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Patrick And The Snakes

Updated on March 17, 2015

Patrick Drives The Snakes Out Of Ireland

That is the story that is told, but in many mythologies of faiths snakes were, and still are, fertility symbols used in ritual and dance.

There is the story of the union of the human Snake Boy on earth with the spirit Snake Girl of the underworld. Together their union renews connection with Nature and its flow of fertility.

During some of these dances, within first nation tribes of America and middle eastern tribes, live snakes were, still are, handled during these dances.

At the end of the dances the snakes are released to wander into the fields to bless the soil for good crops.

Did Patrick drive these snakes away to turn us to lives of poverty and penance with the promise of eternal life when we leave this earth.

Let us explore what this possible scoundrel may have altered from our ways ...

the Snake connecting us to Mother Earth

In mythology snakes are symbolised as the umbilical cord that keeps us always connected to Mother Earth. A variation of this we tell as a story about Luis The Rowan, the second sound and sign of the Ogham alphabet in Ogma's Tale Of The Trees.

Within this story we tell of each of our hearts being a dragon's head breathing fire through our bodies while its tail remains umbelically connected to the womb of the goddess that is always laying between the two worlds.

There are several images of two headed snakes or two snakes coiled around each other while also wrapped around a tree trunk or staff.

The umbilical cord of a newborn baby is two tubes wound around each other for the two way transporting of blood and life between the two worlds of the baby and it's mother.

Goddess images, especially Minoan, were shown holding their double edged Lybrys axe with a snake entwining around the sacred shaft of the axe. It is assumed that they are there to give an image of guidance from our darkness to light. Also the shedding of skin by a snake was a powerful symbol of regeneration from themselves.

Add to this the wonder of the spiral when snakes coiled and three snakes together evolved into a trinity symbol of birth, living and passing, or was this purgation, illumination and unity or even maiden, mother, crone or apprentice, warrior, wise man.

There were many and still are several trinities.

it is not just an Adam and Eve myth

the snake is not just a creation myth either

Africa and Australia had many myths about a Rainbow Snake, a symbol of Mother Earth.giving birth to all animals, birds and fish.

Chinese mythology tells of a woman-headed snake, Nüwa, who gave birth to the first humans.

Greek myths include Ophion the snake who gave birth to an egg from which all of the first living beings were born.

Most of the cultures of the ancient world seem to have called upon women and their "serpents" to perform the rites and rituals of blessing the earth and new birth.

It appears that men did not participate in these kind of rituals and ceremonies until into the Bronze Age, when Cretan kings, or chieftains, became "priests of the bull-god".

Those male priests took the title of 'serpent' rather than the imagery of the snake.

The word 'priest' has actually evolved from an ancient Akkadian word that was used to mean 'snake charmer' and even "phallic father".

So, this triggers an inspiration that Patrick driving out the snakes could have also been a symbol for driving out the women in leadership of sacred rituals and elevating subservant serpent males into leadership with sword and cross symbols instead?

The Snake's connection to Mother Earth also had practical definition in ancient times. It appears the Snake was considered to be the power beneath the earth that makes all plants germinate from seeds and grow above the earth.

Typical for now is the exaggeration of the snake symbol through the story of the Great Earth Dragon who moves beneath the earth and its swishing tail being the cause of earthquakes.

In some eastern areas where earthquake risks are sensitive, altars are within homes are passionately tended to with intent to keep the dragon spirit calm and its tail still.

the Snake connecting us to the Life Force

flow of the Qi

There are modern signs of women inspiring the return to the old ways of being the stewards of the path between worlds. Expressing this through being belly dancers and gypsy dancers is in revival, especially at weddings, and dancing with large snakes.

There is also a form of yoga gaining popularity called "Snake Yoga" which combines yoga techniques with movements from these women snake dancers.

More popular, at present, may be "Kundalini Yoga" that also centres around the imagery of the serpent. Chakras were first associated with a Goddess named Kundalini who is described as a sleeping serpent coiled three and a half times around the first chakra at the base of our spines.

Kundalini's name comes from the word 'kundala', meaning coiled. When she is awakened, she climbs upward, chakra by chakra, until she reaches the crown chakra at the top of our head. As she pierces each of our chakras, she brings additional awakening within us. When her journey through the chakras of a person is complete it is said that person is fully enlightened.

In similar stories from other cultures this serpent, snake, journey is about the flow of the 'Life Force'. It is said we all have the ability to awaken this "snake" that lies dormant at the base of our spine. We may just need some guidance to coach a variety of ways through which we can do this.

Snakes from the Underworld

Many stories tell of Snakes being guardians of the Underworld or being messengers between the two worlds.The most famous may be the Gorgons of Greek myths, the snake women, especially Medusa, who's gaze turned flesh into stone.

The underworld was usually symbolised as a mythical world tree, sometimes with the top of the roots dangling in water.

Healing and snakes were also closely linked with tribes in many countries.

There are several variations of tribal tales telling of medicine people swimming down beside a tree of life, learning a wisdom of healing, and then returning to the surface of this world to heal again.

A Greek myth medicine man Aesculapius is said to have come back from the underworld with healing snakes that he would allow to crawl across the bodies of sick people while they are asleep or in coma and the snakes would lick the patients back to health.

Today we have The Caduceus, two snakes coiled around each other on a staff, as the symbol of healing and the medical profession. This is a symbol that has evolved from a combination of the snake or serpent, the Goddess, and Tree of Life.

Snakes and Water

There are myth stories of Snakes and water being its underworld without trees related at all. Some of these snakes, through enthusiasm of story and the storyteller, I imagine, evolved into being sea monsters. Eels, the snake like fish that spends early life in freshwater before swimming to the sea as adult's were honored as sacred creatures. Some eels have been described in mythology and through stories as snake guardians.

Even eels may have become exaggerated into monsters for tales. An earliest story may have been that of Columcille, St. Columba, who demanded that the Monster of Lough Ness stopped eating humans and to stay clear of all human visitors.

Snakes and Wisdom

Many mythologies link snakes with wisdom, possibly due to their contemplative pondering before striking and injecting their bite and venom. The wisdom of snakes always seems to be closely linked to some kind of healing and medicine such as leading medicine men and women to sources of healing plants, trees and water that the snake had carefully blessed and protected.

Even the wearing of a snake image refected the healing protection of the snake,

including the triple spiral of three coiled snakes.

enter the Dragon

In Chinese mythology, dragons were originally snakes and both were revered as blessings and protection by the Chinese.

Once the dragons got to the west and became renamed as Serpents and Monsters, due to the enthusiasim of storytellers magnifying their presence, it seems these creatures became something to fend off and kill.

Assuming the snake, or the dragon, are symbols and energies of fertility the change of attitude from east to west may have something to do with how the east, for some time, grew their population faster than the west.

Was this due to the west killing off their fertility source by defining it as dangerous, and by doing so were unkowingly castrating nature?

should we take an Apple from a Snake?

"friends if you're travelling
never go taking an apple from a snake
for if you do I'll tell you true
you'll be making a big mistake"
Robin Williamson

The Biblical story of Adam, Eve and a spiv like snake is perhaps the most famous snake story ... after St. Patrick's, of course.

The Fall Of Man they title it, tells of how Adam and Eve disobeyed God by being tempted with an offer they could not refuse, by a snake.

Just in case you may have forgotten how the story goes, the snake convinced Eve to eat fruit usually shown as an apple which as a symbol has its own story, from the Tree of Knowledge.

The tree also provided the defining wisdom of what is good and what is evil. Even then she convinces Adam to take a fruit as well, or share hers. As a result, a pissed off God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and cursed the snake to live until eternity without ever growing legs.

I presume this Christian based story led to Christians having a perception and even fear that snakes are crafty, deceitful and the devil in disguise. When I first read this story as a young child I did not have much love for snakes for awhile. Bad influence, some stories are.

Somehow, it seems St. Patrick heard the same story and drove out the snakes from Ireland before he was tempted by Irish apples. Then a few years later it seems the monks realised they could earn a good wedge through making and trading mead from apples and honey.

Since there are no biological snakes on the island of Ireland, it is rumored that snakes symbolized the Pagan religion. So in olden days the Church killed Celtic leaders, priests, priestesses and healers on St. Patrick's Day.

However we are still baffled why there are no biological snakes on the island of Ireland. Even if imported pet snakes and they escape they do not live long here.

Another hold to this story is that to this day we unkowingly carry the belief of the Fall Of Man story by calling people "snakes" if they con or deceive us.

the Wholeness of the Snake's Coil

One part of the Fall Of Man story that is not handed around often is a different image of the snake while its was a consort for Eve. During this time the snake was not an evil creature but a source to wholeness.

As I have indicated, the snake was a strong connection to the earth, the mother earth, the mother goddess during the Neolithic stone age times and back into the Mesolithic times too.

This is indicated by the stone carved spirals, and Newgrange and Knowth cairns host famous examples, and sometimes indicated by the three spirals of the two women's breasts and the womb as the third.

In Sumeria, where it is said some of the earliest farmers of Erin and Alba came from, along with their traditions, images of snakes and serpents connected to women have been found.

These snakes are regarded as phallic imagery representing the fertilizing phallus, and the image of males born from the woman, married with her, and finally dying back into her for rebirth. All this is an unending cycle.

At a local wedding recently, after the graveside mass one woman said loudly, "well we come into this earth through a hole, and we leave it through a hole".

When Patrick or the image of Patrick came along the snake in the Fall Of Man story seems to have changed from a coiled snake cycle of rebirth into a straight snake path from birth to death followed by judgement of eternal life for "doing as you are told" on earth.

At this point Eve was the earth born image of the Goddess becoming a human woman, and the snake became a physical reptile, so any union between them became impossible, not even as a metaphysical exploration.

In short, It does seem Patrick may be a bent word from Patriarchal that eventually banished women from the fertility blessings from the goddess.

returning the Snakes to Our Lives

A snake seems to regenerate itself whenit releases its old skin every few months,inspires us with its coiled pattern when it sleeps and hibernates,and we are awed and mystified by its ability to carry lethal venom but not poison itself.

Here and elsewhere we read and hear of the snake, the serpent and the dragon as being symbols of healing, fertilityand regeneration .

Through the guidance of these three symbols we can also travel the snake journey and ways, except being venomous and poisoning people, through activities such as yoga, tantra, tai chi, martial arts, circle dancing, drumming, travelling through labyrinths, swimming, practicing Reiki and other earth healing arts, fire walking, and gardening.

All these activities and habits in our lives can awaken the snake, the serpent, within us and constantly regenerate us over and over again.

Snakes and venom?

Many people do not realise that less than 10% of all snakes on earth are venomous.

Those that are venomous tend to keep away from human areas due to their natural fear of them. The rest of the majority of snakes are actually very useful for us through their control of rats, snakes and they even defend us from venomous snakes that may venture towards our homes and land.

Through stories from mythology the symbol of the snake can confuse us, especially during our naïve young years. We hear of snakes as both good and evil, guardians and full of danger. All these following key words come into stories of snakes and serpents, death, destruction, rebirth, authority, sin, trickery, temptation, wisdom, prophecy, mystery, fertility, healing, medicine, poisoning, renewal, regeneration, transformation, phallic, godsess, mortality, and immortality.

Its all down to choices ...

If we accept the Snake symbols as our guardians and guides they can represent the earth, the underworld, the otherworld, and the most sacred depths of our being, our faith, our trust and divine heart spot.

Let no man drive that away from us!!

what say ye about Patrick and the Snakes?

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    • WoodlandBard profile image
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      WoodlandBard 2 years ago

      Thank you for these encouraging comments. It was a last minute thought to pull out these old articles of mine today. Glad they are liked. Yes, it is me to mould humour and deeper mythology into one :-)

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      For the funny picture initially, I thought it was going to be a light piece, but you got really deep into the whole snake spiritual symbolism, taught me some fascinating new things. What a great read, I'm sharing this one. Great hub.

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      Salamander Sterling 2 years ago

      I am a Wiccan Priest and while many of my pagan friends do not celebrate St. Patrick's Day because of his troublesome relationship with the Celts, I see this day as "Celtic Pride Day" an American holiday from a time in U.S. history in which Irish immigrants faced hardships and social prejudice after experiencing the economic collapse of their homeland, and found refuge here in America. As we drink green beer, march in parades, and participate in pub crawls, during this holiday, I hardly see it as a religious celebration of St. Patrick's accomplishments. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the information you presented on snake symbolism in our pagan roots. That is some great stuff.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Creative indeed, I would have not thought of a subject like this. *blessed by a squid angel*

    • WoodlandBard profile image
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      WoodlandBard 5 years ago

      @anonymous: In Ireland this is a time when the tree buds open to give their new green leaves. It is a time when Ireland goes green again. This is the time it happens, not at Imbolc, not at vernal equinox, not at oestra or easter. This is what I wish we celebrate.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @grannysage: In San Francisco the Italian community changed their Columbus Day celebration to Italian Heritage Day, and Berkeley changed it to Indigenous People's Day perhaps something similar will become of March 17th

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      WoodlandBard 5 years ago

      @grannysage: Yes, you have to love the snakes somehow, but essential caution of course as they are more afraid of us as we are much bigger. It does put you on your toes when are are in a position where they are around you, though. This has happened to me in Florida and Utah. In Florida, they all slide away when they knew I was present, corals, but in Utah, nothing was going to disturb their nap ... so I didn't

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      grannysage 5 years ago

      I've always held with the Druid theory and thus do not celebrate St Patrick's Day. If it were called Celtic Day, then I would be happy to participate. Snake symbolism is so powerful and fascinating; makes me wonder why I am so phobic about the real thing.