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March 17, 2000

Saint Patrick's Day

Saint Patrickís Day is come, wielding the color green. Itís a significant holiday in the Arboretum. Falling close to the first day of Spring, it provides a focal point for local concerns. It is the Celtic Holiday.

Though thoroughly American, I pretend to Scottish heritage (Patrick was born in Scotland). I have always recognized a kinship with the other Gaels. Mostly I learned it through their music, which Iíve listened to since childhood. Even then it evinced in me a deep nostalgia. The definition of nostalgia is ďhomesicknessĒ; a longing, not so much for the past, as for our point of origin: the source from whence we issue. As such, it is the preeminent Gnostic emotion, and it is articulated by means of Tradition.

Is emotion the right word for what Nostalgia is? You might phrase it a sentiment, though thatís not quite right either. Saint Patrickís Day abounds in sentiment. Never mind the drunken rout; inebriation only makes us more sentimental. After the fight, anyway. Thereís more than one tradition.

The Tradition continues. Celticism is enjoying a vogue of late. I wonít disparage here the commercial excesses, for they reveal the vitality of our desire for reconciliation with our heritage. Iím pleased to see people approach the Western Mysteries from any direction, for Mystery teaches its own wisdom, correcting the initiateís intent. Let many achieve it, even though they enter at a vulgar gate.

Heritage is History, and central to this particular history is the English language. Diversity aside, it's English that allows us to trace our history back further than the colonial era. The British Isles are the closest America can come to a common Ancestral Home. Identity politics may fairly critique this notion, but all who speak the language are tied to its history in myriad ways, conscious and subliminal. A people cannot do without a History; the arena in which Tradition is deployed.

It is this sense of loss that that lends Nostalgia its characteristic Melancholy. Here we are approaching the sentimental tenor of Saint Patrick's Day: a drunken cheer that cannot fully mask a sweetly melancholic longing. Neither could the Saint's conversion mask his heritage: the famous Breastplate of Patrick is clearly a Christianized reworking of an ancient Celtic prayer (or charm) form.

Another major form of Celtic literature is the Triad. The corpus of their law and wisdom was embodied in these tripartite verses. Itís said that the Celts couldnít grasp the concept of the Christian Trinity, until Patrick had recourse to the shamrock, showing how a triple thing also could be single. More likely, the legend derives from the Celtís deep cultural affinity for trinity, which Patrick shared.

To honor then his Holiday, let me employ the form, and so engage Tradition. For I begin to see something worthwhile, and fit to be so rendered. Moreover, I thus structure my regard for the incoming season, and give myself something to expand upon as it develops.
Here then, my Triad:

Three faces of Spring:
Saint Patrickís for the past time;
Easter for the future;
May Day for the moment.

More on this later, but today, wear, or better yet, do, something green. Sure, and get Home safely, wherever that may be.

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