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On St. Patrick, Snakes, and Irish-ness

Journal

Embodied Rituals for Skin + Soul

On St. Patrick, Snakes, and Irish-ness

Katie Gordon

I have a little something different for you today. Well, different perhaps than what you're used to reading from me, but I'm actually going to share with you a part of me that I've grown quite used to...

 Image from  Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

"I f*cking hate St. Patrick's Day."

My roommate at the time looked at me, confused. "Aren't you Irish?" she asked.

I was in college in Boston in those days, studying medieval Irish history (yes, I got crap from my family for choosing that as my major 😉 ). I was learning a lot about the spread of Christianity and conversion of pagan tribes to Christian kingdoms. But I think part of me was also attempting to uncover the mystery of my roots. Who were these people I felt so drawn to learn about? What about Celtic culture spoke so deeply to me? And why did I so badly feel the need to connect with the physical land of Éire?

My grandmother recently passed away, but before she did, she did a DNA test that showed she was 98% Irish. I knew most of my family had come from there, but had no idea the extent. Growing up, I didn't hear much about my Irish immigrant ancestors except that they never talked about Ireland. They never talked about the journey over, why they came (we all assumed it was the famine/genocide), or what it was like there.

I always felt a huge disconnect. Like someone had literally cut a thread between my ancestors and me. I needed to know them beyond the little bits and pieces I knew from the family stories.

Since college, I've been in what feels like a deep dive to learn everything I could about the land, the people, the culture, and what "Celtic" actually means. I saw a major split while living in Boston for many years between what I felt to be Celtic and how "Irish-ness" is so often represented in popular culture. I'd end up feeling frustrated when having conversations with people who didn't understand why I had a problem with celebrating St. Patrick's Day getting by wasted and honoring a man who "drove the snakes from Ireland."

Snakes being the representation of the Goddess, the pre-Christian traditions, religion, and customs of the Celts. 

Now, most of my work is in traditional western herbalism, in particular European herbalism, in an attempt to find my own connection to the land of my ancestors and the cycles by which they lived, while remaining in communion with my own place. After all, how can I be present and a steward of the land I'm honored to inhabit if I'm always wishing to be somewhere else (which I spent a long time doing)?

Why am I telling you all of this?

A few reasons. One being that I think it's important for us to ask sometimes-difficult questions about who, what, and how we celebrate + honor. This isn't a dig at St. Patrick, we don't actually know much about him given that history wasn't written down much at the time, and most of what we do know about him are stories told much later. This is simply an invitation to look at what we currently accept as okay and think about how we might honor our ancestors AND do better. St. Patrick's Day doesn't have to be an opportunity to further solidify cliche, stereotypical images of drunken Irish and little men with red beards and green hats. It can be a time to reconnect with your roots, the land, history, and a people whose depth is immense and ancient.

But a huge part of my work is also in guiding folks to remember and embody who they are. So another reason I share this is to encourage you to learn more about the land you come from, who you come from, what their customs were/are, and how can that guide you to be more present where you are. 

It's the medicine of place. Place can teach us a lot about embodiment + presence, as can our ancestors. Listen. Sense. Open more than you thought you could, more than you dared to in the past, to how your ancestors are still very much alive in you and how the work you do in this time, this place, can echo back in time.

Happy St. Patrick's day from my wild heart to yours,
Katie