Saturday, October 2, 2010

Here Be Dragons

'Tis the season of the dragon. The story surrounding the festival of Michaelmas is one in which a dragon threatens a person or a community and a hero, harnessing the strength of heavenly iron and their own inner courage, fights and either slays or tames that dragon. The story of St. George and the dragon is the most well known story fitting this theme, but by no means the only one. The Chinese tale of Li Chi and the Serpent and even Tolkein's tale of Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit helping to slay Smaug the Dragon is of this pattern. One of my favorite literary pieces with this theme is Lewis Carroll's The Jabberwocky.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.'

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!'

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood a while in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One two! One two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

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Dragons are a part of the mythology of almost every culture and have interestingly similar characteristics across vast geographical areas. In European culture dragons are large reptilian beasts that may have strange attributes like wings or talons and are usually terrifying. In Asian culture they tend to be more strictly reptilian and more benevolent. More like ancient spirits than malicious forces. Many folklorists believe that dragon stories come from the observation of dinosaur bones around the world. I tend to fall more into the camp of seeing dragon imagery as manifestation of ancient and deep fears.

The outer world is a very scary place and people of pre-literate consciousness (people of past times, of non-literate cultures and children) use imagry to wrestle with and come to terms with these fears. Medieval maps showed pictures of dragons in the empty, unknown places and everyone knew dragons or other monsters lived on high, uninhabited mountains or in deep, dark forests. We individuals with logical, literate consciousness can still access these images and use them to deal with the fears we face. We have less fear of the physical world - science and a generally more worldly understanding have given us answers to why earthquakes happen, whether summer will return again and how to deal with disease - but more fear of the inner world of our own minds and hearts. Dragons live there, too, in our insecurities, our loneliness and our anxieties about god and man and life.

Autumn is a time when our deep monkey brain is dealing with fears of the physical world. The days are shorter and colder and wetter - will there be enough food and warmth to make it until spring? At the same time, and probably not coincidentally, our feeling and thinking bodies are struggling with our fears of the inner world. We spend more time indoors, with just a few friends or alone. It is dark longer, giving us time and room to think those deep, dark thoughts. Who am I, really? Why am I here? Is it all worth it?

Sara at Love in the Suburbs reminds us that our dragons "deserve our attention again because they’ve been patient—even faithful—waiting for us to remember them." Stories and images of dragons and the heroes (or heroines, as the case may be) can be helpful in battling both sets of fears. Stories of individuals who find courage, with or without supernatural help, can help us find our own courage. Symbolic slaying of dragons through making and eating dragon bread or making and destroying dragon models can help us play out those battles in a safe way. The more I learn about the festivals Rudolph Steiner lectured about the more amazed I am at how deep and holistic his thinking is. This is deep stuff that works on so many levels at once, many of them we don't even understand or comprehend.

The morning of Michaelmas, Sept 29, I woke up dreaming about a dragon and knight mobile. I'm sure I had read about it on some Waldorf blog somewhere, but I couldn't find instructions or photos anywhere. So I made one. The wreath the figures hang from is wound ivy vines and Michael and the dragon are both made from silk tied around some polyester batting. I didn't have any dye so I just colored the dragon's silk green with markers. I pinned some felt pieces together to make the fire, sword and shield and tied it all up with some embroidery floss. It is still hanging above my bed. The dragon of fear and the heavenly hero twirling round and round during this autumn season of growing darkness.

How is the change of weather and daylight this autumn affecting your dragons? How do you use imagery, stories or poetry to pay attention to your dragons? What else do you do when feeling threatened by monsters? Have you ever made dragon bread or other dragon art? What's your favorite dragon story or poem?

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