Today I wish to share a piece on St. Patrick as there is a wealth of misinformation being spread through our community (and has been spread for a long time). Irish Paganism has been greatly culturally appropriated over generations and it needs to stop. I am an Irish-American and I will be first to point out that I have made mistakes. A lot of them. They were made in ignorance, not in malice, however, my actions still require explanation and an apology so that I may now fight against cultural appropriation and the great harm that colonialism has done to the Irish people, their culture, their language, etc. So many of us with Irish ancestry are excited to explore and engage with information and practices stemming from our ancestors and that’s a beautiful thing, but what’s not beautiful is when we pull from non native Irish sources and pass that information off as genuine and native. One example I have right away is the Celtic Zodiac. This is actually NOT based in fact at all. This is bullshit and I am so sick and tired of seeing Pagans sharing this shit as if it’s real. It’s not, there is no basis in history, it’s made up and the more we act like it’s real, the more harm we deal to the Irish people, our ancestors and ourselves. When practicing any form of Paganism I urge you to seek out NATIVE sources. Yes, there are those of us who are non natives that are working very hard to do away with this cultural appropriation and fight against colonialism, but we are still not native to Ireland. We are Irish-Americans, a part of the Irish Diaspora. If you love and respect and cherish Irish Paganism, the Irish in general, etc I urge you to evaluate your own beliefs, practices, sources and information. It’s okay to be wrong, but it’s not okay to sink into that wrongness and defend it. You must summon the courage and strength to admit when you are wrong and then do everything you can to educate yourself and others.
One of the most common misconceptions regarding Irish Paganism is the history of St. Patrick, a man who was born under the name of Maewyn Succat. Now, before I start I want to be a little more clear about my background. I grew up in an Irish-American Catholic home and while I still weave elements of Catholicism into my personal practice, I am very much a Pagan. I am not here to defend the violence and atrocities that have been committed in the name of Christianity. I am here to set the record straight the best I can. I used to hate St. Patricks Day, I would dress in all black and get pissy with people for celebrating. I believed that St. Patrick was this evil man who stormed into Ireland and beat and murdered the Irish if they refused to convert to Christianity. Turns out, I was as ignorant as ignorant can get. So I started educating myself via credible native sources. I also pulled from an Irish-American source who is far more of a history buff than myself and knows what she’s talking about regarding Irish Paganism. Yes, she is not native Irish, however, there is proof that she has put in immense amounts of work to educate herself on the truths of Irish Paganism and history. Her name is Morgan Daimler. I highly suggest you check her article out on the truth behind St. Patrick here: https://lairbhan.blogspot.com/2012/03/st-patricks-day-snakes-and-irish.html
Before I start I also want to share some other amazing resources that ARE native. Rev. Lora O’Brien of the Irish Pagan School is a highly knowledgeable leader in the Pagan community and she is native Irish. I have been learning through the Irish Pagan School for about a year and a half now and I am so grateful I found them. If you are interested in Irish Paganism or would like to help battle this cultural appropriation and colonialism check them out: https://irishpaganschool.com/
So let’s give it a go!
As I mentioned before, St. Patrick was born under the name of Maewyn Succat in Britain around the last part of the 4th century. (We don’t know exactly what year or exactly where other than he was in Britain near the Irish Sea). He was born to a man named Calpurius who was a Roman official of a municipal Council as well as an ordained deacon. The family was deeply devoted to their Christian beliefs, however, Maewyn wasn’t especially so. This would change around the age of 16 when Maewyn and family members were captured and taken to Ireland where they were forced into slavery. (Ryan, 1961). It was during this trauma that Maewyn drew strength from his religious path.
Maewyn and his family remained as slaves for approximately 6 years before Maewyn was able to escape his captors. He fled to Britain and once he was safe he made the decision to serve his God through ministry in Ireland. I’m not sure when he changed his name, however, at some point he chose to rename himself Particius (the Anglicised version is Patrick and in the Irish language, Gaeilge, it’s spelled Pádraig) (https://www.focloir.ie/en/dictionary/ei/st%20patrick)
Upon returning to Ireland around the beginning of the 5th century to start his evangelical mission, he found himself among other Christian clergy members who had already been there. In fact, there were already groups of Irish Christians as well as churches popping up across Ireland. St. Patrick was NOT by any stretch the first person to have this idea or implement it.
Morgan Daimler, in her blog post: “St. Patrick's Day, snakes, and Irish-American pride” she cited St. Patrick’s “Confessio” when detailing St. Patrick’s claims that he baptised people in the thousands. (Daimler, 2012). Read more about the “Confessio” in the “Book of Armagh” here: https://www.confessio.ie/manuscripts/dublin#1 Numerous outlandish and fantastical stories from a man named Muirchu Maccu Mactheni in his work named “The Life of St. Patrick” also added power to the false depiction of St. Patrick. Muirchu spun tales of St. Patrick using the power of God to carry out superhuman feats such as crushing a Druid’s skull (Da Silva, 2009). Mind you, Muirchu wrote this about 200 years after St. Patrick died in a time in Ireland where the Catholic church was aiming to convert the last of the Irish Pagans. It’s also very interesting to note that Muirchu’s depiction of St. Patrick is so different from the historical version that many scholars refer to them as two different St. Patricks. Also interestingly, many modern scholars argue that the Irish Pagans at the time were fierce and had no problem defending their beliefs and practices. They perhaps would have incorporated some of the Christian beliefs and practices into their own, but if they believed they were being pressured to abandon Paganism they wouldn’t have hesitated to fight. (Da Silva, 2009). It’s also important to note that despite the efforts of St. Patrick (and other Christian clergy members) Christianity didn’t take a stronghold in Ireland until after St. Patrick’s death and not one occurence of violence between the Pagans and the Christians was recorded. (Hopkin, 2009).
The last point I want to touch on briefly is the link between Druids and snakes in Ireland. Snakes were never driven out of Ireland by St. Patrick because there weren’t snakes to begin with. This is most likely due to the island’s climate. (Harrison, 2014). Morgan Daimler and an unnamed friend tracked down “The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries” when they were looking for the earliest mention of the relationship between the Druids and snakes. While the conclusion was drawn in this piece that snakes were symbolic of the Druids, the logic used was incredibly flawed. (Wentz, 1911).
I hope this piece has been enlightening, researching for this has definitely been so for me. We all have room for improvement- always, there’s no shame in admitting when you’re wrong and then taking steps to educate yourself and others.
Take care everyone and have a great holiday!
Manning, C. (1999). The Sacred Isle. Béaloideas, 67, 226-229. doi:10.2307/20522550
Ryan, J. (1961). St Patrick, Apostle of Ireland. Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, 50(198), 113-151. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30099178
Ó Héalaí, P. (1983). The Festival of Lughnasa. Béaloideas, 51, 145-147. doi:10.2307/20522216
Robinson, F. (1912). The American Historical Review, 17(4), 813-815. doi:10.2307/1832464
Hopkin, A. (1990). The Living Legend of St. Patrick. Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN-10 : 0586207538
Ferguson, S. (1879). On Some Passages in the "Confessio" of St. Patrick. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Polite Literature and Antiquities, 2, 205-208. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20651516
O'Laverty, J. (1896). Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 2(2), 138-138. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20563633
Harrison, S. (2014). Never mind the gap: Climate, rather than insularity, may limit Ireland's species richness. The Irish Naturalists' Journal, 33, 107-123. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24394329
Da Silva, B. (2009). St. Patrick, the Irish Druids, and the Conversion of Pagan Ireland to Christianity. Strange Horizons, issue 27 July 2009. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/articles/saint-patrick-the-irish-druids-and-the-conversion-of-pagan-ireland-to-christianity/
Irish History Podcast. (2011). Saints, Scholars and Pagans? The Impact of Paganism on Medieval Irish Christianity. Retrieved March 16th, 2021, from https://irishhistorypodcast.ie/saints-scholars-and-pagans-the-impact-of-paganism-on-medieval-irish-christianity/
https://lairbhan.blogspot.com/2012/03/st-patricks-day-snakes-and-irish.html Morgan Daimler blog on St. Patrick
https://irishpaganschool.com/p/st-patrick Morgan Daimler’s class on St. Patrick through the Irish Pagan School.
https://loraobrien.ie/native-sources-irish-paganism/ Lora O’Brien, list of Native Irish Pagan sources
https://irishpaganschool.com/ Irish Pagan School