In spite of my Irish ancestry, I’ve never paid much attention to Saint Patrick’s Day (March 17), except as a day to stay off the roads if possible. But today, I ran across some interesting comments about the true origins of Saint Patrick’s Day, thanks to Claire Mulkieran, who describes herself as a systems security designer and a pagan descended from a long line of witches.
Given that cultural perspective, Mulkieran has an interesting contrarian take on “Saint” Patrick, a fifth-century English Catholic missionary to Ireland, regarded as the patron saint of Ireland. Mulkieran makes some fascinating claims about Patrick. It would be interesting to look into them further, although I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they are historically accurate. In her 17 March 2009 blog post, “Pagans and Saint Patrick’s Day: The Real Meaning of the Holiday,” Mulkieran writes:
If most people know anything about Saint Patrick, it’s that his one claim to fame is that he drove the snakes from Ireland. What most people don’t realize is that the snake is a Pagan symbol, and that the snakes referred to in the Saint Patrick mythos are not meant in the literal sense, but refer to Pagans; i.e., Saint Patrick drove the Pagans (specifically, the Celts) out of Ireland (although it could be said, and has been argued, that much has been done in Saint Patrick’s name, but that the man himself was relatively unimportant). So what is celebrated on Saint Patrick’s Day with drinking and much cavorting is, ironically, the spread of Christianity throughout Ireland and the subjugation and conversion of the Celts.
She also makes a connection between Saint Patrick’s Day and Easter, writing:
It wasn’t arbitrary that the day honoring Saint Patrick was placed on the 17th of March. The festival was designed to coincide, and, it was hoped, to replace the Pagan holiday known as Ostara; the second spring festival which occurs each year, which celebrates the rebirth of nature, the balance of the universe when the day and night are equal in length, and which takes place at the Spring Equinox (March 22nd this year ). In other words, Saint Patrick’s Day is yet another Christian replacement for a much older, ancient Pagan holiday; although generally speaking Ostara was most prominently replaced by the Christian celebration of Easter (the eggs and the bunny come from Ostara traditions, and the name “Easter” comes from the Pagan goddess Eostre).
I’ve already written about the connection between Easter and older pagan practices in my entry “Is Easter named after the pagan goddess Eostre?” Mulkieran also credits Patrick with using the shamrock to teach people about the triune god worshipped in christendom’s religions.
ARK — 9 March 2013