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An Invitation to the Pan Games
BY REGINALD BAKELEY
EXCERPTED FROM PHOOKA NO.427

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Last week, like I do every year at this time, I received my invitation to attend a very special event at the estate of Lord A—. (As much as I wish to reveal the name of my host and the exact location of this exclusive affair, I am under an obligation not to. I should love to take you along with me, but I hope you understand it when I say that I would not endanger the pleasure of the good lord’s other attendees by drawing back the veil of secrecy which shrouds this event.) The engraved card, gold on ivory, is hardly an indicator of the utter debauchery I have come to expect from this particular harvest festival, but the invitation is executed with style, and as such I have no choice but to accept it. Why anyone would turn down an invitation to the Pan Games is beyond me, at any rate. This annual gathering of overindulgers strikes such a primal chord with my Id that there is nothing I can do to resist.

Located lochside in one of the most geographically diverse regions of Scotland, the setting for the Pan Games is at once idyllic and exciting. The hills tumble headlong into the forests, the water invades ancient fortifications, natural amphitheaters and gaming fields are spread generously throughout, and Lord A—’s house stands on the highest point, overlooking the scene below. Days before the week-long celebrations begin, small encampments are already visible between the hills, joyous laughter ringing up to the house and trails of smoke giving evidence of the cooking fires. A— rides down to greet each group, his horse decked in garlands and himself looking majestic as King of the Wood.

The revelers are allowed to make camp wherever they wish, with the stipulation that should anyone remain sleeping, drunk, or otherwise incapacitated when a roving band of sportsmen or thespians wanders through, the prone victims will be recruited into the game or drama, voluntarily or not, and often with hilarious result. This press action is in keeping with Pan’s philosophy that the amusement of the group is paramount to the humility of the individual. The maneuver generally works out for the good of everyone involved, because the surprised inebriate tends to be good humoured, another attribute of the Greek prankster.

The arrangement of camps follows no predictable form. Here is a pavilion housing a preening Puck, with a harem of she-satyrs carrying bread and wine from mouth to bearded mouth; there, a solitary Robin Goodfellow sleeping in a tree. A few even follow the myth of Pan’s eventual transformation into the constellation of Capricorn, decking themselves in glitter and spending the nights shimmering underwater. It all depends on the individual’s mood and personal interpretation of old Pan. Some panoplies are alarmingly realistic, and it has been wondered aloud more than once whether A— is attracting actual fauns to the festivities.

Although A— has always expressed a wish that no agenda be set, that his guests do what they wish with their time and his estate, a few traditions have developed. A central amphitheater provides a hub of activities for those with no trouble of their own brewing. Continuous dramas, feasts, and variety acts reign on the roomy stage, situated at the foot of a steep, rocky hill. The games for which the festival is named are player: Shakespearean insult challenges, mock combat, and an elaborate style of capture the flag (which uses a live maiden as the prize) are some of the more colourful examples. All the food and wine are free, a gift from the host to his many friends. In fact, money itself is not allowed on the grounds. Puck has never had much use for cash, feeling that the banter of the barter is thrill enough. This is a time and a place to forget the ways of man, to exchange the worldly for the earthy, and what a party it is.

Representation of the Overland Mallet Club is limited, at best, at the Pan Games. To this I say, "So be it." My duties as President of Team Wales and editor of Phooka take up enough time and energy as it is, and the Games are a welcome relief. Many Club members attend, but an official camp is never established. Instead the OMC members enter the spirit of the festival and dress as devoted clerics of Pan. The Abingdon Chapter attends as Team Green Man in full regalia: furry trousers, bare chests swathed in olive oil, cloven boots, and customized ram’s horns helmets firmly attached to their skulls. This mode of dress is the one most associated with the Games, and most attendees have taken to wearing some version of this Puck’s outfit.

Green Man challenges all that dare to a duel any Club member would be proud to accept. Much in the manner of Carroll, the duel works like the justice system of Looking-Glass Land, where the punishment is meted out before the crime is committed. Two duelists (dressed in costume mimicking Team Green Man’s style, but at bare minimum including the sturdy helmet) stand at opposite ends of a vineyard row and tie sacks of wine to their waists. On the signal, often no more than a twitch from one combatant, the two charge at each other and clash their horned crowns together, sending both men to the ground! The first to recover his footing makes his way to the other, unties the hapless loser’s winesack, and drinks the contents. Often both duelists are knocked unconscious, hence the Carrollian reference to backward justice—out cold first, a thief and a drunkard second! (And quite possibly out cold third, but who’s counting?)

For attendees with no urge to costume themselves and parade so foolishly, there is still much fun to be had at the Pan Games. More so, one might argue, since Pucks in costume love to torment and play pranks on mere humans. A few years ago I had my boots filled with applesauce, and more than once have I succumbed to drink only to awake decidedly hung over and miles from camp. The pranksters had thoughtfully tied one end of a string around my finger and unwound the rest of the ball on their way back to camp. No use in disposing completely with such a good victim!

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