Summary: There are spiritual truths to the legend of St. Patrick driving snakes out of Ireland. Knowing those truths equips you to share the Gospel of Christ for St. Patrick’s Day.
The Snakes St. Patrick Overcame in Ireland
Over the centuries, people have succumbed to myths placing them over truth because it pleases the flesh, causing them to miss the blessings of Holy Spirit leading. The Bible tells Christians, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourselves for godliness…” (1 Timothy 4:7) Those who are called to preach are to “[charge people] to not devote themselves to myths.” (1 Timothy 1:4) “Myths” (µ???? múthos) are commonly rendered as a tale which is fabricated by the mind in contrast to reality, a fable full of pretense. (Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.)
There is a myth about St. Patrick which is being used to intrigue people about the life and work of a great missionary for the Lord. Others are using the myth to cause people to not believe anything about what God had done through St. Patrick. The myth: St. Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland being mislabeled as a legend.
The reality is Paleontologists confirm that no snakes had lived in Ireland. It is likely the snakes being referred to were the pagan ideology which kept people from knowing and serving the God of heaven. Scholars believe the snake legend is an allegory for St. Patrick’s eradication of pagan ideology. Since snakes often represent evil in literature, "when Patrick drives the snakes out of Ireland, it is symbolically saying he drove the old, evil, pagan ways out of Ireland [and] brought in a new age," said classics professor Philip Freeman of Luther College in Iowa. (Ancient Origins, Reconstructing the True Story of History)
What we do know is the serpent used by Satan to deceive Eve, motivated her and Adam to walk outside of God’s perfect will for them. They fell into sin. In Genesis 3:1 we read, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the animals the Lord God had made.” The fall of man was effected by the seduction of a serpent. Many Scriptures place Satan as the author of the plot to tempt Eve and Adam to walk outside the perfect will of God. (Jn 8:44; 2 Co 11:3; 1 Jn 3:8; 1 Ti 2:14; Rev 20:2; ). Crafty, (?????? -?arûm) connotes in Arabic, Aramaic, and Syriac, a negative tone to be shrewd. In the Greek term (panourgos) means to be ready do anything by the use of cunning behavior. (Allen, R. B. (1999). 1698 ?????. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 697). Chicago: Moody Press.) The Hebrew word here denotes the craft of the tempter to do evil. (Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament (Vol. 1, p. 59). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.) The Bible tells Christians not be “blown here and there by every wind of teaching [drawn] by the craftiness of men.” (Ephesians 4:14) Traditional Jewish and Christian teachings see the serpent in Genesis 3 as the instrument of Satan. The serpent, Luther explained, “The devil was permitted to enter the beasts, as he here entered the serpent. For there is no doubt that it was a real serpent in which Satan was in and conversed with Eve” (LW 1.151). – (Mathews, K. A. (1996). Genesis 1-11:26 (Vol. 1A, pp. 232–233). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.) Snakes have long been used in Judeo-Christian religion as a symbol of sin and temptation.
It is interesting that Jesus called the false teachers of His time, snakes. He said, “You snakes, you brood of vipers!” (Matthew 23:33)
Symbols of Serpent in St. Patrick’s Time
Historian, Thomas Moriarty specialized in pre-Christian Ireland tells us the myth of St. Patrick driving snakes out of Ireland emerged from a too-literal translation of an ancient sixth century text called the Dinnshenchas. The text carries the account of a religious sect called the Crom Cruich, who used the symbolism of the snake. In time the Crom Cruich became a powerful force in Ireland, whose followers used the snake as symbol.
“Crom Cruich literally means bloody crescent a pagan site of worship near the village of Ballymagauran in County Cavan. This was in the plain of Mag Sleact, translated as the “Field of Adoration.”
Faithful Crom Cruich members were expected to sacrifice their first born to assure a good harvest. On what we would call November 01 of each year, the date of the pagan feast, Samhain, was the time set for the annual slaughter of their babies.
It is possible, this is the symbolism of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. St. Patrick and his missionaries invaded the place of the annual feast, mocked it demons, blessed the place and then destroyed the site. By all accounts, a major battle took place, with St. Patrick and his followers wining in the end.