Dangerous Myths

Dangerous Myths March 16, 2019

It’s that time of year again!

St. Patrick’s Day always brings out the “St. Patrick was a Pagan Killer” memes. I’m sure you’ve heard the story: St. Patrick sparked a “mass conversion” in Ireland, killing all the Pagans if they didn’t convert, then forcing all the Pagans in Europe to become Christians, later sparking the Inquisition, starting CENTURIES of oppression against Pagans, and they were driven underground for a long long long time.

It’s not accurate. And that is a serious problem.

The Church has done a lot of nasty things over the years. I’m not defending it. Exploring its crimes would take another whole blog post, particularly exploring the Church’s role in colonialism, LGBTQ oppression across the globe, the Magdalene laundries, and more. Those are actual things we can prove the Church has done to people across the world. We should be angry about these things.

But many Neo-Pagans believe in a myth of a forced system of conversion across Europe–a myth that has consistently been debunked, yet consistently resurfaces this time of year.

Jason Pitzl wrote an excellent article dispelling the myths, which saves me the time of detailing it all.   In short, Christianity was already a force in Ireland long before St. Patrick arrived. Neither St. Patrick or early Irish Christianity were a violent force on Paganism. St. Patrick did not spark a “mass conversion.” He was not responsible for the reduction of Paganism in Europe.

For the most part, Christianity grew slowly across Europe and was composed of the old Pagan rites with new names attached. Norman invasions and codification by the Church in later centuries further removed Pagan practices: a good 1,500 years of gradual change–not a mass, sudden “convert or die” effort. If violent, forced conversions of Pagans did take place in Europe, they were tragic exceptions.

Personally, I don’t believe that the snake was originally meant to represent Irish Paganism. Ireland hasn’t had snakes since the last Ice Age. To me, it sounds more like Irish humor: “What was St. Patrick known for? For driving out the snakes!” perhaps a way of saying, “Who knows what he was known for?”

The moral of the story: There was no Pagan genocide in Europe.

The St. Patrick-Pagan-Killer-Myth often goes hand-in-hand with the Burning Times myth.

The “Burning Times” weren’t an attack on the Paganism we now know, either. Accusations of Witchcraft were less about old Gods and Pagan faith and more about fear of foreigners, mental illness, or disease. In many cases, it was outright anti-Semitism as many of the people burned as Witches were Jewish. Jewish Europeans, not Pagans, experienced the convert-or-die choice. Many did not even have that.

It was a horrible time. It shouldn’t have happened. It should never happen again.

But it was not a Pagan genocide, either.

St. Patrick’s Day also brings up the White Slavery Myth.

Another dangerous myth that surfaces this time of year is that of the “Irish Slavery in the USA” myth: that Irish were enslaved alongside African people, and that in some cases they received worse treatment.

Again, another myth.

The Irish were not enslaved in the United States. Indentured servitude, which brought many Irish to the Americas, was a crappy system, but still a voluntary and a temporary one. Irish Americans experienced discrimination, but were always seen as full persons in the eyes of the law. Enslavement of Africans was neither by choice, nor was it temporary, and African persons were not seen as fully human within the laws of the land. A very, very important distinction.

The myth of white slavery is a particularly dangerous one, long a tool of white supremacy groups looking to discredit social justice movements.

Why does it matter?


Yesterday, 49 people died at the hands of a white supremacist who believed in a white genocide myth, and who decided to kill these people because he believed in that myth. These myths are growing faster and becoming more dangerous and deadly.

Pagans have asked me, “What does Christian persecution of Pagans have to do with the New Zealand shooting?” A lot, actually because they come from a similar source. A myth is dangerous when it points a finger, abdicates responsibility, creates a false narrative, a fake victimhood. It leaves room for someone to feel they should retaliate. The mythical rhetoric of “This is our ancestral legacy and it was taken away by THAT GROUP and must be reclaimed at all costs” is all too similar to the rhetoric that the shooter in New Zealand spouted as he live-streamed the murders. He too believed in a mythical genocide (“a white genocide”).

Ask the questions. Do the research. Read what the scholars have to say before the meme is shared.

Addressing this work begins at home. Remember that the NZ shooter referenced Valhalla. This hits very close to our modern Pagan home.

Courtney Weber is a Witch, author, Tarot adviser, and activist. She is the author of Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess and Tarot for One: The Art of Reading for Yourself, and the forthcoming The Morrigan: Celtic Goddess of Magick and Might. She is a co-host of That Witch Life podcast. Courtney produced and designed Tarot of the Boroughs, a modern tarot deck set in New York City. She has been featured in the New York Times, Maxim, Playboy, Huffington Post, Vice, and the Thom Hartmann Show. Visit her online at www.courtneyaweber.com You can read more about the author here.

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  • There is an excellent book about the Christianization in Europe called the Barbarian Conversion by Richard Fletcher. It is a little dated (20 years old) but an excellent historical account.

  • 02Dave12345

    There was a centuries long history of Europeans enslaved by slave traders out of the Muslim world. This isn’t a disputed fact, and it was often brutal. This is usually the history that white supremacists refer to. You’re perpetuating a myth in your article, implying that Europeans have not been enslaved in history. You’re right about the reference to slavery in North America, but not the Muslim slave trade.

    Interestingly, one of the biggest critics of this myth about worldwide slavery is Thomas Sowell, an African American intellectual who was so bothered by it that he spent years doing research and came to the conclusion that it was actually British colonialism and empire that mostly ended slavery worldwide. It was the influence of the abolitionist movement rooted in England. This is not an attempt to discount the deep, generational trauma of enslaved African Americans, it’s not an attempt to glorify or justify colonialism or deny all of the damage done, it’s an attempt to get history correct, to put it all in perspective. We need to acknowledge any good along with the bad. Despite Sowell’s prominence in the media, despite his arguments standing up to scrutiny over time, the myths continue.

    My problem with all of this is that when one side creates myths about history, like white people have never been victimized as severely as POC, it empowers white supremacy groups. They take a kernel of truth that is denied by the mainstream and twist it to empower their sick ideology. It justifies their POV. That’s how fundamentalist religions operate. They take a grain of truth, or many grains, and develop sick and oppressive myths alongside it. Unfortunately, the social justice movements on the liberal side of politics have devolved to this state also, it can be very cult like. Just acknowledging a few facts that contradict the many myths gets a person accused of racism, sexism, etc. A person is immediately seen as morally reprehensible, like all 62 million Trump voters. Its become very similar to a religion, people trolling society, preaching from their moral high ground, condemning all who dare question them and they have the power to do so, ruin careers and reputations, while really doing nothing to solve social injustices. It discredits anti-racist movements, empowering racist movements. I’m not a Trump voter, trust me on that. I have spent some time trying to understand why Trump was elected.

    Both sides are contributing to our intense cultural divide, I think that both sides need to do some serious self reflection.

  • Lysana

    [citation needed]

  • Lysana

    The story of Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland was added to his hagiography in the 10th century CE. The odds are good they did it for a couple of reasons. First, they probably wanted to explain why Ireland has no snakes. Second, the Irish saints’ stories were in a fairly constant state of enhancement over time for reasons ranging from the campaigns to get Patrick or Brigid named the island’s patron saint to a desire to make Irish saints look more special against a tapestry of lurid martyrdom stories coming from elsewhere. A French saint named Hilaire was credited with banishing snakes from a small section of his country a few centuries prior. So they lifted that story and expanded it to enhance their boy’s canon.

  • Veronica

    Calling it “the Muslim slave trade” is disingenuous and dangerous. You’re justifying the hatred by using that phrasing. The Zanj trade network was not about, based on, or in relation to the religion of Islam. Even referring to it as it’s commonly known, the “Arab slave trade”, is inaccurate. And the vast majority of European slaves were enslaved by fellow Europeans, it was not done on basis of race. This is NOTHING like the African slave trade which was – and still is – propped up by white supremacy.
    You claim to abhor “their sick ideology” while you enable and encourage it.
    You’re the one perpetuating a myth and you’re doing it to feign intellectual superiority. It’s not working.

  • 02Dave12345
  • 02Dave12345

    As I said, I think denying any of the facts that white supremacists use, empowers them. That’s not an attempt at intellectual superiority, it’s my opinion. I’m not saying anything to make light of the brutality of the African slave trade or to enable white supremacy. I simply said that European enslavement was often brutal. You’re right about using ‘Muslim’, I should be more careful, but history texts often refer to the cultures of the Middle East and North Africa as ‘the Muslim world’, that’s where i was coming from, it’s not Islamophobia.

    Slavery was legal in some countries in the Middle East until the 1920s and is still practiced to some degree with foreign workers. That’s not meant to demonize Muslims, but I see nothing wrong with pointing out that white people aren’t the sole perpetrators of this sin. That’s a myth.

    You might want to give Sowell a read if you haven’t, he makes some very interesting arguments about the many myths in our culture.

  • Lysana

    Not to mention how bringing that up on a post about the Irish is disingenuous as all hell, since Ireland was never affected by the Barbary Coast pirate raids to any significant degree. He doesn’t even get points for avoiding the lies about the non-existent Irish slave trade.