The arrival in Antrim of a young Caledonian slave named Succat would hardly seem worthy of historical note, but that slave became St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland and the person responsible for opening the land to Christianity. Patrick began by converting fellow slaves (who later aided his escape) and is said to have had an angelic vision of the people of Ireland crying out to him to be their spiritual guide.
Christian missionaries did exist in Ireland prior to Patrick's coming, but had little success. Patrick, understanding the religious politics of the land, started by attempting to convert the high king, Lagohaire. Though he was unsuccessful, he did amass an army large enough to gain access to Tara on Easter Sunday, 453 c.e.
Many of the legends regarding Patrick are unauthenticated, but they do show the systematic attempt to purge the faith in the Goddess form the Irish culture. It is said that during a famine, he made a herd of pigs appear - pigs were sacred and only consumed as on ritual occasions. The legend tell of Patrick "driving the snakes out of Ireland" is felt to be symbolic of the destruction of the influence of the Druids, who used small black snakes as familiars. Patrick is also given credit for making the shamrock the symbol of Ireland by linking it to the Holy Trinity, however the shamrock was already sacred to the people due to it's association with the Triple Goddess.
Patrick worked zealously building monasteries over Wittan sacred sites, enclosing sacred wells and standing stones in churchyards, and dismantling or christianizing Irish shrines. The office of "Bishop" was instituted at his behest and each clan received one, willing or not.
It is interesting to note, however that in many ways Patrick did a great service to the Wittan religion in preserving some of the earliest know pagan legends. In his effort to preserve the native culture of Ireland, he had many of the oral traditions committed to text. His reasoning, however, remains unclear as he latter had many of the original Celtic works of religion and literature burned.
Patrick and those who followed him were aware of the druidic veneration for trees and were undisturbed by it, the notion that that the people worshiped stones, however, had them roiling. The probably gained this impression from the stone megaliths and dolmens erected throughout the islands. Neither the Wittans, nor the Druids worshiped stones, and yet the papacy continuously denounced the practice.
Patrick's ploy to undermine the power of the Druids began by convincing his converts that Druidic power was a gift directly for Satan, a conjecture based on the small black snakes Druids used for familiars, and the connection between the serpent and the Christian Devil. The same rational would later be used against Latin Americans who worshiped a serpentine deity.
Christian influence in Ireland was temporarily crushed when Scandinavians, sympathetic to the Irish pagan cause, invaded. The Church turned a blind eye to the invaders and the Vikings were not routed until 1014 when King Brian Boru won the battle of Clontarf. The Church's inability to protect Ireland lost them many followers who, in keeping with Celtic custom, could not trust a leader that was not a proven warrior.
The Church's final assault began when they refused to tolerate Irish women's worship of a separate Goddess any longer and, in 1115, King Henry II obtained a papal bull authorizing his possession of Ireland. The Church then began to dismantle the Old Religion by force.
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