Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick

Four hundred years after Claudius invaded Britannia to subdue the Celtic barbarians, Irish raiders attacked a small village – probably in the Severn Valley – burning and slaying. When they retreated back to Ireland, they had in their possession the son of a Christian Deacon, a Roman citizen. His name was Patrick.

Sold into slavery, Patrick found solace in religion as he tended farm animals. For six years he toiled in loneliness before insistent visions led him to escape to Brittany. He wandered far and wide until he came upon Bishop Germanus of Auxerre.

Expressing a desire to return to Ireland and spread the religious message he had learned on his travels, Patrick spent the next fourteen years under the Bishop’s careful tutelage and prepared himself for what seemed an impossible task.

In 432 he sailed for Ireland. There, he organised the Christians already there and converted kings and kingdoms to the Christian way. Today, he is celebrated for his deeds, including the ridding of snakes and reptiles from the land. Green is colour worn and shamrocks displayed to represent the Holy Trinity.

The commonly told story of St Patrick, however, hides a deeper, more brutal truth – the thorough oppression of an older religion and people, that of so-called paganism and the Celts.

Prior to subjugation by the Romans, the Irish Celts were one of the most liberal and equitable societies in history. The religion was maternal as opposed to the paternal Romans.

Women could and did divorce husbands, taking with them all they’d brought to the marriage. Divorce could be for infertility, inability to perform conjugal rights, for a husband preferring other men, brutality, for many reasons we have today.

The Celt Queen Boudicca of the Iceni came within an hour of defeating the Roman legions, but for the treachery of the male leaders of other tribes who wanted the wealth and prestige siding with Rome would bring.

Patrick, in his desire to convert people, desecrated sacred Druid sites by setting the Solstice fires alight before the due day, by turning kings to Christianity through threats of retribution, trade sanctions and oppression. It came to pass that anyone who practiced non-Christian ways were put to death, beheaded as a warning to others. Druids were rounded up and slaughtered, sacred oak groves were put to the flame and history... rewritten.

And the snakes evicted from Ireland? One of the sacred items to Druids was the image of the snake. It is a common feature on a number of jewellery pieces discovered during archaeological excavations. During the time of Patrick, the snake represented the Druids. Patrick’s ridding the Isle of snakes is merely a metaphor for the slaughter of pagan Holy men and women, but portrayed in Christian Garden of Eden terms.

Patrick went on to establish monasteries and religious retreats. He inspired St Columba who took Christianity to the Picts in Scotland and on into England. In conjunction with the Pope, the majority of Pagan sacred days were converted to Christian Holy ones. Churches were built on ley lines.

It did not mean the complete destruction of paganism; for example the Christian church still uses the pagan way of moon cycles when deciding when Easter is to be held. The raising of a tree at Christmas is a part of the Druid tree-worshipping practice is another example.

St Patrick is a man who changed history. Think, for a moment, what Ireland could have become if those raiders had killed the boy rather than enslave him.


lynnertic said...

Thanks for this interesting history. It gives insight to a related story that came out at the beginning of this month:

If the story of St. Patrick driving snakes from Ireland is an allegory for Christian Empire stamping out the indigenous Druid religion, symbolized by a snake, then perhaps the portrait of Queen Elizabeth I holding a snake c. 1580 reveals her sympathy for Druids or adherence to Druidic beliefs. Controversy or conversion would be good reasons to then cover the snake with a posie.

Jaye Patrick said...

The portrait isn't the only one where a snake is present, so I'm little puzzled why this is causing a bit of a storm.

The Rainbow Portrait has an obvious snake; others the serpentine motifs aren't quite so visible, but hidden.

On the Coronation portrait, at the curve of ermine, you can see a snake's tail.

Elizabeth was raised by Catherine Parr; but I haven't looked for any Druidic sympathies.

Elizabeth did call for the gentle treatment of Irish rebels - but failed to criticise her commanders for the brutal oppression of Ireland.

Marina said...

Interesting post, Jaye. History, as they say, is written by the winners. It makes you wonder what other historical "truths" go unquestioned -- like Shakespeare's famous trashing of Richard II, which research has shown to be all lies and Tudor propaganda.

Jaye Patrick said...

You're right. Shakespeare was a brilliant writer, but he was also a propagandist.

At the time, people had to be very, very careful about what they said or suffer the consequences. Shakespeare bought into the historical inaccuracies that justified Richard's downfall.