All Snakes Day

Around this time generally everything “Irish” appears in all sorts of headlines, and current news topics. Aside from the general stigma attached to American celebration of the day in the States chalk full of false stereo-types some even go as far as labelling racist, or at least discriminatory,  leading the boozefest in a general day ignorant of anything relating to actual Irish culture. I understand this pretty well coming from a city that has such big “Irish-American” festivities for it, and yes, was part of the sub-culture I was raised with.

This is however nothing new to me, but my current focus is the way the day is treated within “pagan” communities. The same sort of disassociation that you may see among the native&secular Irish, you also find within the pagan community, especially those following “Celtic” paths. The big reasons are usually for one, despite the normal piss up of a celebration with sin and debauchery, the festival is a primarily Christian religious one in origin. Going deeper, the feast day of Ireland’s patron saint happens to be the saint most linked to the Christianisation of Ireland, not something your typical pagan would want to celebrate eh?

We’ve all heard the modern lore of good auld St. Paddy driving the “snakes” from the island, snakes of course assumed to be a metaphor for either the general pagan inhabitants, or druids, but history is a funny creature in itself. Actual events, supposed events, and our understanding of them are often distorted, so if we’re going to adopt such serious attitudes towards popular celebrations in modern culture, I guess it would be wise to at least understand them.

First of all. St. Paddy wasn’t the first Christian, or missionary in Ireland. The first known Bishop was Palladius. It’s important to understand Ireland’s conversion to Christianity was relatively embraced and peaceful to a certain extent. The pseudo-history in the hagiographies featuring Patrick in “magical combat” with druids are likely made up to resemble Biblical stories like that of Simon Magus, but of course in the guise of encouraging belief in Christ. We actually owe a debt of gratitude to the church for recording our myths, which even though monks re-worked with their own twist, made it possible for them not to be lost in time. In regards to myths, other than the two main early sources we have of St. Patrick, mainly his Confessio, and letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, it’s a possibility the man as we know him may not have even existed.

Now the “Snakes” right? It is well known there have never been snakes in Ireland. Either they didn’t survive the last Ice age, or didn’t have the right environment to migrate when there was a land-brdge. The whole bit of lore with Paddy&snakes was written by Anglo-Normans in the Middle ages. It was stated in some of his earlier biographies that he studied at the Lérin’s monastery off the south coast of France founded by St. Honoratus, who was said to have banished all the snakes from Aralanensis. The Anglo-Norman writers must have liked that association, and since there were pre-existing tales of Paddy banishing demon-birds, and monsters into lakes, they penciled that one in under him as well. His role as a missionary in Ireland, and lore involving supposed encounters with druids likely lead to the symbolic association of pagans&snakes in modern folklore, but we do in fact know that the last pagan High-King in Ireland to be sworn in under the ban-feis rite at Tara, Diarmait mac Cerbaill, did so well over 100 years after Paddy’s death in the 6th century, and pre-christian religious practices would have taken longer to wane generally from then.

Therefore if “All Snakes Day” is taking the piss out of modern folklore, then fair play to it, but there shouldn’t be any more need in the pagan community to disassociate with the secular celebration of the day. If anything the stereo-types alone would make more sense in reducing an island with the second oldest vernacular in Europe, had a church that lead the rest of Europe throughout the Dark Ages, and has given such beauty, music, and amazing poets&literature to the rest of the world as a need for lack of acknowledgment. The day can also be seen as one of national pride, or by the diaspora as one to honour those that left their home, family, and language behind in order to face oppression& discrimination in becoming “Good Americans.” That has usually been the case for me, so on that note, Lá Fhéile Phádraig shona daoibh!

Sliabh Dónairt

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Recently did a charity run up Sleeve Donard called “The Donard Challenge,” to raise money for the Cancer Centre. Sliabh Dónairt is Northern Ireland’s, and the whole of Ulster’s highest mountain peek which is fortunately in the back yard of our local Co. Down in the Mourne Mountains(That inspired C.S. Lewis to write ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’). There are two Neolithic passage tombs on the mountain, with the one at the top being the highest passage tomb in the British Isles. Before being named after the saint, Donard was called Beann mBoirchi, and Sliabh Slángha. Boirche was a legendary otherworldly king, and in myth Slángha was a son of Partholón, and the reputed first physician of Ireland. Like many other mountains in local tradition it’s customary to carry a stone from the bottom to place on the cairn at the top which likely originated as a Lughnasadh tradition in which mountain hiking is also customary.

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