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