PAN: the archetypal source of panic disorder

Apr 6, 2023

A painting of the god Pan in the woods with Syrinx.
Image Credit: Jean-François de Troy (French – Pan and Syrinx)

Piping through mountains and glens, the great god Pan carries the relentless procreative power of nature. Oldest of the gods, even the Olympians, he symbolizes the archaic level of psyche from which all wild instinct rises. Timeless and universal, his presence was venerated in fields and grottoes to sustain life against all odds, feared during war as his panic could undo even the Titans and attacked in the Common Era as the image of the devil.

Half man and half goat, shaggy and unkempt, Pan’s untamed sexuality evoked rapture and impulsivity. His pipes refused the discipline of meter and key, creating irresistible music akin to the morning chorus of birdsong or the wind humming through red rock canyons. As the god of shepherds, he ushered young men into puberty, introducing them to the spring rut in their flocks and their own bodies.

In the first 30 years of the Christian era, Plutarch wrote that a sailor heard a divine proclamation, “The great god Pan is dead!” This seemed to foreshadow the fate of natural sexuality as it encountered the ascetic demands of Christianity. The anthesis of Christ’s innocence and virtue, the lustful goat-foot-god, was recast as the prime cosmic offender. His unwashed animality, coarse and hairy, was deemed grotesque. Saint Augustine named him demonic and accused him of assaulting good people with the curse of lust.

And so, Pan-ic was slowly redirected from the fear-driven flocks and herds of wild things racing from danger to the human conscience fleeing from the evils of the flesh. The triumph of ego control over instinct was the goal of many religions and philosophies. From the moral codes of Abrahamic faiths, through the governmental laws of Hammurabi, to the reserved containment of the Stoics and the progress of pilgrims in North America, civilization itself rose from repression and redirection of primal instincts. The great god Pan was yoked to the engine of art and industry, providing seemingly endless energy.

Freud named the cost of strangling Pan’s lust as he developed his concept of the pleasure principle and psychosexual theory. Neurosis was the strange revenge of cut-off sexuality creating symptoms from hysterical blindness to intolerable moods. Panic disorder has its roots in the same inner conflict. Jung understood that banishing images and rituals representing  archetypal forces left humans vulnerable to dangerous affects both individually and collectively.

Today, mass Pan-ic dances through social media setting off one frenzy or another. The renewed demonization of sexuality and the deification of malignant innocence is an old tactic made new again. Jung warned that cutting off conscious access to archetypal forces leads to the rise of fascism and other rage-driven mass movements.

If we can welcome the renewing powers of nature and restore the medicine of healthy instincts, we may yet avert the worst repercussions of killing Pan. It is not enough to champion ecological causes in the outer world; we must extend that to our inner landscape. The divine beasts that graze in our imaginal meadows and the strange gods that beckon in our dream forests also require careful tending. The way we treat Pan inside us is mirrored in the way we treat nature around us. Then we might join the poet Eleanor Farjeon and say,

“Arcadia! it is the very music

Of the first spring-tide rippling its first wave

Over the naked, laughing baby world …

Come again, thou sparkling spring-tide, come again,

Rush in and flood this autumn from my soul!”

~ Joseph R. Lee


“I was at my old workplace in an elevator. An assistant I don’t know hands me a note saying my boss wants me to go to her office at a certain time. This angers and frustrates me because she knows I no longer work there, and I have no intention of going to see her. Then, I am walking down the hall with a bunch of other people. I think it would be interesting to see what she wants. I walk into a large conference room full of people who work there, and my boss is there too. We are supposed to give lectures, but I don’t want to. I am angry and nervous that she expects me to give a lecture. There is a man who is older and obviously “old fashioned” and not hip or up to date. I sort of jokingly, and to embarrass my boss, tell him he should give the first lecture. He starts to do so. I am amused at first, but then I really like what he is saying, and so do most of the other people in the room except my boss, who thinks he is ridiculous and stupid. The man is older and has gray hair. He is distinguished looking but disheveled, like a professor. He is handsome, or clearly used to be. He is in a plexiglass box giving the lecture. I notice that he is holding something like a eucharist, but it has a gold coin in the middle. I can imagine how biting into it would feel and taste. It would taste like the host, thin and brittle, with a slight bread flavor but also hard and metallic from the gold coin. I like what he is saying, and I am surprised because I thought it would be stupid, and I only had him talk to annoy my boss, but everyone realizes what he says is really interesting.”


We’ve created DREAM SCHOOL to teach others how to work with their dreams. A vibrant community has constellated around this mission, and we think you’ll love it. Check it out.


Hey folks — We need your help. So please BECOME OUR PATRON and keep This Jungian Life podcast up and running.






Enroll in the PHILADELPHIA JUNGIAN SEMINAR and start your journey to become an analyst. 


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *