Corra, Great Serpent Goddess of Ireland and Scotland whose name is almost forgotten today, called forth the serpents of life, death, and rebirth to twine the magic of eternity around the lives of our ancestors. Even though snakes never inhabited Irish land, both the serpent and the dragon were ancient symbols of life, fertility, wisdom, and immortality for the Celts.
The primal connection of goddess to serpent to Earth was alive all across the ancient world. Corra, Great Serpent Goddess, was most likely there before the Milesians arrived. She was probably there before the Tuatha de Danaan arrived.
Corra embodies Earth and yet she can also transform into a crane, further symbolizing the transformation of body to spirit on our journey through the great circle of life.
Rebirth, transformation, immortality, healing. Corra calls you to accept the ever-changing, transformative nature of life as you move through its cycles from birth to death to rebirth.
Corra’s ancient stories are lost to us today, save for one, a story in which St. Patrick kills her and drives the snakes from Ireland. Since there were no snakes in Ireland, this story is most certainly a mythopoetic one which illustrates how Christianity drove out the Old Religion, the Druids, and the worship of Corra.
In the story, St. Patrick chases Corra all across Ireland to the final battle at Lough Derg. Lough Derg, with several island in the lake, was an important religious site for the Old Religion. A prehistoric mound is visible on Station Island where today a Christian basilica and popular retreat sanctuary are prominent. The more northerly island, Saints Island, was the most important site of pilgrimage for the early Christians. It was a Purgatory Center and housed the original priory of the lake.
In one version of the story, when Corra faced down St. Patrick at Lough Derg she swallowed him whole. As Mircea Eliade noted in Rites and Symbols of Initiation, being swallowed by the snake can be seen as a return to the womb and “a complete regeneration of the initiate through his gestation and birth by the Great Mother.”
But St. Patrick was not an initiate seeking rebirth through the Mother’s womb. No, he was intent on stamping out the influence of the Serpent Goddess and her promise of regeneration and unity – concepts directly opposed by the new Christian church’s doctrine of duality, sin, and salvation through Christ.
St. Patrick passed two days and two nights within Corra’s body, eventually cutting his way out and killing her in the process. The water of the lake turned red with her blood and her body turned to stone. These stones were seen jutting out of the lake near to Saints Island and became part of the penitent experience of Purgatory.
The cave of the purgatory reflects yet another pagan association with the story. It corresponds to the long-practiced Old European tradition of incubation or temple sleep. A far cry from purgatory, where the dead go to suffer for their sins before being allowed into heaven, sacred caves were used by initiates to enter the Otherworld, meet their ancestors, and gain knowledge and wisdom to bring back to a renewed life. Generally, serpents were associated with these caves and with the initiation experience. The cave of St Patrick’s Purgatory might well have been a dream cave used in pagan initiation ceremonies. It might have been a cave where worshipers of the Old Religion went to meet the Great Serpent Goddess, Corra, thus gaining wisdom and deep knowledge of the never-ending cycle of life.
Corra reminds you to honor your place as a child of the Goddess and to rejoice in the beauty of the ever-changing physical life on Earth.
To view or purchase a deck of Judith’s Celtic Goddess Oracle cards visit her website
Here’s another story about St Patrick and the harm he created for practitioners of the Old Faith – by storyteller, Ali Isaac – click here.