Top: Statue of Pan, The Eagles Nest, Northport, Long Island
Your body is the church where Nature asks to be reverenced.
Marquis de Sade
I credit my parents with instilling in me a love for pagan sexuality.
Not intentionally – they didn’t advocate any kind of sex. It’s something that was only mentioned a couple times in high school. When I got caught doing it.
This is the last half of the seventies, in a small midwestern town. There wasn’t anything to do here for teenagers, so we had a lot of sex. There wasn’t anything for parents to do either, so our parents were always home. You weren’t allowed to be in each other’s bedrooms unless the doors were open and people nearby.
Most of the sex I had up till and even through college took place in nature. Usually in a car, deep in the country with real country dark. I can still see the full moon shining down through fogged up windows, her skin pale in the moonlight and utterly drunk on each other. By the age of eighteen I’d had far more sex in graveyards than I had in a house.
This was one of the golden ages of horror films. There’s been research into what horror films do to young people’s libido, but I don’t need to see it. The supernatural is a powerful aphrodisiac. The gothic among us find it with a dash of fear, velvet and candles and just the right music. The pagan among us find it in the most powerful of supernatural agents, the gods, and strip away all but that which is natural.
I’ve almost always been monogamous. I essentially had the same girlfriend all through high school, so we got to know each other very well. There wasn’t a lot of information about sex available to us. Our mother’s magazines were the most useful. Women were openly talking about sex, and sharing tips and techniques. This turned out to be a bonus for her, as there was for the first time, a focus on women’s orgasms. When you learn all you know about sex from a women’s point of view, it molds you in a certain way.
The monthly standard was Redbook. It was racier than Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day, mom’s other regulars. Cosmopolitan was too saucy for our household, though mom had one stashed away in a drawer.
Dad had a copy of The Sensual Man hidden under the bed, which was about half as useful as Redbook. The best advice it gave was practice your tongue by rolling around a grape in your mouth. It might not have helped with technique, but it did get you to eat fruit, which is always good advice.
So we didn’t know much more than the basics, and it was hard to apply most of those techniques in the front seat of an Oldsmobile. Especially when you’ve got one eye out for approaching cars.
To learn what you were doing, you had to learn the other person. That was amazing. Having very few preconceptions about what sex was to most people, what we did was purely instinctual and natural. So nature seemed to be the natural setting for that.
It was on a hike in the Shawnee Forest, to a place called Cave Hill that I first heard that primeval song, a calling I’d never heard before.
Cave Hill hill rises to an elevation of between 500 and 900 feet. The trees are old, towering overhead and in a thick green canopy, with shafts of light raining down on you. It was also seldom visited at the time. It was spring and we debated going into the cave itself, as it’s near the beginning of the trail. But in May it can be very wet, and without some way of finding your way out, you could only go into the first one or two passages.
We set off for bluffs at the top instead. I assume we made it, likely had a lovely hike. It was a few decades ago, and I think it involved marijuana, so my memories are faint. Except for the memory of rolling around there on the mossy floor of the forest, which felt like the softest carpet imaginable. I don’t think we were ourselves that afternoon. Which shouldn’t have been a surprise as we were in the realm of Pan.
Swing your hips
Loose your head and let it spin
And we will look together for the Pan within
The Pan Within, Mike Scott
Pan is one of the most ancient gods. It’s believed he was around centuries before the Greeks added him to the new roster of gods they were assembling.
Pan is a rustic god, wild and uncivilized, but also one of the gods that give us music. Not the delicate music of the lyre though, but the wild folk music, music designed not just to make you dance, but to lose yourself in the dance. To dance with Pan is to strip away the tamed, the restrained and everything you’ve learned, layer by layer. Till by the end of the dance, you are who you are at your core, and you love the one you’re dancing with. There’s only one place that can go.
Only two temples dedicated to Pan have been discovered, one in the southwestern Peloponnese, now in ruins and in ancient Egypt at Apollonopolis Magna. For Pan was the god of the lonely, those living in the wilds, in the hinterlands away from civilization. You worshipped Pan where you found him, where he lived – in caves, in the forest, in the wild places.
It’s how we felt, trapped in the middle of nowhere, in little towns surrounded by the countryside. The country was where magic happened, where there were things unknown in the woods and in the night.
Pan is half man, half goat. The bottom half is the essential bit of this story. The mating habits and generally horniness of goats are legendary. Picking a mate relies heavily on scent, and you can learn a lot from scent, even if you’re not a goat. The male goat will urinate on his face, beard and neck, a scent humans find foul but makes a doe swoon. To drive the point home, Pan also has the horns of a goat, the other place where a goat’s scent glans are located.
If a female goat is interested, she’ll let the male goat approach and have a wee for him. He dips his nose in the stream then curls his lip up, breathing deeply to learn if she’s the one, and if this is the time. If so the ritual begins. Chasing, dodging, fighting off his advances, often into or even through the night, sometimes lasting a day and a half before she’s ready. When the male goat reaches fruition, he throws his head back and curls his lips. Other goats in the area watching can also go into heat, and it can turn into a goat orgy on occasion.
It’s easy to see why Pan has come to symbolize all he does. It’s the essence of human and animal sexuality rolled into one. The courtship is just as essential as the act itself.
He found us that afternoon on Cave Hill and directed our dance. Once you’d felt that, you knew instinctively how to find it again and again, in place after place. After that afternoon, the foggy windows were rolled down, car doors left open and sometimes you’d sneak a blanket out of the house.
Country graveyards are the best, remote and almost always nobody there. You were surrounded by nature, the sights, the sounds, the smells. There was life going on around you, animals crackling through the leaves of the forest floor, birds singing overhead, you weren’t alone. You were a part of what was going on, and to the creatures that stirred in those woods, no different than seeing two deers going at it.
That it had the added chill of death only added to the experience.
You can find Pan everywhere in nature, on the shores of a river, on the banks of a lake, in the meadows and forests. Curiously, we found him behind the statue of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in Hannibal, Missouri, in shadows that were surprisingly dark. There’a little room in the back of Cave In Rock if you want the full Pan experiences, the wet floor of the cave. My kid might well have been conceived up against the Martello tower at Glen Head, outside of Glencolumbkille in Ireland, the sea crashing far below us at the foot of the cliffs. When I first stepped into West Kennet Long Barrow at Avebury seventeen years ago I felt the horns begin to sprout on my head. A country chapel on a wooded hill, with saints and angels looking down upon us. I don’t recommend that one for casual encounters, because I’m sure if that particular god exists, you’re on a fast track to hell. I was banking on the wedding ring to make it alright in his eyes. I think Jesus would stand up for me on that one.
Because there’s something sacred about that kind of connection. It’s magical in a way that humans have sought for millennia.
Alastair Crowley sought it in depravity. The first practitioner of sex magic in the western world was Paschal Beverly Randolph, who took the opposite approach, writing in the nineteenth century that “The rite is a prayer in all cases, and the most powerful [that] earthly beings can employ…it is best for both man and wife to act together for the attainment of the mysterious objects sought.”
But what they preached required ritual, planning and rules, which okay, can be fun on occasion. But it’s not what Pan was all about.
Interest in Pan started growing in the late seventeenth century, and within a hundred years Pan had become a central character in the Romantic era. His behavior was toned town and taken to a metaphysical level, or even to children’s stories where he became Peter Pan.
But the freedom in his story, the sexuality, the wildness within him is perhaps best personified by a writer whose work went unnoticed till the twentieth century, the Marquis de Sade.
It’s easy to forget that Pan also promoted sexual violence. Echo refused all men, which angered Pan so much he encouraged his followers to tear her to pieces and scatter the bits across the earth. In comparison, perhaps the Marquis is nearly tame.
If you strip away the violence of Sade, which yes, is hard, you find a writer extolling the need for humans to get back to their basic self, before we became quite so civilized and so oppressed. He was promoting freedom through sexuality and imagination, and in what he wrote, he predated Freud by a hundred years. He also expresses a rather surprising feminist viewpoint when taken as a whole.
In an exhibition of Sade’s impact on visual artists, held at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, one of the curators, Laurence des Cars, was quoted as saying “His aim was to destroy every illusion surrounding human sexuality, be it historical, moral or religious, which inspired artists to look at the body in a new way.”
The Marquis’ work, once nearly forgotten is now a cherished part of French literature. The original manuscript for The 120 Days of Sodom, which he wrote in 1785 while imprisoned in the Bastille, recently fetched $9,000,000. Written on small bits of paper and glued together to form a long scroll so he could hide it in the walls of his cell, the writing is so small that one needs a magnifying glass to read it, and is now kept in a velvet lined, wooden box.
The imagination is the spur of delights… all depends upon it, it is the mainspring of everything; now, is it not by means of the imagination one knows joy? Is it not of the imagination that the sharpest pleasures arise?
Marquis de Sade
My girlfriend’s first orgasm was witnessed by our county sheriff and deputy, who turned their spotlight on us in a graveyard at just the right moment. My view was blocked by her and I thought it truly was one of those transcendent moments, because as she found her release she literally lit up in silhouette, her aura filling the whole car with white light. It was only when I heard the horn honking I realized we weren’t alone.
So we grow older and more tame. A house is more convenient, and there is less danger of being busted for indecent exposure. Yet along with the connection to nature, the sense of danger is removed. Danger kept our adrenaline pumping back then. The supernatural was big and people still believed in it far more than they do today. It wasn’t something you came to believe, you grew up that way. So to be in a graveyard at night set your pulse racing. To go there after watching The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane meant frequent stops to listen, a limb snapping in the woods, the creaking of a tree, till you remember what you’re doing and forget the sounds. You want to hear her breath do that quivery thing again too much to worry about death.
At home behind the safety of closed doors you have to use you imagination, your creativity. Most people don’t, They settle into dull sex and remember their teenage years as their wild years. So often, those relationships fall apart.
That wild side of us, that pagan side of us is hard to recreate with air conditioning. You can incorporate ritual, screw around with the Tantrics but if you want to know about that stuff, go buy a fucking book. I’ve always found trying to remember things I read in a book to be distracting when in the act. The answer to every question that you have lies in the person in front of you, or inside yourself. Everyone is different and sexually especially, most people are far more complex and interesting than anything you’ll ever read. I mean my first sexual thoughts involved family members of the Beverly Hillbillies, and nobody I believe has ever got me to tell that story. No matter how much you think you know a person sexually, together you can always learn more. If you bother to look.
Put your face to my window
Breathe a night full of treasure
The wind is delicious
Sweet and wild with the promise of pleasure
The stars are alive
And nights like these
Were born to be
Sanctified by you and me
Lovers thieves fools and pretenders
And all we gotta do is surrender
Come with me on a journey under the skin
And we will look together
For the Pan within
The Pan Within, Mike Scott
It’s a few decades later, another starry May night and I find myself again in one of those graveyards, the one I know best. A place steeped in memory for me. In those decades I’ve learned about Pan, I’ve learned about paganism, I’ve learned about nature and most important, I’ve learned about myself. I’m with a person I’ve known intimately for years, who knows me inside and out. When I look in her eyes I don’t worry about the future, for I know she’ll be there, just as she knows I will. Even if it turns out to be wrong, we believe it.
With that level of trust, you can be free. Free of all your hangups and fears, free of all the defense mechanisms you’ve erected through the years. There on the bare ground with the scent of the soil filling your head, you can go further, losing the limitations and decorum society imposes on you. You can in fact, erase three thousand years of ancestral memories that take us further and further from who we are at our core.
The secret is simple. The essential ingredient that bonds all those elements together is love. We aren’t goats and neither is Pan, for he has the heart and the mind of a human. He might have been a bit more licentious than me in his day, but I have no doubt in his adventures chasing nymphs through the woods, he was as in love in those moments as I was.
Pan is one of the only gods to have died. But he lives on, inside us all. Not everyone needs to find the Pan within. But for those who hear the sounds of those ancient pipes and feels the call, he can still be found. You don’t have to go to Arcadia, pretty much any forest will do. Because it’s not in your surroundings that you find that ancient god, but within yourself, and in the eyes of the one you love.