Thursday, March 15, 2007

All Snakes' Day


So here it is, the eve of St. Patrick's Day--well, technically the eve of the eve--and I find myself in the annual quandry--what to do about St. Patrick?

You might not think St. Patrick would be much of a factor in my yearly calculations. After all, as a Quaker or a Pagan, what relationship could I possibly have with St. Patrick? Alas, this leaves out my place of residence. I'm a Massachusetian, and my state boasts a population that is 22.5% Irish ancestry. This means that we have a population of approximately 1,420,000 Irishmen and Irishwomen in the state, all of them proud to be so, and, interestingly enough, that means that, were Massachusetts a county in Ireland, we'd have the largest population of them all.

St. Patrick's Day is practically the Massachusetts official pride day, and its celebration is mandatory, not optional, wherever you travel... rather as cheering on the Red Sox is the official religion, hereabouts. In fact, celebrating St. Patrick's Day is _so_ important that, given the fact that the day actually falls on a Saturday, we're all going to celebrate it early, so nobody misses out. Thus, tomorrow, my school will celebrate "Wearing of the Green" Day; our principal and assistant principal will give out green carnation corsages, the student body will be awarded spirit points in the annual class competition for how many students are wearing green, and most of the faculty will arrive in their classrooms looking as if they'd been dipped those special green St. Patrick's Day shakes they sell at McDonald's. (Do they do that everywhere, or is that just a Massachusetts thing?)

Now, I've got nothing against my home state--in fact, I love it, and I've never really felt at home anywhere else I've ever lived. Nor have I anything against Ireland, Irish-Americans, or Irish culture generally. I like Celtic knotwork and the illuminations from the Book of Kells as well as the next girl, and Guinness rather more, perhaps. (Beer should be strong, rich, and dark. I allow a little more latitude in how men should be, but beer should be dark and rich. Period.)

My issue is with St. Patrick himself, and the well-known legend of his chasing the snakes from Ireland. I, you see, am on the side of the snakes.

How can this be? Well, in cultures that didn't tell stories about the Garden of Eden, snakes were an ancient symbol of wisdom... Pagan wisdom. Snakes protect your grain from mice; snakes shed their skin each year and keep on growing--what a symbol of rebirth that is--and snakes are mostly not remotely interested in harming humans, let alone tempting them to eat fruits and vegetables. So snakes and Pagans... we go way back. You know, Druids in white robes and all that. And, though the historicity of the story is more than a little suspect (as are most of the early saint stories) the story of Patrick driving out the snakes--and, not too coincidentally, Christianizing Ireland--is a pretty familiar tale. And, well, to me, ya see, that's not exactly something I want to celebrate.

OK, it's not the serious issue that Columbus Day is for many Native Americans (and those who empathize with them). And I do understand that the Christianization of Ireland (unlike, for instance that of some of the Scandinavian and Baltic countries) was peaceful and mainly voluntary. But, still... wearing green with no comment at all is not something I care to do.

And turning down or refusing to wear the damn green carnation feels rude--as well as politically maladroit.

There is something of a counter-holiday celebrated by some local Pagan folks. We call it "All Snakes' Day," and, while most of us have our tongues firmly in cheek, it's also a way to relate to all that nice Celtic-pride stuff without feeling we have to hide in a closet for the day. I know of at least one local Pagan family that sent their kids to school each year with bags of gummy worms--gummy "snakes"--to distribute to their classmates in honor of the feast. And another of my favorite local Pagan couples has a regularly scheduled All Snakes' Day party, complete with corned beef, green potatoes, and Ted's amazing ginger beer. (Home-made, and, even with no alchohol, quite a kick to it.)

I wish I had a snake pin or tee-shirt or earrings or something. On a green background, so nobody mistook my intention for an anti-Irish one. I'm not anti-anything.

I'm just pro-snake. (If only I were pro-snake with matching accessories...)


Anonymous said...

I came across a wonderful Irish company that catch Leprechauns

Happy St. Patrick's day

Sara said...

Happy All Snakes Day, Cat! From one pro-snakester to another. :)


GMC said...

In wisconsin everybody will be irish tomorrow!!

nslator said...

In Minnesota, where most people are Scandinavian, there's a tongue-in-cheek St. Urho's Day on March 18. Apparently St. Urho drove the grapes out of Finland, so on that day one wears purple.

-- Nancy

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Purple for St. Urho? Now that, I could enjoy!

Turns out I'm far from the only Pagan out there wrestling with the ghost of St. Patrick today. Deborah Oak, of Roots Down, has joined Anne Johnson, of The Gods Are Bored (they are???) to begin celebrating Mannanan Mac Lir day. Another fine ancient tradition, created last Tuesday! Excellent!

Deborah's Post, "Kiss Me, I love Mannanan Mac Lir" is here . For Anne's post, "No Green Please, We're Celtic", go here.

Mama Kelly said...

From One Pro-Snake to another ... enjoy the weekend.


Mama kelly

Rua Lupa said...

Why not wear a snake Torc to celebrate?

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