What I did walk away from the conversation with was an idea that there is always more historical and anthropological investigation to be done on the life of Saint Patrick.
So, I spent yet another afternoon reading. I found a great FREE website for reading translations of Patrick's writings. Google Scholar, JStor and Oxford Journal all provide dozens of articles and historical papers regarding Patrick. You could probably make a career out of the truths vs. legends of Saint Patrick.
Almost anything you discover about Patrick is questionable. Seriously.
There is the 'Two Patricks' theory, wherein the stories and mythos of Saint Patrick are actually a mashup of the lives of both Palladius (first bishop of Ireland) and Patrick (Bishop and missionary in Ireland).
A recent article has ideas that Patrick may not have even been a slave, but a slave-trader instead.
So, was he responsible for bloody violent conversions? Or just your normal, run of the mill missionary work? Muirchu and Tirechan, the two most well-known hagiographers (people who write biographies of saints and miraculous humans) tell conflicting storiesof Patrick.
Muirchu casts Patrick as a vivacious Christian hero who smashed temples and provoked Pagan kings before knocking their skulls in. Muirchu's Patrick challenged Pagans to magical duels and threw people around in the air with God's magical fist.
While Tirechan tells tales of a much more low-key Patrick, traveling the country preaching. He details baptisms and of young people coming to Patrick willingly to convert. He talks of Pagans and Christians living side by side in relative peace.
So, what about snakes?
Betty Rhodes, the fiction author, suggested that the myths of Patrick driving snakes out of Ireland was some kind of secret code for 'killing off the Druids'. She links snakes and Druids together because serpents where a common symbol of a well-known Pagan clan at the time. Even coins minted at the time contain snake imagery.
From her book, Keeper of the Celtic Secrets (fictional literature or self-published conspiracy theory):
"The persecution and killing of the Druids, who would not convert, was commonplace. St. Patrick had performed his job well, as all the Druids were converted, chased out of Ireland, or annihilated." ~ pg 94
There are no records that show mass killings. The population of Ireland didn't suddenly drop. Muirchu tells us that there were killings, while Tirechan does not acknowledge them.
"This is not to say that all Celtic peoples were Druids, for only a small section of special people among the Celtic were worthy enough to be called Druids - those possessing the secret knowledge of the gods. However, once the Druids were out of the picture, the populace readily converted to Catholicism." ~ pg 94
Okay, so maybe she's saying that there would be no records of mass killings because not enough people were killed. Understandable. But why then are there no records of Pagan martyrs at the time? Where are the priests holding standoffs? Where are the town leaders and nobles who would fight for their old gods?
Instead, we have stories of the conversion of High King Loegaire mac Neil's children, although he himself refused to convert. (Again, only in Muirchu's account does the king convert. In all other written documents and hagiographies, Loegaire remains a Pagan. Starting to see a pattern here.) When his Christian daughters die, Loegaire creates a Pagan burial for them with no protest from area Christians nor Patrick.
Snakes aside, do you know what else history says about Patrick? He fought a DRAGON. He killed a SHE-DEMON. He preached so long at the top of a hill, that his walking stick took root and grew into an ash tree.
As modern, discerning people, we don't believe those. So, why the snakes thing? Why do some Pagans insist that this particular link be made?
Maybe the snake/conversion/anger thing needs to be given a break. Perhaps, we shouldn't tie ourselves up in knots about something that can't truly be shown to be true one way or the other? Perhaps, it's okay to be a Pagan and LIKE Saint Patrick's Day?
In the House of Mama Stacey, March 17th is a secular holiday wherein we drink green liquor and listen to Irish punk music and wear the crud out of some green t-shirts (and funny hats and shamrock glasses and green hair dye).
I don't feel that we are mocking slaughtered Pagans. I don't feel that we are doing universal harm or shaming our ancestors.
I don't think we need to change the name to 'Irish Heritage Day' to refocus the holiday (because green beer shouldn't be the height of any culture's accomplishments).
I don't feel that we should refer to it as 'Snakes Day' either. Firstly, because Mama Stacey doesn't think the snakes referenced Pagans at all... I think, just like other myths are passed around (worldwide floods or demi-gods rising after 3 days, anyone?) the snake thing is a throwback to Moses and Pharaoh's duel. All that would do is make Pagans who are fond of St. Paddy's Day feel bad and doubt their ability to partake in the day.
We are NOT "bad people" or "ignorant people" for celebrating this day. I will not stand to be called these (and other nasty things) by fellow Pagans and you shouldn't either.
So, tomorrow chug something green, turn up that Flogging Molly's CD and...