Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The persistence of Pan in my back garden

The Wildest Place on Earth was published by John Hanson Mitchell in 2002. It is about the figure of Pan, including how he is manifested in the modern world.

JHM is a writer mostly about nature; whose best book is Ceremonial Time (1984), which I have discussed and reviewed (the first is from 2001 - before I became a Christian): 

'Wildest Place' is very well written, and certainly worth reading - however, it is also undercut by a kind of post-modern irony whereby Mitchell both takes-seriously and simultaneously brackets and mocks the idea of Pan - trying to have it both ways, which is (of course) ultimately impossible...

The final chapter of the book takes the stance that Pan, and the panic which is hallmark of his presence, is still a part of the modern world; but it likely to be found in familiar places under unfamiliar circumstances, rather than in true 'wilderness'. 

This conforms to my experience earlier today. I usually get up at 05:00h, and at this time of year it is completely dark at that time. This morning, while I was drinking my coffee and reading, I heard a 'blood-curdling' noise from nearby - so I went outside ('armed' with a torch) to investigate.

The sound was coming from two or three back-gardens away, and was a bit like a goose (or more than one goose) being slowly strangled to death - except that it stopped and restarted a few times over a period of about 10 minutes. I think it very likely to have been fox cubs playing - since they make a strange noise, and we have quite a lot of them in our part of the city and they will use our back gardens for foraging and recreation - unless they are sealed-off by intact fences (which mine, currently, is - I got sick of them digging holes in my lawn).

Nonetheless, I was beginning to feel unnerved - and this was just standing in the dark some six feet away from my back door, looking up at the gibbous moon and constellations: I was beginning to get a sense of having stepped into a primal world, where I didn't really belong and was unwelcome.

Then I heard some animal crashing through the treees or shrubs at the bottom of my garden and the probably through into nearby gardens.

I should point out to US readers that there are no dangerous animals (except for humans and pet dogs) in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, or indeed in England. And any animal capable of crashing through adjacent garden trees must have been a bird, and probably just a wood pigeon (they make a heck of a noise clapping their wings together and flapping branches around).

That is what I told myself... but I couldn't really convince myself that these noises were harmless; and I felt a slowly mouting congested panic welling-up in me. This in my own back garden standing just next to the back door!

After a minute or two, I gave up the struggle with myself, and slipped back indoors, quickly bolting my door against the night and sighing with relief!

That was exactly the kind of thing JHM was talking about. I didn't believe that Pan or one of his wild and dangerous servants was really present in my garden, and threatening my life; but neither could I convince myself that there was nothing to worry about.

I had slipped back into the primal mindset of a hunter gathere keeping watch in the night around the fire on the savannah, or in a clearing in the jungle or forest - alert and tingling with readiness to fight or run.

Civilisation does not run all that deep - it does not take all that much for us to reconnect with the animated world and the pagan gods.