St. Patrick and the Serpents
Let’s talk about St. Patrick’s Day for a minute. This post came in by special request, after my Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day history post. OK so you may have read that St. Patrick was the person who banished all of the ‘snakes’ from Ireland! Did you know that the symbol of the snake or serpent was important to ancient Pagan people around the world, since pre-history? Did you also know that scientists have checked through every fossil record possible and have not located evidence of snakes having ever existed in Ireland?
Seeing a connection here?
St. Patrick was known as a Catholic missionary, who was born in England as Maewyn Succat. His father was a wealthy British Roman officer and deacon. St. Patrick’s work in converting, and assimilating Pagans, was well documented (by himself actually).
Celtic and Druid folks had existed in this region for millennia and we’re a tough crowd to convert. They deeply cared for nature, were scholars, doctors, and priests. They still survived, even after Tiberius tried wiping them out in prior years. Groups from this region believed in the concept of a creative life force as well, they honored the process of overcoming things in cycles, and healing through transformation (shedding your skin). Similar to the seasons of the year, or the cycles of the moon.
March 17th was recorded by the church as St. Patrick’s date of death. However nobody actually knows when he died, or where. It is believed by some that the church chose to use the 17th for this holiday, in order to move attention from the Spring Equinox (Ostara).
What about the clover? St. Patrick used the clover to teach of the holy trinity. The number three was already valued highly by ancient Pagan cultures, as well as the concept of rebirth, represented in triple deities. So the clover was a very useful tool for evangelical purposes, as he was trying to reach a population that was fully dedicated to elements within nature.
The color green was not added to the mix until the late 1800s, as St. Patrick’s color was originally azure blue.
Also, leprechauns never made it into the picture until the 1950s. We see the integration of parades, corned beef, and drinking culture, from immigrants in the US looking to establish a communal sense of pride.
Ireland didn’t begin promoting St. Patrick’s Day celebrations until the mid 1990s, as part of a travel and tourism campaign. This was an effort dedicated to reviving the economy and image of Ireland, after a deep recession and war had devastated the country for decades.
We continue to see examples of how historically forced assimilation and genocide impacts many generations of indigenous cultures in the US; it is important to see these patterns in this holiday’s story, as well. Thank you for joining me on yet another journey into holiday histories! If you have another holiday you’d like me to look at, I’d love to hear more.