As I have for many years, I am encoring my suggestions for an alternative to St. Patrick’s Day. However, you may recall that a couple of years ago, I offered a retraction from the popular, but inaccurate, trope of the snakes representing Paganism, etc.
Just the same, though, instead of the saint, I will be honoring my ancestors from 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 may be considered Trefuilnid Treochair (Truh-FWEEL-nid Tray-oh-CARE) in the Celtic traditions. It means, “the Triple Bearer of the Triple Key.” (Spelling may vary). For simplicity, let’s just say Happy Teutates Day!
Teutates (Too-TAH-tace) has been called the God of the shamrock, and is a consort of the Goddess. Also spelled Toutates, His name means “God of the people.” His name seems synonymous with that given to a number of tribal protector Gods, as well.
A trident-bearing God of Ireland, He is one of the most ancient of Ireland’s pre-Christian Gods, and rules over war, fertility, and wealth. His key unlocks the past, the future, and the present.
Connected with The Green Man, the Green God, and Lugh, Teutates was also interpreted by Caesar and Roman historians as being similar to both Mercury and Mars.
In the first century C.E. the poet Lucan mentions Him. But some later Roman historians depict Him as rather blood-thirsty, demanding human sacrifice.
I am no expert, but I find this questionable, as Roman P.R. about their enemies is notoriously biased, and contradicts both the etymology of His name referencing Him as protector of the tribe, as well as the ancient Gaulish view of Him as a God of healing.
In Ireland, the St. Patrick’s feast day was once a strictly sober holy day, particularly since it usually falls during Lent. Certainly, 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 wearing green, copious drinking, and revelry.
By any name, this day is considered a premier national pride day of Éire (Ireland), the Irish diaspora, and all things Irish.
The Snakes of Ireland
You have certainly heard the story that Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. But in fact, there have never been any snakes in the wild in Ireland, at least since the last Ice Age, thanks to the isolation of the island. The same is true for New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, and Antarctica.
It is true that in the Judeo-Christian mythos, snakes represent the being who tempted the first woman, and brought about the fall of humanity. Thus, it is hard-wired in that creation story that snakes (and, by association, women) are wicked, and tend to be in league with evil.
And it is also true, in non-Abrahamic faiths (including most Pagan traditions), snakes are almost universally honored as creatures, not of evil, but of wisdom, the renewal of life, and miraculous regeneration as they shed their skins.
So there is this story about the snakes being symbolic of Patrick’s orchestrating the ascendancy of Christianity over the old Pagan and/or Druid order.
Except it’s just not the case.
Snakes and Pagans
It turns out that the use of the snakes as symbolic of Paganism is a rather recent construct. There was no big battle between Patrick and the Druids. Patrick was only one of many priests who preached the new religion in Ireland. Paganism thrived for many generations in Ireland after the death of Patrick.
There was no Irish Pagan genocide, no proof of any great violent Druid purge in Ireland, it simply doesn’t exist outside hagiography. By the time hagiographers started speaking of snakes and Druids, Irish Paganism was already a remnant, and Irish Christianity the dominant religious force on the island.
They were more worried about establishing heroic Irish saints than eradicating traces of Paganism.
Pitzl-Waters quotes, among many others, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan and scholar with extensive knowledge of Irish myth and folklore:
… The hagiographies of St. Patrick did not include this particular “miracle” until quite late, relatively speaking (his earliest hagiographies are from the 7th century, whereas this incident doesn’t turn up in any of them until the 11th century).
St. Patrick’s reputation as the one who Christianized Ireland is seriously over-rated and overstated, as there were others that came before him (and after him), and the process seemed to be well on its way at least a century before the “traditional” date given as his arrival, 432 CE, because Irish colonists (yes, you read that right!) in southern Wales, Cornwall, and elsewhere in Roman and sub-Roman Britain had already come into contact with Christians and carried the religion back with them when visiting home.
I hope you will join me in rejecting this divisive and ultimately false meme.
Yet, as Pitzl-Waters concludes, “To erase St. Patrick’s Day also erases a vital connection to Irish history and culture.”
So no, I don’t suggest we erase it. But I like the idea of the Tribal Protector, so I won’t be honoring St. Patrick, either.
Rather, I will celebrate my ancestral home, and honor all the brave, but often desperate ancestors that were either exiled, or who fled famine and unspeakably brutal conditions, to start a new life in this country.
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 figure, a somewhat silly caricature that instantly brings up romanticized thoughts of the Irish or sugary breakfast cereals. However, in Irish mythology, the Leprechaun is a class of Faery folk, who are formidable beings of many shapes, sizes, and dispositions and have existed in Ireland since before the coming of the Celts.
The Leprechauns are usually wizened old men (there is no history of female Leprechauns) standing about three feet tall. They are the shoemakers of the Shining Folk, 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.
Whatever your heritage, let’s make this a day to uphold the light of Lady Liberty for all peace-loving immigrants seeking a better life in our country.
For as happy as everyone is on this day to be a little bit Irish, that, too, is a recent development. It was not very long ago that Irish immigrants were as gruesomely hated and cruelly discriminated against as those from other lands are today.
Proud to be a descendant of the ancient and legendary Uí Neill family, I celebrate this as a time to honor the beautiful land, history, and people of Ireland. It would also be an appropriate day to break bread and share a friendly drink with all of your own Ancestors.
And while they are no longer “snakes” in my view, here’s to the Pagans!
Wishing you and yours Sláinte and Happy Teutates Day!
Wherever you go and whatever you do, May the luck of the Irish be there with you.