Dragons: An Idiosyncratic Ramble
There are two entities that have accompanied me for years now. One of these is the Andean condor, to which I have dedicated its own area on my Website (and which also has given it its name), and the other is an oriental dragon. Up to now I have hesitated to write anything about dragons. This was based in part on the fact that I didn't know exactly how I should go about it.
Dragons are very impressive entities. For me the question never comes up whether or not they exist. I am able to perceive them through second sight or shamanic vision. I give no credence to the theory that dragons were some kind of genetic memory of dinosaurs or perhaps even the last survivors of these giant lizards, as one finds occasionally in print. Their qualities simply cannot be grasped with normal scientific measurement, a fact that is typical of course for beings from mythology, like the unicorn, the griffin, or the phoenix, for example.
Considering the informations that are available about dragons, I notice that it is impossible to get everything to reconcile. There are dragons in the myths and visions of almost all cultures in the world. So it's also not surprising that the images and the meanings of dragons can diverge quite substantially from one another. Hence it is not my intention to attempt something entirely impossible: the unification of this broad spectrum of interpretations here in this text. Nor will the so-called "depth psychology" explanation leave any traces here: there are people more competent at that than I am.
It is from an inner urge that I would like to put down in writing my quite personal approach to these mythical beings, and to present a small sample of their meanings. As I do this I will intentionally mingle individual fragments from diverse cultures with my own elements of meaning. I would like to explicitly emphasize that the Tuvan area is not mingled with my own views. I knew Kyrgyss Chawandajewitsch, who in 1993 was the last to carry out this ritual. Unfortunately he carried to his grave the knowledge about the correct summoning melodies (of which he knew seven). Well, perhaps I will succeed in handing down my "little idea" about dragons.
At this point let me mention Jeremy Narby's work on the Cosmic Serpent ("Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge," Tarcher Publishers, 1998, and "Shamans Through Time: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge" Tarcher Publishers, 2001), in which he has been able to unlock some very significant connections that are symbolized by dragons globally, through his ayahuasca experiences, specifically the microbiological processes of DNA-replication and many microbiological details from the cellular nucleus, such as the individual phases of cell division. Narby has compared microbiological processes to the symbolic language of shamans and has thus been able to decrypt what shamans worldwide (!) have been putting into their symbolic language. In addition to dragons and the twin serpents, the ladder to the sky (or sky link) belongs to the circle of forms in this symbolic language; the Indian counterpart is the old "rope trick", a kind of dim reflection of the memory of this connection. He has been able to recognize the most modern knowledge in the symbols of the myths surrounding dragons. Unfortunately the specific cross-relationships are very extensive and would go well beyond the scope of this article. So for anyone who has a deeper interest in this material, I refer you to his books.
There are various forms of dragons. Normally I divide them into three categories: dragons with wings, dragons without wings, and combination forms (as Quetzalcoatl actually is, a combination of serpent and eagle). They move in all the elements and also embody natural phenomena, such as thunderstorms and volcanoes. They often represent these phenomena, too. For instance, in China a dragon is assigned to every river, in which it resides. The correct interaction with the respective dragon prevented floods; the incorrect interaction triggered floods. There are earth dragons, sky dragons, cloud dragons, etc., etc. The oriental dragon sometimes possesses wings, but mostly it is portrayed with red appendages that recall wings. While european dragons possess leather wings, Asian dragons are portrayed instead with feathered wings, most of the time. The feathered serpent of Central and South America is a relative of the asian dragon. In the Siegfried saga dragon's blood renders one invulnerable and makes one understand the language of birds. In general, everything about the dragon can be utilized. There are some chinese treatises that precisely cover the healing benefits and the effects of all the body parts of a dragon. Rather macabre. The anatomy of a dragon was described, insofar as it was even possible. Hence it was significant how many talons per claw a dragon possessed. Five were reserved for the imperial dragon; the chinese princes felt themselves to be descendants of dragons and therefore very close to the dragons. They communicated with dragons, and the dragon was the emblem of the emperor, just as the phoenix was the emblem of the empress. We find a similar situation within european sagas, in which instead it is the souls of the kings that are personified as a serpent. Dragons play a certain role in the arthurian legends, again in connection with a ruler. The number of talons, however, played no role in Europe. The dragon's eyes are something very special. The eyes of a dragon give insight into the fundamental structures of the world and possess an irresistible power of enchantment. Looking into the eyes of a dragon cannot be tolerated by the ego of a human being. Therefore the human who nonetheless wants to try it must first overcome the death of the ego, an indication of the inner alchemy.
In the shamanism of Tuva there is a sky ritual that is performed by shamans on mountain peaks in the spring. The ritual addresses how the connection between sky and earth comes about. The dragon can tread the connection lines between the (black) sky and the earth, and it works together with the shaman. The ritual may be carried out only by old, experienced shamans: only male shamans who have completed their 61st year and female shamans who have completed their 49th year are considered strong enough to perform this ritual. The dragon has a large tail, and if it is happy it wags its tail and the planets and stars come into being. If it is in a bad mood it shrieks loudly and there is thunder. If disturbances arise in the flow of communication between sky and earth, the dragon strikes the troublemaker with lightning and kills him. The spirit of the sky placed nine balls into the mouth of the dragon so that it wouldn't roar too loudly. In the winter the dragon sleeps until it awakens again in the spring. Serpents are very important helping spirits for the shaman in Tuvan shamanism, and they are therefore displayed on the headdress and the shamanic costume.
We encounter dragons in geomancy, too. They appear as very old spirits of the earth, which are also closely tied to the geography of the region. A few names like Drachental (Dragon Dale), Drachenstein (Dragon Rock), or Drachenloch (Dragon Den), may possibly indicate old geomantic knowledge that was available in our latitudes. There are also quite a few dragon portrayals in our cities, e.g., in Stuttgart or in Basel (the municipal coat of arms also gave the city its name: basilisk!) It is not easy to find an earth dragon. There are no rules or statutes for this. They can be found in many locales, and not at all in others. It is my perception that these dragons emit a deep, pleasant humming as a sign that they feel well. I never approach the vicinity of a dragon singing out of tune.
Earth dragons are more likely to be found in places that have a rather high background radiation (more than 8,000 Bovis units) or that present an interesting geological formation. In this regard it struck me that these dragons can rarely be "seen" in their entirety - some part is always either covered, underground, or enclosed in fog. In China (I think) it is said that a person can never see a dragon whole. If a person has seen a dragon whole, then both dragon and observer have been changed. The concept of "ley lines" (at least in the geomantic circles that I am familiar with) is often paraphrased as "dragon lines" - those lines of power that cross the earth's surface and are (sometimes quite noticeably, as on the "Esternsteinen") very strong energy currents of the earth. In my view dragons like to move along these "earth veins". It could also be that these dragon lines exhibit a form of the earth's energy supply. Saint George the dragon slayer of the christian church has several levels of meaning for me. Evil is readily symbolized by this dragon (certainly in the church's way of reading). On my father's side of the family the dragon (or St. George and the dragon) is the family patron saint. Now, I never have been able to get anything out of St. George, quite the opposite of the dragon, which portrayed instead for me its very strong chthonic powers and energies (and also for those who had and have dealings with it). I am familiar with a ritual by which an earth dragon can be summoned. In this ritual a sword is plunged into a dragon line at an elevated location. With the correct mental formula, the grounding of the energies brings the dragon to focus its attention on the person conducting the ritual. As long as the sword sticks in the ground, one can communicate with the dragon (it manifests itself materially in synchronicities and other unusual appearances of nature). In any case the dragon is not killed but summoned. A further symbolic level is the victory of christianity over the old powers and forces, in which the christian attitude toward intuition and corporeality sways along in undertones in the image of the dragon slayer. Interpreted in the modern fashion, George the dragon slayer is the (presumed) victory of science and technology over nature.
The master builders of the Maya understood extraordinarily well how to assemble natural phenomena, time periods, and sets of knowledge harmoniously into construction projects. One architectural masterpiece related to dragons is the temple of Kukulcán (Mayan for Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent) in Chichén Itzá. At the equinoxes, on the northern side of the temple pyramid, a play of light takes place that gives the impression of the feathered serpent snaking its way down the pyramid. Exact astronomical and architectural calculations were required to achieve this effect. Two stone heads of the feathered serpent are located at the foot of the staircase. Together with the effects of the light, it seems as if the serpent is moving down from the top of the pyramid. The feathered serpent portrays the unification of the eagle with the serpent. In the invocation of Baphomet are the words, "...gohu vovina-vabzir..." - I am the dragon-eagle, in which exactly the same thing is proclaimed, at any rate in chaos magic and during the chaos mass B. The appearance of the feathered serpent of the Toltecs and the Mayas strongly recalls the Chinese dragon, as can be clearly recognized in the image of one of the heads.
The Chinese dragon is a symbol for luck and wisdom. One of the most beautiful descriptions of these dragons known to me is found in The Neverending Story by Michael Ende: "On the other hand, luck dragons are creatures of air and warmth, creatures of boundless joy, and light as a summer cloud in spite of their immense size. That's why they don't need any wings to fly. They swim on the breezes of the sky like fish in water. Seen from the ground they look like slow-moving lightning flashes. The most wonderful thing about them is their song. Their voice sounds like the golden booming of a great bell, and when they speak softly, it is as though one were hearing this bell from far off. Whoever has been permitted to hear such a song never forgets it again his whole life long and even tells his grandchildren about it." Naturally there are all possible kinds of Asian dragons, too, but Ende was describing just the sky dragon.
I am the secret Serpent coiled about to spring: in my coiling there is joy. If I lift up my head, I and my Nuit are one. If I droop down mine head, and shoot forth venom, then is rapture of the earth, and I and the earth are one.
There is great danger in me; for who doth not understand these runes shall make a great miss. He shall fall down into the pit called Because, and there he shall perish with the dogs of Reason.
(Liber AL II, 26f.)
In Indian symbolic language, the inner fire that rises up the spinal column is viewed as a serpent. This serpent lies coiled just above the sexual center in the abdomen. If this serpent is awakened, it extends itself - along the spinal column - up to the area of the head. During my first kundalini experience, my spiritual body changed into the body of a winged dragon that danced in the corona of the sun. The head of the dragon drops forward again (in the Tao Yoga variation of this power awakening) and bites its own tail. And immediately I am at the next well-known image: the Ouroboros. The dragon that bites its own tail and begets and nourishes itself. During shamanizing or in deep seidh trance, I take on almost automatically the shape of a dragon that stretches its wings and carries out the soul flight, a very beautiful and intense experience for me, which is marked and accompanied by strong inner heat and ecstasy. The seidh trance differs in its induction from kundalini yoga and yet produces a similar ecstasy. This "inner" experience is difficult to express in words. The artist Den Beauvais has painted the dragon shown on this page, which imparts something of the feeling and impression - but of course it is the artist's view that is portrayed in the image.
in all colors bright as fire
song soars above our dreams
our souls become one
higher ever higher we fly
in the delights of our ecstasies
to heights of unknown joys
brightest laughter our swaying
and everything fire in us.
Translation from german by David Witgil.