St. Patrick’s Day, Liberalia, and a Modern Neo-Pagan’s Ritual Calendar

In the ancient world—in the early modern world, as well, in fact, and to this very day in some places—the liturgical calendar was managed by the state.  That is, in fact, a large part of why we have the records we do.  Although this was not theocracy in any sense, this was not mere public piety, either: in addition to stimulating the economy—food stalls, sacrifices, costume, and the like—state-sponsored religious rituals helped form and maintain community bonds.

Today, in the United States, we don’t quite have state-sponsored religious rituals.  We have “bank holidays” which are not formal religious (or even nationalist) observances, though they “coincidentally” lean strongly in that direction, which are set aside by law so that employees of local, state, and federal governments have a paid day off, and bank employees do as well.  Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Labor Day.  We also have a number of “unofficial” holidays—that is, days when no one can count on a paid holiday, but which local authorities bend over backwards to facilitate.

The most recent of these is St. Patrick’s day.  I’ve heard so many different versions of the history, I’m not even entirely certain which ones to believe.  One thing I am certain of is that the snakes-as-pagans version plays into the historical oppression narrative that we’re a little too fond of—see the Burning Times—and on closer examination, doesn’t fit what I know of Christian myth without being viewed through that lens.  Another thing I’m certain of is that, regardless of its roots, its modern manifestation is harmful only in terms of liver damage and drunk driving.  Not being a fan of the whole “pinching (or punching) people for failing to wear green” thing, and being somewhat terrified of the amateur drunk drivers who come out of the woodwork on St.P’s and New Years.

My attitude about that sort of thing has changed over the last couple years.  For one, I’ve just flat-out loosened up a lot.  When I was younger, I found bars to be painfully over-stimulating on a regular Saturday; these days, I enjoy a little hyper-stimulation from time to time.

Then, late Friday night, I learned, about the festival of Liberalia through one of the above links.  Liber Pater, to the best of my knowledge, is not a god of wine and harvest “like Bacchus”, as the Wikipedia asserts, but one of Dionysus’ Roman cult titles.  Although the Roman reconstructionist source I find emphasize the part where of the festival at which a Roman youth was acknowledged as an adult man, Ovid memorializes it as a festival of fertility and protection under the auspices of Bacchus and formless Numina, of whom I previously had not heard and will need to do some research.

Now, as some of you may know, I count Dionysus among my patron divinities.  He and his representatives have helped me a few times, first at my initiation and during subsequent explorations of the Underworld.  But, other than offering him tastes of every batch of homebrew I make (every time I sample it myself during the racking process), and of most of my bottles of “recreational” wine and mead, we haven’t really worked out a devotional relationship yet.  I don’t know what he wants from me … if anything.

The coincidence of St. Patrick’s day—one of the great US drinking holidays—and a day sacred to Dionysus is too interesting to ignore.  And it seems like a good place to start.  So I made offerings at midnight when I discovered the fact, in the morning, and upon returning from the bar after my revelries.  He seemed to like them, but I (so far) haven’t gotten very … tactile responses for any of the offerings I make—from the gifts I give to Tsu, to the offerings I make to my Kouros and Cyclades figures, or to any of the other gods on my altar.

Besides, I need holidays more frequent than every six weeks.  Liberalia is now officially on my own personal calendar.