Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick and the Serpent of Wisdom

Most people in the west are familiar with the story of St. Patrick driving the “serpents” out of Ireland, thus becoming a patron saint of the Irish. St. Patrick, however, was actually a Roman born in what is now Great Britain. He was the son of Calpurnius and Conchessa, who were Romans living in Britain in charge of the colonies. Calpurnius, himself, the son of a priest by the name of Potitus. As a youth Patrick lived in the town of Bannaventa Berniae. It was in this town, that before the age of sixteen, Patrick was abducted and taken to Ireland as a slave. Patrick, later in life, came to the belief that he and the other slaves deserved to suffer as they had “turned their backs on God.” It was in captivity, however, that he turned to the Catholic faith. During his captivity he wrote: The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same." He also wrote of his mystical experience in relation to this: "I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain." When Patrick was twenty he had a dream in which his God spoke to him and told him to flee by reaching the coast. Patrick did as instructed and found sailors who took him back to Britain where he was reunited with his family. He then had another dream, this time of the people of Ireland saying: “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more." Before returning to Ireland Patrick began his studies to become a priest. He was ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre. Later, Patrick was ordained a bishop, and was sent to take the Gospel to Ireland. He arrived in Ireland March 25, 433, at Slane. According to the lore, Patrick was soon confronted by a chieftain named Dichu who attempted to kill him. A miracle happened and Dichu was unable to raise his arm against the bishop and converted to Christianity. Patrick worked to convert the Irish for forty years using the three leafed shamrock to as a symbol to explain the Trinity. In his confessions the one thing that Patrick seemed to regret was that he was ill educated.
If one follows the lore one begins to see the tale of St. Patrick driving the serpents out of Ireland. We have one piece of lore stating that the wand he used to drive the serpents into the sea was of hazel wood. It is said that with such a wand a person might draw a magic circle which no ill spirit can enter be it fairy, demon or any other mischievous spirit. In regard to driving out the snakes Lady Wilde had this bit of lore:

“There is a lake in one of the Galtee mountains where there is a great serpent chained to a rock, and he may be heard constantly crying out, "O Patrick, is the Luan, or Monday, long from us?" For when St. Patrick cast this serpent into the lake he bade him be chained to the rock till La-an-Luan (The Day of Judgment). But the serpent mistook the word, and thought the saint meant Luan, Monday.
So he still expects to be freed from one Monday to another, and the clanking of his chains on that day is awful to hear as he strives to break them and get free.
In another lake there is a huge-winged creature, it is said, which escaped the power of St. Patrick, and when he gambols in the water such storms arise that no boat can withstand the tumult of the waves.”

Many people today, however, are also aware that the story, historically, is either bunk or a code. We know that there were no snakes in Ireland. It has been put forth in recent times that the driving out of serpents was actually a code referring to his conversion of the pagans in Ireland. This is only partially accurate, if this is the real meaning, as certain pagan beliefs persisted there long after Patrick's demise. It is a likely explanation, however.
Interestingly, however, there may be a metaphysical explanation to this association with serpents. That is to say that the ancient spiritual entity associated with the serpent by animistic cultures may be surviving within the worship of Patrick, and that the story of the serpents is but a sign to guide those who seek it's wisdom or light. This entity may be most commonly observed as Ouroboros, the serpent who bites it's own tail, representing infinity, amongst other mysteries. To the ancient Celts the serpent was a complex animal. It's associations were creation, fertility, rebirth and healing. This is interesting as the Vodoun Lwa Damballah, a serpent deity, is also associated with creation and fertility as well as wisdom. Wisdom, of course being the main correspondence of the serpent mentioned in the Book of Genesis that gave the gift of knowledge and wisdom to mankind. According to Vodoun tradition he is the creator god, as demonstrated here:

Long ago, the serpent spirit Damballah created the world. Damballah used his 7,000 coils to form the star sand the planets in the heavens and to shape the hills and valleys on earth. By shedding the serpent skin Damballah created all the waters on the earth. And when the sun showed through mist settling on the plants and trees a rainbow was born. Her name was Ayida Wedo. Damballah loved her and made her his wife. They are still together today, the serpent and the rainbow. Damballah and Ayida Wedo.

Damballah's color is white and so is offered white things, most notably white eggs. It is also interesting to note that Damballah is represented by St. Patrick in Vodou. This all gives a bit to ponder on whether “St. Patrick” as a legendary figure is in fact a representation of The Great White Serpent of Light.
We can look closer still to see the connection of this entity to creation in the old testament. When the people of Israel were plagued with “fiery” serpents and were filled with their venom, Moses was told to erect a pole (often depicted as a tau cross) and “lift up” or hang a serpent of bronze upon it (the Brazen Serpent.) When the people beheld this graven image they would be healed. Links between the Brazen Serpent and Jesus Christ have been made in sermons for over one hundred years. We can see this demonstrated in the sermon  The Mysteries of the Brazen Serpent, delivered on September 27, 1857, by the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon in which he says:

“Allow me, then, dear friends, to describe first, the people in the wilderness—the representatives of men who are sinners. Let me describe next, the brazen serpent—the type of Jesus Christ crucified. Let me then note what was to be done with the brazen serpent—it was to be lifted up; and so was Christ to be lifted up. And then let us notice what was to be done by the people who were bitten—they were to look at the serpent; and so sinners must believe in Christ.”
The Bible itself compares the two stating:

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life."—John 3:14.

Woodcut of the Brazen Serpent

Vodoun Veves of Damballah

With these connections we can clearly see the connection of the serpent to a creative, healing and fertility deity! Let us remember that Jesus Christ is the Christian variant of the Living and Dying Sun God who governs the fertility of the crops in the agrarian mystery traditions!
I suppose that the next topic in regard to St. Patrick and the serpent (or St. Patrick the serpent) is the question, what can the mystic or magician do in honor of this entity/saint should they choose to? Well, for one who is either Catholic or Vodoun this has easy answers within their own traditions. For others the answer may be harder to answer. The magician from a family of Irish descent may choose to honor this entity, and what to do then? Well, we can attempt to synthetically utilize information that we have already covered. Firstly, as a simple form of communion one could leave an offering appropriate to the serpent. As noted before, in the Vodoun tradition the serpent likes things that are white. A traditional offering is that of a bowl of white flour with and egg in the center, both being symbols of creation. The former offering is a symbol of the work and creation made by mankind, the later a symbol of the divine creation of the universe. Very appropriate for such a deity! To further correlate this offering with out saint/entity we could make this offering upon St. Patrick's Day (March 17th.) Another way of honoring the saint may be to add his own prayer to one's spiritual devotions. It is known as "St. Patrick's Breast-Plate.” It is said that it was composed and prayed when he prepared to confront and convert the Celtic pagans of Ireland. It can, by the magician and mystic, be used in a slightly different manner, as we shall see.

St. Patrick's Breast-Plate

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgment Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of Seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

If we are to remove the following superstitious lines: 

Against the black laws of heathenism, Against the false laws of heresy, Against the deceits of idolatry,”

we end up with a very good incantation for the magus and mystic alike! With these lines in proper interpretation the prayer could remain intact. Even the segment which states “ Against the spells...” can be a good protection to the practitioner. A portion may even be vaguely familiar to the practicing magician today, beginning with “Christ with me...” as similar directional devotions can be found in the old grimoires and the pentagram rituals of the Golden Dawn. In addition to these things, even calling upon Patrick in prayer and ritual as both saint and serpent may allow a level of communion and allow the light of truth to be known to the practitioner. That, after all is the true purpose of gnosis and mystical light.