Fuck Saint Patrick

"Cadenas" by SpejoBlancoNegro

Wait, wait. Let me set the scene.

Imagine you are sitting in church. In the middle of the service, there is a commotion outside. A man enters the church, yelling at the top of his lungs. You’ve never seen him before, but he doesn’t look happy.

He makes his way toward the pulpit, and most people are too stunned to stop him. He has a sledge hammer with him, and he lays about himself.

SMASH! The cross on the wall is broken.

WHAM! The altar is stricken in half.

CRASH! The Holy Bible falls to the floor and he begins to flail it over and over, rending its pages with the hammer.

This is the wrong way to make a point.

But sometime in the 4th century, that’s exactly what Bishop Patrick did when he entered the sanctuary of Cromm Cruaich, a harvest deity in Ireland. He destroyed a dozen statues and ruined the sanctuary. Fellow Christian biographers would say it was to stop human sacrifice at the shrine, but scholars agree that’s a fabrication to make Cromm Cruaich seem more like Moloch in the Bible.

Other hallmarks of Patrick’s career include disrupting public ceremonies and festivals, and threatening people with hell and damnation if they didn’t convert. This is the man we celebrate.

Sometimes, even Ireland deserves a slow clap.

Imperialism and Forced Dominion

Despite the title, this post is not really about St. Patrick. Patrick’s actions are just one of countless examples.

Religions do it.

Atheists do it.

Political factions do it too.

There is no one cause of forced domination. It’s something that can happen anytime someone (or a group) gets a power high, and we have to be on constant guard against it.

In general, I’m not a fan of absolutes. I believe in heroism, but not in any one right way. I don’t think one approach works every single time.

But when it comes to forced dominion in any form, I feel pretty comfortable declaring that it’s always wrong.

Root of Heroism

To me, opposing imperialism is the most basic purpose of anyone pursuing the heroic life. Whether you do it through art, activism, war, or education—no one can pursue heroism while supporting imperialism. The two don’t mix.

The purpose of a hero is to protect the less brave, less skilled or less active. If they are not given a voice, there is no heroic action.

So whatever purpose you may pursue in life, or whatever cause: If you are on the side of forcing free people to do things, you are doing something wrong.

Please tweet this post, facebook share it, and do whatever you can to oppose imperialism wherever you are.

[Note: Before you leave me a comment telling me this is all medieval legend and therefore Patrick is a-okay, I already wrote you a love letter. Of course, there are plenty of other bad reasons to stand up for a villain so feel free to leave a comment anyway!]

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46 thoughts on “Fuck Saint Patrick

  1. Nicki says:

    That does it. I cave in. You win the Nicki’s Favorite Rogue Priest Award for 2011. I have nothing to give you for it, but I won’t take anything from you either, so it’s kinda like winning something, right? ;)

  2. I like how the hagiographic (read:mythic) stories about a single man more than a thousand years ago weighs more heavily on the minds of modern Pagans than the actual history of blood feuds and peace process in Ireland, and the evolving traditions of religious tolerance and forgiveness its people are learning and incorporating into the spirit of the holiday today. No wait – I dislike it.

    Speaking out against imperialism is important. Inventing, exaggerating and over-simplifying history in order to remain the perpetual persecuted victims pitted against imagined, unforgivable enemies is no way to honor our ancestors. My ancestors were Irish. For hundreds of years, whether I like it or not, they were also Christian. Saying “fuck off” to those ancestors – and ignoring the injustice and violence that they have struggled with and the efforts they have made to reconcile through interfaith dialogue and celebration of a common Irish heritage – seems myopic and childish to me.

    There are enough injustices in our world today, I see no reason to usurp another religion’s millennium-old holiday to make a point.

    • Hi Ali, and welcome to Rogue Priest :) I think those are very good points.

      A question for you – for people who do worship the old Irish gods, what do you suggest is the appropriate way to deal with St. Patrick’s day? Do you think they should wear green and celebrate it, even though he harmed the religion?

      Or if you think they just shouldn’t do anything to mark the occasion, how would they explain that to friends who ask why? Not wearing green stands out and gets questions.

  3. Interesting. I didn’t expect you to go in the direction you started in the beginning of the post.

    The strong language aside (so says the blogger who also uses strong language) it’s a great post. Gives me much to ponder.

  4. Tom Pernecke says:

    Always been a fan of the concept of “do the next right thing”. This pertains to the thoughts on Heroism. There are no constants other than the spiritual truths that guide us. No absolutes and no rules. But there is truth and it is delivered and seen in many many forms. Many that are quite personal.

  5. Bravo. I tried to click ‘like’ but for some reason, my browser wouldn’t allow it. I have long railed against the celebration of St. Patrick’s day as the celebration of religious imperialism and genocide. You summon forth the actual reality of the destruction of our sacred places far better than I though and for that I thank you. I’ve shared this on fb too. Great post.

  6. While I agree in principle with most of what you said here, Drew, I have a few factual niggles:

    1) Patrick, if he did exist, was around in the 5th century, not the 4th.

    2) The story of Patrick’s destruction of the idols was about Cenn Cruiach or Cromm Cruaich (or occasionally Cromm Dubh), not Cromm Cenn. As to what Cromm Cruaich may have been a deity of, it’s almost impossible to say…there is little to no record of him outside of the Patrician legends, and what there is seems to be derived directly from them, so he may not even have been a “real” deity at all.

  7. @Aediculaniantinoi: that may be, but we know that scenes such as the above did occur. Certainly in Norse sources, there are devastating accounts of Christians, with monotheistic arrogance, coming across random shrines or sacred places and leveling them: because they could.

    I like this opening even with the historical quibbles, because it brings the reader into the experience. I’ve written quite a bit on why I dislike St. patrick’s Day (would much rather, as some of us have already discussed, celebrate it as Cu Chulainn’s day instead!) and it’s amazing how many people just don’t get it. So i like that this immediately grabs the emotions and sets the stage. I would like people to realize that the Christianization of Europe was not a good or organic thing. That it was religious colonialism and in some cases genocide. I want to change the scope of the discourse here.

    • Galina: scenes like what Drew is describing here may have occurred in Ireland, but there’s not a lot of certainty on the matter. Patrick wasn’t the only one who was a missionary there, nor was he the first; the thing which sets him apart is he’s the only one (if, indeed, the figure[s] known as “Patrick” were one figure, rather than the two or three or more that they’ve sometimes been suggested to be) who left anything behind as a record in the form of his Confessio, which is a fascinating but also confounding document. It portrays Patrick, in his own words, as more of a solar monotheist than a Christian at some points…

      The Christianization of Ireland was underway at least a century before him, when lots of Irish returning from their colonies in southern Wales and Cornwall brought Christianity back with them to their home territories in Cork, Kerry, and elsewhere in Munster. This is also the type of interaction that lead to the creation of the ogam alphabet (which necessitates a knowledge of Latin, which only could have resulted in a multilingual environment like that of the Irish colonies in Britain). Thus, Christianization in Ireland was, indeed, organic, and largely had its roots in the actions of the Irish people themselves and their own interests. Palladius was sent as bishop of the Irish in 431 by Pope Celestine I not to convert the Irish, but so that the Irish Christians could have a bishop; Patrick’s “arrival” in Ireland is placed by scholars in 432 because they know he was after Palladius, but are uncertain as to when…and Palladius is never heard from again as far as historical records anywhere are concerned. That the Christianization of Ireland was peaceful and had no “red martyrdoms” associated with it allowed an entirely new syncretistic culture to flourish for many centuries…not to mention the technology of literacy, which allowed Irish to be written, and for most of what we know of pre-Christian Ireland to be preserved, ultimately.

      While I do lament that it was Christianity that was the religion of choice in that situation for many of the Irish people (and more and more of them eventually), I don’t think confounding history and mythology, or mistaking mythology for history (which is what most hagiography is–that is to say, it’s mythology and NOT history), really helps the discourse either. It’s bad enough that many Christians insist on the reality of their myths, but I likewise don’t think we should be insisting on the reality of the Christian myths about us, or their boastings about what they did to us, when–as in this case–they’re patently untrue.

  8. I’ve argued and written about this elsewhere, and i’m not going to co-opt someone else’s blog to do it here. i will say this and folks can follow up with me privately if they wish: the conversion of europe was an abomination. It was equal in my mind to the decimation of Native Americans by european colonization. It led to a destruction of indigenous religious practice. To my mind, it was religious colonialism and a betrayal of ancestral contracts and traditions.

    those ancestors who first chose to convert should, imo, be called out. We should demand that they make reparation. As ancestor workers, I and my colleagues do this but for all of us, that can start in little ways, like not celebrating this day. And while Patrick may not have rushed into holy places and torn them apart, this did happen with Scandinavia during the conversion. Patrick, accurately or not, holds a particularly powerful place in the contemporary folk mind. He was certainly an agent of his Church and contributed to the furthering of their agenda. So for that, and many reasons, I cannot condone honoring him.

    • Fair enough, Galina.

      There is, as you say, a great deal to critique and to even condemn in many actions of the past. Forced conversions are certainly something to be angry over–and still are, as was made clear at PantheaCon in the various Hindu/Pagan events in which aggressive proselytization by Christians and Muslims was discussed quite a bit in terms of its effects on modern Hindus. I think we can certainly agree this sort of thing is atrocious, and the instances where it did happen in the past are likewise horrific and to be condemned. This is particularly the case when situations like “Convert, and we’ll give you some food!” and such are involved, which is often the case in the modern world…

      Where people of their own accord, however, make a religious choice…that’s a different matter, and lest I sound as if I’m insistent that polytheism is the “one true way” myself, which I find to be most distasteful in some Christians and Muslims, I think there’s room for allowing people to make whatever choices they want to under their own circumstances and conscience, when they are not forced by desperation or by violence to convert.

      Given some of the work with which I’m involved filidecht-wise, there are penalties for “unlawful satire.” So, I’m pretty careful about where and who I condemn for what actions unless I’m completely certain that they did as accused. I am certainly not saying Patrick is a “saint” (in any sense of the term), nor that he should be praised or even acknowledged; on the other hand, I am not a fan of scapegoating either, and he was clearly not the only person who caused Ireland to change its predominant religion…if his own Confessio is to be believed, he was responsible for a relatively small portion of it, in fact, and it was only later hagiographical myth that either sought renown for particular religious sites that connected their stories to him, or it was the power-mongering of the Armagh diocese that caused them to invent stories about how they actually founded various other important churches, and thus the populations there owed them tithes, etc. If Patrick is a powerful figure in the folk mind of many modern pagans as an “enemy,” likewise he was a powerful figure in the folk mind of Christian Ireland as “savior,” and the excesses with which he was praised are just as incorrect and inaccurate as the excesses of saddling him with sole responsibility for the destruction of Irish polytheism.

  9. I suspect, were I of Irish heritage, this would be a far thornier issue for me. I’ve talked to other Ancestor workers, colleagues with both European and Native American heritage and they have told me how difficult it can be to bring peace to an ancestral house that included both persecutor and those persecuted. But as an ancestor worker, I have my obligations too and one of those is to speak out against monotheism. I have no issues whatsoever with Jesus, or Allah, or Mary, et al., but monotheism itself….is a terrible thing. Yes, we all have a choice (and oh how we moderns deify our choices), but not all choices are worthy ones, good ones, or even right ones; and as with every choice, sometimes there are consequences. Reparation must be made. I speak for that. I speak and write and work as the inheritor of a body of indigenous, ancestral traditions that were destroyed by the spread of Christianity across Europe. It was religious colonialism with effects just as devastating and long lasting as European colonialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. It broke a very sacred contract that our ancestors had with the Gods, ancestors, and the land. Look at the world around us: monotheism does not work. Monotheism is the parent to colonialism, religious terrorism, and a thousand other ills.

    I find it all the more horrifying when it was a case of “convert and we’ll give you food.” (this is the reason I won’t support Christian charities, no matter how well meaning they are). I don’t blame those ancestors. When you have children to feed, you do what you must. But I find it shameful and horrific. I feel about that the same way that I feel about Native American children being forcibly torn from their parents and taken to special “Schools” where they were forbidden their language and customs, forced to learn European ways, and above all else Christianized. Blaming them for abandoning their ancestral traditions is like blaming a rape victim for being raped. Yes, I will draw that parallel because the damage that monotheism did, was no less. Our indigenous ways are gone. They are gone not because we cannot restore and reconstruct in the face of monotheistic dominance, but because we have to fight ourselves and all the ways in which growing up in a monotheistic culture has programmed us. First we have to battle with ourselves and that can be a very, very hard thing to do.

    Some choices are wrong. While we are all free to make them (and most of us screw up at one point or another) that does not mean that there aren’t consequences. We are responsible for the decisions that we make. We have an obligation, a sacred obligation not just to our ancestors but to those who will follow us. Those ancestors that converted failed in both. So as an ancestor worker, as someone with very specific and binding obligations to speak for certain swaths of her dead, I will call out my dead. I will demand that those who converted make reparation. Even necessary choices after all, carry with them consequences and how wonderful a thing that even after death there is still that opportunity to work toward making things right.

    • Same here! I found out about the Holodomor almost by accident just a few days ago. It was never mentioned in any history class I took. Amazing for an event that killed potentially as many or more people as the Holocaust.

      I am very interested in making a list of all the officially atheist governments (which would admittedly be mostly Communist governments) and compare how many of them have committed genocide to how many countries with state religion have done so. I suspect the genocide rate would be the same for atheist and religious factions.

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    • Hi Lynn,

      While I appreciate your comments, I don’t see the relevance of the “snakes” link since I never suggested anything relating to “snakes = druids.”

      The article suggesting that a festival for Cú Chulainn could replace Padraig’s day is tenuous at best.

  11. I think people getting worked up over the, ahem, “celebration” of this day is silly. There are a lot of Catholic saint days. Lots. We don’t much hear about them since there’s no drinking involved in their celebration. It’s the same silliness involved with people getting fussy about Americans “celebrating” Cinco de Mayo. If there’s more than a handful of American celebrants of either of these holidays and of any religion who wake up with a hangover the next morning because they were actually thinking of St. Patrick or Mexican independence during their drinking/party binge, I’ll eat my hat! If one looks at the practices of celebrating these sorts of “holidays,” they seem more like they are in honor of Dionysus and his ilk than anything else!

    • In part I actually agree with you Gwen. If people want to enjoy drinking and celebrate their heritage I think it’s a great idea. But it’s also a great opportunity to raise some awareness about the way conversion happened (and happens).

  12. I TWEETED THIS! @ValentinaWeena The first blog post of yours, or anyone’s (besides my own) that I’ve tweeted!

    “But when it comes to forced dominion in any form, I feel pretty comfortable declaring that it’s always wrong.”

    Keep on fighting the good fight, friend.

  13. I’m on a mission. St. Patrick’s Day simply must become Dagda’s Day! Think about it. The Dagda loves revelry. The Dagda loves to drink, heavily even. The Dagda loves to eat heartily. Also, he would be more than thrilled to have a drunken romp, just as many do on St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick probably cries on 3/17 every year. The Dagda would boast and laugh and then drink, eat, play his harp, maybe smack someone with his club. I celebrate Dagda’s Day!

    • I think we’ll need to wear bright red for Dagda instead of green.

      This reminds me of my idea to have Leprechaun Day instead of Easter if I ever have kids. The leprechaun would come and hide a pot of candies somewhere and also a very easy-to-find bottle of scotch for Dad.

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    • Thank you Bo! That means a great deal to me and, I’m sure, many other polytheists tomorrow. I’ll be giving your article some social media love.

      Red is a great choice. In the Old Belief it represents an outpouring of spiritual power (as it does in many traditions). Virtual high fives to you, sir.

  16. D says:

    I re-read this every year. It’s worth a revisit, if not the arguments it spawns on my Facebook wall when I repost. Last year, I’ll admit to wearing black and being a little loudmouthed about the fact that my hair was green EVERY day.
    This year? Dagda and red and revelry with scotch and good friends.

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