Date: Tue 30 May 89 16:57:28 Subj: Snakes, what snakes? A Brief History and Analysis of Sa

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Date: Tue 30 May 89 16:57:28 From: Warren Stott (on 1:104/904.7) Subj: Snakes, what snakes? A Brief History and Analysis of Saint Patrick and the Myth Much of the history and life of St. Patrick is inextricably entangled in legend. The legends have been perpetuated and embellished through the years to the point of mystery. Some of these legends served in Patrick's time to further his missionary efforts among the pagans of Ireland. Today, however, they are a source of great debate. The tales of magic and miracles have been weighed by historians, both ecclesiastical and agnostic, with the few authenticated writings of Patrick himself. The resulting picture is still subject to much interpretation. The information presented here is intended to be a cursory overview dealing primarily with the nature of Patrick's missionary effort. Patrick was probably born in Briton between 385 and 389 CE. Many accounts hold that his father was and a minor administrator for the Roman Empire, a deacon of the church and himself the son of a priest. The rules of celibacy among the clergy were apparently not strictly adhered to in fourth century Briton. A Roman subject and Christian by birth, Patrick lived on his fathers estate until he was sixteen years old. Patrick's own writings say that he was not devoted to study in his youth and (1)"knew not the True God." It is clear from other historical evidence that Briton was subject to periodic attack by Irish raiding parties. Many Britons were kidnapped and sold as slaves in Ireland. Sometime around 403 CE Patrick himself was carried off by a band of raiders. He was sold to an Irish king who held him as a herdsman for ten years. During this time Patrick learned Gaelic and an appreciation for the Irish countryside. This was also when he found his "true God." Later in his live he wrote that each day of his enslavement he "said a hundred prayers and nearly as many at night." Patrick's writings tell of visions that began after years of enslavement and prayer. The visions came in his sleep, guiding him toward his escape. "You are soon to return to your native land." was one message telling him to prepare for escape and "Your ship is ready." telling him when. Historians presume that after a decade of working herd animals on the slopes of the Irish highlands, he was in good health and well able to make good his escape. Patrick writes that he walked two hundred miles to where a boat was "waiting" for him. He was refused passage at first but after a silent prayer, and presumably God's intervention, the sailors let him aboard. In the course of returning to Briton, a number of miracles and tests are attributed to Patrick. He is said to have converted the sailors after being stranded in an unpopulated area of Gaul. Legend has it that the party was near starvation when Patrick was challenged about the nature of his loving God that would let these men and His disciple starve. Patrick is said to have testified as to his unshaken faith and only shortly there after to have miraculously found a herd of wild pigs immediately on the road ahead. This is one of the many legendary miracles that historians tend to discount as being exaggeration of mere coincidence. Patrick finally made his way to civilization and indirectly back to his family in Briton. Here again Patrick was influenced by visions. This time the visions suggested that he was to bring Christianity to the pagans of Ireland. "We beseech thee, holy youth, to come and walk among us again." From this point the history of Patrick's travels and teachers becomes convoluted. It is presumed that the self-enlightened youth would have required formal education and acceptance by the church to continue on to his calling. His travels and tales of him suggest that he studied for a number of years in Gaul and Briton, and perhaps even Rome. During this period his travels brought him into contact with a number of other men who would become saints themselves. This in itself created a number of stories and legends leaving unclear not only where and when Patrick studied but also confusing the stories surrounding these other one-day saints. Regardless, this teaching brought him firmly under the influence of Rome and the church. He, however, was not the one picked by the church to open Ireland to Christianity. By this time their were already a small number of Christian settlements and monasteries in the south and east of Ireland. Most of these Christians were refugees from strife in Europe and Briton. They had, of course, had an impact on the natives and converted some number of Druid and pagan folk. Likewise, some early clergy practiced a mixture of the old pagan religions and druidism by night and Christianity by day. Word came to Rome of this heresy and the charge to convert Ireland and punish the offending clergy was born. One Deacon Palladius was selected by Pope Celestine to be the first bishop of Ireland in 431. Palladius is thought to have been a Greek with little knowledge of the Irish people, language, or culture. It is not surprising that his missionary efforts were less than wholly successful. Palladius founded a few churches in the northeast of Ireland though the known Christian settlements and monasteries were mostly in the south. He met with tremendous resistance from the local king, Nathy, and the native pagans. Unwilling to stay in this hostile environment and away from his homeland, Palladius soon sailed from Ireland for home. A chance landing in western Scotland gave him opportunity for a more successful missionary effort among the Picts which ended with his death the following year in 432. An Irish saying has it that (2)"The Lord gave Ireland not to Palladius but to Patrick." It is not clear who actually raised Patrick to the rank of bishop and sent him to Ireland. This too is lost in the legends but it is generally held that St. Germanus and not the Pope was responsible. Patrick came to Ireland in 432 landing at the sight of Palladius' failure. He realized that the common people would follow in conversion if he could first convert their leaders. He made great show of his strength against the chieftains and kings and sought opportunities to challenge their faith. Legend has it that Patrick was as willing to raise his left hand in a curse as his right in a blessing. Stories abound of the miracles Patrick performed throughout his travels; he turned the fertile lands of king Nathy into a salt marsh, he changed the dogs of the local chieftain Dichu into stone, he healed the injured and raised the sons of one converted chieftain from the dead. There are many incidents in legend of Patrick performing acts of druidical magic much to the astonishment of druids and chieftains alike. Beyond the attributed magic and miracles, there is the more realistic historical view that Patrick brought more than Christianity to the pagan masses. Historians have long credited the spread of Christianity with the spread of literacy and vice-versa. The missionaries brought with them books, albeit Christian books, and written language which proved to be the brightest of offerings to cultures that relied on the oral histories for recording the past. This was no less true of Ireland. There was a practice at the time of the high king lighting the first Beltane fire each year. Fires were extinguished all over the country to allow the king to bring forth the new fire thus demonstrating his power and ability to provide for his subjects through the grace of the Gods. The fire was light on a high hilltop so people for miles around could see this event. Brands from this fire were taken through the countryside to light anew the peoples own fires. This symbolized that all blessings flowed from the Gods, through the high king and on to the population. It was held at the time that should any fire be raised before the king's fire it would mark the end of the these times and the fall of the king. Patrick's coup de grace was no doubt the lighting of a Beltane fire on a hilltop near by before the king's fire was light. Many people saw this a sign that Patrick had indeed unseated the king and supplanted his new God for the old. Patrick had made good the prediction and tightened his grip on the ruling class of Ireland. Modern non-ecclesiastical historians take exception with the authenticity of much of the St. Patrick tale. First there is the question of separating the legends from the man. Though there was a man named Patrick who served as bishop in Ireland, much of the legend surrounding him appears more likely to be a composite of Patrick and a number of other bishops and clergy, some earlier than Palladius. Secondly, the accomplishments attributed to Patrick at once reinforce the multiple persona of Patrick as well as discredit most of the legends as pious wishful thinking or simple exaggeration. Legend has it that Patrick's deliverance of Ireland to Christianity took only 15 to 25 years. This appears to be far too short a time to have accomplished the establishment of the Church of Ireland and the baptizing of "thousands" of pagans. Further, there is the question of deliverance. The suggestion is that Ireland as a whole became a Christian country in this short period of time. There is significant evidence that widespread pagan and pagan sympathetic religion was practiced throughout the fifth and sixth centuries in much of Ireland. Considering that Patrick appears to have died in 461, his accomplishments are, at best, chronologically misrepresented and at worst, completely over stated. The story of St. Patrick driving the serpents from Ireland into the sea is an excellent example of the corruption of fact by the historians that first attempted to record Patrick's life. This tale has been interpreted by some as a metaphor for the conversion or banishing of the Druids and other pagans during this time. This has been used by both Christians and pagans for their own purposes and actually serves neither. Many historians now view the tale as a fabrication of one man in the name of pious fervor. The story goes that Patrick spread his missionary zeal throughout Ireland for a number of years, finally coming to what is now County Mayo on Clew Bay. Here Patrick fasted and meditated the forty days of Lent atop the 2500 foot high peak known today as Croagh Patrick. Observing this peak it is clear this was not a hospitable place for a old man alone. Even today, the peak is seldom visible through the clouds and is subject to freezing temperatures and wet winds off the ocean. When the days of Lent had passed, Patrick (3)"gathered together from all parts of Ireland all the poisonous creatures... By the power of his word he drove the whole pestilent swarm from the precipice of the mountain, headlong into the ocean." Modern historians as well as geologists and anthropologists have a different story to tell. As Katherine Scherman puts it, (4)"This legend was invented some seven hundred years after Patrick lived, to explain the then- unaccountable fact of Ireland's freedom from snakes. The island actually lost its reptiles and amphibians fifteen to twenty thousand years earlier. Most of the plants and animals of the British Isles had been killed or driven south as the ice cap grew. When the glacial sheet waned they began to come back. But before they could reach Ireland the melting ice raised the water level, and the land bridge that had connected Wales and Ireland during the Ice Age was broken by the re-creation of the Irish Sea... The only animals that got back to Ireland were those that could swim or fly... Two amphibians and one reptile made it; the natterjack toad, the smooth newt and the brown lizard, all innocuous little creatures. Ireland's snakelessness was commented on as early as the third century A.D. by the grammarian Gaius Julius Solinus: 'In that land there are no snakes, birds are few, and the people are inhospitable and warlike.'... It was his (Patrick's) twelfth-century biographer, Jocelyn, credulously reverent, who chose to explain his country's odd deficiency by tacking yet another legend to the top-heavy halo surrounding the saint." There is much about St. Patrick that will never be known for fact. There is much that might be left to faith among the Christian or heavily Church indoctrinated. The facts are that there was a man named Patrick who served as a missionary to Ireland. He is credited with forming the Church of Ireland and was canonized for his service. In terms of the snakes of Ireland and Patrick, the lesson is clear that history and the recording of history is subject to the predisposition of the historian. Patrick, it would appear, did little more than any other missionary of Christianity did for his charge. Patrick, like many missionaries, is guilty of the destruction of historical artifacts and at the same time should be credited, in part, with bringing literacy to Ireland. These are the sins and accomplishments of a man who followed his faith and the calling of his "true God." The corruption of his story and his religion were largely not his doing. Timeline: 385 Probable birth year 431 Palladius to Ireland 432 Patrick to Ireland, Palladious' death 444 Native clergy and an episcopal see at Armagh 457 Patrick resigned as head of the Church of Ireland 461 Patrick's death Footnotes: 1 "Confession" Saint Patrick, the date of this document is still in contest. All quotes used are form Confession unless otherwise footnoted. 2 Several twentieth century historians have proposed that Palladius and Patrick were one and the same. They base this generally on chronology and specific interpretation of the legends surrounding both men. 3 "The Life and Acts of St. Patrick Jocelyn, Monk of Furness (date unknown). 4 "The Flowering of Ireland" Katherine Scherman, Little, Brown & Co. 1981. Additional Commentary: This article was not written to defend Patrick just as it was not written to be specifically pagan sympathetic. I researched and wrote this article to answer a question for myself and as such, was primarily interested in fact of history. I am not justifying or defending anything that Patrick or the expansion of Christianity or, specificaly, the church did. I just wanted to know where the nonsense about the snakes came from. In researching the subject I found for every non-ecclesiastical history there are several by church scholars and more by wanna-be historians with no credentiuals except "faith." I also found that the magickal acts attributed to various saints including Patrick is really heady stuff. These guys are supposed to have done stuff that makes the best of the current crop of magick users look like toddlers. This raises the question of how did the church differentiate between the magick performed by these ancient saints and that attributed to witches. Of course the answer is the Saint called down a miracle and the witch was in league with the devil. I guess it would be wise then if challanged about an act of magick to claim it was a miracle. Who knows, it might lead to a new high paying carrier. -Warren- --- * Origin: === Tech Pubs Consulting === (1:104/904.7)


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