Pagans & St. Patricks Day
by TigressSky © March 18, 2010
Ah, good old St Patty, a man who we are reminded of every year by a pre-printed date on our calendar denoting his day of death and more importantly denoting the celebration of Irish heritage. A day that has morphed from a pious catholic feast to a drunken green brawl.
The writer’s block topic asks the question “Will I celebrate St Patricks Day” and yet I find the real question being posed to me is “Should I, as a Pagan, celebrate St Patricks Day?” As I have come to devise from dealing with Pagans, year after year, my ideal of Pagan is far more generalized and open than most. Therefore I have begun to push myself away from using the term Pagan, focusing more on being a spiritualist, if I defined it maybe a “spiritual nonconforming historically focused analyst, ritualist, and atheist”; (if there is a single word encompassing that terminology I could better use do let me know!)
As is fitting, in order to answer the question I had to really look into who St Patrick was and more importantly what this day that seems to honor him was all about. Not being one to recreate the wheel I have compiled some info from various sources and come up with the below synopsis:
"Little is known of Patrick’s early life, though it is known that he was born in Roman Britain in the fifth century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father and grandfather were deacons in the Church. At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave. It is believed he was held somewhere on the west coast of Ireland, possibly Mayo, but the exact location is unknown. According to his Confession Letter, he was told by God in a dream to flee from captivity to the coast, where he would board a ship and return to Britain. Upon returning, he quickly joined the Church Auxerre in Gaul and studied to be a priest.
In 432, he again says that he was called by God, this time to go back to Ireland, as a bishop, to Christianize the Irish from their native polytheism.
Pious legend credits Patrick with banishing snakes from the island, though all evidence suggests that post-glacial Ireland never had snakes; one suggestion is that snakes referred to the serpent symbolism of the Druids of that time and place, as shown for instance on coins minted in Gaul (see Carnutes), or that it could have referred to beliefs such as Pelagianism, symbolized as “serpents”. Legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a 3-leaved clover, using it to highlight the Christian belief of ‘three divine persons in the one God’.
During his evangelizing journey back to Ireland from his parent’s home at Birdoswald, St Patrick is understood to have carried with him an ash wood walking stick or staff. He thrust this stick into the ground wherever he was evangelizing and at the place now known as Aspatria (ash of Patrick) the message of the dogma took so long to get through to the people there that the stick had taken root by the time he was ready to move on. Aka - it wasn’t always an easy task to convert people to knew beliefs.
March 17, popularly known as St. Patrick’s Day, is believed to be his death date and is the date celebrated as his feast day. The day became a feast day in the universal church due to the influence of the Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding, a member of the commission for the reform of the Breviary in the early part of the 17th century.
In 1903, Saint Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland. This was thanks to the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903, an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament introduced by the Irish MP James O’Mara.
It was only in the mid-1990s that the Irish government began a campaign to use Saint Patrick’s Day to showcase Ireland and its culture. The government set up a group called St. Patrick’s Festival, with the aim to:
— Offer a national festival that ranks amongst all of the greatest celebrations in the world and promote excitement throughout Ireland via innovation, creativity, grassroots involvement, and marketing activity.
— Provide the opportunity and motivation for people of Irish descent, (and those who sometimes wish they were Irish) to attend and join in the imaginative and expressive celebrations.
— Project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal, as we approach the new millennium.”
Based on all of this, I am finding no reason why, as a Pagan, (or whatever that fancy name I just gave myself above means), one should not embrace and celebrate St Patricks day. Yet let me explain my reasoning just a bit further because there is some logic I am using that is not stated so clearly in the history listed above.
First, and in no way strictly restrained to only dealing with this topic, Pagan’s cannot remain stuck in the past and let go of the present. Yet I find that so many Pagan’s are indoctrinated with the ideal that the “past” is how it should be and the “present” is all fucked up because things have changed, “Ancient traditions, sabbats and beliefs have been ‘stolen’ by the Christians and that’s wrong!”
Historically speaking, spiritual traditions have always been “stolen” and incorporated by each and every faith base as cultures progress and change via the people and the leadership of said people. For example, just taking a small glimpse of what is viewed as the origins of Western spiritual culture, you can follow Egyptians “stealing” from Mesopotamians, Greeks “stealing” from Egyptians, and the Romans “stealing” from everyone they conquered. All of these cultures incorporated these “stolen” ideals into their own spiritual culture enhancing and enriching upon each ideal as it would fit into the society and lifestyles of the people. So, how is it one can come to define what is truly an “Ancient” tradition and what is just a “stolen” ideal - especially when every ideal is provably stolen and “ancient”?
Lets bring this ideal of “stealing ancient stuffs” forward as we now focus on the tradition of St Patricks day.
First, remember what was historically going on in Ireland at the time Bishop Patrick returned to save it? Huge change, huge questioning, struggle for independence, a searching for traditions that fit the ‘modern’ world and allowed the peoples to find hope in what was a very hopeless time. There is a reason why Irish peoples do not have a proclivity for displaying emotions even though they are seen as highly emotional people. Something many of us whom have struggled long and hard in life, only to be kicked while finally getting up, can fully understand.
The Celtic/Druidic beliefs held by the masses at this time would have helped to support this down-trodden desperation the Irish held. Anyone who takes a small glimpse into the world of these “Ancient” Irish traditions will see a harshness within them that many New-age Pagans just don’t like to admit are there. A harshness of beliefs in which even non-Pagans would find it hard to believe any civilizations could or should have lived within. Their traditions were full of blood, sacrifice and demanding Gods that were extremely hard to please.
Enter onto the scene St Patrick. A man, who had formerly been a slave, and is now a Bishop. A man who comes professing a doctrine of “hope”, “truth”, and “salvation” to people who are searching for something. His beliefs speak of love, forgiveness, and hope - things that are not found in the “Ancient” spiritual traditions. Not to mention this Patrick has the ability to market himself not only to the masses at large, he understands and has been in their shoes, but more importantly to the Kings and aristocrats of Irish society.
With this, Patrick was easily able to convert a mass of Irish people’s to his way of thinking. This, relatively fast progressing, mass conversion of Patrick’s supporters would in fact be the hammer that would “drive out the snakes”, in essence creating and coining the symbolic phrase.
St Patrick and his influence aside, as all spiritual traditions have historically progressed, each “drives out the snakes” of it’s predecessors. Even now, in modern Western spiritual paths, New-Age Pagan traditions push to convert/reclaim “Ancient” spiritual traditions in essence “driving out the snakes” of the major monotheistic traditions typically found to be Christian in nature. On this, do we as Pagan’s then really differ from Saint Patrick?
Does the Pagan belief that reclamation of the “stolen ancient” traditions will bring “hope and truth” to the people really differ from what St Patrick himself believed? The majority of the people of our westernized American society are struggling right now, searching for a better spiritual path and traditions that can fit this ‘modern’ world, and offer help for people to find hope in what is a very hopeless time. Most Pagans believe their “stolen ancient” traditions offer this and many of them voice this loudly and with oppressive voices to those whom differ, especially those voices currently in “charge” of the most widely accepted traditional belief: Christianity.
So it is that times are different but, spirituality continues to progress as it always has. With “stolen” traditions being incorporated to meet the needs of a society and it’s desire for independence within such traditions that can fit the modern times and crisis’ that the world one lives in suffers. “Stolen” traditions that can “drive out the snakes” and fill us with the hope we need to survive.
Symbolically it makes sense that St Patrick would be given such honor among the Irish. Symbolically it also makes sense that the Catholic Church would, shortly thereafter, choose to recognize St Patrick’s day as well and use his posthumous influence to market themselves more strongly to their constituents.
As the Catholic majority of Ireland began to struggle for true independence from the oppressive Protestant United Kingdom, St Patrick’s day morphed yet again. Now the traditional blue that had been associated to St Patrick and his feast day was changed to green, found in the color of St. Patrick’s Shamrock, as the Catholics who desired independence took up this symbolism against the oppressive Protestants who took up the color orange - hence why the Irish flag is Green and Orange with a large white stripe separating the two.
St Patrick’s day therefore became politically driven as Ireland struggled for independence. Independence became associated to the color green, and St Patrick’s day itself was now a symbolic day of strength for Ireland, a day to recognize the struggles Ireland itself was going through to gain independence, and “drive out” the newest “snakes” who opposed it.
Eventually, peace agreements were reached, and two separate Ireland’s were formed, the now independent Republic of Ireland in the South and West and the area of Northern Ireland which remains part of the United Kingdom to this day. Even though the separation was designated and agreed to violence remained between the two until the late 1980’s.
In the 90’s, to help promote the new peaceful ideal of a more united Ireland and it’s heritage St Patrick’s day itself was changed. As described in the quoted material above, St Patrick’s day has now become a day that represents Irish pride and respect for all that Ireland is and has been through.
Knowing all this and working my way through it I have to say that the answer is yes, as Pagans we should in fact celebrate St Patrick’s day. Hell, unless you hate the Irish and the transformations spirituality has made through time, I don’t see why anyone would shun celebrating this day.
You have to live life knowing nothing yet wanting the answer to everything.
Okay, you don’t have to, but it certainly helps steer one through the chaos.
So many people stop, stuck as if to flypaper, and go with what has been defined for them.
Life is about finding your own definitions and getting away from those pre-defined which society tries to corral you with.
What will you let define you?
My sex defines me. My body defines me. My ability to achieve and reach out of the gutter, in societies dictated paces, moving along the echelon by even one rung, defines me.
Yet how I define my life is all mine.
Not that I will ever be able to decide on a definition. I just keep trying everything. Wishing I had the ability to understand how to finish anything.
I suppose I’ll figure that out when I die.
Of course, death could just be a new beginning. In which case I would learn it never really matters that you finish, only that you start.
Is that the lesson? Start everything you can and don’t worry about finishing? Or is that just the flawed trait of a Gemini?
It’s my lie, I suppose I will define it how I see fit.
You ever realize that taking the F out of life leaves you with lie? Not that this means anything, yet truly, lie and life, what is the difference, besides an F.
If you fall into living your lie as it is dictated to you from the moment you are shot out of the womb … well then you are given that F. That F means what though? A failing grade or maybe just a symbolic nod that you are falling for it; all of it. What is it? LiFe.
You can’t really escape it though. Whether you believe it is a choice or not, you are here now in this defined moment in time. So try to remember you know nothing and yet you define everything.
Chaos baby. It is your lie/life.
February 19th, 2014
"Lighthouse in the Dark" painting by Nancy Rucker
When you grow up poor your youth is continually bombarded with wave after wave of reality pounding upon you. Each wave eroding your shore just that much more. Until eventually your shore becomes a jagged rocky cliff face that is hard to penetrate and can kill those who get to close.
So, you build a lighthouse, initially just as something to protect yourself. Finally though you make it to the top and find that beacon of hope that makes the lighthouse shine; a beacon bright enough to help guide others. Oft times shining as a warning signal to avoid your jagged shoreline; yet more importantly, rather than a warning, it could also be a guide. A guiding light that would allow people to get close to you. A guiding light that could even simply allow people to take notice of you. A light you had been gifted in which you most likely would not be aware you were in complete control of. As a matter of fact, you might at some points even allow it to extinguish, because it seemed so outside of you.
~TigressSky © February 28, 2014~
Spent the evening with my Bob-O and got a gift of my most favorite vinyl album - New Day by Brydge. They were one of the biggest things to come out of PDX in the 80’s! So excited to have the vinyl again. When I cracked into my inherited albums and it wasn’t there I was really bummed. Yet now I have it again. Thank you Bob-O!!!
Also good for the kids. They encourage having slow readers read to the family pets. A dog will listen to a kid read a whole book one damn sssyl-la——-ble at a time, and it will never get frustrated, or correct their pronunciation, or start playing Angry Bird because it can’t stand listening to the slowness any more. The dog will look at the kid approvingly, because, human. Human is talking. Human is interacting.
So this is a great win-win.
i am a 26 year old man and this almost made me cry
Ommgggg I love this.