of the reasons for following a spiritual path, for taking that
strange journey into the Self and into the world, is to discover
the truth - the truth about ourselves and about Life. This is,
in essence, the quest for enlightenment - for coming to an experience
and a knowledge of 'What Is' as opposed to being ensnared by
'What Is Not' - illusion, samsara, untruth.
From behind the clouds comes the dragon and we are faced with a choice. Do we fight it, or flee from it? If we fight it, we may well preserve the status quo, but at the cost of burying the power that the dragon represents. At an individual level, this may mean that we repress and foolishly believe we have conquered our sexuality, or our greed, or our lust for power. At a collective level we may repress an awareness of the dragon force of the earth currents that run through the land. If instead of supposedly fighting and mastering the dragon, we flee from it, it will continue to haunt the woods and the hilltops or the sea - ready to harm us if we ever return there.
third approach - the approach of both the ancient wisdom traditions
and of psychoanalysis - involves befriending the dragon.
In the Druid Tradition, some groups call this practice 'Hero-Questing' for we are seeking the Hero Within. Sometimes these quests would have occurred in circumstances designed to create the effect of sensory deprivation – to which end trainee Bards would seal themselves in pitch black rooms and lie with a stone on their chest. The stone seems a strange prescription until we realise that the Bards were making use of a technique well known to modern psychology - that of creating one over-riding sensory input in order to block out all others.
Nowadays we use 'white noise' fed in through headphones to the seeker in an isolation tank. Shamans use drumming partly for a similar purpose. After a while the brain becomes habituated to this one monotonous repetitive input and blocks even that out. A familiar example of habituation is that of a ticking clock - even though it may be loud, after a while we don't perceive the ticks any more – our brain 'hears them' but stops bothering to pass the message up to our consciousness until it changes.
And once the over-riding input is blocked out we are floating free – free of experience coming to us through our senses. What happens then is that experience comes to us in different ways – rising out of our subconscious as strange waking dreams, flooding in from our superconscious as powerful experiences of elation and inspiration. We find we can slip free of our physical bodies to explore a realm in which dragons can either be great sea-worms rising from the mud to haunt us, or jewel-encrusted mountain dragons guarding caves which hold for us those secrets which will change our lives forever.
But hero-questing or vision-questing can also be undertaken
not in isolated places of retreat – in caves or dark bothies
– but whilst walking the old dragon-paths – whilst
journeying from place to place. The outer journey then becomes
a metaphor for the inner journey. The dragons that we find will
then be either inner ones or outer ones – tied either
to our souls or to the soul of the landscape we are exploring.
The individual and collective energies, complexes, call them what you will, that can be symbolised as dragons, are extremely powerful and can only be faced at the right time – and not before. And there are some dragons – demons perhaps rather than dragons – which are the result of evil thoughts and deeds and which only the gods can face without harm.
what are and were dragons?
here, a little to the northwest just two miles from Horsham
lived a dragon in the forest. In 1614 he was still alive –
terrorising the neighbourhood. Described as being nine foot
long with black scales on his back and red scales on his belly,
the dragon "rides away as fast as a man can run. He is
of countenance very proud, and at the sight or hearing of men
or cattle, will raise his neck upright and seem to listen and
look about with great arrogance. There are likewise upon either
side of him discovered, two great bunches so big as a large
football, and (as some think) will in time grow to wings; but
God, I hope, will (to defend the poor people in the neighbourhood)
that he shall be destroyed before he grow so fledge."
"Accordingly, while Vortigern, King of the Britons was yet seated upon the bank of the pool that had been drained, forth issued the two dragons, whereof the one was white and the other red. And when the one had drawn anigh unto the other, they grappled together in baleful combat and breathed forth fire as they panted. But presently the white dragon did prevail, and drave the red dragon unto the verge of the lake. But he, grieving to be thus driven forth, fell fiercely again upon the white one, and forced him to draw back. And whilst that they were fighting on this wise, the King bade Ambrosius Merlin declare what this battle of the dragons did portend."
then proceeds to utter a series of prophecies that begin with
the overcoming of the red dragon (the British) by the white
dragon (the Saxons) and continues by prophesying how the Boar
of Cornwall (Arthur) will trample the Saxons. In an extraordinary
sequence of powerful and often obscure images, Merlin predicts
the history of Britain till the end of days, when the constellations
of the Zodiac will cease to turn and the Goddess 'shall lie
hidden within the closed gateways of her sea-beaten headland'.
We shall return again to consider this prediction, but in the
meanwhile why are the dragons white and red, and why are the
dewponds here named after white and red lions?
term for the dragon, common here in Sussex, is Wyvern. This
term comes from the old French, wivere meaning both the adder
and life. And suddenly one of the key themes of Druidry is illuminated
for us. The Druid term for life force is Nwyvre - an old Welsh
word meaning energy and vigour. In common with Eastern symbology,
the snake is seen in Druidry as the prime symbol of the life
force that snakes both through the land and through us.
derives from the old Gaulish Wouivre, meaning spirit, and this
became Vouivre in certain parts of France, where the dragon
became depicted as half-woman, half winged snake – a fitting
symbol of the goddess' energy that snakes the land.
in the old days they were awake – and it was the old sage,
the Druid or Druidess, who knew how to direct and utilise this
inner and outer fire to creative ends. The quest for personal
fertility – of ideas, of children, of song and music –
and of earthly fertility in abundant crops – were united
in the ancients, and need to be united by us again as we try
to extricate ourselves from the wasteland we have created within
and around us.