Today is Trefuilnid Treochair (Truh-FWEEL-nid Tray-oh-CARE) in the Celtic traditions. This is considered the premier national feast day of Ire. The name of the holiday means “the triple bearer of the triple key,” and it refers to the God, Teutates (Too-TAH-tace). Teutates is an ancient trident-bearing God of Ireland. He is a God of war, sex, and wealth, and his key unlocks the past, the future, and the present.
What? Oh, right. Yes, it’s St. Patrick’s day, too, of course.
Connected with The Green Man, the Green God, Lugh, and other Gods of the dying and resurrecting motif,Teutates’ feast day was largely, but not completely, superceded by the Christian feast for St. Patrick. St. Patrick is said to have driven all the snakes out of Ireland.
According to Waverly FitzGerald, snakes probably 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 ascendance of Christianity over the old Druidic order.
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was once a holy day. Traditionally, no pubs were open and everyone went to church, then ate a traditional meal of colcannon and Irish soda bread. This had changed of course, and Dublin now hosts a three-day festival with parades, floats and celebrations. And of course, following the American traditions, 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, 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.
This is the Leprechaun of the popular imagination, a 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 faerie 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 faerie realm, 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 rather than green. And they were always described as diminutive, but normally proportioned.
The most famous aspect of Leprechaun mythology is their hidden treasure. This treasure is thought to be from the days when the invasion of the Danes and others obliged the folk of Ire to hide their gold. Some, of course, never returned for it, and so the Leprechauns have helped themselves.