Skip to main content

The return of the snakes, and the pagan Shamrock: a re-post from St. Pat's Days gone by

Maewyn Succat, the the British son of a pagan Roman official named Calphurnius and the grandson of a Christian priest, was kidnapped at the age of sixteen by Irish pirates, and made a slave. His captivity seems to have been rather gentle; he was employed as a a Druid priest, Milchu, who treated him well.  During his long days watching the flock, he meditated on the Christianity that seems not to have been especially important to him in earlier years.

He finally managed to escape. Once back in Britain, he had a vision in which an angel disclosed to him the Vox Hibernicus- the Voice of the Irish- calling him "noble youth" ("noble" in Gaelic is "padraig") to return to the land of his captivity and convert his former captors to Christianity.  He changed his name from Maewyn ("Warlike") to the adjective the Vox Hibernicus had applied to him- Padraig- and was ordained a priest, consecrated a bishop, and given the official blessing of the Church to carry the Gospel to Ireland. His first act upon arriving there was to visit his former master, Milchu, and buy his freedom.

So successful was Patrick that, to the former slave's horror and sorrow, his former master  committed suicide, vowing not to become a "slave" of the man who had once been his own slave.

St. Patrick is said to have driven the snakes out of Ireland. In fact, natural historians tell us, there never were snakes in Ireland to begin with. Most scholars believe that the "snakes" are actually a metaphor for the influence of paganism.

The shamrock became associated with Patrick- and with Ireland- because, according to legend, he was explaining the Christian faith one day to an Irish pagan who told him that he could not understand how God could at the same time be three and yet only one. To illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity, Patrick supposedly bent over and plucked a piece of clover- a shamrock. Never mind that the incident probably never took place, and that the use of the shamrock as an illustration of the Trinity results in the heresy of partialism; that's the legend, and that's the symbolism behind it.

Now, here is the crucial point: while the shamrock is nothing more than common clover, it does have one necessary attribute. A shamrock, by definition, has three leaves- no more, and no less. The four-leaf clover often confused with the shamrock on St. Patrick's day is not, in fact, a shamrock at all. The entire symbolism of the shamrock is as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity. If the number of leaves is other than three, the entire symbolism of the shamrock as regards St. Patrick- and thus, Ireland- is lost!

Sadly, we're seeing more and more four leaf clovers on St. Patrick's day- even among the Irish themselves, who should know better. It was rather depressing when, a few years ago, I even saw a sign covered with four leaf clovers rather than shamrocks advertising Beamish Irish Stout.

Now, it's not just that using a four leaf clover destroys the entire significance of the symbol. In an important sense, it turns that symbolism on its head. Patrick, a Christian bishop, firmly believed that our lives and the events they contain are firmly under God's control. But the four leaf clover is a symbol of the denial of that idea- of the pagan concept of luck.

I have no idea which came first: the use of the four leaf clover as a symbol of luck, or the concept that the Irish- a people whose history has been marked by poverty and suffering to a degree that few nations on Earth have known- are somehow, of all things, lucky. But it does seem, somehow, to be tied together with the confusion of a Christian symbol- the shamrock- with a pagan symbol, the four leaf clover. In themselves, he two may be nothing more than variations in the form taken by the same plant. But in terms of symbolism, they have less than nothing in common.

But in any case, if the metaphorical understanding of St. Patrick having driven the snakes from Ireland is valid,the snakes seem to have returned.


Popular posts from this blog

McMullin, Kasich, Hickenlooper, Huntsman, or somebody else sane in 2020!

I don't expect to be disenfranchised in 2020. I'm looking forward to Evan McMullin running against President Trump and whatever left-wing extremist the Democrats nominate. McMullin may or may not run for the Senate next year, and he may or may not run for president as an independent again next time around, but the nation can't afford to lose its most eloquent and intelligent critic of the populist takeover of the Republican party and the Executive Branch. We need the man in public life.

But interesting alternatives have developed. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has been mentioned as a potential primary challenger for Mr. Trump. I hope somebody continues the fight for the soul of my former party, even though I believe it to be a lost cause. Entrepreneur Mark Cuban is reportedly also considering a challenge to Mr. Trump. While I tend to see him at this point as somewhere to the left of where a candidate I would feel comfortable supporting might be, I would wish him well. Still, I see…

A modest proposal for a shocking innovation which is completely within the rules but which would, if adopted, revolutionize college football

I call it defense.

The idea- crazy as it may sound- is to supplement the scoring of points by your offense with an attempt to stop the other team from scoring them. Yeah, I know.  Really "out there," isn't it? But it has a history of winning not only games but championships. Modern college teams should try it more.

I'm a bit bummed about the Rose Bowl outcome but amused by the score. It seems that certain conferences aren't sure whether they're playing college football or high school basketball! I've noticed that in the scores of Sooner games. Last season the nation's college teams set a record by scoring an average of slightly more than 30 points each per game. That's a lot. Historically, that's a REAL lot.

The final score of the Rose Bowl was 54-48, though to be fair that was in double overtime. But to get there, the teams had to be tied 45-45 at the end of regulation! Last year was even worse. Southern Cal beat Penn State 52-49- in regulat…

Reflections on the present and future of my Blackhawks

As this season from hell creeps to its close at an excruciating pace and makes all of us devote more of our attention to spring training for the Cubs than we otherwise might, there are calls for the heads of Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and even the greatest coach in Blackhawks history, Joel Quenneville.

No general manager or coach could have made Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford healthy or prevented Toews and Keith and Saad from having the worst seasons of their careers or foreseen that a series of trades most of which made perfect sense at the time wouldn't pan out. The Hawks are one season removed from the second-best regular season in their history. This will be the first time in a decade that they haven't made the playoffs.

With the exception of the Pens, maybe the Kings and (for different reasons) the Golden Knights, every other team in the NHL would kill to have won three Stanley Cups in the past decade. In fact, only the Hawks, the Pens, the Kings, the Wings, and the Brui…