You have heard that St. Patrick drove the Druids from Ireland (the myth refers to “snakes”, and there was never a snake in Ireland until recent times). You have heard that he killed off the Old Religion. You have heard that the Christian monks forced people to believe in the New Christ. There are some excellent (although badly wrong) books out these days which tell this myth (see especially “Confessions of a Pagan Nun”). Great literature.
That is a myth, and the truth is exactly the opposite.
Patrick RECRUITED the Druids as his new Monks… and the religion he taught as Christianity is the TRUE Christian beliefs, the beliefs where people were supposed to BE like Christ. There was no Bishop save Patrick, and he was not replaced upon his death — instead of parishes, they set up monasteries, places of learning. The Irish monks could, if they chose, marry and perform any civic duties required of a householder.
The “serpents” he ran out… were the hundreds of petty kings. When Patrick came to Ireland, there were over 200 petty kingdoms in Ireland, always at war with each other over this pasture or that mound. At the time he died, there were 4 kings, and they were united under a single High King, with the High King’s advisor being the chief monk of the land — the former Archdruid. Peace reigned in Ireland, and before a century was over, Ireland was the ONLY LITERATE COUNTRY IN EUROPE. The monks made copies of every book they could lay their hands on, and wrote new ones. Many of the ancient texts we have today only exist from copies made by the Irish monks.
Even to the time of Charles the Bald (Charlemagne’s successor, reigned 875-877), it was an Irish monk, Johannes Scottus Eriugena, who King Charles hired to rebuild the university system in Gaul — the King himself was illiterate, but the wisdom of Johannes caused him to honor literacy in this manner. Eriugena wrote many books, which tied early Christianity to Neoplatonism and even suggested monism (that everything is within God). Two hundred years later, the Church in Rome required penitents to burn a copy of Eriugena’s major work as an act of penance.
So St. Patrick’s Day recalls a time when the last bastion of Christianity (later called the Celtic Church or the Culdee Church) united a land and preserved the best parts of the prior civilization, setting the stage for a renewal.
After posting this to an active forum, I received the following comment:
When referring to driving the pagans out, it does not mean literally but by conversion. You are admitting yourself that they were converted. Many scholars agree that the snakes are the symbols of the Druids. St. Patrick converted pagans to Christianity. Whether or not you see this as a good or bad thing, is beside the point.
Hugging you back,
Which netted two responses from me:
“Conversion” to a Culdee Christian was a VERY different thing than it was to European Christians… it was gently taught, and put in terms of the then-current forms of Druidism. It was teaching how to put the teaching of Jesus, not of Constantine or Paul, into the lives of the people. Most Irish were Pagan only in the sense that they weren’t anything else… they didn’t believe in anything except their landlord, and feared war more than God.
But I never stated that Patrick drove out the pagans. He did not. He incorporated them. He drove out the petty kings, the little despots who would fight wars just to gain a few hundred acres of land.
After Patrick, there was a LOT less irrigation by blood.
BTW, I seldom go with what “most scholars agree” upon. My personal researches show that most scholars agree with most scholars who went before them, and steal liberally from them rather than doing their own research. In the case of Patrick/Irish Christianity, equating “snakes” with “Druids” or “Pagans” is just force of habit, not actually looking at what changed in Ireland.
Look up the “Culdee Church” in Wikipedia, and you’ll find that “most scholars” don’t agree on anything, including whether there was a coherent Culdee Church. There is not one hint, in any article I’ve read, that connects this Celtic church with Patrick OR with the Druids, but the clues are all over the place. For instance, the “Irish tonsure”, where Irish monks shaved their foreheads “from ear to ear”, can also be found in a few older articles mentioned as the “Druidic tonsure”. The Roman church virtually wiped out (by politics AND war) the use of this symbol… you can find a lot about how and when the symbol was forcibly deleted, but nothing about WHY… and now you know.