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Bronze shield from Lough Gur in National Museum of Ireland

It may be good to start St Patrick’s Day with a Celtic blessing that has been given his name. The blessing is known as Saint Patrick’s Breastplate. It is a lorica, or “breastplate-charm”, believed to offer a shield of protection as we journey through life.

The translation of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate was made from the Old Irish by Cecil Frances Alexander in 1889. The original text was probably written down in the 8th century, some 300 years after Patrick’s ministry in Ireland.

But my favorite verse, moving in the waves of a traditional druidic incantation for protection on a journey, probably predates the saint and the coming of Christianity to Ireland by many centuries:

I arise now through
the strength of heaven
light of sun
radiance of moon
splendor of fire
speed of lightning
swiftness of wind
depth of ocean
stability of earth
firmness of rock 

We often speak these lines on the last morning of the retreats I lead, claiming our connection with the elemental powers that are named, and with the power of heaven, through our body language as well as through speech.

In its fuller version, as a Christian hymn, the blessing begins with this affirmation:

I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same
the Three in One and One in Three 

You can easily find the full version online by searching for “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate” or “I bind unto myself today”. You’ll notice there are different versions of the text, which is also in many hymnals.

If you want to say this blessing today, in whatever form, you will want to speak the words three times. All Celts know that three times makes the charm.

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