Nolite dare sanctum canibus neque mittatis margaritas vestras ante porcos, ne forte conculcent eas pedibus suis et conversi dirumpant vos. (Matt. 7:6)
Just over a year ago today, this verse suddenly popped into my head after I dismissed my composition class ten minutes early. Normally I am a patient man, but the snide and dismissive intransigence of a number of my students finally overcame my desire to awaken some (any!) interest in eloquence. I observed to mo bhean the night before that teaching at a community college is significantly more difficult than teaching at full universities, as years of institutionalized education — a horror indeed that the word should be impressed on such a process! — have inculcated students with a blind and apathetic acceptance of their own mental vapidity. The depth of this depravity extends so far as to invert their perspective so that I find myself the butt of their mockery and pity.
As I began to pull up my Facebook account so I could post a fragment of this verse, however, I was suddenly struck by the phrase ‘nolite dare sanctum canibus…’. The apposition of the words sanctum and canibus, though of different cases, suddenly jumped out at me, and I realized that the two animals positioned here as depraved and vulgar beasts are in fact sacred. Hounds and pigs hold a very distinctive place in Celtic tradition. ‘A dog is a man’s best friend,’ hardly suggests a ravenous beast about to turn on its owner. Of course, the difference between porcus and aper is well maintained except insofar as in Ireland the boundary itself between feral boar and domestic swine was ill-defined; nevertheless I cannot help but see in this barbarization of hounds and pigs the imprint of a very Semitic point of view preserved through Christian tradition. So far had my Christian education permeated the foundations of my perspective that I hardly even noticed the automatic degradation of two of our most sacred animals. I wonder if horses suffer such ignominy elsewhere in Christian scripture.
This is nevertheless, as Pink Floyd so delicately put it, but another brick in the wall of European Civilization, beholden as it is to a bizarre amalgamation of distinctive Greco-Roman and Semitic cultural norms that find strange but comfortable fellowship in Christian tradition. How different is the graceful and terrible wildness of the gods! I believe it was in a book by P.D. Ouspensky that I first read that humanity always undergoes a process whereby a small group of good, decent men lift the rest up from their bestial barbarism and form the tenets of a lasting civilization only to have those of bestial intent tear it back down to its lowest common denominator. How far my perspective was removed from this but one year ago!
There are times now, though, when I feel that I have lost a bit of that heady rush that carried me through six years of exploration. I have to go out and watch the stars now, deliberately reminding myself of the glory of the gods around me in order to feel that cool, clear joy that accompanied each new-found freedom.
Two things, I am sure, keep this joy alive — keep us sensible of the divine: daily observances and education. Every time of my life wherein I was learning new things has been characterized by that joy, and every time of my life when I was focused on maintaining what was mine and not increasing it I found myself destitute of that joy. I don’t mean just reading a few books or web-surfing; I mean deliberately self-instructing so that my own inner life transforms the very character of my lived experience.
Daily observances are an absolute necessity, and I am not nearly consistent enough with my own. It is a strange cycle because one cannot have the experience of the divine without the concrete form of the rite, yet one cannot truly perform the rite properly if one does not have the proper inner state of mind. The two feed off of one another and by feeding generate an experience outside of time. Cultus deorum nostrorum est nobis animae cultus.