Stop Reading Books And Start Slaying Dragons
The great power of fear, mythology and the dragon within
“My friends, it is wise to nourish the soul, otherwise you will breed dragons and devils in your heart.”
Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 232.
There are many mythologies surrounding heroes and dragons. Indeed, every civilisation, from Ancient Egypt to the Vikings, holds a relationshipwith the dragon. The idea even extended into the New World. There are the lake spirits of the North American creation myths, and there is also the plumed serpent of Central and South America.
The dragon is a primitive mental image that humans have devoted to for a long time. But, the story of St George speaks to me most because I remember first reading it as a young boy in school.
There are many versions of the story, but I will tell the one described in the Golden Legend, which was a collection of hagiographies likely compiled around the year 1260. It is, I am assuming, the most well-known version.
St. George had travelled for many months before he, by chance, landed in Libya. Here, an old man warned him of a dragon nearby.
Silene, a city of fifteen thousand, was plagued by a dragon who came from nearby pond. The people offered the dragon gifts. First, two sheep a day, then the children of the city, chosen by a lottery. Until, after some time, the draw landed on the king’s daughter. The king offered all of his gold to have his daughter spared, but the people refused. Thus the daughter was sent out to the lake, dressed as a bride, to be gifted to the dragon.
Saint George arrived, but the princess tried to send him away, warning George to save himself, but he vowed to remain. The dragon emerged from the pond while they were conversing. Saint George charged it on horseback, seriously wounding it with his lance. He then called to the princess to throw him her girdle, and he wrapped it around the dragon’s neck.
The princess and Saint George led the dragon on a leash back to the city of Silene, where it terrified the populace. Saint George offered to kill the dragon if they consented to become Christians. The city agreed and George promptly killed the dragon, beheading it with his sword. The body was then carted out of the city on four ox-carts.
The king built a church to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint George on the site where the dragon died and a spring flowed from its altar with water that cured all disease.
“Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; he enthrals and overpowers…he transmutes our personal destiny into the destiny of mankind, and evokes in us all those beneficent forces that ever and anon have enabled humanity to find refuge from every peril and to outlive the longest night.”
― C.G. Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus
Many people have found resemblances between the mythologies of different cultures. They often have similar structures that outline a similar purpose or message. This shows, according to Carl Jung, the existence of a collective unconscious where images of human history have collided over time, evolving to create part of the human spirit.
Every culture holds access to the same images and patterns that belong in the human unconscious. This is why civilisations, separated by distance and time, have created comparable mythologies. It is also why ancient myths are still at present able to reveal truths about ourselves, even at a time when the mysterious has become heresy.
Mythologies, then, are not a study of history or literature, but instead attend as an echo into the human spirit. Expressions of the soul, especially art and language, are undying, all have a tale and a promise that belong to every age, both past and present.
For symbols and metaphors are able to express beyond themselves and into the real world — they are a representation of that which points to the unknown. This is the purpose of storytelling — to reveal the mysterious, to move the listener beyond all that which they have been taught to see.
These stories can give rise to heavy emotions. But, emotions are necessary if we are to understand the spiritual. Emotions are the tie between the unconscious and the physical for they show that the material world is more complicated than it is otherwise seen.
The mythologies that have resonated most with our emotions and, therefore, the unconscious have endured through human history, each with different interpretations according to the culture.
Mythologies show the that there is unrealised power in the part of us that is unknown.
“Your ego is your embodiment and your self is your potentiality and that’s what you listen to when you listen for the voice of inspiration and the voice of ‘What am I here for? What can I possibly make of myself?”
The dragon represents the greatest of all predators — a primal figure of that which lurks outside the unknown. But, the greatest of all predators, the creature that will cause you the most harm is, of course, yourself. The dragon, then, is within you or, rather, it is your ego, the image you have been taught identify yourself with.
The dragon is everything that you fear. It holds your anxieties, your lack of confidence, the expectations of others and also your own limiting expectations of yourself. The dragon is blinded by its arrogance; it hoards treasure but cannot make use of it, it pursues constant satisfaction but is depressed once it has achieved it, it shields away from love but also holds a great sense of entitlement.
“The ego is as you think of yourself. You in relation to all the commitments of your life, as you understand them. The self is the whole range of possibilities that you’ve never even thought of. And you’re stuck with you’re past when you’re stuck with the ego. Because if all you know about yourself is what you found out about yourself, well, that already happened. The self is a whole field of potentialities to come through.”
The ego is enslaved by logic and sharp corners that make steering the world more simple, but it also separates us from fuller knowledge of the Self. The ego likes facts because it loves, above all else, to be right. It memorises statistics, it calculates numbers and it reads every available book in the library. But, the ego is lost in the words of others. For information is lifeless, it lays dead on a page without breath or soul. Only genuine insight can pierce the inflated ego and expand our field of experience.
“My soul, where are you? Do you hear me? I speak, I call you — are you there? I have returned, I am here again. I have shaken the dust of all the lands from my feet, and I have come to you, I am with you. After long years of long wandering, I have come to you again.”
To defeat the dragon, the hero must face the fears that their soul is calling them towards. Because beyond everything you fear is also everything that you need to find union within oneself. For fear shows you exactly what it is you must do. It is the signal, the call to adventure. The courage to feel fear, but to walk through it regardless whilst trusting your own spirit — this is the great message behind the mythologies.
Fear, Campbell noticed, often reveals itself as a purpose, a trade, or an occupation. These are endeavours that rapture the individual, but are, perhaps, looked upon by the ego and society as disagreeable for many reasons.
The hero, then, must take action on that which he calls his bliss and take on the dragon. And, with action, the fear will dissipate and the journey will begin. The dragon will then, as Campbell wrote, become a servant, a scout that sends cautions rather than a dictator that drags the weak by the collar.
“Only one who has risked the fight with the dragon and is not overcome by it wins the hoard, the “treasure hard to attain”. He alone has a genuine claim to self-confidence, for he has faced the dark ground of his self and thereby has gained himself.”
Thank you for reading. Harry J. Stead.