Ad Solis Victi Hibernicum: To the Conquered Irish Sun

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Setting Sun, Atlantic Ocean, Ireland (Image: Author)

Seeing as today is the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, I thought I’d share the earliest contemporary historical reference to pagan Irish sun-worship which is found within Patrick’s Confessio, written sometime in the fifth century AD. It occurs at the very climax of the document as Patrick is signing off and declaring his deep Christian faith and belief in his ‘children of the living God and co-heirs of Christ’…

Nam sol ipse quem uidemus iubente propter nos cotidie oritur, sed numquam regnabit neque permanebit splendor eius, sed et omnes qui adorant eum in poenam miseri male deuenient…

For the sun itself which we observe rising daily at his command will indeed never reign nor its splendor endure, but/and all people who worship it will come to a wretched/pitiful punishment…

Patricius, Confessio #60

From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same…

Unlike the myths and legends of later centuries which portray Saint Patrick as battling druids in hollywood type fiery conflagrations, this is one of the few fleeting clues that the historical Patrick leaves us concerning pagan practices of the native Irish. It is a statement of faith, in passing; a metaphorical and rhetorical snapshot in time addressed to fellow Christians and intended to bolster their confidence as a religious minority. It is not triumphalism, as some modern-day moomin trolls sometimes claim; and to take it as such is to completely misrepresent a man who categorically believed his Christian converts and mission were balancing on the knife-edge of failure.

Instead, it should be viewed in context. A biased & prejudiced external witness of insular Irish beliefs and practices… but a witness, nonetheless; and the earliest surviving one we have from a hazy and elusive turning point between Irish prehistory and Irish history. Regardless of religious belief and practice (and unbeknownst to all at the time) the transition would indeed involve a setting sun of sorts for one period and a rising sun on another.

‘Here Comes the Sun’

Irish sun worship nevertheless continued and is alive and well to this very day. One can usually find members of the religious persuasion on Irish beaches and in backgardens nationwide, ritually smearing themselves (and bucketloads of half-cooked meat) in vegetable oil and glancing fearfully at the rarely seen but wonderous & mysterious golden orb in the sky.

Rightly enough, many suffer a ‘wretched and pitful punishment’ as a result. An Irish tan.

Happy Solstice.

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