The life of Saint Patrick remains wrapped in mystery still today. Is March 17th a day marked with pagan rituals and traditions or is this a day for us to honor and remember Saint Patrick for his life of loving and serving God?
Saint Patrick was born in 385 AD in Scotland. As a teenager, he was captured to Ireland by thieves and sold into slavery as a sheep herder where he spent six years enslaved as their captive. During his captivity, he turned to God for comfort and found a passion for Christian faith. At the age of 20, Patrick had a dream where God encouraged him to escape slavery in Ireland and run to the coast. Back home in Scotland, he was overwhelmed with dreams to move to France and begin studies for the priesthood. As an ordained Bishop, Saint Patrick spent the next 40 years converting pagan Irelands to Catholicism and building churches and schools for the new believers before his death on March 17th. Rumors of miracles circulated among the people and his mission for conversions became something to honor and celebrate. Although he has never been canonized by a Pope, Saint Patrick remains on the list today of saints in the Roman Catholic Church.
Few letters exist of Saint Patrick that gives a narrative of his life. However, this writing is believed to have been written during his time in captivity: “The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same.”
What is the controversy over the observation of Saint Patrick’s life?
While many believe Saint Patrick lived a life of serving and converting, others claim that he murdered the Irish pagans who refused to convert to Christianity, believing that he is the person to blame for the Roman Catholic Inquisition that took the lives of more than six million Irish citizens. The story is told that those who refused to convert were bound and thrown out to sea or were tied onto stakes and left to starve. While Saint Patrick didn’t eliminate paganism, it is believed that he was the catalyst that brought Catholicism to Ireland.
Pagans celebrate the spring equinox, which just so happens to fall near March 17th. The pagans refer to this season of nature’s rebirth as the Festival of Trees or the Feast of Ostara, the fertility goddess. The pagans are believed to choose a god or goddess from ancient Ireland during these festivities to praise and pay tribute to.
St. Patrick’s Day symbols are also thought to bring respect and admiration to paganism. The Wiccan church believes that all symbols associated with St. Patrick’s Day are founded in the worship of goddesses and witchcraft. Christians believe that any use of pagan or occult symbols are from satan and should be strictly forbidden. Scripture tells us in Matthew 5:19-20, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
- The SHAMROCK –Pagans used the shamrock, also known as the Seamroy, to worship the three faces of the goddess found in the moon long before Christianity existed in Ireland. They also use the shamrock as a hex symbol that curses and plagues others. Saint Patrick used the shamrock during his sermons to represent the holy trinity – God, Son, and Holy Ghost.
- The color GREEN –The original color linked with the St. Patrick’s Day was at one time blue, but the color green has grown in popularity overtime. Today, March 17th is associated with the color green, maybe because of the color of the shamrock, the most notable symbol of St. Patrick’s Day, or to represent the rebirth of spring. Pagans believe that evil spirits will pinch you if you are not wearing the color green on this specific day.
- The LEPRECHAUN – These little green, mischievous men with beards and hats like to stir up trouble and wreak havoc. A fairy in Irish folklore, they are also supposed to spend their time making shoes and storing away coins in hidden pots of gold found at the end of rainbows. If caught by a human, they have magical powers to award three wishes to their captor in exchange for their freedom. The leprechaun is a pagan idol used to observe and celebrate the rebirth of spring.
- The IRISH GOOD LUCK CHARMS – Good luck charms are forces that are believed to shape events in a person’s life. Charms are said to help people become successful, provide advantageous opportunities, and define circumstances and many Irish wear good luck charms. Some even believe the work “luck” is derived from the word “lucifer”. This would mean that to wear or hold good luck charms, it would be the same as wearing a demon or carrying one around in your pocket. Christians must put their faith in God and cast away in all superstitious philosophies. Maybe we should reconsider the term “good luck” when sending blessings to others?
- The CELTIC CROSS – Legend tells us that Saint Patrick combined the Christian cross with the Irish sun cross to represent the importance of the Christian cross to pagan groups. Because the cross stands higher than the circle, this represents Christ’s authority over the pagan sun. However, this theory combines pagan practices and Christianity which we are forbidden in scripture. Let us be reminded evil will corrupt truth.
- The SNAKES – Folktales recount that St. Patrick stood at the top of a hill and with the swoop of a wooden staff expelled all snakes from Ireland. The truth is that Ireland was never really a habitat to snakes of any kind. While the legend is false, it is assumed that the tale is a metaphor of the tattoo of a serpent that many Druids wore and that Saint Patrick banished the serpent tattoo (or snake) when he allegedly banished the pagan religion.
- CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE – A traditional meal for Irish Americans is to serve corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day. Cabbage is very popular in Ireland; however corned beef has evolved as a very popular dish over the years. Irish bacon was once a popular food item to be eaten on this day but has likely been substituted for corned beef to save costs.
The question remains, is St. Patrick’s Day a Christian holiday? It is in my opinion that it is not. Pagan practices and celebrations were in motion long before Saint Patrick began his mission of converting pagans to Catholicism. Because of this truth, the links of many of the symbols and customs were already longstanding pagan traditions. I believe that Saint Patrick’s death just so happened to coincide with the pagan festivals of spring’s rebirth and that overtime the two somehow became one. The devil is very clever like that. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” The devil knows the Bible and he mixes truth with sin to confuse us and ultimately destroy us. Be aware of these ploys!