Religion

Double Shot for Saint Patrick’s Day

A snake on St. Patrick's Day.

Image from Biodiversity Heritage Library

To those of you wearing green for Irish pride and getting drunk for fun today, cheers and may you have a great time. But before you raise your glass to Bishop Patrick himself, I’d like to urge you to reconsider.

This year, as every year, I’ll be wearing black on St. Patrick’s Day in my own silent, peaceful objection to a man who was, essentially, a bully. And this year, like every year, a lot of people are going to get very angry at me for it.

Before you spill your green beer and we have to fight with black-varnished tourist shop shillelaghs, let me point you to my posts on this topic from past years:

Fuck Saint Patrick

How he’s a villain, not a hero, and why we shouldn’t celebrate him.

When We Heart Mythical Villains…

You might be saying, “Patrick wasn’t even a real person. Why be upset at what the legends say he did?” Here’s why.

I’m not urging anyone to skip out on the revelry and merriment today. I hope that all of you will enjoy a fun holiday, and if you have Irish ancestry I hope you’re as proud of it as I am. But consider wearing some black today, to remember the tragic destruction of tradition that was part and parcel of Patrick’s revenge on Ireland—the nation that enslaved him as a little boy.

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9 thoughts on “Double Shot for Saint Patrick’s Day

    • Thanks for pointing me to this, Léithin. I think it’s unfortunate that the article considers itself to have “debunked” anything; it is a shame that Neopagans focus so much on the “snakes” metaphor, and that metaphor is indeed a rather late addition to the myth of St. Patrick, but the article completely overlooks the fact that even the earliest sources on St. Patrick have him acting with tremendous hostility to the druids, the polytheists and their sanctuaries. That’s why in my “Fuck Saint Patrick” article I focus on the story from the early medieval “Life of St. Patrick,” the earliest detailed account of Patrick’s legend, which already has him desecrating shrines, breaking statues and disrupting traditional holiday celebrations.

      This may be legend rather than history, but that doesn’t make me comfortable celebrating a villain.

      I’m also surprised that they would cite a Reconstructionist who says: “the rest of Patrick’s hagiography has him dueling Druids right and left, killing those who oppose him with callous righteousnes [sic], so why would the story suddenly get cryptic about him driving the Druids out?” I mean, that’s a great reason not to focus on the snake myth, but a pretty poor reason to go back to celebrating Patrick.

      It is true that the Pagans cited in the article don’t seem to know their history (there’s no evidence druids tattooed snakes on their arms, and Patrick didn’t commit any “genocide,” certainly not on the order of “Stalin or Hitler,” which is just an embarrassing comment). But as a good reason to celebrate St. Patrick’s day, this article fails. It touches on some of the many good reasons to dislike St. Patrick, but then tells us to ignore those reasons and celebrate him because (shock) Neopagans got their history wrong and, of course, there is no other way to stay in touch with modern Irish heritage than celebrating this one holiday.

      I’ll add some of these thoughts to the comments section there as well.

      edit: I can’t add comments, they’re closed. I’ll consider doing a writeup on it of my own, however.

  1. Hey Drew. How’s it going? It’s been too long. I’ve got a question…and far be it from me to interrupt a sartorial protest, but isn’t today also Damballah’s day, one of the lwas? He’s syncretized to St. Patrick if I remember well. Why not have a good (sacred) snake shimmy in his name and make it fun? Not only is it going against the negative of St. Patrick’s legacy to worship a deity represented as a snake, but it’s also very snake-like…shedding the unattractive varnish to give rise to a more attractive, shiny core. Just a thought…

    • Point well taken, AW. I should specify that the original article I pointed to (Eff St. Patrick) is really written from the perspective of my work as an Irish polytheist priest, and predates my time as a Vodou initiate. I’ve sworn of St. Patrick’s Day for years before working in earnest with the lwa.

      The answer goes a little deeper than that, though. You’re totally right that Vodou uses St. Patrick as an image for Damballah, and that March 17 is therefore a special day for Damballah. But you may also know that not all Vodouisants use the syncretism with the saints to the same degree… some people practice both Vodou and Catholicsm, some use Catholic trappings merely as decorations for Vodou shrines and practices, and some hardly use the syncretized elements at all. I’m in that last camp.

      I’m much more likely to use a simple red candle for Legba than a St. Anthony candle, for example. I have gotten used to using some Christian elements in a Vodou context, like crucifixes… but I generally play down the Christian trappings. It worked well enough in Dahomey before the slave days, and I’ve never felt any pressure from the lwa to add in the Christian stuff if I don’t want to. They don’t really seem to care much.

      (Often I even use gin rather than rum for offerings, which I’m told is the norm in West Africa today. But that’s neither here nor there.)

      Overall, I keep an open mind to the Christian elements and I understand why they’re used… but St. Patrick I have a hard time with. He is, specifically, the guy who began the destruction of my other religion, and destroyed the shrines of my gods; it’s really hard for me to consecrate a candle of his and think of it only as a nice image that Damballah likes. It’s just too personally off-putting to me. Luckily there are lots of other offerings I can give Damballah that don’t have any image of Patrick involved.

      Of course, our House serves Damballah on March 17 and if I was in New Orleans on that day I would’ve celebrated it with them. That’s what I did last year, and it was actually very helpful to have a meaningful holiday I can connect with on the date that I usually associate only with Patrick. All’s well that ends well, I suppose… and the use of Patrick’s iconography has ended very well for Haitians. Patrick’s work did not end so well for the other side of my spiritual lineage, so for me personally it remains kind of a split issue.

  2. Duffi says:

    Thank for this, Drew. I’m disgusted by Patrick & all that he stands for. I’m wearing a deep green on my nails — I wear black habitually — in protest & with love for one of my ancestral countries.

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