I am no Papist, nor am I an Irishman.
St Patrick’s day brings a moment of consternation for the Pagan soul. Weren’t those ‘snakes’ an analogy for the druids? How much knowledge did we lose in the fifth century due to the missions and conversions of Patricius? Would we have an unbroken living tradition of Celtic polytheism were it not for that man?
It’s true that the lack of snakes in the Emerald Isle has less to do with St Padraic and more to do with the ice age, but as with many legends, they grow around a person who had uncanny influence. One such legend is that he spoke to mythic heroes of the Fianna, a warrior band of the mythic age, to convince them that real heroism lies in piety!
Despite the rancor that this raises among the modern Pagan and Heathen communities, i have found that this day more than any other raises an odd sort of self-righteousness. Declarations against celebrating this particular day abound. Indeed, if one would rather stay at home and engage in a day of prayer and worship to ancient forbears, I’m certain that the soul of St Patrick would ‘tut’ loudly, wherever he resides.
Here in the new world, where religion and irreligiousness are celebrated with equal zeal, this day is like no other. As I wander the streets of my adopted American town, I see a wash of green. From stores and passing cars, the musical strains of The Chieftans or Dropkick Murphys can be heard. Festivals, not celebrating St Patrick (or even mere Irish heritage) but rather Celtic heritage spring up everywhere. Bagpipes squeal and young lassies skip high in velvet dresses, never moving an arm. I see this outpouring of connection to Celtic heritage from all the sons and daughters of Europe. I see knotwork and green men on t-shirts. Corned beef and cabbage, sausage rolls and Irish soda bread abound! I see people drinking, laughing, kissing and occasionally brawling. I can not for one second think that these folks are all Catholic. Feasting and community are fundamental to our folkways, and I’m sure the pubs are fuller than the churches. While they may not be Pagans of any stripe, at least they are celebrating a culture of music, poetry, art and wit, without even give a passing thought to old St Paddy, and after writing this, nor will I.
So play me some Pogues and pour me a glass for the Emerald Isle, to raise to Celtic folk and snake handlers everywhere, just don’t paint a green shamrock in it. Every man has to have standards.