Mystic Magic: St. Patrick and the Snakes

Image depicting Saint Patrick in a stained glass window. Photo retrieved from https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=89.

Grace Cavanaugh ~ Editor in Chief

     Since the Shamrock shake is back at McDonald’s, and Applebee’s has St. Patrick’s Day drinks, I think it is time I addressed St. Patrick’s Day from the perspective of a neopagan with Irish heritage.

     I grew up celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Since moving to Richmond when I was a kid, I have never missed the Church Hill Irish Festival. My mom makes corned beef and cabbage, and now that I am old enough, we all drink some Guinness.

     According to Britannica, St. Patrick was a Roman Britain who went to Ireland in 432 to convert the Irish to Christianity. The most popular legend about him is that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland. He used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish. While original feasts celebrated St. Patrick himself, modern celebration is all about everything Irish. 

     It was not until I began my witchy journey that I realized that the snakes in the one story were supposed to represent Old World pagans. The first TikTok I saw about it was an apology to neopagans of Celtic descent for being surrounded by people who were celebrating the deaths of pagans, or at least their displacement.

      The theory, as explained by Learn Religions, is that the snakes are an allegory to pagans. St. Patrick did not actually round up and cast out pagans, but his spread of Christianity facilitated animosity towards Irish pagans.

      Paganism existed long before St. Patrick, and has continued to exist long after. Was he successful in driving out all the snakes from Ireland? Literally, probably not, because Ireland is an island and there were not many snakes to begin with. Figuratively, also probably not. Unpopular religions, or those that are persecuted by the religious majority, tend to stick around underground, or they move and continue their practice where it is safer.

     There is an essay on the website Celtic Druid Temple that delves into the story of St. Patrick, and seems to disprove a majority of the claims surrounding him, such as his death at the age of 111 when most people died in their 40s or 50s.

      Of course, St. Patrick is a Saint, so there has to be a grain of salt taken with the parables of the snakes and the clovers. Regardless of if he was actually the spreader of Christianity or if it was one of the other migrant families that moved to Ireland at the same time, St. Patrick’s Day is so far removed from the Saint these days.

      I think it is safe, as a neopagan in a much different time, to continue to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day; not for its namesake, but for my Irish heritage. Also, using it as an excuse to drink some Guinness and unwind is an excellent way to deal with school stress.

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