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Thursday, March 13, 2014

St. Patrick's Day and Leprechauns

Briefly, St. Patrick was born (c. 456-93) to a Roman family in Britain near Scotland, captured by Irish raiders at 16 and sold as a slave in Ireland to herd pigs and sheep. For 6 years, he survived solitude and weather by prayer and singing psalms and realized he had a vocation to the priesthood. Guided by a dream he escaped and traveled across Ireland to find a ship waiting to take him home to Britain, where he was trained as a priest and became a bishop. Then in another dream he heard the Irish people calling him to come back and bring them the Christian message. He returned to Ireland, where several missionaries had already died, now 'a slave for Christ', to be instrumental in the mass conversion of Ireland. There are many fun hagiographic stories about St. Patrick,
but I want to focus on the real reason we should be celebrating and why St. Patrick is so popular in Ireland. He was called by God and followed the call at the right time to facilitate the subsequent mass conversion of the Irish people. The amazing part is not St. Patrick's life, but the call he received to be a tool at a tipping point in the lives of those in need and the beautiful conversion experiences that followed and lead to such wonderful good works.

The Irish church was hugely responsible for maintaining the Christian faith during the times of terrible upheavals in Europe (formerly known as the Dark Ages) as the Vikings, Huns and Ottomans brought about the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire. But Ireland, though also dealing with Vikings, learned Christianity and literacy, which preserved much of what was lost elsewhere. This achievement was made more remarkable by the fact that Pre-Christian Ireland was mostly illiterate. Literacy threatened the ruling Bardic System built on memorized knowledge and was suppressed to prevent what had already happened in Britain, the persecution of the Bards and Druids and the loss of so much knowledge as they were hunted and killed. But the Irish took to literacy like fish to water. Copies of many sacred text were preserved on the Emerald Isle and missionaries went out from there to reinvent the remnants of the Christian church that were left after the invasions. Though many think St. Patrick's Day is a day to get drunk, it is really a day to remember God working in history to bring the Irish people to the light of Christianity and literacy to save his church from obliteration.

Mythological Humanoids Species #1-3
1. leprechaun - (In honor of the upcoming St. Patrick's Day.) The modern “Lucky Charms” variety of leprechaun is not how this mythical race started. If fact, in Dublin, Ireland, there is a Leprechaun Museum, that traces the historical development of this once sinister race. They have often been confused with clurichauns and far darrig.(see below) All three races are ugly little men, with faces like withered apples, that give you something if you catch them without being outsmarted by them.

According to James MacKillop, author of the Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, in the 8th century leprechauns were luchorpans, water sprites. When they were caught trying to spirit off Fergus son of Lete, he forced them to teach him to swim instead. According to Arthur Coterell author of The Macmillian Illustrated Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends, the word “leprechaun” comes from the Irish for “Little stooping Lugh.” Lugh was the Irish sun god, also in charge of crafts and smithing, hence the hammer and shoe cobblering.

There are many legends about the tricksiness of leprechauns trying to keep their gold from the Irish humans. It's a popular motif for a poor and starving people, but any sinisterness could be explained as tricks and self protection that all hidden magical races need to employ to coexist beside more dominant humans.

2. clurichauns – Though very similar to modern leprechauns, a clurichaun is more likely to wear red than green, to be found in a rich man's wine cellar draining his stock than in the field shoe cobbling and more likely to carry a purse with some money in it in addition to knowing where gold is hidden. They seem to be upper class leprechauns.

3. far darrig – These little men are similar to the other two, but are more prone to foul speech and practical jokes that sometimes turn gruesome. They can also release humans trapped in Fairy Land and appear taller if they want to.

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