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Patti Wigington

St. Patrick and the Snakes

By March 15, 2012

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St. Patrick drove the Pagans from Ireland
St. Patrick eliminated Paganism from Ireland
© Getty Images
St. Patrick's Day is approaching, as you've probably noticed if you live in the US or one of the other countries that makes a big to-do about it. What most folks don't realize is that while St. Patrick is credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland, those snakes are typically considered a metaphor for early Celtic Paganism. Once St. Patrick arrived, he spread the gospel far and wide, effectively converting most of the Irish people to the new religion. The story of St. Patrick is an interesting one, though, and he was credited with a miracle for his work in Ireland.

Now, I'm not Irish at all, and I'm certainly not Christian, so St. Patrick's Day celebrations have always been sort of outside my realm of interest. However, this time of year you really can't escape all the green shamrocks, leprechauns, and all the other hullaballoo that come along with the celebration. A few years back, I decided to create my own St. Patrick's Day decoration, and put together a wreath to hang on my door featuring the banished serpents instead. Make one of your own, and get the neighbors wondering! Spring Snake Wreath
March 12, 2009 at 9:18 am
(1) Laurie says:

For years, this day has been a day of pagan ire for me. The green, the trefoil, and the culture of Erin have been a Xian assumption of a forgotten place and time of the druids and the celts, welsh, saxons, and picts, and they do tie to my ancestry. (My maternal grandfather came from Ireland.)
I do not forget the power of the Dragon, serpent, and snake, the meaning of the gig, or the symbology of the clover, and I honor them at this time of year, wearing a celtic knot serpent shirt, and I hang up a banner that reads, “Bring Back The Pagan Snakes” in my home. I don’t wish anyone a happy “St. Patricks” but instead, may state “Éirinn go brách” Ireland Forever, though this may have political meanings, I explain it’s translation. If time and effort permit, I will also celebrate with pagan music and a small ritual honoring the forgotten fairy faith of Erin. If in public, I will wear fairy wings, and my message becomes clear.

March 12, 2009 at 9:57 am
(2) Phoenix says:

Another informative blog!
I choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in honor of the people who had to suffer because of the “forced conversion” to Christianity, and to honor the Irish roots of my husbands family. Love the snake wreath!

March 12, 2009 at 10:11 am
(3) Mia says:

I was under a misconception most of my youth that St. Patrick’s day was a celebration of old Ireland. When I finally discovered the truth, I shunned the entire idea of it. Much like Jewish Hanukkah, it basically celebrates the destruction of a people and belief system that shaped my own religious path (I follow the Hellenes tradition, but my mother’s family came straight from Ireland).

Thanks to Patti and Laurie for wonderful St. Patrick’s day ideas. Now I feel like I can celebrate again in my own beliefs!

March 12, 2009 at 6:42 pm
(4) Adrienne says:

I LOVE the wreath! What a great way to “reclaim” the day for the victims. I’m going to make one tonight, so it’s up when a bunch of Pagan friends come over Sunday – they’ll love it!

March 12, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Well, I am Pagan for very many years…but I am also very Irish (Fifth generation Irish-American). And no, I do not overlook St.Patricks day, and here’s why.

To me it is a day of rememberance…a time to reflect upon all my ancestors throughout history from my ancient Celtic ancestors to those still alive present day.

Not just the Turning of the Celts to christianity, no…but to ALL who have suffered, starved and died at the hands of others…
The subjugation and persecution by the invading English nobles- robbing them of their lands, raping their women on their wedding nights and denying the people of their freedom…
The landlords, burning the tennant farmers homes because they could not pay their rents and taxes…
The ongoing war between not only the classes, but the catholics and the protestants that have divided the country…
The potato famine and all the men, women and children who starved to death, or whom had died of various diseases on the long voyage trying to escape to America.

So much persecution and suffering over the centuries, but yet we endure.

So yes, I celebrate the day solemly for the most part, as well as with all the trappings of food such as corned beef and cabbage and a dozen other of my great grandmothers wonderful recipes from there that I have committed to memory since I was a small child, and the only one in my family here who still even knows them. I may listen to a few Irish drinking songs and toast them, or listen to some of the large collection of Celtic music CD’s I have or the sad and soulful sound of just the Irish pipes accompanied by a bohdran, and have a pint of Guinness or two, because I do the memory of all my ancestors honor in doing these things.
It’s not about St.Patrick to me…not one iota…that in itself was one of the most tragic things…it’s about my people. I feel it is important to know from where it is you come from.

Erin go Bragh!

March 16, 2009 at 12:32 am
(6) Nuadu says:

I love the article it seems to be well researched and open minded. As a pagan born and raised in Ireland I would just submit to you that Saint Patrick banishing snakes is not a cheap metaphore for banishing pagans. That reptiles do not exist in Ireland is one of the famous miracles of the land written about since the early roman commentaries St Paddy story is just another way of explaining why reptiles dont exist here.

Its also worth noting that since Irish christianity was syncretic with irish paganism the mythological figure of saint patrick is a good place to learn about our pagan traditions. His charactor takes the place of Lugh in mythology concerning Lughnasa\Bron Trogain and all Patricks Major battles take place at that time of year. Information on Lughnasa not available elsewhere can be gained through putting aside hatred which while I wont say is mindless is certainly uninformed

March 17, 2009 at 8:38 am
(7) Lori says:

How is St Pat’s day celebrated in Ireland?

I can only suppose that wearing green represents the green lands. the Shamrock has 3 leaves which was probably used to represent the christian trinity. But do the Protestants and Catholics celebrate St Pat’s the same way?

March 17, 2009 at 9:14 am
(8) Mirabella says:

The Shamrock … Maiden, Mother, Crone.

March 17, 2009 at 9:45 am
(9) Kyrja says:

I made the Snake wreath and have had it hanging on the door of my apartment for two weeks now. Of course, the fact that my pick-up truck sits right outside with bumperstickers that proclaim, “Protected by Witchcraft” and “Pagan and Proud,” already announces quite clearly that what is hung on my door is most certainly associated with my faith. Know the nice thing? All of my neighbors love me. Yeah … life is sometimes really, really good! Happy Celebrate Snakes in Ireland Day!

March 17, 2009 at 9:49 am
(10) Helene says:

I too celebrate the day in remembrance of my ancestors and the Irish culture. And I celebrate BIG. I’ve also read on another list that there are simply no snakes in Ireland, and that crediting St. Patrick with it may have just been nice folklore to add to his bio, having nothing to do with Paganism. I don’t know, but I lift a pint in toast to Ireland and my ancestors and especially to Brighid.

March 17, 2009 at 10:55 am
(11) Hooptie says:

In the city where I live, St. Patrick’s Day is a Big Deal, so I can’t escape it. However, I am comforted by the fact that, like most holidays, SPD has just as many Pagan elements as Christian ones. Not everyone in Ireland “converted,” they just went underground.

SPD is mostly an American holiday. We get a lot of people from Ireland who come here and are astonished and puzzled by the elaborate festivities of what is actually a very minor day over there. It’s actually a holiday created by immigrants who were often castigated and treated cruelly because they were Irish, as a way to remember the homeland they missed.

Now we can all gear up for the next big Pagan hoilday – Easter. Eggs, flowers, horny little rabbits, what could be more Goddess-centered than that?

March 17, 2009 at 11:05 am
(12) Blackbird says:

I have been practicing the craft for 26 plus years. In my early days I was still unaware of the significance of St. Patrick’s Day and celebrated it as most young people do, with lots of green beer. Now that I am older, I choose to celebrate this day as a celebration of the Old Ones of Ireland. I wear whatever colors please me (today I am wearing black, gold, silver and red), and I have a small picture of an Irish sacred site on my desk.
I like the idea of a snake wreath! Or maybe wearing snake jewelry today.
However you choose to celebrate today, May The Lord and Lady Bless You.

March 17, 2009 at 12:53 pm
(13) LazyWitch says:

I spent a lot of time in England many years ago and somewhere in the mists of my memory (and also in my reading) I remember something about Bridig did something on or about this day (yet another incident of the church taking a pagan celebration). In Britian this day is a celebration of the return of spring more than anything else. The sun is shining more than it has been, lambs are being delivered with more frequence and the early flowers are beginning to bloom. Sure wish I was there!

March 17, 2009 at 1:33 pm
(14) GDR says:

I found the perfect CafePress.com shirt to wear on St. Patrick’s Day next year:

“Bring Back the snakes
Ireland was better off Pagan!”

March 17, 2009 at 2:15 pm
(15) freeluna says:

Saint Patrick sounds a bit like the current pope! I never knew about this side of Saint Patrick. Love the snake wreath.

March 17, 2009 at 2:51 pm
(16) Amanda says:

I’m not really fond of snakes – but that is a lovely wreath Patti, & the sentiment is appreciated.

March 17, 2009 at 3:50 pm
(17) Erica says:

A few years ago I made a broach to wear on SPD. It’s a green, white, and orange snake, coiled in a spiral of 13 loops, and, of course, googly eyes. =) It’s unique, and a great conversation starter.

March 17, 2009 at 4:48 pm
(18) cinnamon girl says:

Wow!!! I always knew that this holiday rubbed me the wrong way. I thought it was all the drinking that was taking place. With this knowledge, I will be celebrating it differently next year.

Thank you Patti for this terrific website and thanks to all that reply. I am proud of being a Pagan.

March 17, 2009 at 5:03 pm
(19) Mummywytch says:

Growing up (former) Irish Catholic in Boston, MA, St. Paddy’s day was very important. In Boston, the kids even have the day off school. On doing a bit of research, however, I discovered that the real reason for the day off was “Evacuation Day”. This was a clever trick from the first Irish Catholic mayor. Find a historical event that wasn’t contriversial that was on the same day. On March 17th 1776 the British army evacuated the city at the insistance of George Washington and a whole lot of cannons trained on the city from the hills.

The point of this ramble is that, since then (and even before I found Paganism), I’ve wished people “Happy Evacuation Day”. Try it…it’s fun to see the confused looks on people’s faces.

March 18, 2009 at 10:33 am
(20) Winterchill says:

For me St Patricks day is about celebrating the Irish spirit and the fact that St Patrick failed to get rid of Pagans :)
I think somewhere in me there is a ton of Irish blood.

March 18, 2009 at 10:49 am
(21) William says:

Another bit of little know history is that Patrick had at first been in training to be a Druid. During his training he was discovered to be unstable and unsuitable and was sent away. The Church was more than willing to take him in and support his war of terror against the Druids in which he led the last slaugter in the Druid’s last secret refuge.

March 18, 2009 at 11:14 am
(22) Sky says:

I honestly don’t understand how any Pagan could even possibly consider celebrating this “holiday”. My sister’s boyfriend is Catholic-Irish and I don’t he or his family even do anything for it! Heh.

March 18, 2009 at 8:00 pm
(23) River says:

Help! I’ve been hearing bits and pieces of the “true” story of St. Patrick-that he played a hand in torturing or murdering druids who would not convert, he forced the destruction of a culture,etc. I have not celebrated this holiday for those reasons but am interested in reaserching this info. Does anyone know of any CONCREATE info, books, journals that could shed more light on this subject? Thanks!

March 19, 2009 at 10:20 am
(24) GeckoRoamin says:

Most people today think that SPD is the celebration of all things Irish and celebrate accordingly. Instead of focusing on the persecution and negative aspects of something that happened 1500 years ago (I know, I know, that’s asking a lot of Wiccans), why not focus on the positive aspects of the holiday: the fellowship, camaraderie, honoring our Irish roots, and good cheer.

March 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm
(25) Bob says:

My wife and I have always called it Bring Back the Snakes Day! It’s wonderful to see others having the same opinion about the Xian usurption of an entire culture!

March 17, 2010 at 2:52 pm
(26) A Non Mouse says:
March 19, 2010 at 11:58 am
(27) Wren Arrington says:

I am having trouble finding historical reference material to back up what I have heard and believed for yrs – That St Patrick persecuted the pagans – killed/tortured etc. As depicted in the Mists of Avalon, for instance. Can someone give me a historical reference I might use to show skeptics?

March 19, 2010 at 1:45 pm
(28) paganwiccan says:

Wren – depends on which source you read. My understanding is that Patrick didn’t torture/persecute anyone — he simply brought in a new religion that pushed out the old one, hence the notion of “driving Paganism out of Ireland.” It wasn’t an immediate change either, but gradual, over the course of a century or more.

Blogger Brenda Daverin has a great summary on her LiveJournal (http://branruadh.blogspot.com/2006/03/so-i-have-promised-so-i-have-done.html) about why we may be completely wrong to blame St Patrick for the wholesale conversion of Ireland anyway.


January 8, 2011 at 3:37 am
(29) Sara of Ravenwood says:

I realize these posts are a year old, but I thought I’d give my thoughts anyway since St Patrick’s day 2011 is just around the bend.

The insight came to me that St. Patrick may have been protecting the Pagans (if, indeed, as some blogs mention, there was no torture involved, he had Druids on his staff, and had also been trained in their arts).

The catholic church was quite ruthless in those days as they strove to convert others to their will. If St. Patrick accomplished the conversion via humane means by reasoning with them it may have been a blessing in disguise. With stories 1500 years old, the real truth may never be known. But this is one way it can be looked at, and it may be a real possibility.

March 15, 2012 at 11:25 am
(30) Tara says:

As a child, St. Patrick’s Day was always a special occasion in my home – my father would pull out his books about Ireland, we would read them together, and then we would sit with our eyes closed and he would describe to us a Paddy’s Day Parade. We would stuff crumpled papers in the grown-ups shoes (in honor of the leprechauns and their shenanigans) and I’m sure we ate green things, though I don’t remember now. The day is full of childhood memories… and a sense of the irish ancestry that my father has traced back 8 generations to Co. Wicklow. I was named after the Hill of Tara… I can’t deny my irish roots. ;)

But as I got older, and left my Catholic upbringing behind for the Pagan roots that have always spoken to me, this day caused me conflict. I DO realize the symbolism of the snakes, and it’s hard to deny the fact that I feel appalled inside at the thought of celebrating the destruction of the Old Ways in Ireland.

So in my home now, with my children, we celebrate “Irish Day,” and we talk about the history of the day (and how most people don’t really understand what they’re celebrating!), about the beauty and magic that is Ireland. We talk about our own genetic connection to the place, we make soda bread and potato farls and other irish food (one year we even had green hot chocolate lol!), color pictures and do crafts. I can’t NOT celebrate the day, but in this way I can honor the true history and teach my children as well.

March 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm
(31) Nemesis says:

Regarding St. Patrick torturing and persecuting druids and their followers, spare me the facts (or the absence thereof), it’s more fun to blame the sick, accursed Christians, who are The Other. But if you really want to know who wiped out druids whenever they could, look no further than the Pagan Romans, who believed them to practice human sacrifice (of other Pagans of course, not Christians, so don’t get excited even if you saw the Wicker Man).

March 17, 2012 at 10:39 pm
(32) Debs says:

*Wowie*. Thanks, Nemesis. I suppose then that what Christians did when they killed countless innocent people was not considered a “sacrifice” in the name of their religion but something of a ‘necessary cleansing’?

Way to manipulate with language…

September 1, 2012 at 2:45 pm
(33) PaganHindu says:

The English missionaries during the British rule in India tried to copy this exactly. They started calling the Druid like priest community (Brahmins) as Snakes and tried hard to make them scapegoats for all the evils they themselves planted. Yet India being a blessed country by the countless Goddesses – has been keeping its Pagan id intact so far. Wonder how long it would be after reading this article,

February 18, 2013 at 2:50 pm
(34) Daemonocracy says:

St. Patrick was not Charlemagne. If you neo pagans need to smear the man and falsely accuse him of torturing and murdering those who wouldn’t convert as Charlemagne did to expand his Kingdom, then you’re not to be taken seriously. The people of Ireland embraced the Christian gospel, they remain faithful to it today. The ancient folk of Ireland (not just Celts) were receptive to what they had to hear, and probably had their own reasons for abandoning the Druids that are now lost to us.

February 18, 2013 at 7:42 pm
(35) paganwiccan says:

Daemonocracy (34), so far the only one who has compared St. Patrick to Charlemagne is you. In fact, no one here has accused St. Patrick of torturing and murdering anyone – the few references in this comment thread to this sort of thing are other readers asking if it was indeed the case.

In fact, I’m pretty sure everyone has said, “Hey, there’s no scholarly evidence that this happened.”

So I have no idea which neopagans you’re snarking at.

April 12, 2013 at 2:27 am
(36) Barbara says:

Everyone talks about St. Patrick and how bad Christianity was back then.. What about the English who came to Ireland and raped and killed the Irish Catholics? The English were as bad as Hitler. They wanted to exterminate the Catholics that would not convert to Protistantism. When the potato famine hit the English did nothing to help the Irish. The Irish Catholics were not allowed to eat the animals they raised because they were used to pay rent to the English land lords or the animals were sent to England to feed the people there. The Irish Catholics were not allowed to eat the grain they raised. Again, the grain was shipped to England. The Irish Catholics were not allowed to hunt game or to fish the waters of Ireland. I don’t care what religion you are, I was raised Catholic and am of Irish, German and Polish decent. I am half Irish and attended a German Catholic Church. I am very interested in my Irish roots and so I find everything good and bad about Ireland to be very interesting and informative.

April 12, 2013 at 2:59 am
(37) Barbara says:

Ok, I was doing a little more research. I found this site that talks about St. Patrick having an army or Roman Soldiers with him when he returned to Ireland. The site is http://www.catholic-saints.info/patron-saints/stpatrick.htm.

This article states that having been enslaved in Ireland for 6 yrs he knew the people and the druids and it was basically his mission to rid Ireland of the druids. But is this really any different than any of the warring countries of the middle east? And who was it that wanted Jesus, whom I am sure you don’t believe in, dead? The Jews. And who killed him but the Romans.

Yes, I agree that it was a terrible thing to do. But they were not the only ones to kill people that didn’t have the same beliefs. I have been watching “The Vikings” on the History Channel. When the Vikings invaded England, they murdered and raped the people of England. Even the priests. Some of the priests were even taken as slaves. So to Blame St. Patrick is just unfair. This is what was done in those times. Not right perhaps, but a sign of the times. And don’t forget Hitler trying to exterminate all the Jews.

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