Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sometimes a pipe is just a pipe: on metaphors and St. Patrick's Day

Everything has the power to be a metaphor, but that doesn't mean everything is. Case in point, from About St. Patrick and the Serpents:
The problem with most of this Pagan rage and sadness directed at Patrick for converting Ireland, is that it’s mostly untrue.
“The snakes he drove out of Ireland were not symbolic of druids, pagans, or goddess worshippers. They were, quite simply, snakes. The tale was lifted from the life story of St. Hilaire, who was said to have evicted the snakes in a section of France, as an explanation of why there are no native snakes in Ireland. That piece of plagiarism explicative text was added in the 10th century. Earliest versions of Patrick’s story don’t include it. They do, however, include direct claims of him besting druids in magical combat and argument, as well as having druids in his personal retinue. Catholic saints’ stories, by and large, do not truck in allegory. To cite a different reptile story, they really did mean to say that St. George killed a dragon. I have never seen anyone who’s bothered to study the way Irish saints’ lives were written down and embroidered take the snakes to be symbolic of anything. It is a neo-pagan invention to assign that story any degree of symbolism.”