What Are Satyrs?

During the years I spent writing Goatman: Flesh or Folklore?  one of the greatest challenges I faced was trying to describe the book to non-Forteans. Whenever they found themselves intrigued enough to ask what a goat-man was, roughly two-thirds of them stared blankly at me when I described it as resembling a satyr. While most students of the unexplained are switched on to the world of mythology, I felt a blog about these strange entities from Ancient Greece is in order. Quite a few Forteans are unaware these beings have been reportedly sighted in modern day North America.

Satyrs, while described as flesh-and-blood entities in much of the ancient literature were also regarded as nature spirits. They were depicted in art and story as handsome young men with the long ears and the full, bushy tails of horses. They were most often in the company of the god of wine, Dionysus. Their chief pursuits in life were wine, women, and song. They danced, they drank, they seduced, and they fornicated.

A Satyr holding a pipe. Circa 500 B.C.

Later, as the Roman Empire spread across the land, the Romans adopted much of Greek mythology and blended it with their own. The Romans had their own bawdy, inebriated nature spirits, the fauns. Likewise, fauns were humanoids with pastoral qualities, but whereas satyrs were horselike, fauns were partly goat. The Romans merged these two in song and story, and since then satyrs have been almost universally regarded as goatlike beings.

A Faun, by Hungarian painter Pál Szinyei Merse.

Two other characters from mythology must be mentioned. Both the Greeks and the Romans have goatlike gods in their respective pantheons. In Greece, there was Pan. While mythological tales claim Pan is the youngest of all the Olympians, he is likely the oldest. Archaeologists have found evidence of Pan-worship as early as the Sixth Century, BC, in Arcadia. While some sources claim a kinship between Pan and satyrs, this connection likely didn’t exist until art began depicting satyrs as goat men.

A statue of Pan in the company of Daphnis, a Greek shepherd.

The Roman goat god was Faunus. As his name might suggest, Faunus did have a direct connection with the Roman fauns. Like Pan, Faunus is also one of the oldest of the Roman pantheon of gods. Both deities served similar purposes within their respective cultures. They were both rustic gods of fields, fertility, music, and wild places.  Many sources erroneously refer to both Pan and Faunus as satyrs, despite, in fact, being gods.

Faunus in statue form.

Both Pan and Faunus represented the most basic of human needs and pleasures. Given this fact, along with the fact they were both especially worshiped in rural places, they were among the most popular and enduring of all pagan deities.

Many scholars believe that the Christian devil Satan was given goatlike characteristics in Christian art as a way of making these gods of nature and merriment less appealing to rural Europeans who had yet to convert to Christianity. Other lesser demons from Christian tradition, such as Baphomet, were given goatlike features. Baphomet was eventually adopted as the symbol of the Church of Satan, further linking Pan, Faunus, satyrs, and fauns, with evil.

Baphomet, symbol of the Church of Satan.

As Christianity grew into a worldwide religion, goatlike entities such as satyrs would fade into the realm of mythology, or in certain circles, the realm of the occult. But belief in these creatures have never been entirely stamped out. Many neo-pagans still worship either or both Pan and Faunus, while some modern day Wiccans worship the Horned God, a deity that likely grew out of ancient Pan worship.

While some believe satyrs and fauns were or are satanic in nature, historical research shows that they represented humanity’s ties with, and dependence on, the natural world. But, why would these very Old World creatures be seen in North America? That’s a blog for another day.

J. Nathan Couch’s latest book Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? is now available on Amazon.com and anywhere books are sold!

Finalized Goatman front cover.
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