Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Stories, Books, and Film for Celebrating St. Patrick's Day

Many Legends of St. Patrick
Picturesque Variety of Incidents Crowded Into Life of the Great Apostle

      Popular tradition has surrounded the life of St. Patrick whose festival all loyal Irish celebrate, with a more picturesque variety of incidents than has been the fate of any other saint. Whether they are true or not is a matter of little importance if the stories are good. They have to be good, for the Irish are the authors.
      One of the most famous of the  myths connected with St. Patrick, perhaps the most famous after the traditional expulsion of snakes from Ireland, is the story of how the saint became connected with the shamrock. When St. Patrick first began to talk to the heathen Irish of the Trinity they did not believe him till he picked a shamrock and illustrated the doctrine by three leaves growing on one stem. This concrete analogy appealed to the druids and most of them became Christians. 
      These druids were St. Patrick's worst enemies, and he was forced by their hostility to act in a manner somewhat inappropriate for a saint. He cursed their lands for them, so that they became waste and drear bogs; he cursed their rivers, so that no fish could live in them: he cursed their kettles, so that they would not boil, and finally he cursed the earth, so that it opened and swallowed them up.
      The saint's most famous achievement was the ridding Ireland of snakes. The method he employed was novel at least. He simply called all the serpents together to the top of a mountain and compelled them to swallow each other until there was none left, but, as the Englishman said, that seems improbable.
A lovely children's collection of Irish folklore
and poetry from Kathleen Krull, illustrated by
 David McPhail.
      A more authentic account is that he drove the snakes out by beating a drum, and that, in his enthusiasm, he knocked a hole in it, which an angel at once came and mended. One huge snake he is said to have chained in Lough Dilveen, and even to this day, every Monday morning, the snake calls out in good Irish:
      "It's a long Monday, Patrick!"
      St. Patrick seems to have taken a great delight in performing miracles. Once when he was in England he saw a leper who wanted to make a voyage in a certain ship, but the captain would not let him. St. Patrick took a stone altar which had been consecrated b the pope and threw it into the water. He then made the leper sit on the altar, which floated and kept up with the ship for the whole voyage.
      He had a habit of setting a cross at the grave of a Christian whenever he could. In his travels one day he came upon two newly made graves at the head of one of which was a cross, St. Patrick stopped and asked the man in this grave what his religion was. The man replied he was a pagan.
      "Why, then, is this cross placed at your head?" St. Patrick asked.
      The man replied that his companion had become a Christian and that a mistake had been made in placing the cross. St. Patrick then corrected the error and went his way.
      But even St. Patrick made mistakes. He was once tempted to eat meat wen it was not proper to do so. He got some pork, but hid it for a time and before he found an opportunity to eat it he met a man with a pair of eyes in the back of his head in addition to the usual ones in front. St. Patrick asked the meaning of this and the man replied that with the eyes in his face he saw such things as other men saw, but with those in the back of his head he saw secret things and he now saw a monk hiding some fresh meat that he might eat it secretly. St. Patrick was a once stricken with remorse and prayed for forgiveness. And angel then appeared and commanded him to put the pork into water. This he did, and it was immediately changed into fishes.
      Such tales as these are told of by the Irish themselves with no hint of disrespect. They are merely the evidences of the all-pervading humor of this light-hearted people and should be taken in the same spirit by others. In spite of them the Irish worship the memory of St. Patrick above all other saints.
Illustration of Exodus 17:11 from the Book of Kells
watch the movie "The Secret of Kells" to celebrate
St. Patricks Day.
      It should not be imagined, however, that the traditions concerning the patron saint of Ireland are all humorous. Some of them embody that sense of the beautiful which is also an Irish characteristic. One of the most attractive of these tales is that of St. Patrick and the kings daughters.
      In the year 433 he celebrated Easter by converting many thousands of the inhabitants. After the termination of the services he went to Turn to try to convert the king. But the king would have none of the new religion, and St. Patrick's life was in danger. In despair he was departing from the town when he passed a fountain near which were two fair maidens. The maidens, full of wonder at St. Patrick's white garments, asked him who he was.
      St. Patrick told them he was a bishop of God and expounded the principles of Christianity. They were delighted with his discourse and became converted at once. Then they asked St. Patrick to return to Turn where their father was king.
      St. Patrick, much surprised to hear that two maidens were daughters of the king he had just visited, accompanied them back to the castle. Here the king was persuaded by the princesses to accept the new religion. The next day 12,000 of the people followed the example of their king and princesses. Carrizozo Outlook, 1918
Notes - The illustration of The Holy Trinity with a three leaf clover is actually not a "myth".  A myth is a widely held but false belief or idea. The teaching of a concept with a literal illustration attached to an object is called a parable or a metaphor.   
      Now parables are often referred to as myth when spoken about or described by "non-believers." The fact that you do not believe in something does not always mean that therefore it is incorrect. One must have proof that something is incorrect in order to successfully deny it's existence and the idea that St. Patrick may have spoken to the Irish in parables is not a very far fetched notion. After all, he was a follower of Jesus and Jesus often spoke in parables while giving sermons. 
      "The expulsion of snakes from Ireland," is also not a literal reference to snakes, but to paganism; the Irish do love to tell a good tale. The Irish worshiped gods and goddesses who used snakes to represent their ideology in St. Patrick's time and this is a reference to their practices.
      However, St. Patrick did not need to drive the pagans from Ireland through hostility like some folks wish to believe. The Irish converted to Christianity by their own free will quite easily. In fact, they converted so quickly that one might assume that a life time of superstition and fear was a bit depressing and well, unappealing at best. Christianity offered to the Irish hope in a God who would always forgive, love and welcome them home in death. And who would turn such an idea down? Not even a druid; I'd venture to guess. 
      Those who hated St. Patrick did so because they lost power to dominate and take pleasure in subjecting others to their own evil pleasures. That is a historical fact. To deny this obvious fact means that one is merely of the nature to live at the expense of another's demise. In other words, it is like an addict complaining because he is not allowed to rob who he chooses in order to feed his own appetites. St. Patrick did not "hate" anybody with his belief. In fact he freed much of Ireland from selfish tyranny. This is why he is celebrated all over the world. He also instrumentally preserved knowledge during a time when most of Europe was waging war against itself. 
      The cursing of rivers, land and kettles is not likely to have been within the power of a mere mortal. If such a thing did occur, I imagine that the The Lord had more to do with it than St. Patrick. (grin)

Irish folklore on video and in film:
Irish folk and fairy tales for young people in the public domain:

      This short video about St. Patrick is made by VeggieTales. VeggieTales is an American series of children's computer animated films featuring anthropomorphic vegetables in stories conveying moral themes based on Christianity. They frequently retell Biblical stories, sometimes anachronistically reframed, and include humorous references to pop culture in many different eras by putting Veggie spins on them (e.g., classic literature, TV shows, etc.). The series was developed by Big Idea Entertainment.

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