Morning sunlight streamed through the glass panels of the greenhouse as Earl, the High Priest of Pan, awoke. He slowly sat up, feeling the grass and wildflowers around him. He brushed a few petals out of his beard and stood up, yawning and stretching. He walked towards the door, where a woman around his age stood. Barbara had wrinkles around her eyes and mouth, but so did he. Even now, his heart would light up and he’d be filled with bliss whenever he saw her.
“Good morning, Dear,” He said through stifled yawns.
“Good morning, Earl. Sleeping in the greenhouse again?”
He nodded and stretched once more. “There’s something invigorating about sleeping in the grass and flowers.”
“You could’ve asked me to join you,” She said, stepping back into the house.
“You were sleeping so peacefully, I didn’t have the heart to wake you,” Earl said, hugging her.
As he took a cup of morning coffee he noticed a small envelope on the counter. He picked it up and eyed it, squinting through the morning drowsiness.
“What’s this?” He asked, turning it over in his hand.
“It came for you this morning,” His wife said. “From one of your followers.”
“Miller,” Earl said, reading the name on the return address. “Good man, has a wife and kid and takes good care of his garden.”
Earl tore open the envelope and pulled out a piece of paper with clean, neat handwriting. He read it aloud as his wife listened and drank her coffee.
I am writing this letter to respectfully ask for your help and guidance in this time. Your insight has helped me in the past and I feel like this question can only be answered by someone like you. My eight-year old daughter has recently found her god and they seem to have taken quite a liking to each other. However, it seems that for some reason she is his only follower, making her the new High Priestess of Anubis. She’s been trying her best to help him in any way she can, but I feel like I’m unable to help her in this. What can I do to help her, as her father and as someone who worships a god from a completely different pantheon as well? I want to support her in any way I can, but I feel like there’s nothing I can do and I’m afraid she won’t be able to handle the responsibilities of being a High Priestess yet. Any advice you may have is welcome, and I hope you receive this letter and can give me some guidance.
P.S. The mint seedlings you sent out last time have taken root and grown quite nicely. Thank you for taking care of us Pan followers and for sharing your love of nature with us.
Earl finished reading the letter and then sat down at the table and took a long drink of coffee. After sitting for a while in silence, he got up.
“I guess I’ll go for a walk,” He said. “Maybe I’ll find what he’s looking for.”
“Poor girl,” His wife said. “I hope she does alright.”
“So do I,” Earl said. He put on a pair of sandals and stepped out of the front door.
“At least put a shirt on!” His wife called out after him.
“No shirt,” He muttered as he walked out of the house. He considered himself fortunate to live out near the woods. Barbara had complained that it was far away from her job at first, but he knew she loved it there. After all, she was the one who’d put the bird feeder up and kept it well stocked for whatever might want a meal.
The morning air was wet and slightly crisp, but not cold. He walked calmly down a dirt path that lead further into the forest, slowly taking in the nature all around him with all five senses. He saw the dewdrops on the leaves, the sound of birds and insects filling the morning air, the smell of the earth mixed with pine. He felt the wind on his skin as he walked on down the path, until he came to an old stump just off the dirt road. He took a seat on the stump and crossed his legs. He closed his eyes and focused on the nature all around him. He felt the warmth of the coffee inside him and the whole world moving in harmony all around him. He brought his thought towards the god that had guided him for years, that had chosen him to lead all those years ago. The world around him felt different, and he opened his eyes. The forest around him was replaced with another. The air was warmer and drier, the smell of pine mixed with the salty froth of the sea. The sound of crickets and grasshoppers surrounded him as they shed their skin and left them strewn on the trees and forest floor. Earl knew where he was, what this dry, hilly forest meant. In front of him, he saw Pan. It didn’t feel like he appeared, rather like he was there all along. He was sitting right in front of Earl and yet was everywhere, like he was a tree and at the same time the forest that surrounded it for miles. He looked fantastic and otherworldly, yet at the same time like he perfectly belonged in this ordinary forest.
“Hello and good morning, O great Pan.”
Pan smiled and gave his High Priest a big hug. Formalities were not needed with the god of nature and festivities, but Earl always did it anyways. It never hurt to show some respect.
GOOD MORNING, MY BELOVED PRIEST. His voice came from nowhere yet everywhere, rustling through the trees and seeping through the rock and earth beneath them. It felt like the sound of the grass, the birds and the insects were all a part of it and yet something more, something powerful. It felt like everything around them was in perfect harmony, if only for a moment. Earl always felt awestruck and yet calm when hearing his god’s voice.
“Someone asked me a question this morning that I didn’t know ho to answer,” Earl said. “I was hoping you could help me.”
I’M LISTENING, Pan said as he absentmindedly ran his hand through the pine needles strewn on the forest floor.
“What does it mean to be a High Priest?”
This caught Pan by surprise. He paused for a moment, and then laughed. It was a joyous, mirthful laugh, the kind that would be welcome at the most rambunctious of parties. Nature around him seemed to swell with laughter as well.
IN ALL THE YEARS YOU HAVE SPENT AS MY HIGH PRIEST, I DO NOT THINK YOU HAVE ASKED ME THAT.
“Should I have?”
Pan chuckled. AFTER ALL THE TIME YOU HAVE SERVED ME, IS IT NOT OBVIOUS TO YOU?
“It’s not for me,” Earl said. “There’s a little girl who’s become a High Priestess, and her father’s asking me what he can do to help.”
DANIEL’S CHILD, YES? OF THE HOUSE MILLER?
Earl nodded. “Her name’s Suzy, if I recall.”
THAT MAN HAS BEEN A PART OF MY FOLLOWING FOR SOME TIME NOW, AND HAS TRIED TO ATTEND TO HIS DAUGHTER WITH THE SAME ATTENTION AND CARE AS EACH ONE OF OUR SMALL GIFTS, IF NOT MORE. HE IS AN EXCELLENT FATHER.
“He’s worried she won’t be able to handle the responsibilities. Anubis hasn’t had any followers for some time, and he wants to help her in any way he can.”
Pan stretched out and laid flat on the ground, silent. The air was buzzing with thought as he sat in silence for a moment. The grass around where he lay seemed to grow longer and richer, and a few wildflowers sprouted up and blossomed. The air grew perfectly silent, and the birds leaned in closer to hear what Pan had to say. The wind fell silent, and nature stood still for a moment. He took a deep breath, and everything moved again. Pan sat back up and put his hands in his lap. Earl couldn’t look away from his hands, as something seemed to grow from between his palms.
TO BE A HIGH PRIEST, Pan said, IS TO FOLLOW YOUR GOD. A HIGH PRIEST IS A GOD’S CONNECTION TO THIS WORLD AND ALL THAT LIES THEREIN. THEY LEAD OTHERS IN WORSHIP AND GUIDE THEM IN THEIR GOD’S TEACHINGS. THEY LIVE THEIR LIFE AS THEIR GOD WOULD, AND SHOULD NOT DOUBT THEMSELVES. THEY HAVE A BOND TO THEIR GOD, AS THEY BOTH DEPEND ON EACH OTHER. A HIGH PRIEST IS WHAT PEOPLE SEE OF THE GOD IN THE MORTAL REALM, AND WHAT THE GOD SEES IN HUMANITY. THEY ARE NOT THEIR GOD AND THEIR GOD IS NOT THEM, BUT THEY BECOME INTERTWINED IN A WAY. YOU CANNOT HAVE A HIGH PRIEST WITHOUT A GOD, A RELIGION WITHOUT GUIDANCE.
TO BE A HIGH PRIEST IS TO DO AS YOUR GOD WOULD WANT, FOLLOWING YOUR CONSCIENCE AND TRUSTING YOUR GOD. IT IS TO BE A LEADER, IN GOOD TIMES AND BAD. IT IS TO BE A HERALD, TO PROCLAIM YOUR GOD’S VIRTUES THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. BUT MOST OF ALL, IT IS TO BE HUMAN.
IF ONE WANTS TO HELP A HIGH PRIEST, THEY MUST SEE THE PRIEST AS HUMAN AS WELL. THEY MUST TEND TO THEIR NEEDS AND LISTEN TO THEIR TROUBLES AS YOU WOULD ANYONE ELSE. THEY CANNOT TAKE THE SPIRITUAL BURDEN OFF THE HIGH PRIEST, BUT THEY CAN EASE THE BODY.
Pan opened his hands, and in it was a single white lily. It bobbed up and down in a pool of water encased in his palms. Barbara’s favorite flower. Earl smiled when he saw it, and Pan put it in his hands.
IF YOU WANTED TO ASK ABOUT HELPING A HIGH PRIEST, THERE WAS SOMEONE ELSE BETTER SUITED TO ANSWER.
“Thank you, Pan.”
YOU’RE WELCOME, EARL. REMEMBER TO TRUST YOUR FAMILY AND LOVED ONES, AS I TRUST YOU.
Earl opened his eyes, and was back in the forest near his house. He looked down at his lap, where a doe rested her head. He opened his other hand, and saw the white lily in it. He slowly got up and began to walk home, with the deer following by his side. He gave it a pat on the head and headed inside, where Barbara was heading out the door.
“I’m off,” She said. “What have you got there?”
Earl showed her the lily, and she smiled.
“Tell Pan I said thanks. I’ll be back in the evening.”
She gave him a kiss on the forehead and headed out. Earl walked into the kitchen and filled a bowl with water before placing the lily in it. He sat down at the table and picked up a paper and pen. The deer seemed pleased, and trotted off back into the forest as Earl began to write his reply.