St Patrick’s Day — a day of merrymaking, dancing, and a whole load of drinking. That’s certainly the popular image anyway. From big foam leprechaun hats to green beer, dancing jigs and rolling on the floor — across the world it’s come to be associated with excessive revelry. These associations stem from the newer iteration of the festival, started by Irish expatriates in the USA.
Like many saint’s days, St Patrick’s day began in Ireland, as a day you went to church and thought about god. Pubs were actually closed! Pretty crazy considering in 2017 thirteen million pints of ‘the black stuff’ — i.e. Guinness — were consumed across the world for St Patrick’s day!
So how did we get here? And sure, the history of St. Paddy’s is drenched in booze — but if we dig deep enough, can we find a psychedelic influence?
You bet we can!
The History of St Patrick’s Day
First things first, turns out St Patrick was not Irish! Or called Patrick! Maewyn Succat was born in A.D. 390 in Britain, as the story goes, to a wealthy family. However, at age 16 Maewyn was kidnapped and spirited away to Ireland. There he was enslaved and tended to sheep for six or seven years. During this time he became deeply religious, and after a while (in classic saintly style) he began to hear the voice of god, imploring him to escape to Britain. He duly did, smuggling himself onto a ship.
However, when he got back to his family home, the voice told him he must return to Ireland. And so, ordained as a priest with a name change to Patricius (later Patrick) based on the latin word patr — meaning ‘father’, he returned to spread Christianity across the Emerald Isle. The Pagan Irish lords were not keen on this. So, St Patrick was regularly beaten and imprisoned, living in poverty and hardship. He did however, preach the gospel, teach, and build the first Christian churches across Ireland.
He died in 461 on the 17th of March, and since then many myths and legends about his achievements have grown. From driving the snakes from Ireland (though research has shown there never were any native snakes anyway!), to baptising hundreds of people in a day. It is said that the shamrock became the symbol of Ireland after St Patrick used it to describe the holy trinity.
The First Parade
For centuries the 17th of March was observed by the Irish as a religious holiday, visiting church in the morning and then merrymaking with food and drink in the afternoon. However, the first St Patrick’s day parade actually occurred in America in 1601 in a Spanish settlement! Ancient documents show that the priest presiding over the community was Irish — and so he wished to observe the celebration. Within a few decades it was established as a feast day, becoming a date of great importance to a growing population of Irish immigrants, who suffered persecution in their new home. A few hundred years later, it has grown into the luminous green behemoth we know and love today!
Druids And Pookies
Ok so far, so booze-driven. But Ireland has a rich history of natural psychedelic use, dating back to the ancient times of the Druids, the Celtic ‘priests’ who specialized in spirituality, philosophy and natural magic. (For a more in depth dive into the Druids click here!) The psychedelic Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria) mushroom favoured by the Celts features heavily in Irish iconography, and stories of spirits, fairies and ‘little people’ abound. In fact the slang for magic mushrooms is the same as the word for fairies — ‘pookies’. Makes you think huh?
So, there did always exist a deep psychedelic pulse in Ireland. However, in ancient mythology the use of psychedelics like magic mushrooms are often shrouded in metaphor — i.e. references to drugs are in code. (Kinda like today to be honest!) Many Irish legends feature a person gaining great knowledge or power from chowing down on some kind of magic edible. The classic Irish legend ‘The Salmon of Wisdom’ is a great example of this . The story goes that the Druid Finnegas had caught the long sought ‘salmon of wisdom’. The salmon has become magical by eating the ‘nuts of knowledge’ — hazelnuts imbued with the secrets of the world. His young assistant Finn McCool, tasked with cooking the salmon, is scalded by the fat from the sizzling fish.
Instinctively sucking on his thumb, Finn accidentally gains all the knowledge that his master had sought. Forever more, when he puts his thumb to his lips, ‘unknown things’ come to him.
Not only does this sound rather like the spiritual insight brought on by a shroom trip, it turns out that there are many crossovers between the ancient Irish words for ‘nut’ and ‘mushroom’. Is it a translational difference? And not only that — the head of the Liberty Cap mushroom is often described as nut-like, as well as thumb-like… hmmm so young Finn puts his ‘thumb’ to his mouth to gain insight, eh? Interesting…
“Red Flesh Of A Dog, Pig Or Cat“
There are many tales in a similar vein. In numerous ancient rituals participants were told to chew the ‘red flesh of a dog, pig or cat’ . Many believe this to be code for the scarlet fleshy cap of the Fly Agaric. This is supported by what was said to happen next…
The Imbas Forosnai was a knowledge-seeking ritual in which, after eating the ‘red flesh’, the participant placed their hands over their eyes and chanted. Calling out to their ancestors, they entered a trance that would last 3 days. They were watched over in the darkness by fellow Druids who were experienced in these matters — sounds rather like a trip sitter, hey? In fact, this sacred ritual is not a world away from Terence McKenna’s ‘heroic dose’ advice: take 5 grams and sit in a dark room, tripping your way to enlightenment… some things never change I guess…
It is said that a lot of these ‘code-words’ for psychedelics were introduced to shroud the ancient knowledge of the Celts from the Christians who overthrew them.
Celebrate St Patrick’s Day The Psychedelic Way!
We don’t think St Patrick would begrudge you however, from celebrating his day the way the ancient Irish might have — with a psychedelic trip gifted by a shroom, or that other ‘nut-of-knowlege’ — the magic truffle. So this St Patrick’s Day why not expand your mind like Finn McCool? And remember:
“…the whole world is Irish on the Seventeenth o’ March!“
T. A Daly