smooth curved goat horns rather than branching stag antlers. It was a lack of understanding of the unique symbols and meanings of the Cernunnos archetype of Celtic culture which led to Cernunnos being lumped in with the Christian Pan/Satan icon to evolve into a more generic pagan "horned god" image.
    • Unsu...
      Wow. Thank you. I had to carve out a chunk of time to give your reply its due attention. I'm saving that in a collection of Pan photos and writings.

      My first exposures of any interest to Pan were through some casual reading: Tom Robbins' "Jitterbug Perfume" and Robert Johnson's "Ecstasy: Understanding the Psychology of Joy." The notion in the first book, that gods could disappear when people quit believing in them grabbed my attention like nothing before. Since I've come to believe that we create our gods rather than the other way around, I thought I'd check out the horned, hairy, horny one and decided the notion of this god and his story tickled my fancy. My last name sounds like "Goaty," I'm a Capricorn and have long had the nickname, "Goat." So a half-man/half goat Greek god appealed to me. I think it's my resentment of what's been stolen by Christianity that spurred my post. I simply don't want to contribute to the continuation of their wrong thinking in their choice of symbols. As a gay man among those who have also been demonized by religions, I've become very protective of my "pet god." He does represent many things I value. No worship, nothing "religious," but rather a great respect for what brought him into existence.

      "Horned God" applying predominately to Cernunnos, doesn't upset me simply because I pay closer attention to Pan. But your clarification simply helps me understand more clearly where the two sit. I've always understood them to be very different. Perhaps in the same way that Pan, the flute player, and Kokopelli, a flute player, simply share something in common. And other than that are perhaps unrelated even as an archetype..

      Thanks again.
      • Unsu...
        Coyote must have been writing while I was.

        "All the gods are one god, all the goddesses are one goddess, and the god and goddess are themselves one."

        This began to make sense to me several years ago. I tend to use the term, "Cosmic Soup" when trying to avoid religious baggage of the word "God." My beliefs are certainly pagan-, and wiccan- aligned. I believe that "IT" (another substitute word) can manifest itself in many forms, including US. I choose to celebrate the masculine, sexual energy of Pan. My hedonistic back yard is named "Pan's Grove" in honor of that part of myself that chooses "Pan."
  • It irritates me, too, but I balm it with the knowledge that I know the difference. I honor Pan and welcome Him into my life knowing full well that He has a rapacious side. Pan's is not always a positive sexuality. Losing inhibitions and a decided lack of judgment where safer sex is concerned is another aspect that manifests in my experience of Him.

    Many Wiccans have a maxim, "All the gods are one god, all the goddesses are one goddess, and the god and goddess are themselves one." It's a concept I have since questioned. I will say that while Pan and Cernunnos are different in many ways they are both manifestations of the wild Horned god. For my own practical purposes I separate the two when working with Horned energy.

    As far as Satan goes, I feel sorry for him. God should not have punished him so harshly for refusing to bow to mankind. While we as a species are special, we are not worshipful.

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