Goddesses in the Dust: St. Patrick, Those Damn Snakes and Ostara

An archaeologist unearths the divine feminine, one archetype at a time...

So the story goes, a Christian missionary named Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland and was made a saint for getting rid of those pesky and some consider - dangerous - creatures?

As is often the case, the truth is much deeper and more complex than the simple versions of stories that get handed down, diluted and distorted over the centuries. The snake was the symbol of the pagan peoples - the Celts and their spiritual elite, the Druids - who inhabited the island of Ireland long before the arrival of Christianity in the 5th century A.D. Because of the way the island's geography formed millions of years ago, it is actually one of the five major landmasses on earth with no native snakes. So when Patrick arrived, the only pesky and dangerous creatures to chase into the sea, as the old songs go - were the native Celts. 

There are still people in Ireland today who live close to the earth and in keeping the old traditions alive, do not celebrate St. Patrick's Day.  The date of March 17 falls near the Spring Equinox and coincides with the ancient celebration of Ostara, which comes from the pagan goddess Eostre and is the root of our modern word for Easter.

Let's not forget that, since ancient times, the snake is actually associated with the feminine.
Minoan Snake Goddess, ca. 1600 B.C., Heraklion Museum, Crete
So it's not surprising that the ancient Celts used it as their symbol. They lived their lives close to the natural cycles of the earth, and women were traditionally known as the keepers of these customs. When Christianity spread elsewhere in the world, the intention was not to gently persuade the local people to reconsider their beliefs, but often to destroy a former way of life that threatened the new religion. And what happens when a conquering group tries to make people submit to its new way of order? It drives people underground - exactly like snakes - which makes the symbolism of the metaphor that much more powerful. 

Dig a little deeper into all those Christian holidays and you'll find - just like St. Patrick's snakes - an older, indigenous, earth-centric tradition lingering just beneath the surface. 

P.S. I was in Ireland five years ago on St. Patricks Day and quite a few still DO celebrate the day, as these pictures from downtown Dublin show!

Popular Posts