I was driving around my little town today and I saw that several houses already have decorations up for St. Patrick’s Day, which in the US is about two weeks away. I usually forget all about this “holiday,” and I certainly don’t celebrate it, but this time, seeing the shamrocks and the green paper garlands festooning my neighbor’s home, I decided to sit down and write a little bit about why.
I realize that for many people, St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of Irish pride. I think that’s a good and wonderful thing. I’m not Irish but I could completely get behind a day set aside to celebrate the blessings of Irish culture, language, history, and ancestry. I think that would be rather cool, actually. Despite how it’s celebrated, however, that’s really not what St. Patrick’s Day is all about. It’s a religious holiday. It’s a Christian holiday. At one point it was (and in Ireland still is) a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church. It’s a holiday commemorating the conversion of Ireland to Christianity. Its celebrations may have become more secular over the years, but at its origin, it’s a celebration of religious colonialism and the destruction of indigenous traditions inherent in the work of this man for whom it is named. Why, in the name of all that’s sacred, would I as a Heathen woman, celebrate that? Why would any Pagan?
St. Patrick is commonly celebrated for “driving the snakes out of Ireland.” What he really did was aggressively evangelize the native Irish. Through evangelizing, he turned them away from their ancestral traditions, their indigenous religions, and the worship of their indigenous Gods. He harassed and eventually drove away the Druids—the infamous “snakes.” Now granted, those who converted had a choice of course, and a great deal of the responsibility for abandoning their traditions lies with that generation that converted, but people like Patrick planted the seed, and provided the social and psychological pressure. As a devout Heathen, as someone working very hard to restore and rebuild the very faiths people like Patrick sundered, I would rather cut off an arm than put on the green for St. Patrick’s Day.
I’ve often wished that there were some diplomatic way to state my objections through decoration or dress but I haven’t found anything appropriate yet. Wearing a button with ‘St Patrick’s Day’ written on it, with a big X through it seems a little over the top, after all. Still, I adamantly don’t decorate and when people wish me Happy St. Paddy’s Day, I very politely thank them but inform them that I don’t celebrate it. If they ask why, it provides me with an opportunity to very briefly educate and raise awareness. This brings me to my next suggestion, which I hope some of you at least, will consider.
Irish Paganism was at one time a rich polytheistic tradition. To be fair, it had a tremendous influence on the Catholicism that initially developed there and it’s become almost cliché to point out how many Irish Gods and Goddesses suddenly received new life as saints. One of the things that so many contemporary Pagan traditions share is the idea that to speak and name a thing is an act of great power. So call to these Gods, Deities like the Morrigan, Manannan mac Lir, Aengus, Lugh, Airmed, Eiru, Boann and dozens and dozens more. Speak Their names. Tell Them that we still remember Them. That we are once more taking up the ancient contract with our Gods, with the land, with our dead. Tell Them that we shall see Their worship restored.
Party if you must; drink, celebrate, but celebrate that we are engaged in this glorious restoration. Celebrate that we are Pagans, Heathens, or Wiccans. Celebrate that we have come home to our ancestral ways however imperfectly (in the process of being) restored. But St. Patrick was an invader with an agenda of subjugation and religious destruction. Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? I don’t bloody well think so.
Prayer to the Morrigan –my offering, in advance of St. Patrick’s Day.
Hail to the Morrigan,
Brave in Battle,
ever first on the field of combat.
Mother of Conflagration,
Fill our hearts with courage.
Let us not waver in the work that we do.
Let us not balk or cringe or retreat,
from the paths we have so honorably chosen.
May our dead speak well of us,
when it comes our time to grace their halls.
May they celebrate the work of our hands,
the struggles of our hearts,
the commitment of our spirits.
May You bless these things too.
Hail to You, Battle Goddess.
Now and always, may Your worship endure.