Authored by Leyla Billman of Pin-Up Pythons
St. Patrick’s Day | Snake Farce
St. Paddy’s Day or more officially St Patrick’s Day. The one day a year where everyone wears green, starts the day with Bailey’s in their coffee, and ends it with green beer and Irish Car Bombs (click the link for the history of the drink). The day where practically every American swears they’re Irish…way back somewhere on their great-great-great-grandmother’s side from a cousin twice removed. Funny enough, it’s the one holiday my English friend (who resides in the U.S.) thoroughly loathes.
Because every American gets it bloody wrong, apparently.
She has a point, we do. If you look into the holiday, it is rife with myths. St. Patrick wasn’t even an official Saint (he was never formally canonized)!
Nor was he Irish (he was a Roman Briton).
The color associated with the holiday shouldn’t be green, but rather blue, and…ready for this? For a majority of the 20th century, bars weren’t allowed to be open on March 17th as it was supposed to be a solemn day of holy obligation and not a binge-fest with Jameson and Guinness. So many lies.
Snakes and St. Patrick
However, as reptile lovers, where our interest lies is in the mother of all of the legends of St. Paddy’s Day: how he drove the snakes out of Ireland. So the story goes, during the 5th century A.D., St. Patrick was attacked by a horde of snakes during a 40-day fast he was observing on top of a hill. He chased the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea and Ireland has been snake-free ever since. The End.
Well, until overnight shipping was invented, I would assume.
Unless of course you look at the fossil records for Ireland and the British Isles, because according to the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin – much like New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, and Antarctica – Ireland never even HAD snakes to begin with. Realistically speaking, not only is this a climate where 55 degrees Fahrenheit constitutes as swimming weather for natives of Great Britain, but when was the last time you saw an entire country’s population of a species running around together in a fast-hating posse?
Did St. Patrick rub himself with dead rats as part of his fasting ritual? Because I’m struggling to figure out the allure of a hungry dude on a hill to every snake in Ireland at that exact moment.
Of course this would not be the first time that snakes were misconstrued from a religious aspect. If we take it way back, to the beginning, there was a garden with a woman, a man, an apple, and a very infamous serpent. The Garden of Eden story is one of my favorite serpent myths to break, to be honest. Story time. At my first snake education gig, I sat at a table with my first juvenile ball python, Persephone, talking with strangers about snakes. I remember this elderly lady approached me, stood about four feet from me and said, “I have stayed away from snakes ever since the Garden of Eden.” My filter was broken that day, so my response was, “Why? Were you there?” That went over well as you can imagine. However, in my defense, I had been on the receiving end of a lot of uneducated commentary by that point.
But as I have learned from all of my education opportunities, post-gig research is my friend in arming me with the proper information in such scenarios. After all, I’m a Christian, a snake educator and advocate, a literary graduate…surely, I could make a case for the snake within Christianity. Certainly we are not damned to be enemies.
So, as with most stories within religious context, it helps to have the whole story. According to Genesis, Adam was lonely, so God created Eve; despite being surrounded by animals. Which is interesting, since the serpent who convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit seems to be a chatty little guy. In fact, he is the only animal in the Garden of Eden who decides to start talking to the humans. I don’t know about most reptile enthusiasts, but if my snakes decide to start talking to me, I either need some killer meds or I’m going to chalk it up to possession. Yet, most people take this as a literal snake.
I actually studied the Bible while I was working on my B.A. in English back in the day and I remember my professor telling us that it is important to remember the Bible was written by mostly poets and bards. Which is important as these are writers who use a lot of imagery and sometimes the snake is a literal snake and other times it isn’t. The answer to the Garden though lies in Revelations:
“And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” – Revelations 12:9
So, it basically comes down to a whodunit of Christianity. The snake was merely the devil in disguise trying to talk Eve into an apple a day. Which really shouldn’t shock any snake owners, since I’m certain if any of mine decided to start chatting me up, the topic would be rats…not apples.
But Christianity didn’t completely pigeonhole snakes into evil. Yes, they were symbols of evil or Satan, but they also were symbols of Wisdom (Numbers 21 and John 3:14-15). There are also passages describing snakes as subtle, tamable, and wonderful. In fact, in Proverbs 30:18-19, it says:
“There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a young woman.” The snake…amazing. But we knew that already.
If we really wanted, we could discuss snakes in world religions all day, as they have permeated the positives and negatives throughout multiple cultures and religions. But, let’s get back to St. Patrick, shall we?
With a base knowledge of Christianity’s relationship with snakes and a fossil record proving snakes really didn’t find Ireland to be a choice living situation, why on earth would this myth even be in existence? Was he driving out Satan? Wisdom? Amazingness? The answer lies in paganism. There is a strong theory which says snakes were the symbol of paganism and St. Patrick was actually credited with ridding Ireland of paganism and bringing Christianity to the country. So, it’s simply a matter of symbolism being taken literally, it seems.
While St. Patrick’s Day is full of falsehoods and a heck of a whopper about our beloved slithery friends, you can rest assured you are not celebrating a snake assassin. So, wear your green, pinch some people, drink some green beer, and talk in your worst Irish accent…and if someone brings up how good old St. Paddy put the smack down on the snakes, you can let them know the truth.
And if they refuse to believe that, just remind them ‘their pot of gold is waiting for them at the end of a rainbow with a leprechaun.’