Tag Archive | pagan

Saint Patrick’s Day: Celebrating the Myth, Not the Man

Saint Patrick’s Day is a festive day celebrating Irish heritage and culture and Irish-Diaspora around the world. It’s a day when everyone wants to be Irish and wears Irish green. Yet the holiday itself is named for an English Bishop who hated the Irish and did everything he could to destroy and undermine the same Irish culture and heritage most of us today celebrate in his name.

I am 1/8th Irish. As I became more and more interested in my Irish blood, Saint Patrick became of historical interest to me personally. Who-and what-are we celebrating? I’d heard the myths of course about Saint Patrick and serpents, but know from my science background that snakes were never indigenous to Ireland-they are absent from the fossil record and Common Era accounts (see ancient and medieval Irish texts on the subject at sacred-texts.com). So who-or what-were these serpents?

The aforementioned discussion on serpents in Irish culture and history makes that answer plain: it’s a reference to ancient Irish culture, to Irish clans, Irish religion, and Irish heritage. To drive the serpent out of Ireland actually, in its proper historical and cultural context, therefore means “to obliterate Irish culture, religion, and customs from Ireland.” This is hardly a new idea in world history; the Americans did the same thing to the Cherokee, Lakota, Iroquois, and countless other native peoples.

So then why would Saint Patrick, a man so tightly associated with Ireland, wish to, at least mythologically, destroy everything Irish? The answer comes from an examination of the historical person. Brigette de Silva’s paper, “Saint Patrick, the Irish Druids, and the Conversion of Pagan Ireland to Christianity” (strangehorizons.com), provides a fascinating glimpse into the man that lived-as best as we can redact from period sources.

Born and raised to his teenage years in England among the land-owning upper class and grandson to a priest, Patrick was not a religious man at all-until captured by Irish raiders and made a slave. His conversion to Christianity came out of his resentment towards his new life and his master. When he finally escaped from his master, he begged some traders to take him back to England. The traders refused him at first, but then agreed. However, it is unlikely they went to England. De Silva tells us the historical consensus is that he was taken to Gaul where he was either re-enslaved or made part of the group while they raided in Gaul. Regardless which way it happened, it is clear that Patrick was 26 by the time he returned to England to his family. At that time, he decided to return to Ireland to convert them to Christianity. Not long after his return, Patrick was appointed bishop of Ireland and began his work to convert the Irish to Christianity.

Myths on both sides depict Patrick as both more successful than he was and far more brutal. One story speaks of his returning to his former master to force him to convert. However, the story says, the local king recognized Patrick for the threat he presented and, per Irish custom, burned himself alive rather than be force-converted. Other stories credit Patrick with converting large numbers of Irish. Yet de Silva’s research shows none of these claims as historical. Bishop Patrick died in obscurity until others, at the end of the Christianization of Ireland, revised his history and created his mythos.

What we can say for certain is that Bishop Patrick was motivated far more by vengeance and disdain for the Irish in his missionary work in Ireland than we typically associate with Roman Catholic clergy. He is canonized as the Saint of Ireland, yet was a wealthy Englishman. And of course, that most of what we associate with Patrick is myth created decades and centuries later. Like his contemporary, King Arthur, Patrick remains more myth than man in our imaginations. Bishop Patrick was truly no saint and was, ultimately, one of the first missionaries driven by racist impulses.

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Honoring Ostara, Easter: Simple Ways to Honor the Goddess of Spring and the Dawn

Originally published March 20th, 2012, this is a practical guide to the spring equinox celebration of Ostara.

 

Honoring Ostara, Easter: Simple Ways to Honor the Goddess of Spring and the Dawn

 

Wicca is a predominately reconstructionist religion. That is, one of its aims is to redact the Old Religion practiced in pre-Christian Europe. One key way we do this is by recognizing the European cultural and religious traditions that were preserved-even if altered-through Roman Catholicism. A simple example of Old Religion traditions preserved by the Church and our culture at large include wearing costumes at Halloween, decorating with evergreens in December, and sunrise services for Resurrection Sunday (a better and more accurate name for “Easter,” the Christian version). These are all customs most people in the western world recognize; far fewer recognize their roots in pre-Christian European cultures.

No other holiday, besides Yuletide, has been preserved in regards to the old ways and the old stories as the holiday called Easter by Christians. The name Easter is a simple Anglicization of the Anglo-Saxon name “Ëostre,” the high German form being “Ostara.” As witchvox tells us (seehttp://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=1991), both forms of this name reference the idea of “East” in Germanic languages (modern German, Osten-note the connection with the Ostara form of the name), the direction of the dawn. Ostara is both goddess of the vernal equinox and goddess of the dawn.

But beyond simply telling the story about Ostara and her magical egg bearing hare and the gifts of flowers she bestowed on the faithful, beyond all the ideas so commercialized and so taken over by Christianity, how can we, who wish to honor the Old Religion, do so as we welcome spring this year? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Greet the morning in which the equinox arrives by getting up at sunrise and watch the sun at dawn for some quiet time with nature.
  2. Meditate and pray for balance and harmony-for yourself, those around you, and the world. This is a good day to pray for divine help in preserving endangered species and reversing global warming. The optimal time for this: the five minutes leading up to and after the exact moment of planetary equinox when the planet is in “the moment between moments and hour between hours” as I pray every year as part of this prayer. Pray outside touching a tree or plant if you can.
  3. Bring in some colored flowers to your home and place in a spot where everyone will see them regularly.
  4. Wear pastel clothing on the day of the astronomical spring equinox
  5. Make and eat at least one colored boiled egg. Skip the commercial egg kits; a few drops of kitchen food coloring in boiling water with vinegar and extracted with a spoon is all you need!
  6. Spend at least thirty minutes outdoors communing with nature.
  7. Leave food offerings of thanksgiving for Ostara; the animals near you will be thankful!
  8. Plant a tree, herb, or shrub
  9. Drink a cup of lavender or lemon balm tea. Both herbs are associated with the holiday. Be sure you brew from culinary (aka English) lavender. If your preferred herb, spice, or tea retailer does not sell it, ask for it!
  10. Integrate marjoram, lemon balm, culinary lavender, thyme, and/or sunflower seeds into a special holiday meal.

For more information on Ostara/Easter please consult: http://www.pagannews.com/cgi-bin/sabbats1.pl?Ostara , http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=1991, and http://earthwitchery.com/ostara.html.