Wednesday, March 01, 2006

So I have promised, so I have done

I said a few months ago that I wanted to put up a post about the misconceptions surrounding St. Patrick that run riot in the neo-pagan world. I just did this little coredump onto an LJ community. I'll share it here as well to prove I wasn't kidding. It's not as scholarly as I had planned, but it covers the message I want to put out well enough.


Let's get this one settled out here and now.

The myths surrounding St. Patrick that need to be squelched have already popped up elsewhere on the Internet this year. Perhaps a bit early; I think the odd winter weather's sprouting them funny.

These are, to my knowledge, the correct statements about the big three misapprehensions about the saint that neo-pagans fling around this time of year and any other time his name comes up. I'm sorry if this runs long; it's a pet peeve of mine.

1) Patrick was not the first Christian in Ireland. He wasn't even the first bishop sent by Rome. That honor went to Palladius, who showed up the year before Patrick did. Best hypothesis is that Christianity first appeared in Ireland sometime in the second or third century of the common era. Palladius was sent to serve as the representative of Rome to those Christians, who were in the south of Ireland. Patrick was sent to start evangelizing the northern Irish. His inflated importance to the Irish Catholic church was due entirely to the Leinster diocese's propaganda. See St. Brigid for the other success of their PR campaign.

2) The snakes he drove out of Ireland were not symbolic of druids, pagans, or goddess worshippers. They were, quite simply, snakes. The tale was lifted from the life story of St. Hilaire, who was said to have evicted the snakes in a section of France, as an explanation of why there are no native snakes in Ireland. That piece of plagiarism explicative text was added in the 10th century. Earliest versions of Patrick's story don't include it. They do, however, include direct claims of him besting druids in magical combat and argument, as well as having druids in his personal retinue. Catholic saints' stories, by and large, do not truck in allegory. To cite a different reptile story, they really did mean to say that St. George killed a dragon. I have never seen anyone who's bothered to study the way Irish saints' lives were written down and embroidered take the snakes to be symbolic of anything. It is a neo-pagan invention to assign that story any degree of symbolism.

3) Most of the druids, and many other pagans, were still around when Patrick died. It took a century or so after his death to finish the conversion process, and it was hardly what you'd call a complete success. This proves he didn't show up with an invading army and cut down all protesters. If he had, I think he'd have been the first Christian martyr of Ireland. They didn't get any blood martyrs there until the Vikings started showing up and poking at monasteries. The conversion process was one of social pressure and legal wrangling to switch power to the churches, not one of swords and bloodshed.

Thank you. Good night. Happy St. Patrick's Day. Please skip the green beer. You don't know where it's been.


Jennifer said...

Here from twistedchick on Dreamwidth.

Thank you, I've been ranting about this for years. (Although Leinster runs all the way down the east coast from Louth to Wexford, so it's more southern than northern overall.)

I find the best way of explaining Patrick as him being a superbly successful salesman: "You can have all the stuff that you're promised right now and you also get [s]this lovely carriage clock[/s] eternal life!"

The Patrician Chronicles, which were written about four centuries later, are rather emphatic about his conciliatory attitude.

(Although I'm from Ibar's area - Patrick was contemporary or later than Declan, Ailbhe, Kieran and Ibar... add and subtract according to your own locality.)

I've just realised that I sound horribly critical and I don't mean to - but it's an area that's interesting and I do enjoy discussions about them.

Aelwyn said...

THANK YOU! I've been bitching about this for years, as a proud Irish descendant and a person interested in ancient AND "modern" Irish history.