dragon is probably the most universal of all mythical creatures. It is most
frequently described as a great flying reptile, a ferocious and untamed (but
not necessarily evil) beast which embodies in many cultures the elemental forces
of chaos and cosmic order.
Dwelling in the
dark caverns of the earth, with lungs of fire, wings of a bird and scales of
a fish, the dragon epitomizes the four elements of the ancient world, unifying
them into a single presence that can inspire the imagination and haunt our dreams.
The dragon carries opposite meanings representing the paradox at the heart of
our being - the mutual dependence of light and dark, creation and destruction,
male and female. But more than any other symbol, the dragon also embodies the
unifying force underlying these opposites. In itself it is neither good or bad,
but symbolizes the primal energy upholding the material world, which can be
turned to either good or evil purposes.
In the Orient, the emphasis has traditionally been on the positive aspects of
this primal energy. The dragon is depicted as a union of the beneficial powers
of the elements. Uniting water (the serpent) with air (the bird, the breath
of life), it represents the coming together of matter and spirit. This positive
force was thought to be capable of animating the earth through the dragon pathways
- symbolic arteries through which earth energy flows.
In pagan times
the emphasis in the West, as in the East, was on the benificent aspects of dragon
energy - as the Welsh flag, with its proud red dragon, still testifies. However,
in the Christian era, with the relegation of the serpent to the symbolic role
of Satan the tempter, the dragon came increasingly to represent chaos, raw destructive
power, the evil inherent in the world of matter. Sometimes it is shown as coming
between ourselves and hidden treasure (spiritual wisdom) or carrying off a virgin
(purity) to its underground lair.
By an obvious logic,
the dragon also came to symbolize the inner world of the emotions and the unconscious.
In the West, it was the animal that lurks within us, the primitive energies
which, left unbridled, can reduce us to the level of beasts.