The Goat Foot God
DIOTIMA BIBLIOTHECA ALEXANDRINA, 2008
What Rough Beast!
How could I resist? When I — who takes his name in honor of Pan, whose shoulder wears a laughing Pan tattoo, whose production studios have been named for the Goat Foot God — received a copy of this book, I immediately had to read it.
Sadly, The Goat Foot God (misspelled on the book’s back cover as “The Goat Food God”) often stumbles. As an unwittingly accurate appraisal on that back cover states, “Diotima takes a scholarly yet idiosyncratic look at Pan.” Indeed, “There are more questions than answers herein.” But although that approach is debatably “in keeping with the eponymous subject,” the incomplete treatment did not satisfy this curious Son of Pan.
Diotima starts out well, summarizing the primal appeal of Pan and drawing vital distinctions between logos and mythos: between insistence upon the rationally provable, and acceptance of the sublimely mysterious. Working outward from the Homeric Hymn to Pan (reprinted in the first Appendix), Diotima presents an array of classical Greek sources regarding Pan and his lineage.
Exploring the many paradoxes of a brutish-yet-beloved deity amidst the polished-yet-brutal Olympian pantheon, the author delves into the god’s affiliations with hunting; his patronage of Athens; his involvement with warfare (and the associated Pan-ic of his enemies); his family ties to Hermes, Zeus and Dionysus; and Pan’s exceedingly complex and problematic relationships with nymphs, his mother, and other women. The first two-thirds of the book are wonderful, and should be essential reading for anyone interested in this goat-horned godhead.
But although, as she states early on, “this will not be a definitive text on Pan,” the author does not meet her stated intentions to “move beyond” the Homeric myth-base. Nor does she clarify many of the references she makes throughout the text, dealing with the Goat Foot God outside those early sources. She features the assertion that “The Great God Pan is dead,” but never mentions the legend of Thamus, who claimed to have heard those words boom from the skies upon the birth of Christ. Diotima refers to “a hedgehog we find nestling between (Pan’s) hooves,” yet does not discuss the Piper at the Gates of Dawn in Kenneth Grahame’s book The Wind in the Willows, beyond mentioning the author’s name in one of hundreds of citations found throughout the book. Diotima name-checks Arthur Machen, Edward Burne-Jones, Neil Gaiman and Tom Robbins, but there are no references whatsoever to Aleister Crowley, Elizabeth Barret Browning, Francisco de Goya, Eliphas Levi, or other artists whose work is fundamental to our (post)modern conceptions about Pan. Granted, the author states in her introduction that she does not plan to be exhaustive, but considering that she spends almost two pages exploring various definitions of feminism, it’s frustrating to see her wave away details about our confused perceptions of Pan without exploring where we got those perceptions in the first place.
To address the postmodern concept of Pan, Diotima spends three whole pages thrashing the song “Lord of the Flame” by Inkubus Sukkubus. Why focus on that and not explore the infinitely richer and more popular Waterboys songs “The Pan Within” and “The Return of Pan”?
Why not mention Browning’s poem “The Musical Instrument,” Rush’s song “Temples of Syrinx,” or Led Zeppelin’s ubiquitous “Stairway to Heaven”? Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson spent four decades channeling Pan for the masses, yet he’s never even mentioned! And while Diotima dissects the “horned god” (con)fusion of Pan, Herne and Cernunnos, the far more common equation of Pan with Satan remains virtually unaddressed. It’s as if the author suddenly found herself near the end of her deadline, and so rushed the final chapters.
The Goat Foot God’s most frustrating element involves the chapter “Pan and the Feminist Consciousness.” Presenting a worthy and challenging topic, this section spends most of its six-page length debating applications of the term “feminism” and describing Pan’s unwilling paramours and the wretched status of women in Classical Greece. Turning at last to the idea of reconciling gender parity with a rapist godhead, Diotima simply states, “I don’t intend to suggest an answer to these questions — they are queries each must answer for herself,” and then rushes through three short paragraphs that essentially say, “just deal.” That’s it. The most intriguing aspect of The Goat Foot God — Pan’s integration within Neopagan gender relationships and identities — winds up utterly dismissed. As a Goddess-loving man inspired by Pan’s primal masculinity, I felt not merely disappointed but outright insulted by that dismissal. Both male and female readers deserve more from a book about Pan than this abrupt cut-and-run, especially since the subject is presented as a selling-point in the back cover text.
After this letdown, the author offers a recap lasting slightly more than a page, explaining that the luminal paradox of Pan “seems to have retained our fascination in a way that other gods have not.” Yes, true… but why?!? The question remains completely unaddressed. Instead, the author includes a two-page “Post Script” (sic.) titled “Lament at Banias” — the second of two poems by Diotima herself. Now, I have no problem with authorial creativity, but after the stumbles of those previous chapters, the poem seems self-indulgent. INote to authors: Finish what you came to do, and then show us how creative you can be.
The Goat Foot God is worthwhile for its extensive exploration of the Homeric and classical Greek Pan. In those regards, I applaud Diotima’s work and study. A comparable amount of thought and exploration in the book’s later chapters would have created a vital addition to any Pagan library. As it is, however, the trainwreck of those chapters brings the book to an aggravating conclusion. Elusive as its namesake may be, The Goat Foot God is a rough beast indeed.
Satyr, is the author of the webcomic Arpeggio and head of Silver Satyr Studios, Satyr lives in Seattle.
Find out more in Witches&Pagans #24 - Heathen & Northern Traditions