St. Patrick’s Day: The Great Snake Controversy

st-patrickFor most people, St. Patrick’s Day is simply a day where we celebrate all things Irish, including the color green, shamrocks and drinking LOTS of Guinness. Americans go crazy for this secularized holiday and, according to an Irish friend of mine, make a bigger deal out of this holiday than they do in Ireland.

But not all is fun and games. According to some Pagans, St Patrick’s Day has a dark side.  One of the most popular legends about St Patrick is that he drove out all the snakes from Ireland. However, according to The National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, there is no evidence that snakes ever lived in Ireland. This has led some Pagans to believe that “snakes” are a metaphor for Pagans, and view St. Patrick as the one who committed cultural genocide on the Celtic people.

One of the most interesting articles I read that questions this connection is a piece by
Jason Pitzl-Waters on his blog The Wild Hunt: A Modern Pagan Perspective. It can be found on the excellent site patheos.com. Here’s a link to the original article: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/2012/03/saint-patrick-druids-snakes-and-popular-myths.html

Pitzl-Waters says “The simple fact is that paganism thrived in Ireland for generations after Patrick lived and died, and, as Lupus puts it, ” the ‘final’ Christianization of the culture didn’t take place until the fourteenth century CE.” There was no Irish pagan genocide, no proof of any great violent Druid purge in Ireland, it simply doesn’t exist outside hagiography. By the time hagiographers started speaking of snakes and Druids, Irish paganism was already a remnant, and Irish Christianity the dominant religious force on the island.”

I have also read that the Church designated St. Patrick’s feast day as February 17th to provide an alternative Christian holiday to the Pagan celebration of Ostara. I’m not sure this connection can be made either. History.com sets St. Patrick’s death date as February 17th.  It may simply be a coincidence that the two holidays fall so close together.

As a final thought History.com offers the following positive info about St. Patrick and his relationship to Pagan culture. “Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish.”

Perhaps St. Patrick was not the geneocidal maniac some make him out to be, but he might not be 100% saint either.  The jury is out on this one.  You’ll have to draw your own conclusions regarding the origins of this Irish saint.

Copyright © 2017 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

About David Taliesin

My name is David Taliesin. I'm an writer, teacher and retreat leader who explores the connections between Christian and Pagan Spirituality. E-mail me with any personal comments you'd like to share and I will do my best to answer them. You can also contact me through my Facebook page www.facebook.com/davidtaliesinauthor
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