Ah, Saint Patrick’s Day… The day when everyone gets to be Irish and you remember you never actually liked corned beef or cabbage.
You know all about St, P., right? He’s the fellow who drove out the snakes out of Ireland (though there never actually were any there in the first place). He’s the one who taught the poor, ignorant natives about the holy trinity with the use of local flora. He’s the bloke who gave people across the world a reason to spill beer on people on March 17.
For as long as the modern pub-going can set can remember, these stories of snakes and shamrocks have served well enough over the requisite round (or six) of Guinness. And yet, I wonder…
We live in an age when we’re called to question the relentless progress of colonization, to consider indigenous rights and stories, and to ask whether the representatives of the church were always acting on righteous authority.
This St. Paddy’s Day, what if raise our glasses to a different Irish story?
In our complicated times, the simple savior myths rarely meet the diverse needs of the collective. When history looks more like a Celtic knot than an upright cross, we might need to drink to stories that are a little more… serpentine.
Four Brothers and a Goddess
Once upon a time (or “fadó fadó” as they say as Gaeilge), four royal brothers were out hunting in the wildest, most remote part of Ireland. The stag they chased took them deeper into the wilderness than they’d ever been before. As night fell and they sought shelter in the forest, there was no food nor water nor comfort to be found.
Oh, what luck! They came across a well. But, just as the eldest brother was about to reach down and take a drink, a loathsome hag appeared. Hairy chin, pocked face, milky eye… the full nightmare of the aging feminine stood before them.
“I am the guardian of this sacred well,” she announced. “Ye can drink all that you like, but first… a kiss.”
This particular young man was accustomed to the pretty young things who hung about the castle. He’d rather die of thirst than give himself to such a wizened crone. He told her so and went off to sulk and lick his own dry lips.
Picture a similar scene with the next two brothers. Thirsty, arrogant lads and an old woman who stands her ground, wrapped not in an embrace, but in a lonely passion for her work. Youthful stubbornness and ancient dedication, side by side.
But then, the youngest brother, Niall, made his way to the well. For the fourth time, the guardian makes her offer, “You can drink all that you like, but you must kiss me first.”
Cynics might say that Niall was just terribly parched. Romantics might say he saw something in that ancient creature’s eye. Students of myth might say that he’d heard this one before and knew there was more than a tumbler of water in his future if he accepted her offer.
He kissed the crone, the cailleach.
The old woman was transformed into a siren who would give any modern fantasy heroine a run for her money, and the two didn’t stop when they hit first base. Not too long after, thanks to her aid, Niall would become king and this magical being from the well would be his queen.
The old woman, of course, was the Sovereignty Goddess in disguise.
According to Celtic mythology, not only is she the keeper of sacred waters, but she embodies the sanctity of the land as well. The Sovereignty Goddess bestows kingship on the man who is worthy of her, the country, and its people. For at least part of the story, she’s the real force behind the throne.
When we tell different stories we find a new way forward
Perhaps you feel like you’re on a divine mission to drive out ignorance and spread your version of revelation. If you’re that certain of your path and you see St. Patrick as an archetype who empowers you to keep on keepin’ on, slaying demons, and spreading your almighty vision, fair play to you. Let us know how that goes.
I myself must admit I’m not all that excited to jump into the conversion game.
Let’s drink to transformation, a different kind of power, and seeing past a woman’s looks, shall we?
I’ve got my ideas and passions, sure, and I do believe I can help people change themselves and the world for the better, but I can see my story reflected more clearly in the waters of a sacred well than in a saint’s nationwide anti-reptile campaign.
When I have my chance to show off my knowledge of Irish lore this St. Paddy’s Day, I’m going to tell this story. I’ll tell it because I want to remind folks that no one is too old to kissed (with consent) and because the straightforward, easy narrative is rarely true or satisfying.
3 Lessons from the Sovereignty Goddess (that just may help you before, during, and after a pub crawl)
1) This Sovereignty Goddess, she models what it means to know your value and worth, even if the average member of a stag party couldn’t see it. She wasn’t going to give her power away for free and she wasn’t going to lavish her gifts on anyone who would demean or disrespect her.
2) The Sovereignty Goddess teaches us how to embody the magic rebirth and reinvention. Sure, life may have been hard, and she may have lost a bit of her sparkle and shine along the way. She might have chosen to hide from the world until she’d gathered her strength. But, when the time was right, she could reclaim her energy and reemerge into the world.
3) Finally, the Sovereignty Goddess shows us how to be the source and catalyst for others’ transformation. She gave Niall the chance to show he wasn’t the shallow cad his brothers were. Thanks to her guidance and support, he would achieve what would have seemed impossible for a youngest son: the crown.
And, the goddess gave the land and its people what it needed at that time: a just leader who respected women and natural resources and could see beyond his own ego.
A note on being a different kind of hero
Let’s not forget Niall here. He’s got plenty to teach us as we plan a St. Patrick’s Day fueled by a new set of stories.
Niall was a man could look past first appearances, meet a challenge, accept a gift when offered, make his own decisions, and see wisdom and possibility where others saw a person to be discarded. He was surrounded by the testosterone surges of his brothers, but he saw the truth and potential of the feminine. Put simply, in this story, he ditched the toxic masculinity and he did the right thing.
The messages in the story of Niall and the Sovereignty Goddess are varied, conflicting, and multi-layered. You might be inspired by goddess’s shapeshifting abilities or the way age is nothing but a number. You might find the magic in the sacred relationship that begins in an unexpected way. Perhaps you just need a break from the old narrative that tells us that snakes are bad and that every sacred well needs to be re-christened in the name of a saint.
No matter how you read and retell this story: accept the invitation, know your own power, be kind, and drink deep.
Want more of the Sovereignty Goddess and the lessons she can teach us modern beings?
My book, The Sovereignty Knot: A Collection of Thirteen Beginnings is coming in October, 2019. Join my launch team to get a free advance copy and other bonuses!