This is ST PATRICK’S DAY. It is the anniversary of the day Patrick died. A more confused holiday, we can’t imagine. Most of the images and traditions we associate with this day have nothing whatsoever to do with Ireland. Corned beef and cabbage was borrowed from Irish immigrant’s Jewish neighbors in New York City; Green beer is another American invention. Patrick himself was English.
And the whole “driving out of the snakes” is, like many of these religious associations, a metaphor. This hagiographic theme draws on the mythography of the staff of Moses, messenger of Yahweh to gentile Egyptians. In Exodus 7:8-7:13, Moses and Aaron use their staffs in their struggle with Pharaoh’s sorcerers, the staffs of each side morphing into snakes. Aaron’s snake-staff prevails.
However, all evidence suggests that post-glacial Ireland never had snakes., as on insular “Ireland, New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland and Antarctica. So far, no serpent has successfully migrated across the open ocean to a new terrestrial home” such as from Scotland on the neighboring island of Britain, where a few native species have lived, “the venomous adder, the grass snake, and the smooth snake,” as National Geographic notes, and although sea snake species separately exist.”At no time has there ever been any suggestion of snakes in Ireland, so [there was] nothing for St. Patrick to banish,” says naturalist Nigel Monaghan, keeper of natural history at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, who has searched extensively through Irish fossil collections and records.
So what…or WHO…are these snakes that St. Patrick (who wasn’t, by the way, even Irish. He was from Roman Britain). One suggestion, by fiction author Betty Rhodes, is that “snakes” referred to the serpent symbolism of the Druids during that time and place, as evinced on coins minted in Gaul. Chris Weigant connects “big tattoos of snakes” on Druids’ arms as “Irish schoolchildren are taught” with the way in which, in the legend of St. Patrick banishing snakes; the “story goes to the core of Patrick’s sainthood and his core mission in Ireland.”
Our own Arthur Evans delves into this apocrypha in his seminal book (soon to be republished with additional material by White Crane Books) Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. Evans makes a convincing argument that the “snakes” were, in fact, same-sex people. “Witches” were probably powerful women, who kept one another’s company. And “fairies” another myth strongly associated with Ireland, were same-sex males. Patrick’s “driving out of the snakes” then was probably something more like a pogrom, a genocide, mostly associated now with what is known as “the Burning Times” when these strong women were burned at the stake, with tied bundles of fairy men (“faggots”) thrown on as kindling.
Oh…one more thing. Even the color green wasn’t even the color most associated with Patrick. There is a “St. Patrick’s blue”, as seen on the Irish President’s coat of arms.
So, Erin Go Bragh!