Happy St. Patricks’ Day everyone! Celebrate with us by learning all about the history and mythology behind the St. Patrick we know (and drink to) today. Also, make sure you take Jacqueline’s leprechaun quiz along with us!
Blog post: “Is Saint Patrick Protestant or Catholic?” by Jacqueline Giesbrecht
Thesis: “Celtic Christianity in Ireland: The Quest for the Spirt of Celtic Christianity” by Jacqueline Giesbrecht
In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World by Pádraig Ó Tuama (Corrymeela Community)
Celtic Christianity: Making Myths and Chasing Dreams by Ian Bradley
How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill
The Celtic Way Of Evangelism by George G Hunter III
The Voice of the Irish: The Story of Christian Ireland by Michael Staunton
Video: The Leprechaun Whisperer – An interview with Kevin Woods
Welcome to Nearly Numinous. If you’re listening to this right when it’s released then we are two days away from St. Patrick’s Day, which means it’s finally time for the podcast episode all about this super cool Celtic saint.
Jacqueline, did you write that?
I was in a really weird mood when I wrote that
Listeners just know that Jacqueline wrote the script for this week’s episode. So if it’s super nerdy that’s why
It’s all Jacqueline’s fault.
You’ll likely know St. Patrick from his feast day, which is exuberantly celebrated on March 17. In Christian tradition, Patrick was the first Christian evangelist of Ireland and has become an important symbol for Irish identity and unity. Over the years St. Patrick’s Day has become associated with all things Irish, even if peripherally. On March 17, you’ll likely see lots of shamrock decorations, leprechauns, chocolate gold coins, green beer, and Queen students making questionable decisions. I definitely have partaken in that as a Queen’s student.
I never did.
Are you sure about that?
Yeah, I’m not really a day drinker. So I’ve never like if I have a drink before the evening, I will fall asleep immediately. And just be tired and miserable. So I learned that very quickly in my undergrad and then just like never was into drinking during the day.
Well, that’s what you got to do during like Queen’s daytime celebrations. You got to like rally in the morning, and then sleep in the afternoon. And then rally again in the evening. That’s how it goes usually.
See what I normally do is I sleep in, I do whatever work I need to do in the afternoon. And then in the evening, I go and have you know, some drinks and hang out. But in all fairness, though, like typically I was usually working or like I remember my first St. Patrick’s Day at university was when I was in second year. So like in first year, I was abroad, but in second year, I was on campus. And I had an evening class that day from 6:30 to 9:30. And I had a presentation. So like I couldn’t, but there was a kid that showed up…
Blasted and it was very, very funny.
I always went to pancake keggers on St. Patrick’s Day, I loved those things. You know, like make green pancakes. Dress up, start drinking at like 6 am. *laughs* Jacqueline’s giving me…
That’s so early! Why would you be awake at that time!
Why would you want to see other people that early in the morning?
It was all for the alcohol. Listen, I don’t drink anymore. But I made a lot of questionable decisions, especially on St. Patrick’s Day back then. So I am no stranger to the celebrations on St. Patty’s Day.
Yes, ironically though, this episode has nothing to do with drinking.
Even though I’m sure we’re going to talk about it a lot.
Apparently. So while digging into the why of many of these associations and symbols would be interesting, I’m not sure that these associations are due to anything besides basic cultural stereotyping. So instead, we’re going to spend this episode looking at the man of the hour himself, who unfortunately seems to often be forgotten on his own special day. So St. Patrick, this one’s for you.
So listeners may remember that I did my undergrad thesis on Celtic Christianity, and that we had an episode earlier this year that looked at another Celtic saint St. Brigid, and gave a bit of a Celtic Christianity 101. So make sure you check that episode out if you’re interested. But before we get into the story of St. Patrick, I thought we’d give you a quick refresher on some concepts. Number one, Celtic Christianity is often defined as being the quote unquote, traditional form of Christianity that was practiced in the British Isles before the Roman Church took over. This is a modern oversimplification of history and often assumes a monolithic form of Christianity, where historically there wasn’t one. For this reason, Celtic Christianity is seen as being a new religious movement. As a religious movement, modern Celtic Christianity is often associated with art and poetry, nature and eco-spirituality and feminism. Number two, both St. Brigid and St. Patrick are patron saints of Ireland. In the seventh and eighth centuries, their monasteries tried to one-up each other, to try to gain their monastery more power and authority in Ireland. The phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword” aptly describes the situation, since the scribes of each of their monasteries would craft the hagiographies, which are the stories of their saints, in such a way as to give their saint especially good press, in hopes that it would result in their church gaining more power and influence.
So kind of like fanfiction.
Yeah, I would say so.
I love that so much.
It’s not a new topic.
No, not at all.
So I think we’re gonna get more into that literary battle a little bit later. But first, we’ll get into the basic details about good old St. Pat. If you’re looking for stories about beer and leprechauns, you’re in the wrong place. As much as I love a good story about beer. Not so much leprechauns, but I could vibe with it.
We will talk about leprechauns a little bit later.
Okay. But you’ll probably find a little bit more about beer in the stories of Saint Brigid because she had more of a knack for turning water into beer, which we talked to a lot about on the past episode. There are some interesting tales though. In some legends, he is said to have turned people into goats, banished all of the snakes from Ireland and won various competitions with Druids. The persona of St. Patrick in his writings is quite different from this mythic Patrick. While we don’t have any writings from St. Brigid, St. Patrick actually has an autobiography, which means that scholars are more much more comfortable asserting that St. Patrick was in fact a real historical person. Scholars make a distinction between two Patrick’s: there’s the historical Patrick and the legendary Patrick. The historical Patrick was uneducated, exceptionally humble and took his Christian faith seriously. While the legendary Patrick also took his faith seriously, he seemed to be much more headstrong, impulsive and prone to seeking revenge. Jacqueline refers to this as the flashy Patrick. And we’ll look at the flashy Patrick a bit more later.
I’m super excited to hear about him. But the Patrick who wrote his autobiography, which is called the Confessio was born in Bannavem Taberniae, probably in Britain, to a Romano Celtic family. He was the son of a deacon and the grandson of a priest. At the age of 16. He was taken captive during a plundering expedition, brought to Ireland and sold into slavery. At the beginning of his captivity, he did not firmly believe in God. It was in the solitude of his work, looking after his master’s flocks, that he began to pray regularly and his faith grew. After having been in Ireland for six years, a voice spoke to him in a dream, telling him that a ship was prepared to bring him home. Patrick journeyed 200 miles to the boat which he boarded. Though in his autobiography, Patrick does not say where the vessel took him, many scholars believe he went to Gaul where he may have spent time in the monastery there. He eventually went back home where he had a vision of a man from Ireland imploring him to return to Ireland. Patrick may have returned to Gaul to prepare for his mission and may have been ordained a bishop. Hereafter he arrived in Ireland where he was highly successful as a missionary in Ireland and stayed there until his death. Now we’ll take a bit of a break to hear a selection from Patrick’s autobiography. As you listen pay attention to how he portrays himself and consider what purpose he may have had for doing this.
I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, for we had quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners. And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son. Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity.
But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time. And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: ‘You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.’ And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: ‘Behold, your ship is ready.’ And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor knew any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship. And on the same day that I arrived, the ship was setting out from the place, and I said that I had the wherewithal to sail with them; and the steersman was displeased and replied in anger, sharply: ‘By no means attempt to go with us.’ Hearing this I left them to go to the hut where I was staying, and on the way I began to pray, and before the prayer was finished I heard one of them shouting loudly after me: ‘Come quickly because the men are calling you.’ And immediately I went back to them and they started to say to me: ‘Come, because we are admitting you out of good faith.” And so I continued with them, and forthwith we put to sea.
And after a few years I was again in Britain with my [kinsfolk], and they welcomed me as a son, and asked me, in faith, that after the great tribulations I had endured I should not go anywhere else away from them. And, of course, there, in a vision of the night, I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: ‘The Voice of the Irish’, and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and the were crying as if with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’ And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many ears the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry. I ought not to conceal God’s gift which he lavished on us in the land of my captivity, for then I sought him resolutely, and I found him there, and he preserved me from all evils (as I believe) through the in-dwelling of his Spirit, which works in me to this day. … But it is tedious to describe in detail all my labours one by one. I will tell briefly how most holy God frequently delivered me, from slavery, and from the twelve trials with which my soul was threatened, from man traps as well, and from things I am not able to put into words. I would not cause offence to readers, but I have God as witness who knew all things even before they happened, that, though I was a poor ignorant waif, still he gave me abundant warnings through divine prophecy.
Behold over and over again I would briefly set out the words of my confession. I testify in truthfulness and gladness of heart before God and his holy angels that I never had any reason, except the Gospel and his promises, ever to have returned to that nation from which I had previously escaped with difficulty. But I entreat those who believe in and fear God, whoever deigns to examine or receive this document composed by the obviously unlearned sinner Patrick in Ireland, that nobody shall ever ascribe to my ignorance any trivial thing that I achieved or may have expounded that was pleasing to God, but accept and truly believe that it would have been the gift of God. And this is my confession before I die.
So autobiographical Patrick, who is not the same as flashy Patrick, wrote two texts during his life: his Letter to Croticus, a letter of excommunication for a British chief that had taken some of Patrick’s converts during a raid, and his Confession, which is a defense of his mission to Ireland. He wrote the letter earlier in his missionary career, whereas he wrote Confession closer to its end. Upon reading Patrick’s texts, one is struck by the utter humility with which he presents himself. Due to his captivity, Patrick did not receive the education he would have otherwise obtained as the son of a deacon. Therefore his Latin is shaky at best. In contrast, Patrick knew his scripture well, his writing is at his strongest when he’s citing scripture or using scriptural phrases as a base for sentences. In fact, there are more than 200 biblical quotations in his 80 paragraphs of writing. It is when he starts writing about his feelings, an area in which he probably didn’t have much practice, men am I right, that translators have struggled to interpret his meaning. This self-conscious Patrick, again, not the flashy Patrick, who introduces himself in his Letter to Croticus as “a sinner, very badly educated,” and in his Confession, as “least of all the faithful and despised in the eyes of many,” in his Confession is far from the St. Patrick of later myth, the flashy Patrick. It is in part, his poor writing and his humility that allows scholars to credit these texts as a true autobiography; no future biographer would have chosen to write about him in such a way.
That’s true. My journals aren’t that sad, as his were. He seemed very down on himself. Patrick viewed himself as one of the last apostles honoured by his realization that he, “in spite of his ignorance, and in the last days, should venture to undertake this task. To declare the Lord’s gospel as a testimony to all nations before the end of the world.” He saw himself as “a witness that the gospel had been preached. As far as the point where there is no one beyond.” It may sound like Patrick was promoting his own importance. But since Ireland was at the farthest edge of the known world, it was reasonable for Patrick to assume that the world would end once the evangelism of Ireland was complete. This eschatological view was not the motivation of his mission, but provided reassurance of its importance. While Patrick does certainly seem self-conscious about his education, this is not the only reason he wrote about himself in this way. This piece is a confessio, or confession, which is a piece of reading commonly written by Christian leaders, including the most famous by St. Augustine. In these texts, the author’s weave their theological musings with their own autobiography. In doing so they often emphasize their own faults with the purpose of glorifying God. In conveying their fallibility to readers, they’re able to assert that anything good that they did was all because of God and the Holy Spirit. This served an important function because as we’ll hear the confession was written largely as a defense of his mission, because there were those in the Catholic Church that were skeptical of his style of evangelism.
So we already mentioned two Patricks: the historical and the legendary
or regular and the flashy.
The regular and the flashy. To make things even more confusing, it turns out that scholars think there may have been more than one person who made up the historical Patrick, but that these two Patrick’s were amalgamated into one. So to recap, there’s the mythic, flashy St. Patrick, then there’s the real Patrick A and real Patrick B. And presumably, one of them wrote the autobiography, and he’s the one who’s probably from Britain, but we’re not exactly sure which ones which.
I’m curious, how certain are they that there are two people that made up this single Patrick? Is it just like a hypothesis? Or is it like a pretty solid claim?
Yeah. Yes and?
Yes and? Like there’s no, they don’t have two bodies. So they can’t be like super sure. What they know, what they know is from these documents that were written in churches in Ireland that have different dates for like, there’s real Patrick A, who came to Ireland sooner. And he was sent by the Catholic Church, but had a very unsuccessful mission. And then he went away in disgrace and they assume he never came back. But he might have come back. We’re not we’re not quite sure. But then Patrick B came to Ireland a little bit later. And we know the dates of when he was in Ireland. And he was, he was successful. But he probably wasn’t sent by the Catholic Church. And we know that as we read, in the confession that he ended up staying in Ireland until he died. So there’s like it could be one person.
Okay, so it’s a fact that there were two real dudes named Patrick, who were in Ireland for some time.
But that parts of their stories may have been put together to make…
To make the guy that we celebrate when we drink excessively on March..
Yeah. Which may be part of the reason why there’s a mythic Patrick that has these like crazy stories because we’re actually talking about two different people. So he could do a lot. Although, like the first Patrick wasn’t very successful. But yeah, like, two people can do more than one, so…
Okay, this is a total aside. We don’t have to keep this in. But I find it super fascinating that in 2021, we still celebrate the idea of like, the Catholic Church spreading Christianity throughout Ireland. Like, I know, it’s like we’ve separated it completely now, like St. Patrick’s Day is an excuse to wear green and drink. And it’s not like seen as a celebration, but when you really think about it, like that’s what like, we’re celebrating like, the Christian colonization of Ireland
Yeah. No, exactly. And like, as we’ll talk about a little bit later that colonization was a little bit different than what we would think about for like other colonizations. It was like, there was there was a lot like they were allowed to continue their, a certain amount of their pagan traditions and stuff. And so it was like, it was less oppressive than other historical cases of Christianization. But like, it’s still yeah, like, it’s like it’s still oppressive.
Yeah. And like, that’s what we celebrate.
And that’s what we’re celebrating. Yeah.
Oh, dicey. This episode just got a little spicy, folks. Alright, let’s get back to the information again. Alright, so why does it matter if there were two Patrick’s and which one was maybe more successful? So as we know, in Ireland, there’s been a divide between Catholics and Protestants for as long as we can remember. This means that there’s been political stakes in Patrick’s religious affiliation. Of course, asking whether St. Patrick was Protestant or Catholic is a question founded in historical inaccuracy. The Protestant Reformation only occurred in 1517, whereas both Patricks came to Ireland in the fifth century. However, following the Protestant Reformation, this was a contentious issue. Patrick was in the middle of a tug of war as each denomination, as well as individual churches, sought to link their lineage back to him. Following the Council of Trent, which occurred in kind of the mid to late 1500s, Catholic hagiographies renewed their interest in saints and sought to standardize hagiography so as to limit any abuses. For Irish hagiographers, this was an opportunity to share the stories of Irish saints with the larger Catholic community, as well as to establish St. Patrick as their own. So in these cases, St. Patrick would have been portrayed as being Catholic. As well, during and after the Potato Famine, there was a rise in Irish nationalism. In the religious sector, this was expressed by Protestant and Catholic groups participating in a pamphlet war, as they debated the religious identity of Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.
Hold on, what does a pamphlet war look like? Because that sounds kind of fun.
Sounds very nonviolent. I think it is just people like putting out pamphlets being like, this is the reason he’s Protestant, or this is the reason he’s Catholic.
Just like aggressively at their typewriters.
I kind of love that. We should bring that back. I mean, maybe that’s kind of what the internet is. The modern version of a pamphlet war. What’s Twitter?
With Caps lock on.
Yeah, that’s true. Twitter is a modern version of a pamphlet war. Anyway, so now we logically know that St. Patrick wasn’t actually Protestant, but how Catholic was he? So in his autobiography, it is clear that autobiographical Patrick saw himself as a part of the Roman Catholic Church and its greater mission. But did the Catholic Church actually send him? Despite later tradition saying that Rome commissioned Patrick, this seems unlikely. Rome probably would not have sent a missionary so uneducated as Patrick. Also, one would think that Patrick would have mentioned that in his Confession. Some officials of the Roman Church may have been questioning his mission providing partial insight into why he wrote his Confession in the first place. Though Rome did not commission him, he still saw himself as a part of their Christian mission, referring to those of the Roman mission to whom he presumably is writing his confession as quote unquote brothers. So the Roman Church likely did not identify with his mission as being Catholic while Patrick was alive. Only later, when it served their political agenda did his apparent Roman education and commissioning become a recurring theme in his hagiographies. Thus, while Celtic Christianity was in some ways Catholic, it wasn’t entirely so.
So as we’ve discussed earlier in this episode, but also in our episode on St. Brigid, the Troubles is historically a very important time in Ireland in which there was a conflict. So beginning in 1960 is when the Troubles began. And the Troubles is a three-decade ethnonational conflict that took place in Northern Ireland but also had ramifications all throughout Ireland. A key issue was the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and if it should remain a part of the UK or if it should leave the UK and join the Republic of Ireland. Though this was primarily a political conflict, there was a divide between Protestant and Catholic. So after the end of the Troubles in 1998, there has been some attempt to change Patrick from a symbol of Protestantism or Catholicism or nationalism to be instead a reminder of a common heritage in Christ. As a statement written by the Corrymeela Community says, “this common heritage in Christ through St. Patrick creates a spirituality that predates our modern divisions and has had an influence on both Protestant and Catholic traditions.” So this statement which is which was by made by Corrymeela, which is a peace and reconciliation organization in Northern Ireland, serves as a reminder that often the best way to work through conflict is to focus on commonality instead of difference.
Alright, so now let’s turn more to the mythic St. Patrick, or the fancy, the fancy saint Patrick? The fancy, flashy, flashy pants Patrick. I’m picturing St. Patrick is almost like an Elton John type figure now.
Every time we’ve said flashy or fancy St. Patrick, I imagine like a shimmy of the shoulders along with it.
I’m sure he did that a lot. Alright, so let’s turn now to this mythic St. Patrick. And I’m gonna say mythic, so we stop laughing every time one of us says flashy. Yeah. You’ll remember from the episode on St. Brigid that St. Patrick’s mythic tales also served a political function, though perhaps to a smaller scale than St. Brigid. The hagiographies of Brigid and Patrick were sites of competition between Kildare and Armagh, the monasteries with which each of these saints has been associated during their lifetime. I won’t recap the full back and forth between these literary battles now other than to just bring up the link between these saints and Irish Celtic paganism that were used by the hagiographers as a way to establish authority. On top of using biblical miracles and their stories, the hagiographers relied on pagan symbols and established systems of hierarchy to establish their saint’s authority over Ireland itself. For St. Patrick, this was often done by having him battle Celtic Druids with Christianity. In one story, Patrick challenges the druids at their magical arts and proves them to be powerless and then destroys their idols. This is similar to other stories in the Hebrew Bible that tell tales of similar battles between leaders of the Israelites and the magician’s of other gods such as in the story of Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians. In another story, a king in his Druids were meeting at the hill of Tara, the traditional crowning place of Irish high kings, to light a fire for a pagan celebration, when Patrick lights an Easter fire on the nearby hill of Slane before they had lit theirs, which was forbidden. The king in his party confront Patrick. After an earthquake and general pandemonium, Patrick and his party shapeshift into deer and flee the scene. Not only does this story establish Patrick as more powerful than the druids, but it also tells the story of the first Easter in Ireland. Having Patrick battle the druids and to also have power similar to them establishes him and God as more powerful than the druids, but it also puts him in a place of authority parallel to the druids.
These stories are significant because in the pre-Christian Irish Celtic societal hierarchy, Druids were the most powerful figure even more so than clan leaders. They were a part of the Learned class which consisted of the druids, the filid, and the bards. These classes had different tasks and responsibilities, though they overlapped and changed over time. The bards were singers, poets and storytellers. The filid were poets but also shared various duties with the druids like prophecy, divination and teaching. The Druids and the filid trained for many years to gain proficiency. Sources say that Druids trained for 20 years and that the filid trained for 12.
That’s a long time. I’m glad I’ve got a PhD doesn’t take that long.
It can, that’s true.
I have heard it
Twenty years, could you imagine?
Oh jeez, no, thank you.
I think it probably a lot of the reason why it was longer than like a lot of our education is because it was so focused on oral storytelling. And I would imagine that that just takes a lot longer to memorize and get down. I don’t know.
That’s true. Yeah. If you zone out, you have to get them to start over.
Oh my gosh! Could you imagine like during the like the exam period, “oh sorry I fell asleep could you start again?”
The Druids were the most politically influential group of their time due to their powers of divination, rulers would often seek their advice. They were the mediators between the rulers and the spirit world and so held power over the rulers to keep them in check. Though the druids had the most authority of the Learned class during pre-Christian times, they began to lose this influence as the pagan system began to fade away, and many aspects of their roles got passed on to the filid And the bards. Scholars think that many of those who traditionally would have been Druids, filid and bards instead moved into monasteries, which had a comparable system of education and emphasis on stories. It’s these people that scholars think eventually became the scribes of the monasteries, writing both pagan and Christian stories alike, often with much overlap in themes. There were other incorporations of pre-Christian culture into monasteries, too. In terms of the continuation of Druidry, scholars think that the dress of the Irish monk was a continuation of the traditional dress of the druid, as Irish monks wore a white mantle, which Druids had worn and also adopted a similar tonsure, which is a certain hairstyle that you can look up, that’s really funny.
We highly recommend googling it, or follow us on Instagram, maybe throughout the week, we’ll share different images of different styles of tonsure to show you exactly what it is.
Or maybe if you’re looking for another quarantine haircut, go for this.
Yeah! I feel like this would be really high maintenance, you know?
Like, how do you shave that? How…? I don’t know.
Yeah, no. Well, it’s all a bunch of dudes in monasteries that live together, so I’m sure they’d help each other out.
Yeah, that’s true. What I’m wondering about, so for listeners, it’s either all the hair at the back of your head is just shaved off. Or there’s this like weird one where there’s like a triangle going from your ears to the top of the head. So it’s like a headband. And I’m just wondering, like, how does this shape…? I don’t know. Like, how would you? How would you be able to shave that and not nick yourself?
I’m sure you’d get help from somebody else.
Yeah, but like, you know, I don’t know.
Is it like a ritual? I’m very curious more about tonsure now. Do they do it as like a ritual? Or…
Like, how often do they do that?
It was abandoned by Papal order in 1972.
Banned it? Why did they even do it?
If you’re wondering…
Oh it is a ritual.
If you’re wondering what it looks like, and you don’t want to look it up, it’s like, an example of is what Friar Tuck had.
Isn’t that the Roman one though?
Yeah, there’s so there’s like a Roman one. There’s a Celtic one. All different styles for you to check out.
I think we should do like an Instagram theme week where we just like explain what tonsure is.
I love it
Edit some photos of ourselves. with the hairstyles. “Which one makes me look hottest?”
Vote in the polls in our Instagram stories.
Alright, so the continuation of pre-Christian culture and its incorporation into church practice is quite abnormal in historical instances of Christianization and is a reason that for some people, Celtic Christianity is so controversial.
It was mentioned earlier that people were skeptical of the way in which the autobiographical Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, which prompted Patrick to write his Confessio. While scholars can’t be certain why this was, many think that one of the main reasons was because the Christianization of Ireland was thought to be not “Christian” enough. In fact, this is a common perception of Celtic Christianity by some Christians today. So where does the importance of this question of whether or not self-identifying Christians are “Christian” enough, come from? Christianity is an evangelical religion, which means that Christians often have missionaries that go out into different parts of the world to spread its message. The theological idea is that the gospel or good news of Jesus is so exciting that it should be shared with everybody. But there have been disagreements on how exactly this message should be shared. Very quickly, sharing this evangelism became a systematic Christianisation that also required westernization or Romanization. In other words, it was not enough that a region adopt Christianity as its official religion, it needed to be expressed in the “correct” way. The entire society had to be reshaped to reflect Roman culture. social hierarchies had to change, methods of communication had to change. They had to often adopt the language of Latin, old ways of life were often even outlawed. In this way, Christianization has led to terrible atrocities.
Of course, these areas all have their own cultural practices, religions and folktales. Sometimes evangelists or the people themselves would integrate or translate the Christian story into this culture, a process which is called syncretism. Since this expression of Christianity wasn’t a reflection of Roman or later Protestant Christian culture, it was seen as impure or pagan. As we heard in the previous episode on St. Brigid, this elimination of the pagan didn’t happen in Irish Christianity. As we know, Celtic themes were actually ways in which Irish churches sought to establish authority, particularly in the mythic hagiographies we’ve discussed. In order for this to be an acceptable practice in Irish monasteries, it seemed that St. Patrick must have chose the method of syncretism when he went to Ireland, which resulted in a distinct flavour of Christianity in Ireland. Due to the syncretism,some Christians view this form of Christianity as not being true Christianity due to its quote, unquote, pagan tendencies. It’s important to note that not all Christian missionaries feel this way. Some see syncretism as a method of translation. There’s even theology books that highlight St. Patrick as an example of how to do evangelism in a culturally sensitive way. These types of theologians tend to see the goal of evangelism not as cultural domination or, or coercion, but as a genuine desire to share what they see as joyful and life-changing good news. So as you can see, the relationship between Christianity and culture is very, very complicated. So far, in this discussion of Celtic Christianity, there’s been a lot of discussion of what is perceived as right or wrong theologies. And if you think back to our very first episode, our introduction to the podcast, this is more of a theological approach rather than a religious studies approach. And I know I’m very interested, Jacqueline, because I know you studied when you did this thesis you studied at a college that was predominantly theology focused rather than Religious Studies focused. And I was wondering if you have any insights into kind of this debate and how this came about for you during your research?
Right, so as I talked about in the episode on St. Brigid, even though I was studying it, studying at a largely theological institution, I was coming at it from a religious studies kind of historical framework, because I was I had decided that I wanted to study Celtic Christianity historically, rather than theologically. So I was looking at it as a movement moreso than specifically at the theology. But I remember in my thesis defense, a more conservative faculty member derailed the question period around my research, to essentially just ust assert that they didn’t think that Celtic Christians were in fact, real Christians. And I remember feeling very frustrated with this. Because it didn’t have anything to do with my research at all. My research was just about like the history and yeah, just like how Celtic Christianity has changed over time, and it wasn’t about “were these people really Christian.” So for me, if someone says that they’re Christian, then I believe them that they are a Christian. So I would say, because this podcast is talking about, like Religious Studies scholarship, I would say that the role of a religious study scholar is to believe people are what they say they are, and in general, not do research that the primary aim is is to disprove a belief system. If someone wants to do that, then that’s fine. That’s theology just it’s not religious studies scholarship. And so I just found that very, it was very confusing, because I think I think this faculty member thought that I was doing theology when I wasn’t. And so he was, he was very concerned about the ideas that I was discussing
That you’re really going down the wrong path or something?
Yeah, the slippery slope is something that I’ve heard before.
From a fellow student, not from a professor.
I think it’s interesting that you bring this up. Because this is kind of rejigging in my memory. I don’t know if either of you remember, but for one of our courses, in our master’s program, we read something about kind of the divide between religion and science. And I remember distinctly that one of the things they talked about was the fact that oftentimes, people assume that scientists are atheist because, you know, how can you possibly, you know, reconcile the difference between science and knowledge and, you know, blind belief system and religion right? But what they actually find is that people who study religion are often atheists, and people who are scientists aren’t. Like you find more like a higher percentage in religion and like sociology and kind of like the humanities that study religion end up being more atheist and more like atheist inclined, which I find very interesting. And I think that’s like an interesting aside to like your comment about the role of the religious studies scholar and it is interesting though, because I find like I rarely read academic work from religious studies scholars that seeks to disprove belief systems. But oftentimes, then when you ask them like, “Well, what do you think?” they’re like “Well, I, I’m an atheist.” So it’s an interesting kind of like balance of doing research respectfully.
And I also want to emphasize that, like, a lot of my profs were theologians, in my undergrad, and they were, they were great theologians and great scholars, and a lot of them like, wouldn’t do their research to, yeah, to make moral judgments about other people. Um, so it’s, it’s just a very particular strand of theology, I guess that like, yeah, that just like goes around making judgments about other people, about what is right and wrong practice. And it’s, it’s very difficult to read. Like, sometimes I’m not sure if you, you folks have had this experience too but like when you’re, when you’re trying to research something that maybe a lot of religious studies scholars haven’t covered yet in research, and then you come across some of these articles where they’re making these judgments. This happened to me regarding like, disability and stuff, and it’s just, it’s just really hard to read. But it’s not, it’s not like the main landscape of theological study. It’s just like a small, often, like your small Bible colleges will be the ones that will be like… yeah.
For sure, especially the ones that are very solidified in a specific theology. Because I even know like, I’ve looked at doing my PhD in theology, and I’ve looked at different colleges that some of them like, if you look at like U of T theology school, it’s very broad. It’s very open, like you can kind of study whatever theology you’re interested in. I’ve read other like reviews from other schools where like, it’s very specific. And if you do not agree with their theology, you shouldn’t even apply.
Yeah, and I’m just thinking too, linking this back to St. Patrick. and… within theology, there’s this, there’s this strand of study called missiology, which is like the study of missionaries. And so a lot of these small Bible colleges are there to, yeah, to teach pastors and to teach future missionaries. And so it’s kind of scary to me that some of these places are the ones that have this more conservative, like less, what’s the word I’m looking for? Like, less respect, less empathetic, less respect for other cultures, and they are often the ones that go to these other cultures. And that makes me very nervous.
That’s maybe a topic for another time. I feel like we could do a whole episode talking about like missionaries.
A lot of my I did it like my paper that was on African witchcraft. There were some papers that were like, by, like by these missiologists because a lot of this witchcraft will be studied by like missionaries being like, “what the heck is going on?” And they’re the ones writing the papers, and they’re the ones making the moral judgments in their papers about why African witchcraft is apparently the most terrible thing in the world. Yes, side note. Okay. Are we ready for more uplifting? This is the last thing. Are you ready?
I’m ready. We were given strict instructions that we weren’t allowed to look at Jacqueline’s trivia. I find it hilarious that you added it to the shared document when you easily could have just had your own document elsewhere.
if you follow us on Instagram, you’ll maybe I shared in our story the other day. The thing that Jacqueline put but she put in massive letters, “Leprechaun trivia, do not scroll past here!”
The text is in white!
Then she put the text in white so I was curious. So I scrolled! I didn’t highlight the text.
I listened that much.
So this first question isn’t just about leprechauns. It is about St. Patrick’s Day in general. Okay. So which is true. Shamrocks are associated with St. Patrick because he is said to have used the Shamrock as a way to teach the concept of the Trinity. Number two, or B. Leprechauns are associated with St. Patrick’s Day because, according to myth, St. Patrick interacted with these mischievious creatures and actually ended up converting a few of them. C. It is archaeologically possible that St. Patrick did in fact vanish snakes from Ireland as there are snake remains that have been dated to before the approximate arrival of Patrick in Ireland and then none after. D. All of these are false.
I’m gonna go with C. I feel like C is true. I think the snake thing is true.
I think A is true.
You are correct.
So but to clarify here I realized in my writing so my intention was actually for the answer to be D but then I realized I said because “he is said to have used the Shamrock.” You’ll probably in your Catholic schooling probably be told this but there is nowhere actually outside of common myth that St. Patrick used the Shamrock to explain the Trinity. So it’s just it’s one of those like, what’s it called those…
Mythologically to true but not factually true?
Exactly like urban legend. Yeah, but like not even like in like flashy. Patrick isn’t said to have done this. You know, this is just like, Catholic schooling…
We just made that up?
Oh, like a cute little folklore tale. Yeah, gotcha.
Okay, so our next our next questions have to do specifically with the leprechaun. Which is not listed as a possible etymology of the word leprechaun. My pronunciations will be terrible. The compound of the roots “lú” or “laghu,” from Greek “small” or “corp” from the Latin “corpus” body. B. Luperci and the associated Roman festival of Lupercalia. C. “leith,” meaning half or drog… nope. Brogue. Because of the frequent portrayal of the leprechaun as working on a single shoe, so brogue means shoe. D. All these are true.
I’m going to go with B.
C is not true.
Any explanations why?
I can’t find a link between leprechauns and Lupercalia in my mind.
I don’t know anything about Lupercalia.
We talked about it in pancake Tuesday?
Oh, that’s Lupercalia? There’s so many… I know there’s Saturnalia. They all sound similar, in my mind.
Honestly like, okay, I studied this more directly than I think you did. And I still can’t keep them straight.
Final answers? Great. Oh, I guess. Yeah, you want to do want to say…
Always go with C if you don’t know the answer.
They’re all they’re all actually true. Um, yeah. So…
We both lost on that one.
Yeah. I think probably just because they like partying Lupercalia. That’s my understanding is there’s partying at Lupercalia.
Do leprechauns like parties?
Oh, I didn’t realize leprechauns partied.
I don’t know
It explains a lot! St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are starting to make more sense in my head. Okay, here’s my pitch. Instead of celebrating the colonization of Ireland under Christian like Catholicism? We should reframe it as a celebration of Lupercalia.
But doesn’t that, that happen on Fat Tuesday?
In the spring. It’s a spring celebration.
Yeah, we can just everything in spring can be Lupercalia.
Yeah, that’s fair. No, because remember, if we go back to Pancake Tuesday, yeah, you’ll remember my rant about the fact that not everything needs to be a link to a pagan holiday. And how, like, contemporary ex Christians like to be like, “Gah, they must have stole this from the pagans” and my argument was that “No, in fact, Pancake Tuesday has nothing to do with pagans.”
Okay, I want to hear the next question.
In the previous episode, on St. Brigid, we talked about that Tuatha De, or the sidh, who were the fae that often lived in fairie mounds. What does not describe the leprechaun’s relation to the sidh. A, leprechauns are a category of sidh that generally have their homes in or on rainbows instead of in fairy mountains. B. Leprechauns are strictly solitary fairies, whereas the sidh are more social. C, leprechauns get up to good-natured mischief, but the sidh may pull tricks that are a bit mean spirited. D. leprechauns may actually be more akin to the classification of a dwarf, or a household familiar than a sidh
So that leprechauns do not get up to good-natured mischief or however you want to negate that point.
I’m gonna go with C two
It is actually A.
Okay, but I felt like option B and option C countered.
Yeah, that’s the thing. They’re not, it’s all mixed up. But most do not consider leprechauns to be a category of the sidh. They have like different, different beginnings, which is maybe the next… What? What where you going to say?
Now I feel like this trivia isn’t fair, because we just spent the whole episode being like, there’s a lot of contradictory information. Nobody really knows anything about Celtic Christianity. And now you’re like, “Now I’m gonna quiz you on answers that contradict each other.” But it’s fine, because they’re both true because like we said, there’s no right answer.
*laughs* Maybe. So this next question may clarify the beginnings of the leprechaun. I don’t want to spoil it. Because that might like explain it.
Okay, hit us with the next question!
Which is true. Prior to the 20th century, leprechauns were often described as wearing blue instead of green. B. Since leprechauns showed up late in Irish folklore, they, they have always been portrayed as wearing the same style of clothing that we see them in today. C. an early version of the leprechaun showed up as part of the Tuatha De in the saga “The taking up Ireland,” which is a saga that we discussed in the previous episode. D. The earliest known story involving a leprechaun was a medieval tale, where they grant a king three wishes when he catches them. Which is true.
I like D.
Yeah, I really liked D. I definitely don’t think it’s B. All right, and hear me out. I do recall, seeing images of leprechauns that were terrifying. As opposed to the cutesy little Lucky Charms ones we know today. So I feel like that one’s not true. And you’re giving me a look that makes me think that I like I’m second-guessing it entirely.
I’m just excited to be here!
Alright, tell us tell us we both say D.
You are both correct!
I have interesting information to share about the other ones.
Okay. So I guess Oh, yeah. For the previous one, the reason why the beginnings are so confused is because there was this fairy that was like pre-leprechaun. And so when people think that leprechauns are fairies, but they’re like, they’re actually like, they have very different beginnings. And so it’s very confusing.
They have “fairy” different beginnings?
Yes! But also, what I read in this, this research is that basically everywhere around Ireland prior to the 20th 20th century, leprechauns actually wore red. Yeah! And it was only…
I can see that more than blue.
It’s only after, like immigration to the US and like, like the Irish immigrant community, and this association with Ireland being green, that leprechaun have been wearing green. But also, so um, so originally, the dress of the leprechauns varied, like quite differently across regions of Ireland, even though they always were red. But like the hat and the buckle shoes, they’re thought to have their origin in the Elizabethan period. So the styles of the clothes that were still being worn in Ireland in the 19th century, apparently, like, they would be often worn in Ireland, like long after they were out of fashion in England. And so it was common for Irish immigrants to come to like North America and still be wearing these clothes. And so there’s this association with like Irish people wearing these sorts of Elizabethan clothes and so that is apparently why leprechauns wear what we often think of them as wearing even though it’s quite historically different. And that is the end of the trivia.
I learned a lot about leprechauns. Yeah, I previously knew no information except for, like I said, some leprechauns look terrifying, and some are, bring lucky charms. And there’s no in-between. I know nothing in between.
So Rachel won, two to one.
What do I get?
I don’t know, a high five
A meaningful high five
A meaningful high five
Listeners, we have been told from some of you that it’d be helpful if we kind of did like a summary at the end just to kind of like go over what we talked about, key points, you know, interesting things. And I have a pitch for this. All right, hear me out. So I think that each of us should take one piece of information that we thought was the most interesting the top, you know, thing that we wanted to get across and share with our listeners.
Yep, that sounds good.
Yeah, just like short little blips?
Yeah, just like a little like… Okay, so the most interesting thing that I realized in this episode was, I’ve never taken the time to think about the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that we participate in versus the historical St. Patrick. So I’ve always known like, there’s a very big disconnect there. But it wasn’t until recording this episode that it dawned on me that we are technically celebrating the expansion of the Christian Empire by drinking excessively and making our pancakes green. So that’s, that’s one of the most interesting things I learned. I think that’s the biggest takeaway, whether or not you want to call that colonialism or not as a different thing.
My biggest my favourite thing that I learned this episode was about the different types of Patrick’s because one of the things that really got me into religious studies as a field was looking at the historical Jesus versus like the Jesus like you read in the Bible and all that, like, who Jesus was as a person. So it’s really cool to look into who Patrick was as a person. Maybe he was multiple people. Maybe he was super flashy sometimes. And maybe he was super, you know, super sad.
Maybe he was the Elton John of Celtic saints.
Maybe he always did shoulder shimmies, you know…
I really hope so.
And also, I know more about leprechauns than I thought. Which wasn’t much.
I didn’t necessarily learn too much personally, in this episode, because this is
you taught us everything.
But like, what’s the one takeaway? Like if there’s one takeaway you could give to the audience?
St. Patrick is a cool dude. Is generally, Yeah.
Yeah. Expand on that. What parts are cool?
He’s like very… there’s lots of different aspects to him. He’s a very complicated, yeah, I don’t know, very complicated.
His writing was complicated.
Yeah, very self-deprecating. I think we should all build ourselves up more in our journal writing. Not that I do journal writing, but I feel like it’s like you’re writing in your journal. You should like you get to choose what to write like, be positive. Talk about yourself nicely. You know?
St. Patrick teaches us so much.
I feel like we should give people some journaling prompts on how to not be St. Patrick in your journals.
Yeah, so write… So if your journal or if you don’t journal. Um…
How not to be St. Patrick.
How not to be St. Patrick! You know, write some good things about yourself in your journal today. Don’t, don’t be, don’t be a downer, St. Patrick. Be a vibrant, flashy St. Patrick.
Now just close out with shoulder shimmies.
If you’re listening, shoulder shimmy with us as we end this episode with a beautiful Celtic medley.