Yes, I Am Still Choosing the Snakes!

by Beth on March 17, 2013

While I am still out of town, I offer an encore of my post last year. Instead of the troublesome Patrick, I will be honoring the Green Isle and the Old Ones on this day.

May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you wherever you go.

Today is Trefuilnid Treochair (Truh-FWEEL-nid Tray-oh-CARE) in the Celtic traditions. This is considered the premier national feast day of Éire (Ireland).

The name of the holiday means “the triple bearer of the triple key,” and it refers to the God, Teutates (Too-TAH-tace). Teutates (also spelled Toutates) means “God of the people” and is an ancient trident-bearing God of Ireland. He is a God of war, fertility, and wealth, and his key unlocks the past, the future, and the present.

Connected with The Green Man, the Green God, and Lugh, He was also interpreted by Caesar and Roman historians, as being similar to both Mercury and Mars. Teutates’ feast day was largely, but not completely, superceded by the Christian feast for St. Patrick.

Of course, Patrick is said to have driven all the snakes out of Ireland. According to Waverly FitzGerald and many other scholars, there were never any actual snakes in Ireland. Instead, the snakes perhaps represented the old oracle cults tended by snake priestesses.

Snakes were sacred as symbols, not of evil, but of the renewal of life, and miraculous regeneration as they shed their skins.

Scholars speculate that this story about the snakes was symbolic of Patrick’s orchestrating the ascendency of Christianity over the old Druid order.

More’s the pity, as the Irish history of Christianity continues to be a story of bloodshed and bitterness, even to this day.

In Ireland, the St. Patrick’s feast Day was once a holy day. No pubs were open and everyone went to church, then ate a traditional meal of colcannon and Irish soda bread.

This has changed of course, and Dublin now hosts a three-day festival with parades, floats and celebrations. And of course, following the American traditions (not the other way round!), it has become a day for copious drinking and revelry.

And as for Leprechauns, we all know what they look like, right? A little man, we are told, usually having a beard, dressed in bright green. Often he is seen with a pipe and is never too far away from his pot of gold. We find the Leprechaun’s gold if we follow the rainbow to its end, or somehow trick one into giving it to us.

Wrong. That is the Leprechaun of the popular imagination, a commercialized view developed mostly during the 20th century.

In the United States, the Leprechaun has become little more than a cartoonish character, a somewhat silly caricature that instantly brings up thoughts of the Irish or sugary breakfast cereals. However, in Irish mythology, the Leprechaun is a class of Faery folk, creatures that have existed in Ireland since before the coming of the Celts. They are all wizened old men (there is no history of female Leprechauns) standing about three feet tall. They are the shoemakers of the Faery realms, and are quite often seen with a shoe in one hand and wearing a leather apron.

Although today Leprechauns are depicted as dwarfish little men in emerald green suits, this is not the case in traditional Leprechaun literature. Until the 20th century the Leprechaun was almost universally described as wearing red, particularly a red cap, rather than green. And while they were always described as diminutive, they were normally proportioned.

The most famous aspect of Leprechaun mythology is their hidden treasure. This is thought to be from the days when the invasion of the Danes and others obliged the folk of Éire to hide their gold. Some, of course, never returned for it, and so the Leprechauns have helped themselves.

Proud to be a descendant of the ancient and legendary Uí Neill family, I prefer seeing this day as a time to honor the beautiful land, history, and people of Ireland.

And as for any devotional aspect to the day,  I’ll still be celebrating with the snakes, thank you!

So I wish you and yours a Happy Teutates Day!

Wherever you go and whatever you do, May the luck of the Irish be there with you.

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