Note: This recipe was originally shared at Gather Victoria on Patreon. It was originally a recipe for Imbolc but for reasons that will soon become apparent- I thought I’d share it here for St. Patricks Day!
St. Patrick was said to have driven all of the snakes out of Ireland – which is odd. While snakes were native in other parts of the UK there were no snakes in Ireland! The Celtic peoples likely brought the mythology surrounding snakes when they arrived in the UK from mainland Europe, sometime around 500 to 100 BC. This suggests St. Patrick was banishing not actual snakes but the worship of heathen goddesses they represented. And in Ireland that would have likely been the great Celtic Goddess Brigit who took form in spring as the snake!
Hence these Cheesy Dandelion Spirals or Snakes, filled with dandelion greens and manchego (sheep cheese) – foods both linked with Brigid – a great dish to serve during Imbolc! Hibernating snakes come out of their holes around this time of the year and the ancient Celts of continental Europe linked Brigid with a snake who emerged from her mound on the first day of spring. Historian Miriam Dexter writes that in Ireland, “the Celtic Brigid also called Brigantia and Bride was the snake, the “Queen of the Mound” and Linda Foubisterin her book Goddess in the Grass: Serpentine Mythology and the Great Goddess tells us that in Scotland, St. Bride was dubbed “the Serpent Queen.” At Inverness, she was associated with a barrow at Glenelg, which was said to have connections with serpent worship, and from which she was supposed to have arisen on February 1st, St. Bride’s Day.
Both Dexter and Foubister suggest that many of the traditions associated with St. Brigit in Ireland actually date back to Old Europe. Foubister writes “Brigit [the old Irish spelling of Brigid]is a pre-Celtic goddess as the root of the word Brí is an indigenous European word for female divinity.”
In Neolithic European archaeological remains and art of early Indo-European peoples, we find many artefacts and images of snakes together with other symbols of spring such as flowers, young animals and nesting birds. According to Marija Gimbutas, the Lithuanian American anthropologist known for her research into the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of Old Europe, “the awakening of the snakes meant the awakening of all of nature, the beginning of the life of the new year.” The snake sheds its skin, shedding the old to appear new each year, making it a cross-cultural symbol of transformation and rebirth.
Often symbolized with spirals or spiralling patterns (the spiralling pattern of growth itself) artwork, pottery and vases show forth gigantic snakes winding over the whole universe, or over the sun, moon and stars. They coil below growing plants or coil above the belly of a pregnant woman, suggesting the snake was the guardian of the old goddess mysteries of immortality and regeneration.
We can catch what may be a glimpse of this old serpent worship in the traditions of the Lithuanians who celebrated the “Day of Serpents” as the beginning of spring and the renewal of life. They showed reverence to Saule, their sun Goddess, by taking care of her sacred green snake. Saule was depicted as a woman pouring light from a jug. She wore a crown with a snake on it, symbolizing fertility and abundance. On the Day of Serpents, reverence was paid to Saule, by preparing dishes for the snakes and inviting them into the homes. To kill a snake was sacrilege to the goddess – who would weep upon seeing a dead snake. Often they were fed with bowls of milk, a custom that mirrors the offering of the first milk to the goddess Brigid customary to Imbolc. Similar customs were observed in parts of the Roman Empire – which included many Celtic peoples.
Spirals were also associated with the mounds, cairns and megaliths which blanket Europe. While these earth/stone works were not created by the Celts but the earliest inhabitants of the UK, they shared a fascination with the astronomical alignments. Imbolc or Brigid’s Feast Day falls at the midpoint between the summer solstice and spring equinox, a date marked on earth at the Irish Hill of Tara and Loughcrew Cairns. A shaft of light created by the rising sun enters megalithic chambers and illuminates a back stone carved with images of countless spirals and suns. Simultaneously in Cairn L, Loughcrew, the first rays of light fall on a similarly carved white pillar stone.
Mary Condren, the author of “The Serpent and the Goddess, Women, Religion and Power in Celtic Ireland, reminds us that “when Brigit first came to Ireland maybe two thousand years before Christianity, she had taken over all of the old Irish goddess shrines and there are stories from the Lives of Brigit that show that Derlugh Dacha, Blathnaid, Gobnait and Lassair gave their shrines to Brigit.” By the 1100’s Brigit had more churches dedicated to than the Virgin Mary had. It was only after the rise of monasticism that churches began to be dedicated to Mary and snakes became associated with evil and temptation. Hence St. Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland and his legend. The absence of snakes in Ireland was noted early as the third century by Gaius Julius Solinus, but later Church legend has attributed the banishment of serpents to St. Patrick. St. Patrick’s Day lies so close to the Spring Equinox that one can’t help but wonder if it was meant to supplant all the old nonsense about spring rituals, Brigit and snakes!
St.Patrick trodding the snakes!
Which is why these Cheesy Dandelion Spirals are a wonderful way to remember the snake goddesses of old and celebrate spring! In the mild climate of Ireland (and Victoria) now is when the first tender young leaves of dandelion begin to sprout up. Dandelion, of course, is the beloved Flame of Brigid. In Gaelic Irish, dandelion is called lus Bhríd (Brigid’s plant) or Bearnán Bríd (indented one of Brigid). This was also when the ewes began to give birth meaning the first of the season’s milk, cheese and butter! The world Imbolc was believed to derive from the world Oilmec or new milk, which was sacred and as mentioned above was offered to Brigid. Today you can find sheep milk in many grocery stores and cheese shops, one of the easiest to get your hands on is a Spanish Cheese called Manchego. It’s creamier and a little less sharp than parmesan and I used it liberally in these Spirals. You can always use Parmesan if you can’t source Manchego it tastes great with dandelion!
This recipe is super easy to make, especially if you start with a good quality frozen puff pastry – like I did! You’ll need about two cups of chopped dandelion greens which shouldn’t take a lot of time to harvest – if you’re not buried in snow that is!
Cheesy Dandelion Spirals
- 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, defrosted
- 1 &1/2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil)
- 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups fresh dandelion leaves, roughly chopped
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- Approx. 1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese,
- Approx. 1 & 1/2 ounces crumbled Manchego cheese
Roll out your sheet of defrosted puff pastry into a 10”x14” rectangle of even thickness.
In a large frying pan, bring the butter to medium heat. Add dandelion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Whir your greens in the food processor. Add grated cheeses and salt & pepper to taste.
Spread your cheesy dandelion mixture evenly over top of your rolled out pastry. Roll it up, then wrap it in parchment paper and place it in the freezer for 30-40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.
When you take the pastry roll out of the freezer, use a serrated knife to slice it into thin slices about 1/2 – to 3/4 inch thick. Place each spiral onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. If you want, just loosen the end of dough from the spiral and shape into the head of snake! Bake them in the oven for 20 minutes or until lightly golden. Serve warm.