Every year around this time the PaganCentric web site enjoys (or suffers from, depending upon your perspective) a temporary notoriety around Saint Patrick’s Day. I posted an article back in 2009 about my personal beliefs concerning the holiday, Saint Patrick and getting drunk in general, mostly because one of my early students asked me to explain what I believed. Since then, it’s amazed me how many arguments have been started over that post, and I’m still rather perplexed by the annual airing of grievances over this one article.
If you read the comments, one of the first things you’ll notice is that most of the people who take issue with the post do so specifically not because of what I actually said, but rather because of what they think I said. The one overall pattern I’ve noticed through the years is that a lot of people seem to like to take certain pieces out of context and then argue over them, often disconnected from the point I was trying to make. It’s frustrating, really. It’s like trying to discuss your personal views about the additives you’ll find in the hamburger meat at a fast food restaurant and having someone take you to task by defending farmers who grow beans for the fast-food chili. Most of the arguments people have made against some of the things I’ve said leave me scratching my head, really. How do you discuss any of these issues with people who start off expressing their opinions by dismissing everything you’ve said? Especially when they’re usually arguing not with the points you were trying to make, but instead with their own preconceptions and points, which they arrived with, already prepared to spar over?
I usually approve the comments. Even though it’s dispiriting that an article which was never intended as anything other than an expression of my personal faith and practice has become a focal point for nay-sayers and reactionary pseudo-historians, I do believe that discussion and debate is healthy. If anything saddens me, it’s that so many people argue over points which I never tried to make, getting passionate over things that they thought I was trying to say and missing my intentional points entirely.
For the record, when I use the word “Pagan”, it is not intended to reflect the contemporary use of the word. When I say I am a Pagan, it does not mean that I am a member of some uninterrupted tradition handed down from antiquity. We all know that there was no distinct Pagan religion that was suppressed by the Christian church, which survived by being hidden away in damp caves somewhere near the Cliffs of Dover. The word “Pagan” to me means simply “not Christian”. And while I do use the word to encapsulate my beliefs, which do owe a lot to modern Paganism, you might understand me better by realizing that in my tradition a Hindu is just as much of a Pagan as a Wiccan. Expand your definitions and you might understand me better. I am not talking about Little Miss Ravenwing Silverbritches when I talk about Pagans.
When I talk about my personal history and identify myself a hereditary witch, that does not mean I am saying that my personal beliefs and family history gives my opinions more weight or that my way is the only way. It’s simply my way of telling you that for me this is a personal thing. What I believe was handed down to me through family as my tradition. If your college teachers have told you certain things about Irish history, Saint Patrick and the suppression of native superstitions and religious thought, that’s all well and good. But I won’t debate with you over beliefs that were held by my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Especially when what you wish to argue about is largely opinion.
Well, I’ve mostly frustrated myself in writing this. As if often the case when addressing detractors, somewhere along the line I found myself not really caring anymore. All I’ll say on the matter is that if you read that article, which I called, perhaps wrongly, “Pagans and Saint Patrick’s Day: The Real Meaning of the Holiday“, keep in mind that I was expressing my personal path and family tradition, and did not in any way intend for the article to be considered as an infallible historical document or definitive, all-encompassing manifesto about Pagan belief. It’s what I believe, right or wrong, and nothing more than that.
I want to thank those who have been supportive through the years. Some people actually “get” what I was trying to do with that article (which was mostly to talk about why I don’t celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day). For those who have taken certain things and ran with them, I respect your views and opinions, but don’t always have a clue what you’re talking about. None of this is written in stone. Any of the sources you cite to support your passionate arguments can be contradicted by any number of other materials that argue just the opposite. Honestly, I don’t care what you believe. Nothing you say can convince me that my ancestors were wrong about everything they taught me. That my beliefs and your beliefs don’t match up is simply a testament to the richness and diversity of the human experience. Our differences should be celebrated and embraced.
If you’re ever interested in engaging with me and talking calmly about these issues, you will find that I welcome it. But when you immediately weigh in by being confrontational and insulting, that tells me that you are not defending your personal beliefs, but are rather defending an established canon of views that someone else has taught you. If you learn nothing else from your visits to PaganCentric, I hope you will understand that our goal here is to reject all bias and start from scratch. I am not, in any way, shape or form, saying that my way, or the way of anyone else involved in PaganCentric, is the only way. All we are saying is that there are alternatives to every belief system. Even history is often revised to weed out previous biases (or to install new ones).
If you want to argue with us, argue with us on the points at hand, not about your preconceptions. And please accept that if your primary goal is to be heard, we will only engage with you if you state an arguable fact. If you state an opinion, that probably won’t be addressed.
Nothing I’ve written here has come out the way I intended. What I set out to write is not what I wound up with. Please accept my apologies if I’ve seemed confrontational. I don’t mean to be, but I’m all too aware that my ways of speaking and addressing points often come off as “brisk”. Honestly, I’m just writing something here because I felt that I needed to. But specifically in regard to Saint Patrick’s Day, I don’t feel that anything I’ve previously said needs to be revised, with the possible exception of some of the finer historical points regarding the life of Saint Patrick himself. All the rest is a matter of personal belief, and, as such, is not up for review (although it is certainly up for discussion).
In closing, I’d like to welcome everyone who stopped by the PaganCentric web site on Saint Patrick’s Day to engage with us. It was nice to see you. I wish you well as you leave this space and go on about your lives in the coming year, forgetting all about your brief visit with PaganCentric. We’ll see you again next year when the sparring begins anew, and we promise to meet you with arms wide open, hearts full of warmth and regard, and a smile upon our faces.
Walk in light and peace.
~ Claire Mulkieran
I’m sorry to hear what a burden that article has been. I must admit I did find this site today because of it, and for that I’m thankful.
I think I see how that was your perception of a popular holiday, but I must admit as a fairly newborn pagan, it shed light on some things that I didn’t know. Thanks for sharing that with us.
As for crazed responses… isn’t that what we all risk by posting on the internet?
Hope you have a nice regular Sunday 🙂
Blessings and Light )0(
I thank you for you calm diligence ~ your words and spirit inspire
Thanks for posting your article from ’09 and this follow up article.
By your definition of Pagan, I am one as well and I typically group all beliefs into that category that aren’t christian/muslim. So I get that.
Something I don’t get is the militancy that people bring when discussing these subjects. I have a Pagan friend that I arbitrarily wish happy st. pat’s day today and confirmed I said it in the most sercular way possible. And I got a gruff short lecture & the ‘you don’t know anything about my people’ vibe.
Your post above is not in any way confrontational in my opinion. You calmly expressed your belief & disbelief at the responses you got to the ’09 post.
Thank you for calmly putting out there what you feel, believe & hold to.
As someone surrounded by witches, pagans and christians, I sincerely appreciate your open, conversation style.
I’m sorry it’s been a pain in the rear. However, thank you for expressing yourself. It IS appreciated.
Some people not only don’t get it, but they don’t WANT to get it. And no matter how nice we are, or clear our words, or noble our intentions, they’ll never allow themselves to ‘get’ it. But then there are others who do get it, like me! 😀
Thank you, for sharing yourself, and something so personal. Without that post, well shoot, I didn’t know about this page and now I do. Thanks. 🙂
Strange. I actually came to this article after reading your write from ’09. I thought it was one of the better articles written on the subject. That you were explaining your faith was rather obvious to me. I didn’t get the feeling you were bashing St Patrick either, like so many articles on the subject tend to do. Sorry to hear so many narrow minds thought differently. From what I have read here and elsewhere, the story of St. Patrick is purely symbolic. Though, I am wondering if there are any source materials that talk about him actually chasing out the Druids etc or if it was more of a mythical narrative developed by the Church of the time and then on. I hope that I am being clear. I do understand that St. Patrick was responsible for the expansion of the Church in Ireland. What I am asking is about, how effective that was in driving out the pagans. Clearly, there was an influence and impact by the spreading of Christianity. I am curious about how much St. Patrick was actually responsible for and how much he was given credit for without actually doing. Not to absolve him, just an interest in history. From what I know only two letters of his still exist. Do you know any materials that may be helpful in these regards? Or even any stories you are familiar with from oral tradition.
I enjoyed the 2009 article. I’ve never felt there was much to celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day. I spent the day putting native plants in my front yard. There is more green for everyone, and other vibrant colors for the hummingbirds, finches, butterflies, moths, and bees. Yesterday helped to plant some ash trees in a park. Last year it was oak and sycamore.
I found you because of this article as well, and am very grateful for it. You put in words what I have been saying and trying to explain for years. I did share your article on my FB yesterday, and even though my friends are very respectful, I know I have stirred some of them up…YAY!
Thank you for writing it!
I believe what you are referring to when people find themselves in a fit of rage (or disbelief or whatever), it is called cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance happens when a person or group of people are accustomed to believing a certain way about a holiday, person, political party, school system, etc… (you get the point), and when they are given new information that is contrary to what is comfortable to their belief, they vehemently reject it, or they attempt to put that new information seamlessly into their old patterns of belief. This is never effective.
Our ethno/cultural (global) society today is experiencing several avenues of cognitive dissonance. It is tricky to navigate. It takes major shifts in the psyche to handle the amount of fast changes occuring today, when one grows up in a rigid, structured community.
Higher order thinking/critical thinking is challenging, and often it is easier to be “told” what to believe and how, than to question.
My son goes through these challenges of cognitive dissonance, mostly because when he learns a “truth” (different from what he “knew”), it disturbs him that he didn’t know it before. It’s as if he feels deeply guilty for other’s choices. Social/emotional pain is intense for himl, and it’s worse when he realizes he caused the pain (that he was unaware of), and when he sees another group suffer. It’s a good thing he has my daughter and I to help guide him, because we can help him navigate the socio/emotional growth….. Otherwise he would be one of the people who shut down because it’s easier than changing perceptions based on new information
Anyway, thank you for posting. It is well received with me.
I read your article yesterday as it was doing the rounds on Facebook. I didn’t find the personal views in it strange (except the comment comparison of modern neopagans to jews in the wake of the holocaust which I though was insensitive and a little foolish, no direspect). In fact I could quite understand them if you believe half the things stated in your article are true.
One of the things that I didn’t like about the article was the lack of historical sources or evidence you make for your claims. You made some pretty heavy claims with no evidence. I think this is why many people where offended by it. As some of it came across, as what it was: a very romantic account of Irish culture and history written by an American who knows very little about Ireland and her people.
I also felt the article was unnecessarily and unfairly anti-christian, inflammatory in many ways, at some points bordering on hate speech. Yes you claimed that you don’t begrudge people celebrating St Patricks day yet in the same breath you make a lot of unfounded accusations about historical Christians in Ireland.