Seven or eight years ago, I shocked a large group of my Pagan friends. I was at a small festival in Oklahoma that happened to take place during St. Patrick’s Day weekend. I was vending and teaching at this festival (as well as performing my first song) and knew most of the attendees very well. As we were cleaning the dining hall after dinner, I invited everyone down to my vendor table to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a drink of Irish whiskey. The look of horror on some of their faces was priceless.
Celebrating “All Snakes’ Day” March 17 as a protest against St. Patrick’s Day has become a sort of tradition among many of us Neo-Pagans. “He didn’t drive us all out!” is the sentiment, referring to the assumption that the “snakes” St. Patrick drove out were really symbols for the Druids. However, unlike most religions, Neo-Pagans are a relentlessly self-examining lot; we’re keenly interested in historical and archeological findings that may support or undermine the assumptions we’ve built our beliefs and practices upon. As a response, there’s a growing counter-movement to All Snakes’ Day based on two arguments: 1) St. Patrick wasn’t in fact the cruel, genocidal destroyer of Druids he’s been portrayed as, and 2) the snakes he allegedly drove out didn’t stand for anything; it’s just a fairy tale explaining why there aren’t any real snakes in Ireland.
Let’s start with Patrick’s reputation. Many Neo-Pagans see him as a sort of Hitler figure, responsible for the destruction of ancient temples, groves, and even many people who practiced the Old Ways. This is understandable, given that the mythology of St. Patrick credits him with battling, cursing, and killing non-believers in a heroic (or barbaric) way (depending on your perspective).
However, these myths have little factual basis, and seem to have been created long after Patrick’s death – a common impulse among hero-makers. As Jason Pitzl-Waters points out in The Wild Hunt blog, “Paganism thrived in Ireland for generations after Patrick lived and died, and, as [Pagan scholar P. Sufenas Virius] Lupus puts it, ‘the ‘final’ Christianization of the culture didn’t take place until the fourteenth century CE.’ There was no Irish pagan genocide, no proof of any great violent Druid purge in Ireland…”...