Snakes & Saints

Before we settle into further exploration of Oran Mór, the Great Song, I see by the calendar that St. Patrick’s Day is upon us. Because of my deep connection with Ireland people make a special effort to wish me a happy St. Patrick’s day. Ironic, really, as I hold a deep aversion to this celebration. Following is a piece I wrote some time ago. A piece I find myself compelled to dust off and share again each year around March 17th.

St. Patrick is credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland. A curious claim to fame since there haven’t been snakes on that island since the last ice age. The snakes were metaphorical, but the driving out was very real.

St. Patrick was bringing to a close several hundred years of fairly peaceful co-existence between the ancient and indigenous spiritual traditions and the relatively new Celtic Catholic Church. His mission; purge the old beliefs, rituals, ceremonies and symbols.

Enter the snake.

The snake has always been a symbol of the Goddess, representing the divine feminine power and energy of change and transformation. This was certainly true for the Goddess Brigit & snakesBrigit who was an extremely significant and popular divine presence throughout northern Europe – especially England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. So purging Ireland of snakes was really about purging divine feminine traditions and influences.

For the Irish people the divine feminine was embedded in their history, culture and very psyche. Ireland, or Eire, is actually named for the Goddess Ériu, the mother goddess, the goddess of the land. The Irish revered Brigit and were not at all interested in having her gone from their lives. Left with few options, Patrick and the Roman Catholics made Brigit a saint and declared the forge her new symbol of transformation.

This theme of driving out snakes played out in England as well. Right around the time of St. Patrick the Abbess of Whitby drove them over a cliff where they became million year old beach fossils, a story which clearly requires the suspension of linear time as we know it.

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by some in Ireland and as we do here they will gather on barstools to raise a pint or two. However there will be many inclined to gather around a holy well to honor the Goddess Brigit. For she is still very much alive in the land, in the culture, and in the people.