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News: Slithering Celts

All Snakes Day shows St. Patrick missed a few

By Lew Moores · March 12th, 2003 · News
  Susan Kern and Monty Python are among the attractions at the All Snakes Day Faire.
Jymi Bolden

Susan Kern and Monty Python are among the attractions at the All Snakes Day Faire.

Instead of green beer there is mead, a fermented honey wine. In place of St. Patrick is Monty Python -- a four-foot ball python whose ancestors the saint was said to have driven out of Ireland.

Organizers bill it as an alternative to St. Patrick's Day, a day devoted to celebrating paganism, Celtic culture and its followers -- the metaphorical "snakes'' whom St. Patrick set out to convert in Ireland in the year 432 A.D.

There won't be a parade. Instead there is music, workshops, food, vendors, yoga and dancing.

It's called the All Snakes Day Faire. Organizers hope 150 to 250 attend the program Saturday at St. John Unitarian Church in Clifton. Its purpose is not so much to denigrate the memory of St. Patrick as to celebrate, in the alternative, those peoples in Ireland he tried to convert more than 1,500 years ago.

While the day offers an alternative to a religious holiday, it's also a celebration of all things natural and earth-based -- especially snakes.

Snake dancing
The celebration comes as the days warm, the snow melts -- slowly -- and snakes begin emerging from burrows and hiding places.

"It's an appropriate seasonal celebration,'' says Susan Hergert, one of the organizers of the All Snakes Day Faire. "In the spring, snakes come back out when it warms up.''

Susan Kern considers herself a pagan. By that, she means "an earth-based spirituality. It's more an idea that sacredness exists in the earth and with all living things, rather than a God that lives in heaven.''

Paganism is something akin, she says, to Native American cultures, Hinduism and ancient European beliefs.

Kern's snake, Monty Python, doesn't have to emerge from winter hibernation. It lives in her home. The snake hides in an aquarium cave, has food and water and a heater that keeps it warm. The reptile is easy to care for, Kern says.

"A snake doesn't need a lot of attention,'' she says. "You feed it about twice a month. You have to clean its cage maybe once a month. You handle it whenever you feel like handling it. A lot of people don't want to touch one. But when he's on my arm, it's like he's caressing me. It's not a creepy-crawly feeling at all.''

Does Monty have a personality? Well, yeah, Kern says.

"Whenever I pick him up, he starts moving around,'' she says.

She's lived with Monty for five years, and while a snake might lack the personality of a dog or even a cat, she can dance with Monty -- as she will at All Snakes Day.

"In a lot of religions, especially earth religions, they've always been a sacred symbol,'' Kern says. "I had taken some belly dancing lessons. Susan Hergert suggested, 'Why don't you try dancing with the snake?' So I tried dancing with the snake at home and it worked out well. It's actually very easy to dance with a snake. It's a great prop. A snake kind of moves a little bit like a belly dancer.''

Literature promoting All Snakes Day asks, "Why are you wearing green and acting like you're Irish? What the heck is wrong with snakes?''

Pre-Christian ways
The celebration Saturday is a full plate, with workshops on the esoteric and straight-forward -- everything from Tantra techniques, serpent goddesses, serpent power and 'kundalini,' cross cultural serpent mythology to a biography of St. Patrick.

Amol Indian restaurant will serve an Indian buffet, and vendors will offer Celtic and pagan jewelry, candles, soaps and salts, incense, tarot decks, books on yoga, music CDs and bath oils. The Blessing of the Snakes is at 6 p.m.

"It's kind of a fun thing,'' says Ellen Parker, one of the organizers. "It allows people to have an alternative knowledge. It's a chance to learn something you didn't know before, look at something in a different way, whether you agree with it or not.''

Hergert agrees.

"Obviously, it's not a joke,'' she says. "We're not doing it to make fun of St. Patrick. We're approaching it as a fun thing and to raise some awareness. For those of us of Celtic descent, St. Patrick's Day is a holiday I would have liked to celebrate, but also feel sad about. I should have been happy to celebrate something that was Irish. But I know that what it meant for my ancestors was the death of their religion.

"The mythology is that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland," Hergert says. "On a literal level, what's wrong with snakes and why would you drive them out of a certain place? Isn't the place overrun with rats in their absence?''

The event is light-hearted in nature, according to Mark Stucker, who plays in one of the bands that will perform and has helped promote the faire.

"I wouldn't want anyone to be scared away from it,'' he says. "It's more a secular thing. But one of the reasons pagans were called 'snakes' is because in a lot of their mythology, they had a snake that was a creature that was revered.''

While some pagans compare St. Patrick to Christopher Columbus, whose work paved the way to the annihilation of several cultures, Parker is a bit more circumspect.

"St. Patrick's mission was to Christianize Ireland,'' she says. "I think he was very sincere. But compared to Columbus? It's such a judgmental call. Christians would say he was very good and others might say he was imposing his ideas on other people. The story of his ridding Ireland of snakes is a metaphor. He converted people is actually what he did.''

Pagans with their snakes -- or neo-paganists, as Stucker calls them -- are a tolerant breed, he says.

"They honor other peoples' faiths,'' Stucker says. "They all believe in something. Live and let live -- as long as they're not stepping on our tails.''

All Snakes Day Faire is from 3 p.m.-midnight Saturday at St. John's Unitarian Church, 320 Resor Ave., Clifton. Admission is $5.


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