Nine Noble Virtues
The Odinic Rite lists the 9 Noble Virtues as Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self-Reliance, and Perseverance.
It would be hard to get much argument on any of these values from anyone. They simply and briefly encapsulate the broad wisdom of our Gods and ancestors.
In virtually every statement of values applied to Asatru, Courage is listed first. As Stephen McNallen has said, courage and bravery are perhaps the values which the Vikings are best known for. However, despite our history, few of us face such turmoil as a literal battle for ones life. In fact, I believe it might be easier to manifest courage in such a situation than to do so in the many smaller day to day occurrences in which courage is called for.
The most common of these occurrences for modern Pagans, is the courage to acknowledge and live ones beliefs. It is also, sadly, the one that we most often fail at. While we may often be full of the type of courage that would lead us to face a shield wall, many of us quake at the thought of the topic of religion coming up at the office or a friend asking what church we attend. We won’t offer easy answers, but we ask this: if you toast the courage of your ancestors to fight and die for what they believed in, can you trade away your religious identity for a higher salary or social acceptance?
In an essay on values there is also the question of moral courage. The way of Tyr is difficult to lose ones hand for ones beliefs but, Tyr thought the price worth paying. In a million ways modern society challenges our values, not just as Asatruar who are estranged from mainstream religious practice, but for religious people in an increasingly not just secular, but anti-religious culture. Values are also not in favor in modern society. Breaking or getting around the rules is encouraged to get ahead. Living honorably is simply too inconvenient. I think most people, Asatru or otherwise, find this repugnant, but the only way to change it is to have the courage to refuse to take part in it.
The second virtue, that of Truth, is the one that most led our kindred to embrace the Odinic Rite’s statement of values as our own. Early in our discussions, we decided that no matter what values we chose to hold out as our own, truth must be among them. It is a word that holds so much in its definition, and includes such a wide variety of moral and philosophical beliefs that we were all drawn to it as a simple statement of what we stood for.
At least one of the reasons we wanted to adopt it was the simple issue of honesty. As Bill Dwinnels said at a recent sumbel while toasting truth and honesty: if you don’t want people to know about something, don’t do it. Truth, in the sense of honesty, is essential to personal honor and also to any system or morality that is not based on rigid legalism. If one is to uphold an honor code, one must be brutally honest with oneself and with others.
Truth is also the Truth that comes with a capital T, the kind of Truth that one talks about in terms of religion or morality. It’s common to talk of different peoples having different “truths,” but it’s equally important to remember that while we acknowledge that each person or people has their own belief as to what Truth is or where to find it, there finally is a single Truth. This is not the Truth as we believe it, but ultimate Truth. While we may respect other people’s truths and seek our own, we must never forget our search for The Truth. Like the Holy Grail of Christian legend, it may never be ours to reach, but when we cease to search we perish.
Honor is the basis for the entire Asatru moral rationale. If anything comes out in the Eddas and Sagas it is that without honor we are nothing. We remember two types of peoples from ancient times: those whose honor was so clean that they shine as examples to us and those who were so without honor that their names are cursed a thousand years after they lived. Good Asatruar should always strive to be among the former.
However, honor is not mere reputation. Honor is an internal force whose outward manifestation is reputation. Internal honor is the sacred moral compass that each Asatruar and God should hold dear. It is the inner dwelling at peace which comes from living in accordance with ones beliefs and with ones knowledge of the Truth of what one is doing. It is something deeply personal and heartfelt, almost akin to an emotion. It’s a knowing that what one is doing is right and decent and correct.
In many ways while the most important of all the virtues it is also the most ephemeral in terms of description. It is all the other virtues rolled together and then still more. The best way I have found to describe honor is that if you are truly living with honor, you will have no regrets about what you have done with your life.
Fidelity is a word that is far too often defined by it’s narrow use in terms of marital fidelity. By the dictionary it simply means being faithful to someone or something. In marriage this means being true to ones vows and partner, and this has been narrowly defined as limiting ones sexual experience to ones spouse. While I have found this to be great practical advice, many treat fidelity as if there were no other ways in which one could be faithful or unfaithful.
For we Asatruar fidelity is most important in terms of our faith and troth to the Gods. We must remain true to the Aesir and Vanir and to our kinsmen. Like marriage, Profession (the rite in which one enters the Asatru faith, similar to Christian confirmation or Wiccan initiation) is a sacred bond between two parties; in this case an Asatruar and the Gods. In order for such a relationship to work, both must be honest and faithful to each other.
Asatru, although currently being reborn, is at its roots a folk religion and we also uphold the value of fidelity to the ways of our ancestors. This is why historical research is so important to the Asatru-folk: it is the rediscovering of our ancient ways and our readopting of them.
In any discussion of the values of Asatru, discipline is best described as self-discipline. It is the exercise of personal will that upholds honor and the other virtues and translates impulse into action. If one is to be able to reject moral legalism for a system of internal honor, one must be willing to exercise the self-discipline necessary to make it work. Going back to my earlier criticism of society, if one rejects legalism, one must be willing to control ones own actions. Without self-discipline, we have the mess we currently see in our culture.
Looking at discipline in terms of fidelity, we see a close connection. Many Pagans go from faith to faith, system to system, path to path. Asatruar are much less likely to do this. The discipline of keeping faith with our Gods and the ways of our ancestors is part of our modern practice. In this way, we limit ourselves in some ways, but we gain much more in others.
Hospitality is simply one of the strongest core values at the heart of virtually every ancient human civilization. In a community/folk religion such as our own, it is the virtue that upholds our social fabric. In ancient times it was essential that when a traveler went into the world he could find some sort of shelter and welcome for the night. In modern times it is just as essential that a traveler find friendship and safety.
In our modern Asatru community, we need to treat each other with respect and act together for the good of our community as a whole. This functions most solidly on the level of the kindred or hearth where nonfamilial members become extremely close and look out for each other. It can mean hospitality in the old sense of taking in people, which we’ve done, but in modern times it’s more likely to mean loaning someone a car or a bit of money when they need it (that’s need, not want).
Part of hospitality is treating other people with respect and dignity. Many of our Gods are known to wander the world and stop in at people’s houses, testing their hospitality and generosity. The virtue of hospitality means seeing people as if they were all individuals with self-respect and importance. Or perhaps from time to time, they are literally the Gods in human form. This has profound implications for social action in our religion. Our response to societal problems such as poverty (that’s poverty folks, not laziness) is in many ways our modern reaction to this ancient virtue.
In terms of our modern community as a whole, I see hospitality in terms of frontier “barn raisings” where a whole community would come together and pool their resources. This doesn’t mean we have to forget differences, but we must put them aside for those who are of our Folk, and work for our common good.
Modern Asatruar must be industrious in their actions. We need to work hard if we are going to achieve our goals. There is so much for us to do. We’ve set ourselves the task of restoring Asatru to it’s former place as a mainstream faith and by doing so reinvigorating our society and culture. We can’t do this by sitting on our virtues, we need to make them an active part of our behavior. Industry also refers to simple hard work in our daily vocations, done with care and pride.
Here’s a few concrete examples. If you are reading this and don’t have a kindred, why not? Stop reading now. Go and place ads in the appropriate local stores, get your name on the Ring of Troth, Wyrd Network, or Asatru Alliance networking lists, and with other Pagan groups. Put on a workshop. Ok, now you’re back to reading and you don’t agree with what I’m saying here? Well, be industrious! Write your own articles and arguments. Write a letter to the editor and suggest this material be banned better that than passivity. Get the blood moving and go out and do it. That’s how it gets done. The Gods do not favor the lazy.
The same holds true for our non-religious lives. As Asatruar we should offer a good example as industrious people who add to whatever we’re involved in rather than take from it. We should be the ones the business we work in can’t do without and the ones who always seem to be able to get things done. When people think of Asatru, they should think of people who are competent and who offer something to the world.
This doesn’t just apply to vocational work, but to the entire way we live our lives. It is just as much a mentality. The Vikings were vital people. They lived each day to its fullest and didn’t wring their hands in doubt or hesitation. We should put the same attitude forward in all that we do whether it is our usual vocation, devotion to the Gods, or leisure time.
Industry brings us directly to the virtue of Self-Reliance, which is important both in practical and traditional terms. Going back to the general notion of this article, we are dealing with a form of morality that is largely self-imposed and thus requires self-reliance. We rely on ourselves to administer our own morality.
Traditionally, our folkways have always honored the ability of a man or woman to make their own way in the world and not to lean on others for their physical needs. This is one of the ways in which several virtues reinforce and support each other. Hospitality cannot function if people are not responsible enough to exercise discipline and take care of themselves. It’s for those that strive and fail or need assistance that hospitality is intended, not for the idle who simply won’t take care of themselves.
In terms of our relationships with the Gods, self-reliance is also very important. If we wish the Gods to offer us their blessings and gifts, we must make ourselves worthy of them and the Gods are most pleased with someone who stands on their own two feet. This is one of the reasons for the Asatru rule that we do not kneel to the Gods during our ceremonies. By standing we acknowledge our relationship as striving and fulfilled people looking for comradeship and a relationship, rather than acting as scraelings looking for a handout from on high. It takes very little for a God to attract a follower, if worship simply means getting on the gravy train. We, as Asatruar, are people who can make our own way in the world, but who choose to seek a relationship with the Gods.
In mundane terms being self-reliant is a simple way to allow ourselves the ability to live as we wish to. In simple economic terms, if one has enough money in the bank one doesn’t need to worry as much about being fired due to religious discrimination. We can look a bigot in the face and tell him just where he can put it. It’s also nice to have something in the bank to lay down as a retainer on a good lawyer so we can take appropriate action.
On the other side of this is self-reliance in the sense of Henry David Thoreau, who advocated a simple lifestyle that freed one from the temptations of materialism. Again, here we are able to live as we wish with those things that are truly important. Religious people from all faiths have found that adjusting ones material desires to match one’s ability to meet them leaves one open for a closer relationship with deity and a more fulfilling life. While our ancestors were great collectors of gold goodies, they didn’t lust for possessions in and of themselves, but for what they stood for and could do for them. In fact, the greatest thing that could be said of a Lord was that he was a good Ring Giver.
Being self-reliant also means taking responsibility for ones life. It’s not just about refusing a welfare check or not lobbying for a tax exemption, but also refusing to blame ones failures on religious intolerance, the patriarchy, or an unfair system. The system may, in fact, be unfair, but it’s our own responsibility to deal with it.
In societal terms, we have become much too dependent on other people for our own good. As individuals we look to the government or to others to solve our problems and as a society we borrow billions from our descendants to pay for today’s excesses. Most problems in this world could be solved if people just paid their own way as they went.
The final virtue is Perseverance which I think most appropriate because it is the one that we most need to keep in mind in our living of the other values. Our religion teaches us that the world is an imperfect place, and nothing comes easy. We need to continue to seek after that which we desire. In this imperfect world there are no free lunches or easy accomplishments especially in the subjects we have set before ourselves. If we truly wish to build an Asatru community that people will hold up as an example of what committed people can do, then we must persevere through the hardships that building our religion is going to entail. We must be willing to continue on when we are pushed back. If one loses a job for ones religion, the answer is not to go back and hide, but to continue until one finds a vocation where one can more forward and live as an Asatruar should.
Finally we must persevere when we simply fail. If one’s kindred falls apart because of internal strife, one should go back and start over. Pick up the pieces and continue on. If nobody had done this after the disintegration of the Asatru Free Assembly, this would probably never have been written. We must be willing to continue in the hard work of making our religion strong not just when it is convenient and easy to do so, but when it gets hard, inconvenient, or just plain boring. To accomplish without striving is to do little, but to persevere and finally accomplish a hard fought goal brings great honor.
(Written by Lewis Stead from the Raven Kindred’s ritual book)
May 13 – June 9
The Hawthorn is a prickly sort of plant with beautiful blossoms. Called Huath by the ancient Celts, and pronounced Hoh-uh, the Hawthorn month is a time of fertility, masculine energy, and fire. Coming right on the heels of Beltane, this month is a time when male potency is high — if you’re hoping to conceive a child, get busy this month! The Hawthorn has a raw, phallic sort of energy about it — use it for magic related to masculine power, business decisions, making professional connections. The Hawthorn is also associated with the realm of Faerie, and when the Hawthorn grows in tandem with an Ash and Oak, it is said to attract the Fae.
Grant, O God/Goddess, Thy Protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences, the love of God/Goddess.
God/Goddess and all goodness.
Who will hold my hand?
Who will send the energy on to weave a circle of light?
I call on the light,
I call to the Lord and the Lady, whatever you wish to call them,
I call to the four corners of the Earth,
Strengthen this circle and let the power grow,
Let the love flow!
–A Druidic Prayer
–Amended From: The Book Of Druidry by Ross Nichols
An Irish Witch Bottle for Protection
Find a small bottle and fill it with needles, pins and Rosemary.
As you add these things to the bottle say: “Pins, needles, rosemary, wine.
In this Witch’s bottle of mine; Guard against harm and enmity; This is my will, so mote it be”
Visualize the herbs doing just that. When the bottle is full, add red wine.
Cork or cap the bottle. Drip wax from a RED or BLACK Candle to seal the bottle.
Bury the bottle at the furthest corner of your property or in the house out of sight.
The bottle destroys negativity and evil and protects you and your property.
Irish Shoe Spell for Protection
Obtain an old shoe.
Stuff it with protective objects:
pins, needles, nails, tacks, scissors.
Add protective Herbs:
rosemary, basil, bay or fern.
Hang it in the attic or basement saying:
“I place this charm of power to guard my home from this hour.”
St. Patricks Day: Why He Slaughtered the Druids
St. Patrick was born around 450 AD on the Scottish border. His father was a Christian Roman soldier and his mother was a native British woman. Only two of his letters survive telling details about his life. When he was fourteen to sixteen years old, he was taken into captivity in Ireland by the Irish raiders in Britain; he tended cattle for more than six years. In this time of captivity, he drew closer to God before finally escaping on a trading ship. He returned years later to spread Catholicism throughout Ireland while destroying the Druids who resisted Roman and British rule in Ireland. Because he believed so strongly in the Catholic Church, he thought that anyone who was not Christian had to become one in order to be ³saved´. Those who resisted were slaughtered in the Christian holy wars of Gaul
The Irish people at that time were happy and doing quite well. However, St.Patrick was insistent that the Pagan Celts convert to Christianity. He noticed that the Druids were the most powerful people of the Celts, so he figured that if he could convert them, then the rest of the people would follow. When the Druids refused to be bribed by the Romans, this angered the rulers of the Catholic Church.St. Patrick declared that he would drive all of the snakes out of Ireland. ³Snakes´was a metaphor for the Druids.
Since the Druids did not write their teachings down, all we know about them is was handed down to us by the Romans. It was often said that the Celts were heathens who could not read or write, but they did know how to read and write in Greek. While they didn¶t write down the secret teachings of the Druids, they were expected to memorize the knowledge. Julius Caesar had this to say about the Druids:
The Druids usually hold aloof from war, and do not pay war-taxes with the rest; they are excused from military service and exempt from all liabilities. Tempted by these great rewards, many young men assemble of their own motion to receive their training; many are sent by parents and relatives. Report says that in the schools of the Druids. They learn by heart a great number of verses, and therefore some persons remain twenty years in training. And they do not think it proper to commit these utterances to writing,although in almost all other matters, and in their private and public accounts, they make use of Greek letters. I believe that they have adopted the practice for two reasons ± that they do not wish the rule to become common property, nor those who learn the rule to rely on writing and so neglect the cultivation of the memory;and, in fact, it does usually happen that the assistance of writing tends to relax the diligence of the student and the action of the memory. The cardinal doctrine which they seek to teach is that souls do not die, but after death pass from one to another; and this belief, as the fear of death is thereby cast aside, they hold to be the greatest incentive to valour. (Caesar The Gallic War VI.13-14)
We do know that Druidism was a science and not a religion. It was the study of the relationships between opposites: summer and winter, men and women,consciousness and unconsciousness, force and matter. Some of the main tenets:
*Every action has a consequence that must be observed and you must be prepared to compensate for your actions if required.
* Life is sacred and all are responsible for seeing that this standard is upheld.
*You do still live in society and are bound by its rules.
*Work with high standards.
*Make an honest living.
*Be a good host as well as a good guest.
*Take care of yourself. (Health was held in high esteemamongst the Celts, so much that a person could be finedfor being grossly overweight due to lack of care.)
*Serve your community.
*Maintain a healthy balance of the spiritual and mundane.(Nihtscad writes: Ethical and self respecting Druids did nothing without being properly schooled or aware of the consequences ahead of time. They knew when it was appropriate to visit the Otherworld and immerse themselves in the spiritual as well as when it was appropriate to be fully in this world.
*Uphold the Truth, starting with yourself.
*Be sure in your convictions, particularly when judging or accusing someone, but also when debating. Ask yourself:are you really sure? Do you really know that this the case?
One part of the Druid class were the ³Bards´, whose job it was to remember all of the history of the people. The Celts did not rely on a written language because they memorized the songs and poetry of the Bards. The Irish believed that history was very important, for if you didn¶t remember what had happened in the past, you couldn¶t safely plan for the future.Druid priests were the keepers of the knowledge of
Earth and Spirits. It was their responsibility to learn the spirit world in order to keep people in harmony with nature. Priests performed marriages, baptisms, and acted as psychiatrists and doctors.The Romans considered the Celts to be good fighters. In 300 BC, Alexander the Great considered it prudent to treat the Celts as equals. In the fourth century,Ammianus Marcellinus, a Byzantine writer, wrote of the Celts:
Nearly all the Gaels are of a lofty stature, fair and of ruddy complexion:terrible from the sternness of their eyes, and of great pride and insolence. A whole troop of foreigners would not be able to withstand a single Gaul if he called his wife to his assistance, which is usually very strong and with blue eyes.
Ancient Celtic women could be warriors. Legend says that Scathach, a female warrior from Isle of Skye in Scotland, trained a great Irish hero, Cuchilainn. Boudicca, a red-haired queen of the British Iceni tribe, led a revolt against the Romans following her husband¶s death.During large battles, the Celts had a strategy to terrify their opponents: they blew war horns, they roared, they rumbled chariots, they banged their swords on their shields, and then they attacked the enemy. These tactics did not work against the well-trained Romans who were trained to resist the attacks of their enemies. The Celts became disheartened by their inability to break the Romans quickly. The main reason why the Celts lost the war was due to the fact that they were not united. Clans attacked farms and stole cattle and other goods during the battles.This caused many Celts to view their own clans as enemies and kept them from uniting as a people. They did not understand how important it was to fight together as an army against the Romans.St. Patrick destroyed the influence of the Druids by destroying the sacred sites of the people and building churches and monasteries where the Druids used to live and teach. Instead of hearing the teachings and advice of the Druids, the people began to hear the teachings of Rome. Because the Druids were the only ones who were taught to remember the history, with the Druids dead and their influence broken, the history was forgot
By killing off the teachers and the wise ones, Catholicism could be spread. For this mass conversion of a culture to Christianity, and for the killing of thousands of innocent people, Patrick was made a Saint by his church.
Why Do We Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?
The history of St Patrick’s Day in America, however, begins with Irish soldiers serving in the British army. Befitting of the Irish, it is a tale of Irish patriotism and evolving political power. That very first parade in New York City not only helped the homesick Irish soldiers connect with their roots through the familiar strains of traditional Irish music—usually featuring bagpipes and drums, but also helped them to connect with one another, finding strength in numbers. Over the years as nearly a million Irish immigrants fled to America in the wake of the Great Potato Famine, St Patrick’s Day parades became a display of solidarity and political strength as these often ridiculed Irish immigrants were frequently victims of prejudice. Soon enough, their numbers were recognized and the Irish soon organized and exerted their political muscle, becoming known as the “green machine”.
Today, St Patrick’s Day celebrations abound. Decidedly less religious, St Patrick’s Day celebrations continue to be a show of Irish strength and patriotism. So, get our your green and get ready to celebrate!
How Green Became Associated With St. Patrick’s Day and All Things Irish
On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is seeing green—whether it’s the green Chicago River, green beer, green milkshakes or green clothing and bead necklaces. Many might believe that the Emerald Isle and the color green are linked because of the country’s verdant landscape, but the association actually traces its roots to Irish political history.
In fact, blue is believed to have been associated with Ireland before green was. Henry the VIII claimed to be king of Ireland in the 16th century, and his flag at that point would have been blue. That’s at least one reason why a blue flag with a harp is associated with the Irish President. (The harp is one of the two main symbols of Ireland, along with the Shamrock, and it dates back to the bards whose songs and stories were the chief entertainment in medieval Gaelic society.) A light blue became associated with the Order of St. Patrick, an 18th century era order of knights, perhaps to create a shade of blue for the Irish that was different from the royal blue associated with the English, says Timothy McMahon, Vice President of the American Conference for Irish Studies.
McMahon argues the earliest use of green for nationalistic reasons was seen during the violent Great Irish Rebellion of 1641, in which displaced Catholic landowners and bishops rebelled against the authority of the English crown, which had established a large plantation in the north of Ireland under King James I in the early 17th century. Military commander Owen Roe O’Neill helped lead the rebellion, and used a green flag with a harp to represent the Confederation of Kilkenny, a group that sought to govern Ireland and kick out the Protestants who had taken control of that land in the north of Ireland. (They were ultimately defeated by Oliver Cromwell.)
The color green cropped up again during an effort in the 1790s to bring nonsectarian, republican ideas to Ireland, inspired by the American revolution and the French revolution. The main society that promoted this idea, the Society of United Irishmen, wore green, especially an Irish version of the “liberty caps” worn during the French Revolution. One police report described their uniform as comprised of a dark green shirt cloth coat, green and white striped trousers, and a felt hat turned up on one side with a green emblematic cockade.
Though the rest of the uniform eventually faded from popular wear, the importance of the color green spread, thanks in part to the poems and ballads written during this time, most famously “The Wearing of the Green.”
“You start to see different traditions building up around colors — the Protestant tradition is orange, the nationalist tradition associated with the Catholics is green,” McMahon adds.
The origins of the wearing of green clothing in the U.S. on St. Patrick’s Day and for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in general date back to the 19th century, when waves of Irish immigrants came to America looking for better job opportunities, especially after the Great Famine of the 1840s-50s, and began wearing green and carrying Irish flags along with American flags as a point of pride for their home country.
Originally Published in Time Magazine
Author: Olivia B. Waxman
The History of the Shamrock
Full of symbolism, this plant has mystical roots
by Michelle Gervais
Shamrocks have been symbolic of many things over the years. According to legend, the shamrock was a sacred plant to the Druids of Ireland because its leaves formed a triad, and three was a mystical number in the Celtic religion, as in many others. St. Patrick used the shamrock in the 5th century to illustrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as he introduced Christianity to Ireland.
“Wearin’ o’ the green”
The shamrock became symbolic in other ways as time went on. In the 19th century it became a symbol of rebellion, and anyone wearing it risked death by hanging. It was this period that spawned the phrase “the wearin’ o’ the green”. Today, the shamrock is the most recognized symbol of the Irish, especially on St. Patrick’s Day, when all over the world, everyone is Irish for a day!
The original Irish shamrock (traditionally spelled seamróg, which means “summer plant”) is said by many authorities to be none other than white clover (Trifolium repens), a common lawn weed originally native to Ireland. It is a vigorous, rhizomatous, stem-rooting perennial with trifoliate leaves. Occasionally, a fourth leaflet will appear, making a “four-leaf clover,” said to bring good luck to the person who discovers it.
Grow your own shamrock
If you’d like to grow your own shamrock, you have a couple of options. You let the widely recognized white clover invade your lawn, or you can grow the Americanized version, Oxalis tetraphylla, the lucky clover. This is the plant you will usually find in gift shops in March.
Oxalis tetraphylla is a tender perennial in most parts of this country, hardy only in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 9. For this reason it is usually grown as a house plant, with a winter dormancy period. It needs bright light to thrive, as well as moist, well drained soil. When the plant begins to go dormant for the winter, keep the soil barely moist, and resume regular watering in the spring when the plant puts out new growth.
Myths and legends about St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day is that one day of the year when everybody is Irish.. .or at least pretends to be. But what does that actually entail? When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day history, the US has all kinds of traditions that, frankly, aren’t even Irish. Who was Saint Patrick anyway? And what myths and legends about this Irish holiday have we all been blindly thinking are true for years? This list of St. Patrick’s Day facts will separate myth from reality and let you in on how this green (or maybe blue?!) holiday is really celebrated in Ireland.
You might be surprised to know that if you were an actual Irish person living in Ireland even a few decades ago, it would involve not shenanigans and drinking green beer, but solemn prayer and abstaining from alcohol. And you certainly wouldn’t be going to a parade, picking four-leaf clovers or hanging out with leprechauns. And the namesake of the holiday, Ireland’s patron saint… wasn’t actually Irish (or even British!).
Shocked? Surprised? Jonesing for a Guinness? It’s okay, you just need to get the facts straight about what’s real and what’s pop culture myth when it comes to this leprechaun-laden holiday. Upvote the most interesting St. Patrick’s Day trivia below!
1. St. Patrick Was Not Born in Ireland
THE MYTH: St. Patrick was Irish.
THE REALITY: Though one of Ireland’s great icons, Patrick himself wasn’t Irish. In fact, we know little of Patrick’s life except from two letters that are generally attributed to him. What we do know is that he was born somewhere in the British Isles (where exactly depends on which account you read) circa 390 and didn’t come to the Emerald Isle until he was 16. That’s when he was kidnapped and enslaved by Irish pirates.
He was brought to Ireland and held as a slave for six years, with traditional accounts saying he was a shepherd in County Antrim. He eventually escaped after claiming to have heard a heavenly voice and fled to England, where he continued the religious awakening that began during his escape.
2. Christianity Was Already Thriving in Ireland
THE MYTH: St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland.
THE REALITY: In 431, Pope Celestine is said to have sent a bishop named Palladius “to the Irish believing in Christ.” Patrick didn’t come back to Ireland until a year later, in 432. This would indicate that there was already an active Christian community there. In fact, Palladius actually fits into some theories about Patrick’s life – namely, that the modern version of St. Patrick is an amalgam of the two men. There were numerous other clerics active in Ireland at the time, and many Irish churches are dedicated to some of these bishops.
3. Ireland Never Had Snakes to Drive Out
THE MYTH: St. Patrick drove out the snakes from Ireland.
THE REALITY: In all probability, Ireland probably never had snakes to begin with. Before the last Ice Age, Ireland was simply too cold for snakes to survive, then when the glaciers receded, it left the land an island, impossible for snakes to reach. Fossil records from the country corroborate this, as no evidence of snakes has ever been found among the animals living there.
The legend that Patrick stood on an Irish hillside and delivered a thundering sermon that drove the island’s serpents into the sea is probably just an allegory for his eradication of pagan ideology – with snakes standing in for the serpents of Druid mythology.
4. The Shamrock May or May Not Be Apocryphal
THE MYTH: St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans.
THE REALITY: The parable of the three-leaf clover standing in for the Father, Son and Holy Ghost is one of the things that’s pretty hard to prove either way. What we do know is that clovers were already important in paganism, with their green color representing rebirth. Three was also an important number in paganism, and in ancient religions in general, with a number of “triple deities” represented in everything from Hindu mysticism to Sumerian gods. So if Patrick did use the clover to explain the Trinity, he already had some of the heavy lifting done for him.
5. St. Patrick’s Day Was a Dry Holiday in Ireland
THE MYTH: Irish people get hammered on St. Patrick’s Day.
THE REALITY: Ireland has a robust pub culture, and they gave the world the miracle of Guinness. But that doesn’t mean they all get blotto on St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, for most of the 20th century, pubs were legally closed on March 17th, since it was considered a religious holiday, meant as a solemn day of national piety (not to mention it falls right in the middle of Lent.)
Those laws were finally taken off the books in the late ’60s, but even then, the Irish didn’t drink green beer. That pleasure was reserved for their American cousins.
6. St. Patrick Wasn’t Even English
THE MYTH: St. Patrick was British.
THE REALITY: Technically, he was a Roman citizen, as the British Isles were under Roman rule at that point. His father and grandfather were active in Roman Christianity, but Patrick didn’t truly become a believer until after his escape. Some scholars believe his family was Roman aristocracy, and possibly even hailed from Italy, but nobody knows for sure. Even his name is in dispute, as later documents, from after Patrick’s time, list his birth name as “Maewyn Succat.” His two letters are signed by “Patricius,” and he probably adopted the name Patrick from the Latin for “well born.”
7. Leprechauns Have Nothing to Do with St. Patrick’s Day
THE MYTH: Leprechauns are inexorably linked with St. Patrick’s Day
THE REALITY: While the little green, red-bearded troublemakers are an important part of Irish folklore in general, they have literally nothing to do with the historical St. Patrick’s Day. Leprechauns didn’t appear in Irish literature until the Middle Ages, well after Patrick’s return to Ireland. While you’ll probably see drawings of leprechauns during your St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans, it’s not because of their link to the holiday, it’s just because they make a handy representation of “something Irish” – mostly due to pop culture depictions.
8. Green Wasn’t Always the Traditional St. Patrick’s Day Color
THE MYTH: Green is the color associated with St. Patrick’s Day.
THE REALITY: It is now, but it wasn’t always. Ireland itself might live up to the idea of being an Emerald Isle, but the use of green to celebrate Sr. Patrick’s Day is a recent invention, probably from the 18th century, when supporters of Irish independence from England used the color to represent their cause. Knights in the Order of St. Patrick actually wore a color known as St. Patrick’s blue – a deep and rich blue (Pantone 295, to be exact) that served as the background for the Kingdom of Ireland’s coat of arms.
9. Irish People Don’t Really Eat Much Corned Beef
THE MYTH: Corned beef and cabbage are the traditional St. Patrick’s Day feast.
THE REALITY: In America, sure. But debates rage as to whether or not this is actually a traditional Irish meal. Proponents say it is, based on the curing of ham to use on long ocean voyages. Others say it’s a more American twist on traditional Irish cuisine.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. The Irish, like pretty much everyone else, would salt-cure meat – but cows were expensive and needed for producing milk, so they’d rarely be slaughtered for food. Irish corned beef was extremely popular in England in the first half of the 1800s, but it was far too expensive for rural Irish tenant farmers to eat.
However, Irish immigrants in New York City’s Lower East Side couldn’t get the pork they were used to eating, as it was much more expensive in the US. So they bought corned beef from their Jewish neighbors because it was cheaper. The corned beef found in pubs and on dinner tables in America is much closer to traditional deli corned beef than what was for sale in Ireland 200 years ago.
10. It’s Not That Big of a Deal in Ireland
THE MYTH: Ireland pulls out all the stops to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
THE REALITY: They don’t, at least not the way Americans do. Until the 1700s, St. Patrick’s Day was simply one of many Roman Catholic feasts, and was only observed in Ireland. There was no raucous drinking of green beer, or kissing anyone because they were Irish. Like all feasts, it was spent somberly praying at home or in church.
But when large numbers of Irish immigrants came to America, they pushed back against nativist anti-Irish sentiment by organizing parades and other displays of pride centered around March 17th. The first was in Boston in 1737, with New York following suit. Ireland itself never had a St. Patrick’s Day parade until the 1930s. With anti-Irish bigotry having subsided, the holiday is now simply seen as a celebration of Irish culture, cuisine, and history.
11. The Shamrock and the Four-Leaf Clover Are Different
THE MYTH: The shamrock is the symbol of St. Patrick’s Day, but for extra luck, you really want a four-leaf clover – which is also Irish.
THE REALITY: Four-leaf clovers are prized for their rarity, and as such, are thought to bring great luck. But the difference between the shamrock and the four-leaf clover is more than just a leaf – one is a symbol of national pride, and the other… isn’t.
The four-leaf clover isn’t intrinsically Irish in any way, being a universal symbol for good fortune – and one that can be found everywhere. In fact, the clover with the most leaves in history (56, to be exact) was found in Moroka, Japan in 2009.
12. Chicago Can’t Dye the River Blue
THE MYTH: Chicago dyes the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day, so why don’t they dye it blue the rest of year?
THE REALITY: The Windy City does dye the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day, which they started doing in 1962. But as for dyeing it blue the rest of the year… bodies of water are the color they are because of the light that gets filtered through the water, not because of what’s in them. Fill a glass of water from the Chicago River, and it’ll be neither green nor blue, but clear. Also, please don’t drink it.
13. You Probably Don’t Want to Kiss the Blarney Stone
THE MYTH: You kiss the Blarney Stone on St. Patrick’s Day to get the gift of gab.
THE REALITY: The Blarney Stone is another one of those intrinsically “Irish” things that people use as shorthand for Irish culture. But it has nothing to do with St. Patrick, as Blarney Castle wasn’t built until 1446, a thousand years after the time of St. Patrick. As an aside, both native Irish people and hygiene experts agree that actually kissing the Blarney Stone is incredibly unsanitary and quite overrated as a tourist destination.