Art by Jim FitzPatrick. Every now and then I do think about things that are not astrological in nature, and occasionally I like to indulge those wanderings in this blog. So please forgive my digression as I delve today into the meaning of St. Patrick’s Day.
I am a bit of a freak about Ireland (also West Africa, but that’s another story for another time). I love the music, am thrilled by the legends and mysterious beauty of the country. So you would think I would be a big celebrant when St. Patrick’s Day comes along.
Like many Christian myths, the origin of St. Patrick is shrouded in mystery and the actual history is lost to time. It appears likely that he was the son of a Roman chieftain living in Roman Britain who was kidnapped and taken to Ireland where he was held captive. There is an elaborate mythology around his eventual conquering of the local Druidic rulers that may or may not be true.
The simplified legend of St. Patrick that has come down to us today claims that St. Patrick drove all of the snakes in Ireland into the sea. Historical records show that there were no snakes in Ireland during the period in which St. Patrick was said to live there, yet images of snakes abound in the ancient carvings and sculptures in Ireland.
Snakes and serpents are symbols of wisdom, and serpents were most particularly symbolic of the Druids and other Celtic peoples in Ireland. The serpent continually sheds its skin, thereby representing eternal life and cosmic transformation as well. So the legend of St. Patrick clearly describes Patrick’s heroism in driving the Druids from power in Ireland and replacing the old religions of the natural world with the power hierarchies of the Catholic Church.
This doesn’t seem like much to celebrate, but over the centuries as the Irish diaspora of famine and hardship has spread the Irish people all over the globe, St. Patrick’s Day has become a day to celebrate Irish culture and legend. So I leave you with this lovely video of Irish mystery and magic with music by one of my favorite bands, Cherish the Ladies. And read more about St. Patrick and the ancient Celts from Beth Owls Daughter.
I recently read one alternate take on the legend, that the story of St. Patrick driving out the snakes is an allegory for Catholics driving out the pagans. So on St. Patricks, pagans are supposed to leave snakes on the doorstep of the local church and priest’s residences. Ha.