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PAN – GOD OF THE WOODS
“Ghosts do exist. Death does not finish all. The colorless shade escapes the burnt-out pyre.”
— Sextus Propertius – The Elegies ( c 50 BC – 16 BC )
Derek didn’t actually hear a voice. He felt the voice, as though he were thinking to himself, except he knew it wasn’t his own thought. “This must be what happens when you die…you start hearing voices,” he thought.
“No, not really”, said the voice. “You just happened to be in my forest. I saw your body get shot. I made the hunters miss hitting my deer. They hit you instead. Sorry.”
“What the hell is going on here?”, he thought to himself. “I must be going totally nuts! First I’m dead and now I’m hearing voices! Jesus Christ!” he thought hysterically.
“No, Jesus Christ is not here. Have no fear. I am Pan, Guardian of the Forest and all creatures therein”, said Pan.
“Huh?” Derek struggled with his heavily overwrought thoughts. After a moment or two of confusion he thought, “You mean, like the Greek god, from mythology?”
“The same” said Pan.
Derek fainted. He came to. “Oh, Jesus…”
“No, not Jesus. Pan”, said Pan. “Once beloved and worshipped by men and thought to symbolize all of the gods and all of the nature spirits of fields and forest, I was hailed as the feeder of flocks and herds. In Egypt I was called Min. The Romans praised me as Faunus, Lord of Fertility. In Sumeria all men shouted my name to celebrate victory in battle: Enlil, Father of Life. The ancient Maya carved my name in stone: Hurakan, of the erect phallus, god of fertility, rain and corn. I have been worshipped at the great feasts of planting and harvest. I am invoked by caravan masters before the journey to ensure safe passage through my domain. My music is the all-purifying, gentle wind in the reeds and tree tops, beloved by shepherds whose flocks I have soothed with song throughout the ages. I made love to wood-nymphs and angered my Father Zeus, once upon a time.”
In the time of a cat’s breath, almost as a single thought without words, he knew these things about Pan. Although he was still reeling with overwhelming confusion, Derek thought shakily, “Am I dead?”
“Well, you’re not in that body at the moment. Do you feel dead?” asked Pan.
“…ah…I don’t know…I’ve never been dead before…I feel like I’m still here. But my body’s down there. Am I like a ghost or something? Oh, shit! This is really weird!”
Derek was even more exasperated than before. He’d read about “out-of-the-body” or “near-death” experiences but none of them ever said anything about having a telepathic conversation with a mythical Greek god. He thought he must be hallucinating.
“Don’t believe everything you’ve read in Earth books. They are nearly all lies and nonsense. I am who I am. You are who you are: an immortal spiritual being”, Pan said matter-of-factly.
Derek thought, “Huh, immortal? You mean I’m going to live forever now? Are you going to take me to heaven…or hell? Are you like an angel or something?”
“I am not an angel. I am Pan, Lord of the Wood”, answered Pan with a glint of grave amusement in his thought. “You are full of false notions and confusions and you suffer from amnesia, like all men. You have already lived forever and will continue to do so. You have lost your memory of who you really are. This may return to you, provided you do not continue to inhabit one of those bodies.
There is no heaven or hell as you have been taught to think of it. Those are lies told by priests to make people obey them. Although I have often thought that if one were to search for Hell and found Earth, it would fit the purpose very well.
“Oh”, thought Derek with a bewildered, breathless sigh. “I should have figured…this sure isn’t what they taught me in Sunday school and college”.
“Of course not” replied Pan. “There are a few men of wisdom on Earth, but they do not teach Sunday school or college, nor would truth be allowed in such institutions”.
It occurred to Derek that he didn’t have a clue what was really happening. He was aware of being in communication with someone, that he’d been shot by hunters, that he was apparently dead, but not really dead. Or was he? He had seen his wounded body being carried away off across the meadow by the guys who shot him and that he couldn’t do anything about it.
A dark hopelessness crashed over him; a feeling of utter inability to move, to sense, to operate, to see. An empty, cold, black nothingness.
* * * * * * * * * *
Virgil and Billy Joe were drenched with sweat. Panting, their lungs and muscles shrieked with the agony of over-exertion, as they carried Derek’s 175 lb. body at a dead run across the meadow, up a steep embankment to a dirt logging road and another 200 yards to Virgil’s pickup truck. They pushed and dragged Derek’s still breathing body onto the seat of the cab between them.
In a single motion Virgil started the engine, spun the wheel and sprayed dust and gravel in a 180 degree arc behind the oversized tires, speeding toward the main highway which would take them to a hospital 20 miles away.
“Damn, Virg!”, Billy Joe panted, “Step on it son! If this guy croaks on us, we’re in deep shit!”
Virgil skidded onto the asphalt of the main highway. The tires screamed burning rubber as he floored the gas pedal.
“Get the police on the CB and tell ’em to lay off us man. We’re comin’ through” he said, handing the mike to Billy Joe. Billy hit the switch, twisted the dial to the police frequency and yelled, “attention all highway patrol cars southbound on highway 239: Code three, code three. We are ten-eight in a red Ford pickup truck, license number…uh…”. “J32743 !”, Virgil shouted for him, “headed to the nearest hospital with a serious gunshot wound. Please assist! Repeat. Please assist. Come back.”
Derek’s body slumped limply against Billy Joe, who propped it up on the seat next to him with his shoulder. The wound was still bleeding The CB speaker crackled with an official sounding voice of a dispatcher from the Sasquatch County Sheriff department, “Uh, ten-four, J32743. We will intercept and assist. What’s your twenty? You copy?”
As Virgil kept the pedal to the metal, a Sasquatch County Sheriff patrol car fish-tailed and screeched into pursuit of them from his hiding place behind a roadside billboard. He passed them with siren wailing and lights flashing, leading the way to the emergency entrance of Mother of Mary Memorial Hospital.
* * * * * * * * * *
“Do not despair my friend”, soothed Pan. “Do not succumb to your desire for oblivion. I will help you”.
Derek had never known an emotion of such utterly empty, senseless devastation before. He felt that his entire existence was lost. Even if he were not dead he could not hope to operate without his body. He was nothing without it.
“You are not your body my friend. All you have ever been or will be is you: your memory, your knowledge, and ability. You are not dead. You are the spark and essence of life itself.”
Pan’s words were clear, cleansing, and certain. Just as rain rinses away dust from a window, Derek felt reassured. A rush of relief raced through him. He sighed deeply, then thought, “How can I be sighing?”
Pan, as usual, answered instantly in a matter-of-fact tone, “You are the source of breath. Not the body. You are the Cause of Life.”
“If you say so…” thought Derek gloomily.
Although he felt better, Derek was still abashed and not a little confused by his current situation.
“I do say so! Therefore, it is”, was Pan’s robust response.
Derek pondered his new predicament for a moment. “Well, if I’m not really dead and what you say is true, what do I do now?”
“Whatever you decide to do”.
“Oh, right…so now I’ll just magically reappear on Earth as my old self and pick up where I left off? I’m sure my wife will really like sleeping with a spirit and all my employees will get a big kick out of working for a ghost”, Derek fumed.
“There is no reason to be sarcastic with me. If you wish I will leave you here to solve your own problems”, scolded Pan.
“Sorry. I’m a little upset, I guess. I mean, I just died didn’t I?”, Derek moped.
“I understand. Many lesser beings would have already succumbed to the automatic impulse to forget, to loose themselves in the oblivion of death. You are a tougher being than most. I remember you as you once were and will help you regain your former self, if you wish it”, instructed Pan.
“Huh?… You remember me?… From where?”, Derek sputtered.
“Not long ago you were a free spirit, as I am. But you were overcome by the desire for sensation: for sex, for food, for companionship, for a game to play. You agreed too much with men and became trapped in the body of a man. These things caused you to diminish your own ability. Because of your contact with bodies you, and other gods, lost your power, your freedom, and your memory” concluded Pan.
“Oh, I see”, Derek replied vaguely without really understanding at all.
“Dead men are always less lamented by others than by themselves.” Pan paused, considering and continued. “However, death is only an illusion, as you have learned. The living, who no longer see your body, consider that you are dead. But only bodies perish. You will live on forever.”
“Do you have something philosophical to say about everything?” grumped Derek.
“Yes. Always. Unless of course I choose not to say anything…” There was a long, still, vacuous silence in which Derek started to feel very uncomfortable indeed. And very, very alone…then afraid. And then panicky.
“Pan…?” he ventured a thought. Nothing. “Pan?” again, more urgently. Silence. “Pan? Where are you?!” thought Derek hysterically. “Oh, My God!”
“I am here”, replied a thought as though inside of Derek’s head…well, not head actually. Startled, but relieved Derek shouted, without a voice, “Don’t do that! Christ! Where’d you go anyway?”
“I’ve been here the whole time. I just chose not to communicate, as you seemed to want not to hear what I had to say. Typical of Earth men: like pigs rutting in a diamond mine looking for truffles are annoyed at having to push aside the glittering gems to feed a body”, mused Pan.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m sorry. I guess I’m still too upset to be very understanding at the moment.”
Derek was contritely exasperated at realizing that he had felt so utterly helpless during that brief silence. For the first time he could remember, he felt like there was nothing he could do for himself. He was blind, he couldn’t feel anything, he couldn’t move and the only thing he could hear were Pan’s thoughts and only then if Pan intended to be heard.
“God, this is worse than being a baby! I can’t do anything without a body!”
“There is a story told by the native people who once lived in this forest, about how the Eagle learned to fly,” said Pan. “A very long time ago in the forest there lived a pitiable creature called Shitalkme. All he ever did was talk and talk and talk to himself while he hopped around on the forest floor looking for bugs and seeds which had fallen from the treetops. He never listened, not even to hear his own talking. One day Shitalkme asked a wise old Owl sitting up in the branches of a tree, ‘How can I get off the ground and reach the treetops, like you?’ The Old Owl answered Shitalkme, ‘If you stop talking long enough, you will learn how to reach the treetops’. Shitalkme stopped talking and soon he began to hear the deer and the wolf and the beaver and the other creatures of the forest. After a long time of listening, he heard the wind. When he listened to the wind, Shitalkme began to soar. When he soared, Shitalkme became the Eagle. After that, his soaring said everything the Eagle needed to say.”
* * * * * * * * *
After leaving the hospital, Virgil and Billy Joe spent several hours at the Sasquatch County Sheriff office telling their story to Sheriff Melvin “Bubba” Gumshoe, an unpleasantly plump, balding and slightly greasy cop.
Bubba got his nick-name when he started kindergarten. It just seemed to fit. He majored in Heavy Equipment Operation at the local vocational school after high school. But he lasted only three days on his first job as a backhoe operator due to a chronic sinus condition. Everything outdoors — dust, dirt, pollen, grass, trees — made Bubba sneeze and it made his nose run. Although police work didn’t require much outdoor work, the handkerchief he kept in his pocket was usually wet with constant use in spite of the eight antihistamine tablets he took faithfully each day.
“OK (sniff), so let me get this straight” said Bubba in his usual mechanically nasal monotone. “You state that Billy shot at an alleged deer with a hunting rifle, at a distance of not more than 75 yards, (sniff) sighting through a high-magnification rifle scope aimed directly at the heart of the alleged deer, (sniff) and that the rifle, to use your words, ‘just sort of jumped to the right’, when you fired the weapon. (sniff) And that you missed the alleged deer and hit this, er… (sniff), Mr. Adapa, who you claim not to have seen until you started running (sniff) after the deer and discovered the victim. Is that the story you’re going to have me put in my report?” (sniff)
“Yeah, yeah, yeah! That’s exactly what happened!” said Virgil in exasperation. He looked across at Billy Joe shaking his head and rolling his eyes to the ceiling.
“We’ve been through this 50 times already! That’s what happened!”
Virgil was really gettin’ peeved but suppressed his temper with a white-knuckled grip on the arms of the straight-backed wooden chair he’d been sitting in all afternoon.
* * * * * * * * *
“I am a god, not a ‘ghost’ as the human conception of an active spirit would have it.” Pan said to the quiet and attentive Derek who had been given the opportunity to spend a few minutes in calm contemplation of his situation. “However, though I am a god, I am yet, indeed, vulnerable to the same spiritual perils faced by a being with a body. If you have read any of the stories about my past deeds in your ‘mythical’ history, you will recall that I have had more than my share of escapades with bodies. I have lusted after women, had sex with many, caroused, cavorted, and sullied myself with every imaginable bodily sensation and desire, on this planet and many others. I have intervened in the personal, political and military affairs of men and women and nations. I have often set a very unholy and less-than-venerable example for other spirits to follow – for both men and gods.
However, I have overcome many of these spiritually degrading activities with self-discipline and by maintaining a safe distance from too much association with bodies, especially these last 2,000 years or so. Because I have learned from my own inept experiences of the past, I will pass on what I can of my own observations to you in much the same way the master craftsman of Europe used to train an apprentice during the 16th century through a combination of theory, combined with daily practice at duplicating the actions and techniques of the master. “I understand your pain and confusion. I have been there myself many times”, Pan instructed his new apprentice.
“The central purpose of my desire to tutor you that is you may learn to operate effectively while outside the body, and remain free from the cycle of birth and death. Further, in order to maintain this most sought after state of being, I will teach you to be ever vigilant against external distractions and as well as the self-made doubts which can diminish your power as a being.
There is one point of vulnerability… I can impart only as much wisdom as I have gained through the trials and errors of my own experience, much of which I myself understand analytically, but have not necessarily applied with success to others. There are no mystical secrets; there are no hidden meanings in what I have to teach you. There is only a strict adherence to those ideas and actions which have proven to work successfully and consistently, combined with your own hard work to apply this knowledge. It is therefore, possible that you may someday learn to exceed my own abilities, provided that you are diligent and persistent. After all, we’re all gods to the degree that we allow ourselves to be” Pan concluded.
Derek didn’t really know what to say or think. If the word ‘dumbfounded’ were ever appropriate to an occasion, this was certainly one of those occasions, he thought to himself.
“Yes, I suppose you must feel quite overwhelmed by all this” thought Pan back to Derek, having perceived his thought. “The key question I have for you is this: Do you have a desire to increase your personal power and ability?
Derek was sure that he did, but not sure that he had any other alternative.
“The alternative”, Pan replied to Derek’s unknowing question, “is that I can leave you to do as most other beings do — drift blindly, dumbly and silently into oblivion. You may eventually return to your old body, or to a new one or perhaps none. Without direction, I am sure that you will have no control over your own destiny. However, with my help, you have great potential power.”
* * * * * * * * *
So, it came to pass that Pan started to train his new student. The next step was to rid Derek of his dependency on a body in order to move and perceive on his own. Pan instructed Derek how to look, to reach out with his feelings to permeate space.
To begin, Pan spent some time getting Derek used to the idea that he was not an object, but truly a spiritual “no-thing”. Of course, Derek was accustomed to having a body, being an object, bumping into walls, skinning it’s knees, and so forth. It took quite a while to get Derek to discover that he could move through objects. It was a very strange experience at first, but one which proved more effortless with practice.
Then, he showed Derek how to feel an object by imagining himself to be the object; to flow through it, sensing it through thought, using every perception he could muster: texture, density, weight, gravity, temperature, mass and even to feel the emotion the object was feeling.
Pan made him practice and practice and practice. All of this seemed very strange to Derek at first. It was extremely frustrating. There were many fits and stops and objections and “I can’t” and “this is ridiculous”.
Pan was compassionately unwavering, unreasonable and insisted that Derek continue to do the drills again and again and again and again.
Derek cascaded by degrees through an emotional roller-coaster ride of anger, grief, apathy, then soaring in a moment of success to enthusiasm, explosive laughter and exhilaration, then crashing down again, and up once more.
Each time Pan made the drill gradually a bit more complex than the last. After many, many repetitions Derek began to have some victories, small at first, then bigger.
Derek relearned, with coaching, how to perceive light particles reflecting from the surface of objects without the use of optic nerves. He learned to just be there and look, to be the object and experience it and then how to move by considering that he was changing his location in space and thinking himself from one location to another.
As himself, he really wasn’t located anywhere at all in particular. He and Pan were just there. The more he imagined that he owned space, the easier it became. At first he had to pretend to attach himself to a tree or a rock by an imaginary rope and drag himself along. And then, using the ground or a hill as a bracing point, to push himself away. It was a lot like doing push-ups without gravity. He was in a truly weightless condition now.
Derek even learned to smell apples on the trees in a nearby orchard by imagining the taste, putting the imagined taste into the fruit and then feeling it back again into himself as though it had come from the fruit itself. As he practiced he realized that the smell didn’t really come from apples as much as it came from his own imagination of what an apple smelled like. He didn’t have a body’s nose telling him how an apple is supposed to smell anymore. It was all up to him now. Perhaps it always had been. He just hadn’t realized it before.
A simple thing like smelling an apple or just moving from one location to another was no longer automatic. Derek really had to think about it every single, minute aspect of it. The effort was very trying, but at the same time, more gratifying than anything he had ever done before.
“Wow! This is fantastic! I’m me, you know? I’m really not a body! I’m me!” Derek enthused at his newly found awareness of himself.
“Very good!”, replied Pan with equal enthusiasm.
* * * * * * * *
“And you, Mr. Jaras…ah…Billy”, Bubba motioned to Billy with his handkerchief, then blew his nose before continuing, “is that your final statement too?”
“You got it man.” Billy sighed heavily. “Can we get goin’ now? We been here all day. I ain’t had nothin’ to eat since first light this mornin’. Give us a break will ya’?” he moaned.
“Yes, OK. You can go now. You will (sniff) be contacted if there is any change in Mr. Adapas condition. Be sure that you are available at all times in case we need further information from you” droned Bubba, sniffing.
As they scuffed outside to the truck Virgil said, “Jesus, where’d they ever dig up that guy? What a sorry-ass son-of-a-bitch! I thought we’d never get out of that place!”
“Yeah. Well, I just hope this guy don’t give up and die on us or this sheriff is gonna be on us like stink on shit for murder or manslaughter or somethin’.”
“Hey, lighten up Billy! He’s gonna be OK. The doc at the hospital said the guy’s supposed to live, right?”
“Yeah, but he was hit pretty bad…” Billy moped, fumbling through his keys to unlock the door to this pickup.
“Shit! There’s blood all over the seat. We gotta stop by a car wash on the way home. Damn!”.
* * * * * * * *
“So far, so good Derek. You’re doing very well. You will get it with more practice” Pan encouraged.
Derek already felt light-years better than he could ever remember feeling. He felt confident, able, powerful and very, very alive. “Quite a feeling for a dead man”, he thought.
“There is still much more to learn and remember”, Pan continued. “One thing at a time. The abilities that separate men from the gods, are the ability to assume viewpoints. And from these viewpoints, one must then be able to make things happen.”
More drilling. Practice, practice, practice. Be a tree. Be a rock. Be a leaf. Be inside a cloud. Be above the forest. Under the water. Three feet above the water. On and on and on. It seemed an interminable, yet timeless lesson to Derek. Pan was always patient, yet insistent that Derek learn.
Derek tried a combination of newly acquired skills on a chipmunk in the forest. He went into the chipmunk’s head by thinking of himself as the chipmunk. He became the chipmunk. He thought the thought, “stop”. The chipmunk, which had been bounding across the pine-needle carpeted floor of the forest suddenly stopped. Derek thought, “sit up” and then “turn your head from left to right”. He did exactly as Derek intended. “Wow! I did it!” Derek spouted. “He did just what I wanted him to. Nothing to it.” he continued confidently.
“Of course. Very good. You’re getting the idea of it very nicely”, Pan acknowledged.
“Now that you’re getting some of your own power back, let’s go take a look around. We’ll do a little sight-seeing. Come on!” Pan disappeared.
Derek waited for several moments before beginning to feel puzzled about where Pan had gone. He felt like scratching his head, but he didn’t have one, so he just waited, trying to feel Pan anywhere near him. Nothing.
“Oh my god…” sighed Derek.
“Yes?”, answered Pan.
“Jesus!” Derek jumped, half startled out of his wits. “Don’t leave me alone like that! Where’d you go anyway?”
“Where did you go? I’ve been down in The Bahamas playing with the dolphins”, laughed Pan. “What happened to you anyway?”
Derek just stood there…well, sat…, that is, kind of floated, not really knowing what to say or think.
“You’re in worse shape that I thought” Pan lamented. “Oh well, I’ll pull you along with me then, until you get your ‘wings’ back. OK. So, here we go. Hang on!”
In that instant Derek experienced a rush of feelings too many and varied to describe. He found himself hovering inches above gently bobbing ocean waves.
“Isn’t this great?” blurted Pan with frisky gusto.
A sleek, shiny gray dolphin squeaked with delight, exploding from beneath the surface as it leaped directly up and through Derek. It soared high into the air, trailing beads of water and splashed with effortless grace back into the blue-green waves.
“What the…what was that?! Where…” spluttered Derek.
“Bahamas. Dolphins, ” Pan enthused. “I told you. I was playing with some friends. Come on!”
Derek was under the water, speeding through a trail of burbling bubbles behind a quartet of sleek gray dolphins. They thrashed their tails rhythmically, gaining speed, turned up and with a surge of playful power burst through the surface, arching and stretching a dozen feet above the spray, straightened and plunged below again. He rode on with them, pulled along by a force he could not feel or resist, but he knew that he was connected to Pan.
The dolphins continued swimming, leaping, diving, splashing gleefully. Derek could feel their immense energy, the exhilaration of their play; the crystal wet sparkle of sunlight reflected from beaded water droplets, the pressure of rushing water. He felt the slippery odor of passing kelp and the scurrying scare of smaller fishes fleeing from them.
Derek was permeated with joy and ecstatic motion. Warm sunlight awash with surf-scented air and sparkling, squealing giggles of dolphins at play.
Derek was immersed, enthralled, consumed, amazed. With a thousand sensations, nothing like he ever experienced in a body: too many to be differentiated. He was thoroughly, completely exhilarated and simultaneously suffused with comprehension. As he and Pan broke above the surface, high into the air above the azure waters he looked down on a teaming stampede of dozens of speeding, splashing dolphins.
“This is what it’s like to be a god…this is who I really am” thought Derek. “I’m me! Oh my god!”
“You called?” replied Pan instantly.
“This is completely, totally amazing!” beamed Derek,
“Indeed!” laughed Pan.