April 14, 2020

The Greek God Pan, Pandemic, & Nature’s Healing Balm

My email feed and Facebook page burn with coronavirus news and magic ways to avoid the covid-19 pandemic. I remind myself to breathe.

Our house is on fire.

And still, the moon makes her nightly rounds and birds sing their spring songs when I walk the trails with my dogs. Limey green moss spreads up the trunks of oak trees. Within the trunk, the sacred sap rises and will soon green the tree tops. Like the virus, everything wants to grow.

I lean against my favorite red oak and feel my feet held on the earth. Grounded. Planted. Still strong.

Pan, 4th Century BC (Toledo Museum)

The God Pan is doing his work, creating mayhem and forcing us into contact with a wildness we won’t forget. James Hillman’s Pan and the Nightmare is a title for our time. Pan is half goat and half man, a frenzy of wild nature and sexual energy, an unstable balance of disorder on the border of harmony. He releases mayhem in the world in preparation for something new and represents Nature we can’t control, but he also brings ecstatic dance and music with his Pan pipes. I could use a little wild dancing.

Green Man

Pan is a shadow brother of the Green Man, the gentler god of renewal and life. In nature, the Green Man seems calm compared to Pan who brings unbridled change without discernible order or structure. Pandemic, Panic, Pandemonium. This virus.

The forces at play are impersonal and panoramic. I witness the Green Man aspect of nature on my walks and pray he will prevail. The tree of life will soon offer tiny green leaves, then flowers, then fruit and seeds to heal a suffering world.

While we wait for this crisis to ease, I stay close to home. The grocery store and streets feel ominous and unsafe, and I can’t read masked lips. I’m high risk because of age and, like everyone, I want to avoid hospitals and burdening the strained medical system. Cochlear implant hearing struggles with electronic sound which is how we communicate now. At home, I enjoy the natural world of spring peepers and bluebirds and watch tree swallows swoop through the sky.

I’ve practiced solitude since 2008 when my husband died, but never this extreme. My two dogs give me mammal touch and sound while I hone my hippie skills of gathering wild plants. My local son and his girlfriend give my garden a spring cleaning and feed the soil—all at a distance. The next day, I plant snow peas, sugarsnaps, and spring greens. Did I say how fortunate I am?

My friend Amy says Six Circles Farms delivers locally and she has a bag of organic root crops, carrots, and spinach. “I’ll bring half to you,” Amy says on the phone.

“You don’t have to do that,” I say. Why should she risk herself for me?

“It will be good to take a ride,” she says. “I want to.”

Dear Amy arrives with food and we stand outside, many feet apart, to talk a while. I want to wrap my arms around her, but love beams from her eyes. That’s enough, plus a spinach salad to share with my son and his girlfriend which I’ll leave in a container for pick-up on my porch.

I text Six Circles Farms and interact with an owner I’ve known since he was born. “I have garlic, spinach, turnips, radishes, carrots, and more greens,” he replies. “A big bag delivered for $20. You want some?”

“Yes, yes, yes.” With a weekly delivery of vegetables, a garden, and the moon, I’ll be fine.

My heart breaks with the suffering of the world and especially those in cities, in poverty, and in crowded places. My heart swells with love at the kindness of health care workers, friends, and family as we find new ways to reach out and take care of each other.

***

To read more about the Greek Mythological God Pan, see Ancient History Encyclopedia: Pan and Pan (Mythology): New World Encyclopedia. There’s so much I could say about what’s happening in my state of New York and especially in New York City. I’m grateful for our governor Andrew Cuomo. It’s hard to imagine the mess we’re in, but here we are.

How are you handling social distancing and isolation? How are you doing with not being able to go out or spend time with people you love? For other posts about surviving in hard times, see Have They Forgotten They Are Mortal? Lessons from Hecate.   For my most popular post for hard times, see Poems to Grieve By.




21 Comments

  1. April 27, 2020 at 7:12 pm

    anne

    Reply

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Elaine. Regarding your comment about those hard years, “I look back and feel we got through it well,” I just read the following sentence in your book which summed it up beautifully: “Truth is, Vic was magnificent in his dying, but I tent to forget that I was equally magnificent.” Yes, clearly you both brought your magnificence to that time, which I think is why your story is so compelling and inspirational.

    I would love to ask you about how you have been able to decently control your vertigo but realize that discussion is outside the scope of this blog. If you would feel comfortable with my sending you a personal email, please let me know. (My physicians have been wonderful but I still feel as though there may be some more things to try.)

    1. April 29, 2020 at 9:00 am

      Elaine Mansfield

      Reply

      Thank you, Anne. I hope patience and endurance can be an opportunity, too, since that’s where we’re all stuck now. I’m glad to interact by personal email–so I sent you an email.

  2. April 26, 2020 at 2:16 pm

    anne

    Reply

    Ah, Elaine, you always manage to weave strands of life together in a way that inspires and delights. Yes, Pan is doing his work, and we must do ours by paying attention and keeping our hearts and minds open (maybe those are really the same thing). We have, indeed, lost our way, and you (and so many others) are helping us to find it with your practices of gratitude and kindness.

    The isolation for me seems easier than for many because I, like you, live in a very rural area with magnificent, wild nature surrounding me. Also, the chronic illness I live with keeps me close to home almost all the time anyway. Unlike you, my beloved husband of 40 years is still alive, and that eases everything. And, still, as you wrote, “the general atmosphere of this country gets through. I wake up anxious and rattled every morning.” I try to stay with it, say “Yes,” breathe in deeply for all who are suffering, and remember that everything belongs.

    Your book arrived in the mail, and I am crying my way through its beauty, suffering, and honesty. Thank you for this gift and all that went into this remarkable labor of love.

    1. April 27, 2020 at 11:27 am

      Elaine Mansfield

      Reply

      Thank you for supportive words, Anne. We have different physical limitations, but hearing loss and vertigo (decently but never fully controlled with medication) have kept me mostly close to home for the last five years. The hardest part is not being able to get in my car and drive to North Carolina to see my son who lives there. I think he’s coming here in late May (masked, gloved, and distancing from others now and until he gets here so we can hug each other). It’s a good time to live in the country. I can’t imagine being locked in an apartment during this period. I’m glad your husband is with you and you can help each other through this. I have good friends in the neighborhood and my son lives 3 miles away. He and his girlfriend did my grocery shopping this week and we took a distance-walk this week in the woods. It’s a luxury to feel protected when so many people don’t.

      Thank you for buying and reading my book, Anne. There was so much beauty and love interwoven with those hard years. I look back and feel we got through it well. He left feeling complete and completely loved. I’ve been with people who refused to accept their death and that’s grueling because no one can talk about the obvious and say their goodbyes. Vic fought hard to live but knew death was coming. Sometimes it seemed too hard to go on from my perspective, but as you’ll read, incredible blessings in his last weeks brought purpose and meaning to the struggle. Be well. Be safe. It’s reassuring to know you’re saying “Yes.”

  3. April 19, 2020 at 8:59 pm

    DGKaye

    Reply

    Hi Elaine. I’m glad to come here and find that despite Mother Nature claiming enough and all her lessons she is bestowing on the world now, you are doing just fine. You have family close by to keep check on you, which is a blessing. These are times to remember gratitude for sure. Please stay safe and masked!!! 🙂

    1. April 20, 2020 at 11:11 am

      Elaine Mansfield

      Reply

      Thanks, Debby. I’m staying safe by staying home. I have masks, but have always kept a well stocked pantry because I live far from town. So far friends and my son’s girlfriend have offered to shop for me and a local organic grower who used to supply restaurants that are now closed delivers fresh produce weekly–and soon the garden will produce food. It’s a good time to live in the country. I’m glad I followed my heart and ignored everyone’s wise advice that I should move into town because living in the country is too hard for a woman my age. It’s the easiest place to be right now. My dogs are sunning on the back porch, ready for a hike. I’ll be glad when I can hold hands with humans again. I hope you and your husband are well and patient.

  4. April 16, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    Amelia Raymond

    Reply

    Pandemic, pandemonium, panic. These things frighten me but what threatens to put me over the edge is the concept of the panopticon. Panopticon is a prison design I believe by Foucault, where the guards oversee the prison from a circular hub inside a round wall of cells. With all I’ve been reading about the internet of things, how 5G will enable better law enforcement surveillance, where our appliances and self driving car are all connected; the vaccines that will come with a microscopic barcode implant that can be scanned by a smart phone to ensure vaccination status, and god knows what else, the increased government intrusion into our privacy, our deranged leader, these things frighten me more than the actual disease. I am not sure about the world we will find ourselves in when we are released from quarantine.

    1. April 17, 2020 at 11:35 am

      Elaine Mansfield

      Reply

      Whew! I understand, Amelia. The level of surveillance and intrusion is alarming. My son owns a computer business and said the latest social media trend of posting high school or college graduation photos in honor of this year’s graduates who can’t attend their graduation is an invitation for others to use the image for identification purposes. A faceprint rather than a fingerprint. What a wild world we’re in. My approach has been to keep mostly isolated, support food banks and politicians I respect with small donations, make sure neighbors and family are OK, and pray there is a change of heart and mind in this country. We’ve lost our way. May all be well for all of us.

  5. April 15, 2020 at 12:32 pm

    Jean Raffa

    Reply

    Dear Elaine,

    Like all your posts, this one is soothing, comforting, and filled with warm wisdom. I too like your thinking of Pan as the shadow side of the green man. He definitely feels more dangerous than that gentle greening life force.

    Yet, in another sense Pan, which as you know means “all” in Greek, also represents all of nature, both the wild and the tame, the birthing and the dying and the ecstasy and suffering in between. In this sense, he’s an all-inclusive nature god, a sort of masculine counterpart to (or image of) Mother Nature, Gaia, or Earth Mother.

    As you say so aptly, symbols like this are so rich and meaningful just because they can hold all these paradoxes together in the containers of our whole and complete souls. As the language of the unconscious, symbols can’t be trapped in the prisons of rationality, logic, or duality. They get to mean what they mean to us. They represent archetypes of nature (humans included) which are beyond human control. Thus, Pan can be a destructive force in one situation, and a Wise Old Man in another. We can’t pin Pan down into one neat, exclusive good or bad category any more than we can pin nature down.

    Seen from this perspective, the coronavirus is another paradoxical symbol of wild and unpredictable nature. It, too, is capable of destroying and blessing, all at the same time. You explain that well with these words, “My heart breaks with the suffering of the world and especially those in cities, in poverty, and in crowded places. My heart swells with love at the kindness of health care workers, friends, and family as we find new ways to reach out and take care of each other.”

    Thanks for highlighting the fact that there’s so much healing wisdom in imagining the symbols that are meaningful to us in ways that help us remyth our lives and live them with love. This is a subject that’s very dear to my heart, and thinking about it here has inspired me to write about it in my next blog post. With your blessing, I’ll include a few of your quotes and a bit about you and your book. I’d like my readers to know you. You have much to offer us all in these troubling times.

    Love,

    Jeanie

    1. April 15, 2020 at 1:18 pm

      Elaine Mansfield

      Reply

      Yes! Thank you for articulating the paradox, Jeanie. There are different views about the name Pan and whether it refers to “universal” or another root word, so I purposefully didn’t address that confusion because I don’t know enough. (More study needed, but thank you for opening the box.) I was after the chaotic aspect of this time, especially since it’s the Green Man’s season here in Western NY.

      I know you love finding mythological truths in modern life, just as I do. I tend toward the personal side which is what I feel I know. (I look forward to your new book, by the way.) I loved re-reading the myth of Eros and Psyche which I’d studied with my mythology class for two years. I loved remembering how beneficent the old man Pan was in this myth and may need to write about this view of Pan. He comforted and saved Psyche and said, “make no further attempt at suicide… open you heart to Cupid (Love), the greatest of us gods.”) I’m honored that you’ll include and develop these ideas in your writing and thank you for mentioning my work. I need to visit your new website. I spend so much time in the woods with the dogs. Disco who is 8 months old was doing well going to day care a few days a week, but that’s cancelled for now. Without lots of exercise, she drives me and my elder dog crazy. Plus it’s good for me to walk and walk. If not walking Disco, we do training tricks to occupy her young mind and energy so she doesn’t decide to eat the plants or destroy furniture. A well exercised dog (or human) is easier to live with. I feel for people stuck in apartments, unable to take their dogs outside. How do they manage, I wonder?

      Thanks for adding much more about Pan, Jeanie. I value your heart and your thinking function. Sending love to you and your family in FL.

  6. April 15, 2020 at 11:12 am

    susan scott

    Reply

    I also think of Pandora’s Box Elaine. I like how Deborah said pan-demon-ic.

    Oh I don’t know WHAT to make of all of this. Like you, I have my home and garden, succour for my soul. A fair amount of routine marks my days. I went to the shops this morning, gloved and masked, first time in 4 weeks or so. But there were queues outside the shops. People were being let in a few at a time. I also wanted to get something from the pharmacy but that was the same. Queues. So, I’ll go tomorrow, early. I was anxious about going out in my car which re-inforced my actually doing it, strange to say.

    I honestly think it’s early days still and Pandora’s Box continues to be the genie let out ..

    But Mother Nature seems to be re-asserting herself and my dearest wish is that we learn from this huge pause in our lives and we never revert tour mindless overconsumption. And know that the Green Man prevails. Thank you for this thoughtful and hopeful post even as we are assailed by everything … keep well and safe. xx

    1. April 15, 2020 at 12:57 pm

      Elaine Mansfield

      Reply

      I think of Pandora’s box, too, Susan, but went back to the root word Pan. There could be a whole book written about this and many ways to go. I don’t know what to make of it either. Many of our elected leaders seem intent on creating pandemonium and panic rather than helping. My immediate surroundings and home are calm, but the general atmosphere of this country gets through. I wake up anxious and rattled every morning. New York City is heart-breaking. Everyone wears masks which means I can’t read lips, but I’m relieved because a friend just wrote to say she’s going to the health food market in Ithaca this week and will pick up whatever I need. I am so fortunate to have generous friends and enough money to pay for food. She’ll go early to avoid queues.

      I agree that we’re in the early days of what’s happening. It’s impossible to figure out how things will go. I’m grateful Nature is getting a slight reprieve, but I don’t expect that to last without a true change in consciousness and values based on sharing. May all be well. You keep well and safe, too.

  7. April 15, 2020 at 10:19 am

    Harriet Eisman

    Reply

    Thank you dear Elaine.

    1. April 15, 2020 at 12:39 pm

      Elaine Mansfield

      Reply

      Thanks for reading, dear Harriet.

  8. April 15, 2020 at 8:38 am

    Robin

    Reply

    With everything closed or cancelled, and no more reasons to leave the house, I have become more attuned to the natural world in and around my home. Something has moved into the corner space below my bedroom and it shuffles around in the early mornings, making my dog go nuts trying to figure out how to get at it. Two geese have adopted the patio by the pond and consider me to be the intruder. Ants are creeping into the kitchen and carpets. And I saw a huge coyote next to my pond yesterday. I don’t mind these creatures like I used to. Now, they are the few neighbors I get to hang with. Hopefully we can all live here in peace.

    1. April 15, 2020 at 10:15 am

      Elaine Mansfield

      Reply

      Dear Robin, we are home and we have no idea for how long! I’m good at staying home because my hearing makes most going out uncomfortable, but this is too extreme. I have 3 Zoom meetings each week–two different classes and one a dream therapy session. The writing class is especially helpful. I’m not fond of shuffling feet in the walls, so I trap the mice in the cellar. They’re too invasive. Ants aren’t great either, although they have an astonishing ability to cooperate with each other and play a saving role in the myth of Eros and Psyche by sorting a jumbled pile of seeds for Psyche. Geese might not stay around long if a coyote is in the neighborhood. I love coyotes and their night songs, but then I don’t have a little dog or a cat. They won’t bother a dog that’s close to their size. Yes, may we live in peace–except for mice and rats. I have my limits. Stay well and peaceful and patient.

  9. April 15, 2020 at 7:22 am

    Marian Beaman

    Reply

    I’ll choose over Eros The Green Man, representing the gentler god of renewal and life.

    This post tells that in spite of struggles you are coping okay. Thank God for mammal touch, walks in the woods, your son’s watch-care and that sweet Amy who got blessed by sharing food with you.

    There’s so much to like in this post, sprinkled with the dialogue you’re so good at. These lines stand out though: “I lean against my favorite red oak and feel my feet held on the earth. Grounded. Planted. Still strong.”

    My ardent wish for you: Stay strong and healthy. Yes, this too shall pass, but we’ll never be the same! Sending virtual hugs! ((( )))

    1. April 15, 2020 at 10:04 am

      Elaine Mansfield

      Reply

      I wish I could choose, Marian, and say no to chaos. I love the Green Man (symbolically) and it’s his time of year. I think of Pan as an archetypal destructive force that’s been released partly by human behavior and neglect of higher and deeper values. It’s not so surprising when I look back at the last years. May we learn how to take care of each other and the earth.

      Yes, I’m struggling and OK. I’m fortunate I can get outside every day and that I have friends and family nearby. The forest is reassuring, the way it was after Vic died. I imagined then that the big trees had witnessed lots of life and death and kept right on growing and producing acorns for the animals of the forest. Thank you for the good wishes and I hope the same for you, Marian. Stay strong, healthy, connected to the earth, and flexible, because you’re right. We’ll never be the same. I return that hug in the only way I can. (())

  10. April 14, 2020 at 9:37 am

    Deborah Gregory

    Reply

    Dear Elaine,

    It’s always wonderful to read your latest post and hear how you’re doing, especially now we’re all in this global lockdown together. Even though the flowers, birds and trees don’t realise what’s going on. It’s great to imagine you grounded, planted firmly in Mother Earth, beside your beloved red oak with sap rising.

    Yes, surely the pan-ic and pan-demon-ium of Pan is upon us, most especially in New York State! Hmm, I’ve never thought of Pan as the Shadow Brother of the Green Man, yet your comparison makes perfect sense. And from where I’m sitting I can see my plaque of him on the fence. Is the one in the photo yours?

    You’re right, trees are deeply healing images for all! Many years ago I had an extraordinary tree dream which keeps on going around my head today, so perhaps I need to sit down later and unpack this dream more. I’m only leaving my house once a week for a couple of hours to shop for groceries, and that’s it.

    The coronavirus stories and hospital news reports are making my heart rise and fall in equal measures, although Trump’s complete meltdown with those journalists yesterday left me speechless! In other news it’s wonderful to hear about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, the true embodiment of kindness.

    Love and light, Deborah.

    1. April 15, 2020 at 9:54 am

      Elaine Mansfield

      Reply

      Deborah, I love Greek mythology at times like this, because there’s an archetype for every dramatic situation. From another perspective, we’re living in a Shakespearean drama with all the wild characters playing their roles. I hadn’t thought of Pan as the shadow of the Green Man before writing this, but spring is upon us at the same time as covid-19. In the Roman Eros and Psyche myth, Pan is a wise old man who convinces Psyche not to commit suicide after Eros flies away but to devote herself to Love. I’m thinking that one through since it’s a very different view of Pan. (I wonder if your tree dream will become a poem.)

      New York City is in sad shape, especially those living in poverty. I’m a 5 hour drive from the big city, although Ithaca where I usually shop and see people and is 30 minutes from me has much more illness than my county. My county has had 9 positive cases as of yesterday and physical distancing and masks are the norm. It feels relatively safe here, but of course everyone is strongly effected by decisions made in the White House. I’m grateful for my logical, level-headed, experienced Governor Cuomo. I admit I find Trump terrifying, erratic, and interested in money and ratings more than human lives. I’m grateful for the steady health workers, the caregivers, the kind neighbors, and others who have compassion toward the suffering. (It seems your prime minister may have discovered his heart while having his life saved.) May all be well soon in your world and mine. Wishing you peace and hope.

      1. April 15, 2020 at 10:16 am

        Deborah Gregory

        Reply

        Thank you so much Elaine for your lovely reply! Oh, I do love the idea of making my tree dream a poem! I’ll look into this for sure. Yes, I’m hopeful that our PM has re-discovered his heart too … for in the end, surely it’s only love, kindness and compassion that really matters. xx

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