In religious circles a prevalent legend is Patrick using the shamrock to teach the principles of the holy Trinity. However, what most people know about Saint Patrick is that his claim to fame is driving the snakes from Ireland. What most people don’t realize is that the snake is a Pagan symbol, and that the snakes referred to in the Saint Patrick mythos are not meant in the literal sense, but refer to Pagans. Saint Patrick “drove the Pagans out of Ireland.” So the actual celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day is for the spread of Christianity throughout Ireland and “conversion” of the Irish Pagans.
St. Patrick was not Irish, he was born around 373 A.D. in the British Isles near the modern city of Dumbarton in Scotland and his real name wasn’t Patrick either, it was Maewyn Succat. He took the name of Patrick, or Patricius, meaning “well-born” in Latin, after he became a priest.
St. Patrick died March 17th 460 A.D, but the festival also coincides with the Pagan holiday Ostara; the second spring festival which occurs each year that celebrates “the rebirth of nature, the balance of the universe when the day and night are equal in length, and takes place at the Spring Equinox” (March 22nd this year). Although generally speaking, Ostara was most prominently replaced by the celebration of Easter (Check back for Easter’s real origins. Coming soon and it’s a good one).
Basically St. Patrick’s Day is just another made-up holiday with a stolen/obscured past, but whatever you believe is fine by me. Here’s why he’s considered a “Saint” though:
*During Patrick’s boyhood, the Roman empire was near collapse and too weak to defend its holdings in distant lands. Britain became easy prey for raiders, including those who crossed the Irish sea from the land known as Hibernia or Ireland. When Patrick was sixteen, he was seized by raiders and carried off to Ireland.
Most of what is known about St. Patrick comes from his own Confession, written in his old age. In his Confession he wrote about his capture:
“As a youth, nay, almost as a boy not able to speak, I was taken captive … I was like a stone lying in the deep mire”
After Patrick was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave by an Irish chieftain named Niall, he was sold to another chieftain in northern Ireland. Much of Patrick’s time was spent alone on the slopes of Slemish Mountain, tending his master’s flocks of sheep. During the long, lonely hours in the fields and hills of Ireland, Patrick found comfort in praying.
Six years passed slowly by. Then, according to him, after dreaming of a ship that would free him he fled during the night. Assured God was leading him, Patrick plunged through the bogs which separated him from the sea. He escaped Ireland by ship, but he returned years later. Patrick had escaped his boyhood enslavement in Ireland “only to hear the call of God as a man to return. He was being called on, he felt, to convert the Irish to Christianity.”
When Patrick began his mission about 430 A.D., Ireland was gripped by paganism and the Irish knew nothing of Jesus. Patrick decided to go first to the pagan chieftain or king who had enslaved him as a boy. Rather than be put to shame by a former slave, the king set fire to his house and threw himself into the flames.
Patrick then set out for Tara, the seat of the high king of Ireland. When Patrick arrived, Tara was filled with many local kings and druids who were attending the pagan feast of Beltine which coincided with Easter that year. Patrick encamped in the full view of the castle to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.
On the eve of the festival it was the custom, upon penalty of death, that the high king should light the first bonfire before any others in the land. Patrick, however, had kindled a great fire which gleamed through the darkness. Patrick was summoned before the king.
“Patrick stood and called, May God arise and His enemies be scattered. Darkness fell on the camp. Confused guards began to attack one another. The ground shook and the next day, Easter, a broken king knelt before God’s servant. This confrontation between Patrick’s God and demonic forces marked the beginning of a thirty-year mission to Ireland.” …
Patrick traveled the roads and forded the rivers of Ireland for 30 years converting men and women. By the time of his death, Patrick had baptized tens of thousands and established hundreds of churches throughout Ireland. Which, in turn sent missionaries to Scotland, England, Germany and Belgium.*
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