Around this time of year, I feel like the lone shamrock in a field of prickly Pagans, for I joyfully celebrate St. Patrick’s Day while many of my Pagan brethren view it as a day that celebrates a genocide. As we all know, Patrick is folklorically credited with expelling all the snakes from Ireland. What others know is that Ireland didn’t have any snakes to begin with and that this expulsion stands as a hagiographic metaphor for destroying Paganism in the Emerald Isle. Consequently, many contemporary Pagans feel that to wear green and festoon yourself with shamrocks on March 17th is akin to asking Jews to wear swastikas on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
I think that is taking things a few steps too far. Common sense would certainly tell us that 4th-century social networking would not be advanced enough to allow one man to accumulate enough political and military power to forcibly kill or convert an entire culture within his lifetime. Ireland didn’t even have one central ruler at the time; various sections of the island were governed by different tribes. A brief flip through a history of the island would reveal that paganism positively thrived in Ireland for centuries after Patrick died. In fact, it’s well documented that the ‘final’ Christianization–the one that left Ireland a Christian monoculture–occurred in the fourteenth century. That’s practically a whole millennium after Patrick!
The destruction of Pagan Ireland was a slow, and steady evolution, and it was certainly not marked by a violent, genocidal purge. The stories of such a purge are only found in hagiographies–which are mythical stories themselves–and anything connecting St. Patrick to the expulsion of snakes (Pagans) doesn’t even occur until about the 11th century. So while it is a very thoughtful thing to mourn the destruction of native Irish Paganism on this day, I think it to be very ill-informed to view it as an International Day of Hate. Moreover, if you consider the contemporary St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, I think you’ll see that few people–Christians included–go to a Church and spend the day in prayer. It’s far more likely to see it as a joyous celebration of the Irish land and ALL their history–Pagan included. So my thoughts on the matter are to go ahead and join the anti-Patrick Pagans in the wearing of a snake pin or a necklace of red and black to acknowledge the loss of such a wonderful culture, but to go ahead and join the masses in wearing green and drinking beer, too. You’ll probably notice that everyone around you is sharing their own Irish stories…why not take up the Druidic mantel and tell of the lost people, too? Happy St. Patrick’s Day.