In the middle of March, we adorn our green outfits, leprechaun hats and drink copious amounts of green beer while we cavort with our friends in the name of St. Patrick. However, how many of us know the history behind St. Patrick’s Day?
St. Patrick was a Christian bishop in the 5th century who was credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. His death day has been celebrated as the Festival of Saint Patrick since the 17th century for its cultural and religious significance. As a zealous missionary, Saint Patrick struggled to introduce Catholicism to a heavily pagan Ireland. In order to “convert” people to Catholicism, he fused many Irish traditions with his Christian teachings. One of such is the shamrock, revered for its three leaves and representative of pagan trinities like mother-maiden-crone, birth-life-death, mind-body-spirit. Patrick used this sacred pagan symbol to illustrate the Christian trinity of the father-son-holy spirit and as such, it became a national symbol of Ireland. In modern times, this would be called cultural appropriation. While this fusing resulted in the Celtic cross and many other lovely Irish icons, the forced conversion also resulted in many deaths.
Patrick is famous for ridding Ireland of snakes. Interestingly, fossils and historical naturalist studies have shown that at no time were snakes ever actually present in Ireland. The ‘ridding of snakes’ is a euphemism for the massacre of the druidic peoples who revered the serpent which represents the cycle of life and death. It is estimated that 800 Druids were murdered at the time.
Patrick is also known for putting a stop to ‘baby sacrificing’ pagan practices at Killycluggin Stone upon which, purportedly, pagans smashed the heads of first borns and used the blood to draw a circle, ensuring a good crop for the upcoming year. Surprisingly, when St. Patrick stopped this practice by ‘smashing the stone and banishing the devil within it ,’ three quarters of Irish men, including two High Kings, were slaughtered while they knelt at their devotions. They were smitten down by their own Gods according to Christian observers. It is fascinating that such a large pagan population was decimated at an annual harvest festival and that the entirety of the events were only ever recorded by Christian observers.
There is a story that Saint Patrick is known to have ‘baptized’ two Druid priestesses who then immediately died after consuming the eucharist, purportedly saying they ‘wished to see the face of Christ.’ His most holy site, Croagh Patrick formerly known as Cruchan Aigli (Eagle Mountain), was where he performed ‘miracles’ such as casting reptiles, snakes, and dragons over the side of the mountain. Cruachan Aigli, with its quartzite studded, gold-gleaming mountainside, was actually the destination of pagans to worship the God Lugh on Lughnasadh with the magical sunshine and picturesque views of the countryside. These miracles were attributed to Patrick after his death as a way to discourage paganism and the correlation of the holy site with the Sun God/Lugh.
Patrick has never formally been recognized by the Pope and much of his miraculous fame stems from stories which revere Christianity and hide the atrocities committed on pagans. It’s important to remember that history is written by the victors and in this instance, the victors were the Catholic church who drove out the common practice of paganism and druidry which abounded at the time in Ireland.
So if you really want to indulge this St. Patty’s day when you don your shimmery shamrock necklaces and slurp your extra stout Guinness, try drinking in honor of the Goddess Brigid, known to Catholics as the Irish Saint Brigid! She is associated with wisdom, poetry, healing, protection, blacksmithing and domesticated animals. Along with her two sisters, Brigid the Healer and Brigid the Smith, She represents the sacred trinity of Mother-Maiden-Crone. She is celebrated in her Maiden form with ritual and feast on Imbolc (Feb 1) and is correlated with the ushering in of Spring and fertility. You can light some white candles in Her name and perhaps sing a Druidic ballet or recite some poetry in Her honor. And don’t forget to pour one out for the massacred pagan souls in remembrance!
By Gita Nallapati, AAW Member