Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Snakes and Bladders: Celebrating All Snakes Day

Although Montreal celebrates St. Patrick's Day on a Sunday with its annual parade, March 17th is the actual St. Patrick's Day, which in 2010 falls on a Wednesday. Historically, St. Patrick is one of Christianity’s best-known and most-loved saints who is credited with banishing all snakes from Ireland.

Of course, there never have been any snakes in Ireland for St. Patrick to banish, so we understand that the snakes actually represent the pagans and their beliefs that were replaced by Christian doctrine. Critics often point out that this day is mainly an excuse for the population to drink excessively and wear garishly green clothing.

At face value, the spirit of St. Patrick's Day has certainly been hijacked by boorish behaviour, but it's certainly not the only holiday in which that happens. Let's take a look at the other seasonal celebrations we have and consider their excesses:
  • For Summer, we have St. Jean Baptist Day and Canada Day.
  • For Fall, we have Thanksgiving and Halloween.
  • For Winter, we have Christmas/Yule and New Year's Day.
  • For Spring, we have St. Patrick's Day and Easter.
As far as I can tell, Easter is the only holiday where the worst thing that can happen is cracking a tooth on too much chocolate (Halloween can be accused of that too, but there is more boozing in scary masks than at Easter). So why does St. Patrick's Day get all the criticism?

What are we really celebrating in March? If you take a look outside, you'll no doubtedly notice that the snow has mostly melted away and the days are sunnier. The Vernal Equinox is nigh, signalling the coming of Spring and Summer, a time of growth, rebirth, and warmth. After three months of darkness and cold, St Patrick’s Day is our moment to cast off the dark shroud of winter and welcome the warmth of the sun and the rebirth of nature.

From a pagan perspective, many modern-day pagans refuse to celebrate or even acknowledge this day. The image of our pagan forefathers fleeing the threat of Christianity is not a pleasant thought. But just as our modern-day pagan pioneers attempted to reclaiming the word "witch", I should think pagans can attempt to reclaim the spirit of the Vernal Equinox celebration known as St. Patrick's Day.

If we're going to reclaim the mythology of this day, then we can tongue-in-cheek add our own take on the myth. If St. Patrick's Day celebrates the day when the patron saint of Ireland seemingly drove all the snakes from Ireland, then we can celebrate "All Snakes Day": the day the Druids tricked St. Patrick into thinking the snakes had been banished.

After all, we snakes are still here and we are thriving! We're lean, green, Pagan machines who welcome the Sun God and the Green Goddess with open arms, excited with what the warmer seasons have to offer in terms of their bounty and boundless possibilities. Just like the snake who sheds his outer skin, so do we shed our warm, protective clothing and feel the warmth on our faces and skin. We may even hoist a horn of mead or ale to share with our kith and kin, bringing family and friends together to make plans and celebrate the friendship that got us through the darker winter days.

So Happy All Snakes Day to you, fellow pagans! Go out and revel in the heat that warms your snake skin. And I will raise a toast to you and yours while we enjoy the longer days together. As for St. Patrick? It's only fitting that we extend him some Irish hospitality for his special day if he'll lower his ash staff and share a pint or two with us.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article, as always. Too bad more folks don't want to see, hear truth as opposed to myth.

JD Hobbes said...

Actually, it turns out that the whole pagans as snakes thing is more myth than truth, but since when has myth relied on fact?

It turns out that the story of the snakes was added to St Parick's myth late in the middle ages - borrowed from the life of St Valamir.

Likewise, the notion that these snakes are the pagans is an bogus invention of the 1970's since the last pagan high king of Ireland was two full centuries after Patrick.

However it came into the myth matter less than it is now part of the myth. The cool thing is that what we can make of it is our choice, so this is what I like to make of it.

ShamanSeer Speaks said...

Thanks Hobbes was looking for a good article on the subject, as I too will not celebrate the tradition of St Patrick's Day!