So, the inevitable St. Patrick’s Day post.

I celebrate St. Patty’s Day because people would look at me funny if I paraded around in a kilt on St. Andrew’s Day with a plate of haggis. 

The legend of St. Patrick is one of those big symbolic myths.  Patrick, so the story goes, was born in Britain, kidnapped by raiders, and taken to Ireland where he was held as a slave.  Eventually he was freed and returned to Britain.  He returned some time later as a missionary and began converting everybody.  Then he drove the snakes off the island.

There is a school of thought that the “snakes” in the story symbolize the Goddess of the ancient Celtic religions.  If you’ve read The Red Tent, The Mists of Avalon, or any of the many other feminist-chick-lit books out there, you’re familiar with this general theme.  (I shouldn’t lump Mists in with that group, really.  It’s a damn good book.) 

Robert Graves’ White Goddess, however, is the scholarly source for most of these.   The book has its critics: historians who argue inaccuracies; Christians who consider it blasphemous; neo-pagans who call it too Judeo-Christian.  Modern experts point out that there was no “Triple Goddess” (maiden-mother-crone) in Celtic mythology.  Feminists call it sexist because, in Graves’ view, women may not be poets, only “muses.”

I think these critics are missing the point.  White Goddess is more a history of the bardic tradition, and in writing the book Graves inherited, in my opinion anyway, the torch previously held by Yeats, Eliot, and Auden, respectively.

Lawyers share a common heritage with the Celtic bards.  In ancient Ireland, a class of poets known as fili served as religious leaders, lawgivers and judges for the community.  Eventually they developed “niche practices”, with brehons as lawyers/judges, druids as priests, and the fili as poets.  These poets, or bards, held a vital position in Celtic society.  They were the keepers of cultural heritage and collective wisdom. 

This tradition declined with the influx of Christianity and eventually gave way to the chivalric romances that we associate with Olde England: Arthur, Tristan and Isolde, Sir Gawain. 

The oral histories of the fili-bards likely contributed to what is quite possibly Ireland’s greatest gift to the world (besides the Jameson): the Book of Kells. 

Although – some believe the manuscript was actually created in Scotland.  But let’s not spill any Laphroaig over it. 

Erin go bragh!