Somewhere amongst all the gyrations around vortices, recursions, guys and goodness knows what else, someone mentioned that a dragon had paid them a visit and encountered them with depth, darkness and other scariness. Took me right back into the symbolism of the dragon archetype, which is a fascinating one to explore within the collective imagination.
Dragon imagery often seems to arise in response to a need for communication between the personal or collective unconscious and conscious awareness. As a symbol, the dragon acts as a bridge or guide, often to elements of the psyche that are within the realms of the Jungian Shadow.
I first came across the dragon archetype in a big way in a proving I took part in during August and September 2001. Yes, then. As is usually the case, it was a blind proving. When the proving was finished and the identity of the plant was revealed, I was curious and started to explore more of its nature and ethnobotanical connections. One of the themes of the proving experience had been deception, trickery, monkeys and monkeying around. (Interesting in view of the events of September 11 and the subsequent questions about what really happened – see last month’s blog.) Initially, the plant was identified as Cordyline terminalis, originating from Hawai’i and attributed to the goddess Pele. I started to research the identification I’d been given and couldn’t match the supplied photograph of the plant in flower with any variant of its supposed species. Using the photograph, I started on a different tack and finally managed to discover its correct identity with the help of the Botany department at the Smithsonian Institute. The plant was Dracaena (Gr. she-dragon) fragrans … the Fragrant Dragon. Far from originating in Hawai’i, where the proving source had been grown and purchased, it came from West Africa. Monkey business indeed.
Another principal theme of the proving had been to do with communication between the conscious and unconscious realms. This is the realm of the Messenger archetype, typified in the Greek and Roman pantheon by Hermes/Mercury, who is also the Trickster. Everything was coming together nicely. I wanted to make a connection between my proving experience and the ethnobotany of the plant to complete the circle, but drew a blank on trying to source information on this. Eventually the library at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh came to the rescue and in a dusty old Victorian reference book I found what I was looking for. The plant, known in its indigenous location by the Yoruba peoples as peregun, is an Ifá herb used to mark boundaries and is sacred to Èsú, the Messenger deity of the Yoruba..
Focusing then on the name of the genus (Dracaena, she-dragon), I explored the potential connection with dragon mythology, particularly dragons from West Africa. It brought out much the same theme, as evidenced in the story below (from Susan Iles’ dracoBlu site), complete with associated monkeys.
Human “…consciousness has lifted the transcendent ever higher and farther away from actual life. The bridgeable chasm has become a cosmic void.” It is our duty to recreate the bridge if we are to evolve. In West Africa the tribal peoples were aware of this rift and incorporated the dragon, Aido Hwedo, into their creation myths as the co-creator of the physical world.
Before the Earth was formed the genderless Creator God, named Nana-Buluku by the Fon people of Dahomey, created a companion dragon called Aido Hwedo who was both male and female. It was a dragon able to move with ease between Heaven and Earth who carried the Creator in its mouth. They travelled together into the physical realms to create the world as we know it. Each night when Aido Hwedo and the Creator rested, the dragon’s dung piled high making mountains filled with hidden treasure, nourishing the Earth so plants and great trees could grow. As the dragon writhed back and forth across the face of the Earth, it carved twisting valleys and coursing waterways. With the Creator’s direction (ie. the Word) and the dragon’s actions, the Earth was formed through hard work and spirit, the very essence of co-operation and co-creation.
When the work was finished the world was bountiful, but heavily laden with trees and large animals, mountains and villages. The Creator feared the Earth would collapse under its own weight. Aido Hwedo offered to support the world by coiling under it in a circular fashion, its tail in its great mouth. The Creator knew Aido Hwedo detested the heat and created a great cosmic ocean for it to sleep in. Red monkeys who lived in the sea were directed to attend to Aido Hwedo’s needs by feeding the dragon iron bars whenever hunger came. In this myth it was important for the monkeys to keep the dragon eternally fed, otherwise it would start to eat its own tail and the world would surely be destroyed.
Like the red monkeys with the iron bars, we must remember our responsibility to nourish the link which bridges our transcendent and physical natures. When spirit and action meet our world can begin to heal and sustain itself.
Note the connection between the dragon’s treasure and its dung. In symbolic terms, this resonates closely with the idea that much of our personal “treasure” is held in shadow – the parts of ourselves we tend to relate to as crap! The dragon eating its own tail is, of course, the uruborus or the symbol of infinity.
On revisiting all this dragon stuff, the imagery of dragon as creator of the manifest world connected immediately with the vortex of nested recursive thought patterns as the model for the creation of our manifest reality. Since, in our present state, this process is largely unconscious, it seems quite natural that the dragon should be involved, and that dragon should signify the process of creation within human consciousness. This it appears to have done in many cultures since ancient times, specifically in forming a bridge between worlds, whether that be between the worlds of gods and men or between the conscious and the unconscious.
Just as I was making these connections, and thinking about dragons and vortices as natural companions, I was sent the pictures below by a correspondent in South Africa. There really is no such thing as coincidence.