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  • Writer's pictureMichael Martin

“Great Pan is...alive!”


“Once upon a time,” begins Eugene McCrarrher in The Enchantments of Mammon, “the world was enchanted. Rocks, trees, rivers, and rain pulsated with invisible forces, powers that enlivened and determined the affairs of tribes and empires as well. Though beholden to the caprice or providential design of a variety of spirits and deities, the world of enchantment could be commanded by magic or humbly beseeched through prayer.”1 He goes on to argue that first the Protestant Reformation, followed by the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and so forth (we’ve heard it all before) further alienated human beings from the visible and invisible commonwealths of Things.

Of course, not everyone has been down with Project Disenchantment and a Counter Enlightenment, a Counter Modernity, though its adherents have been relatively small in number, has always resisted the totalizing claims of the false modernity we take for real. This was clearly the case with Hermeticism in the seventeenth century, with various forms of mysticism (though not all) through the centuries, through the persistence of folk religion and magic, and, obviously, through the various iterations of Sophiology.

At its simplest level, this counter stream is dedicated to the idea of the sacred. Modernity, it seems, has no room for a sacredness not attached to profit or efficiency—as is most disgustingly obvious in the anxieties Wall Street exhibits concerning sales numbers leading up to Christmas—but such is not sacred anyway. Sacredness is found when we enter the temenos, the space at the threshold of the visible and invisible worlds. As Patrick Harpur explains,

We humans can make anything sacred. To the profane mind, nothing is sacred—the soul of the forest is only a metal pipe, the blood of Christ only weak wine. Everything depends on the creative act of imagination. The more we imbue the world with imagination, the more the world is ensouled—and the more soul it returns to us, singing with meaning.”2

Disenchantment—as well as sacredness—is also a matter of disposition. What is our state of receptivity?

One example of this is in the responses to a story told by Plutarch (De defectu oraculorum). According to the historian, a sailor named Thamus heard a voice, apparently at the time of the crucifixion of Christ, that told him, “Thamus, are you there? When you reach Palodes, take care to proclaim that the great god Pan is dead.” The early Christian historian Eusebius interpreted this utterance as proof that the ancient gods, Pan the one most venerated by the agrarian peasantry, were no more as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection. There is another tradition, however, that suggests the voice was actually speaking of Christ and was horrified at the death of the God of Nature; that the God of Zoë, of Life, could die. I prefer the second tradition, just as I prefer to think of Christ as the Lord of the Dance, He Who Lives.

But the death is a very real thing, as it was to the disciples and as it was to voice which spoke to Thamus. But He Who Lives is simultaneously He Who Dies. And we all have blood on our hands. As the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich wrote in the 1950s,

In Christ man has searched for the key to his own nature and his own fate for two thousand years. In Christ man has found the access to a possible solution of the tragedy of mankind. Christ had been murdered long before Christ was born. And Christ continued to be murdered every single hour of every single year since. Unless Christ’s fate is understood fully and practically, the murder will continue with no letup. Christ’s fate represents the secret tragedy of the human animal.”3

For Reich, Christ is the representative par excellence of Life, both bios and zoë, and in our daily, hourly murder of Christ we simultaneously murder life. The ways in which we murder life are the ways in which we murder Christ. It is that simple. We murder him through all of our life-denying commitments—in the poisonous methods of conventional agriculture (which may have even had a hand in the current pandemic), in the toxicity created by industry, in the technological colonization of the human person, in our life-killing economics (and, sorry, socialism and communism don’t get a pass here). Indeed, as Sergei Bulgakov has written concerning the latter, only a sophianic economy (which can only be simultaneously a sophianic ecology) is concerned with life: “The purpose of economic activity is to defend and to spread the seeds of life, to resurrect nature. This is the action of Sophia on the universe in an effort to restore it to being in Truth.”4

Great Pan, then, is really alive. But maybe we should stop killing him.

1 Eugene McCrarrher, The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism became the Religion of Modernity (Harvard, 2019), 1.4

2 Patrick Harpur, The Secret Tradition of the Soul (Evolver Editions, 2011), 50.

3 Wilhelm Reich, The Murder of Christ (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1953), 54.

4 Sergei Bulgakov, The Philosophy of Economy: The World as Household, trans. and ed. Catherine Evtuhov (Yale University Press, 2000), 153.

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