We have crossed a threshold. In just over three months, the virus has spread across the entire world. With confirmed cases in every country – an unprecendented feat highlighting just how connected we all are – we are now in new territory.
Humans have crossed over into periods of great uncertainty, periods of darkness and danger, many times over. These thresholds are a pivotal part of our mythologies. Pan from pandemic (meaning “all” or “of everything”) is the name of the infamous, part-man part-goat, nature deity of ancient Greece. Pan was the threshold guardian of the wild places, of the treacherous, far-reaching lands out past the protected zone of the village boundary.
The emotion that he instilled in human beings who by accident adventured into his domain was pan-ic, fear, a sudden, groundless fright. Any trifling cause then – the break of a twig, the flutter of a leaf – would flood the mind with imagined danger, and in the frantic effort to escape from his own aroused unconscious, the victim expired in a flight of dread.Joseph Campbell, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”
Does this sound similar to your experience of today? Are all those internet memes, the ones telling you everything you must and mustn’t do to survive, are they helping, or are they creating panic? Is the constant news cycle providing necessary facts or unnecessary fear? Does hoarding food and supplies bring abundance or increased feelings of lack and scarcity?
Yet Pan was benign to those who paid him worship, yielding the boons… of nature: bounty to the farmers, herders, and fisherfolk who dedicated their first fruits to him, and health to all who properly approached his shrines of healing.
How might we properly approach this moment? How might we pay worship to the Great God of Wild Uncertainty? Worry does nothing to protect us. Frenzied vigilance does nothing to keep us safe. Everyone on the planet is affected by this pandemic in one way or another. Might that thought be comforting?
Let us turn off the noise. Let us grieve, laugh, dance, let us howl up at tonight’s full moon. You are not alone, friend. We are, all of us, here with you in the dark night. Let us face it, together, with open eyes and humbled hearts.
Painting of Pan by Mickail Vrubel, 1899