Hamlet & St. Patrick’s Gate to Purgatory

St Patrick

Right after Hamlet confronts his father’s ghost, he and Horatio have a brief discussion about what had just occurred.

Horatio. These are but wild and whirling words, my lord.
Hamlet. I’m sorry they offend you, heartily;
Yes, ‘faith heartily.
Horatio. There’s no offence, my lord.
Hamlet. Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, Horatio,
And much offence too.
– Hamlet (1.5.)

I’ve often wondered what the reference to St. Patrick, if any, signified. As with every other line in every other one of his plays, Shakespeare is telling us more than he is saying, but his modern audience does not have the benefit of quickly recognizing subtle 17th century cultural references. It is up to us to pay attention and find the double meaning, the other layer in the onion that makes Shakespeare so enjoyable.

So for this St. Patrick’s Day I decided to look into the reference. As it turns out, I learned something new about Ireland’s most famous Saint.

St Patrick showing the cave of Purgatory

The small island of Lough Derg, off Ireland’s coast was once thought of as the gates to Purgatory or Hell, depending on which piece of lore you follow. According to myth, St. Patrick was visiting the island when he discovered a small cave and upon entering it, experienced visions of hell. Some stories go so far as to say Jesus himself showed Patrick the cave and caused the visions. In both stories Patrick used the cave to show his pagan converts that the afterlife does exist and what to expect if they did not profess belief in Christ. There is no proof that any of this took place, including Patrick even visiting the island, but that didn’t stop the locals from profiting from the story.

During the Middle Ages, the island acquired the reputation as the strictest and most demanding of European pilgrimage sites. Visitors had to complete a three day barefoot sojourn of contemplation around the island, as if already in Purgatory. The Catholic owned island still welcomes spiritual pilgrims seeking relief and rest from the modern world. This island promises:

Lough Derg is an island of pilgrimage set in calm lake waters, offers no distraction, no artificialities or interruptions. Instead you are warmly welcomed and cared for: there are no strangers here. 

I don’t know about you, but this sounds like my kind of vacation.

So, what does this have to do with Hamlet’s line about St. Patrick? Well, it turns out a lot. The ghost of Hamlet’s father talks of being a spirit trapped in Purgatory.

I am thy father’s spirit,
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. (1.5.9-13)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Perhaps Shakespeare pictured old Hamlet going to Purgatory via Ireland, or perhaps he wrote the play in March of 1602 and had St Patrick and the story of the gates to Purgatory on his mind. Whatever the reason, this layer of the onion is further proof that Shakespeare continues to expand my world and why I enjoy sharing his work with all of you.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Works Referenced

Hamlet quick quotes Shakespeare on-line.com

Lough Derg  .loughderg.org/

St. Patrick’s Purgatory Newadvent.org

Happy Winter Solstice

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Greetings from the northern hemisphere and a happy Solstice Day to you all. The winter season is now upon us. Thankfully the snow is on the mountains, and rain is on our valley floors.

As much as I adore spring and the blooming of flowers, I love a rainy day. So on this rainy first day of winter  I thought I would share a few facts about the Solstice. I say a few because there are many conflicting and unverifiable stories concerning the winter holiday.

Until then I give you 4 things you may not know about the Winter Solstice

The origin of the word Solstice

Our word Solstice comes from the Latin word, solstitium. It in turn comes from sol (sun) and stit (stop). The Romans believed the sun stood still on the winter solstice

What is the winter solstice anyway?

Solstice

Did you know, in the northern hemisphere, the first day of winter occurs when the Sun is farthest south? This happens on December 21 or 22. No the Earth is not further from the Sun during our winter months; in fact it is closest to the Sun. The northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, which is why we have winter.

The traditional Christmas celebration is not as Christian as you may think.

You probable know this, but Christmas is an amalgamation of various Pagan celebrations. These celebrations center on the Winter Solstice, when the autumn harvests are in and the earth seems to die back. Many of the lore, symbols, customs and rituals associated with Christmas are in fact drawn from Pagan cultures. Here are my two favorites:

Saturnalia by Ernesto Biondi (1909) in the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden
Saturnalia by Ernesto Biondi (1909)
in the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden

Saturnalia In Ancient Rome, the Winter Solstice festival referred to as Saturnalia began on the right before the first day of winter and lasted for seven days. The festival was in honor Saturnus, the god of agriculture and harvest. As part of the festivities grudges and quarrels were forgiven, while businesses, courts and schools were closed. People engaged in carnival-like festivities and exchanged gifts, more so after a good harvest season.

The festival was marked by a reversal of order. Masters served their slaves and those who celebrated a little too hard and became disorderly went unpunished.

A mock king was chosen, usually from a group of slaves or criminals, and although he was permitted to behave in an unrestrained manner for seven days of the festival, he was usually killed at the end. The festival eventually deteriorated into a week of debauchery and crime. Emperor Claudius called for a shortening of the holiday, if not a complete ban. His decree was ignored.

yule_log_03

The Feast of Juul This was an early Scandinavian festival in which fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the Sun God. A “Juul” log was brought in the home and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god, Thor, whose job was to bring the warmth of the Sun back to his people. This Yuul log was never allowed to burn entirely; a piece was kept as both a token of good luck, and used as kindling for the following year’s log.

During the feast oxen and horses were sacrificed to the God Thor (notice they don’t mention this in the Marvel movies).

Angry-snowmen-on-location

Not everyone celebrates winter. Ever hear of Chionophbia?

People with chionophobia have a fear of snow. One of the principal aspects to this fear is the idea of becoming snowbound. A forecast calling for a snowstorm can bring on cold sweats, panic attacks, and even an unrealistic feeling of doom and dread. People with chionophobia will rarely venture out into the snow for fear of being stranded. While I don’t have a fear of snow, I can relate. Did I mention I hate shoveling the damn stuff?

And now you know!

References

Farmers Almanac online

Nathan Drake, Literary hours; or, Sketches critical, narrative, and poetical, Volume 3

FactMonster.com

This is a repeat from 2014.