Friday, July 19, 2013

Of Men, Nymphs, Satyrs, Incubi, and the God of Shepherds

First, an excerpt from Beltane by Erin O'Riordan:

"Orlando dreamed of the shaded wood, of a forest so lush and thick with springtime foliage, the sunlight came in indistinct and hazy. In this dream, he closed his eyes, his feet firmly planted on a grassy hillock strewn with wildflowers. He breathed in their scent, breathing in too the scent of the still, green lake that lapped at the foot of the hillock. A memory of Slovenia, perhaps. Then, strangely, he heard laughter. Little giggles from the shrubs. Women. He opened his eyes, in this dream, and saw them all around him, surrounding him. They wore gauzy gowns that covered little. Zen was there. Zen, the beautiful stranger, with her pale-blonde hair loose and falling down her back, her bright blue eyes full of mischief. She beckoned him down the hillock, toward the water.

"Orlando shook his head. He looked around at all the faces of the women. They were beautiful, all of them, the blondes and the redheads and the bronze-skinned women with the curling black hair. But something about them saddened him. There was something about them not quite natural, not quite real. Something about them was not to be trusted. They circled around him, dancing, their voices rising to the forest canopy with high, ringing laughter.

"At last he found Catherine’s face among them. Catherine, the most beautiful woman of them all. She wasn’t laughing, only smiling the reassuring smile that told him she loved him and everything was going to be all right. At the lake’s edge, Zen splashed in frustration. Zen stuck out her bottom lip and pouted. Orlando ignored her, holding out his arms toward Catherine. If he could only reach her, he thought, everything would be all right. If he could only reach her—but she seemed to slip further and further from his grasp, until he lost sight of her among the women. He thought he faintly glimpsed her blonde hair disappearing into the darkness of the woods.

"He felt the water lap over his foot, and thought Zen had splashed him. Instead, he looked down and saw his foot—no longer his foot, but a goat’s hoof where his funky red-and-brown suede shoe had been before—was sinking into the lake. Zen had a hold of his arm now. She was dragging him down the hillock and into the lake. He tried to steady himself, tried to grasp at the grasses and flowers as if they would hold him. But Zen’s strength was much greater than he’d ever imagined. He was in the lake up to the waist now, and she was still pulling. A strange song rang through the woods."

The inspiration for Orlando's dream comes from this painting, Nymphs and a Satyr by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. (The image is in the public domain.)

The nymphs in this painting appear to be attacking the satyr rather violently. They seem intent upon dragging him into the water, even though satyrs can't breathe underwater. It's kinda like the W.B. Yeats poem "The Mermaid."

Bouguereau may have had some issues with paranormal women.

Jackie Kessler may have some issues with paranormal men.

You may recall from my review of DemonFire that the paranormal romance I'm currently reading is Hotter Than Hell by Jackie Kessler. It's an appropriate title for a week with temperatures in the mid-90s Fahrenheit.

I've now read Part I, which takes me to approximately the middle of the book. (I haven't read much this week.) When I bring up Kessler's "issues" (and I'm being facetious here), I'm referring to the character Pan.

The hero of the novel is a supporting character from the previous two books, Daun. Daun is short for Daunuan, pronounced "Don Juan." Yep, he's that Don Juan, the one who inspired Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. Daun is an incubus. He seduces evil mortal women, killing them in the process and taking their souls to hell. In this book, he's up for an infernal promotion if he can seduce a woman who isn't evil - usually she'd be completely off-limits to his kind. Her name is Virginia, and as of Part 1, her only direct interaction with Daun has been throwing a drink in his ridiculously handsome false mortal face.

I took this picture of the Don Juan monument in Sevilla, Spain
In Kessler's telling, the demons in hell are grouped by the sins they embody. Incubi and succubi, naturally, belong to the kingdom of Lust, and their king is Pan. Daun's natural form is a satyr, like Pan, although Pan is more goatish, with the characteristic pupils of goat eyes.

Daun is arrogant, smarmy, completely sex-obsessed and crude, but Kessler still portrays him in this series as sympathetic to a certain extent. Pan is the antagonist in that he forces Daun into the "seduce Virginia" challenge, which is the protagonist's obstacle or struggle in this plotline. It's not necessary as a literary device to make the antagonist utterly unsympathetic, but in this case, Pan is utterly unsympathetic. Pan is nothing more than a goat-legged rapist. Thus far, his victims have included a flock of female cherubim and an ancient Greek siren.

To be clear, Daun is a seducer, but he always obtains consent before sex. That the women die is simply the result of their being evil and bound for hell anyway. They're doomed before Daun gets there, although he is the vessel of their destruction.

Paranormal authors are free to use mythological figures however they choose, shaping them into their own distinct characters. I don't have a problem with that. In Cara Lockwood's Can't Teach an Old Demon New Tricks, Pan was a low-level demon of sloth, almost too lazy to even be evil.

If you look in Edith Hamilton's Mythology or Bulfinch's Mythology, you won't learn very much about the classical Pan. These sources - standard 20th-century reference materials on the Greco-Roman myths - agree Pan was a fairly minor agricultural god, worshiped by shepherds and the rural people, whose homes were near his sacred outdoor places. The Lupercalia may have been dedicated to Pan.

The most detailed myth about him involves a musical competition between Pan and Apollo, judged by King Midas. Midas declared Pan the winner, and an indignant Apollo cursed Midas with donkey ears. Pan was considered a son of Hermes.

However, Pan has taken on a whole new role in modern NeoPagan and Wiccan practice. To many witches, Wiccans and NeoPagans, Pan is The Horned God, the representation of the Divine Masculine. He's not the only possible representation of the Horned One or the Wild God of the Wood. The Green Man is one of his manifestations, as is Cernunnos, as is Shiva, as is Lugh, and many more.

What is offensive to some practitioners of the Craft is superimposing ideas of the Christian devil onto the non-evil NeoPagan/Wiccan Pan. As we discussed in the review of The Devil on Lammas Night, not all witches, Wiccans, and NeoPagans believe in and/or worship a devil in the Christian sense.

Caroline Tully, in a blog post titled "Calling the Great God Pan: The Horned God in Witchcraft Today," describes the Horned God as "strong but not violent, playful but deep, sexual but not sleazy, loving without being possessive, and emotional without fearing disintegration." The Horned God offers an image of divine masculinity that opposes the masculinity of Western patriarchy, which can be attractive and healing for male and female Craft practitioners alike.

You can read a very detailed paper about Pan, his ancient Egyptian counterpart Min, and the confusion between Pan and the devil at White Dragon.

I'm offering this not as a criticism of Jackie Kessler's writing, but simply as a complementary perspective. I'm just saying this: Pan isn't always the bad guy.

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