The Dragon


The Stanzas of Dzyan

We are warned elsewhere, however, that “Terrible are the gods when they manifest themselves . . . those gods whom men call Dragons.” ‘Dragon’ in this sense is said to have a septenary meaning which surpasses, in its highest interpretation, any notion of wisdom born of this world. It indicates, instead, a subtle notion of transmission, like the manifesting breaths or like the changes in the Dragon book, I Ching, which was called The Classic of the Chameleon.

The Chinese taught that because a dragon in the water covers himself with five colours he is a god. He can become small like the silkworm or large enough to be hidden in the world. He may ascend at will to the clouds or descend into a well, but his transformations are not limited by time or space and therefore he is a god.

The Gnostics took a more definite line in speaking of the Universal Dragon as Katholikos Ophis (‘the way through things’) and relating this to the concepts of chaos and dissolution. The idea of transformation does seem to suggest dissolution but it was also the inspiration for the much less philosophical notion that dragons take on a variety of surprising shapes because they are so notoriously promiscuous.

This in itself could bear deeper analysis, but for the present one might merely point out that in the Old Testament the dragon’s place was likened to ‘the shadow of death’ and in addition to promiscuity he was believed to bring about desolation and destruction. This is a sort of dissolution, perhaps, but not exactly what the Gnostics had in mind. Nor does this represent the perspective of the alchemists, who spoke of volatile and fixed elements as winged and wingless dragons.

The divine power of change and transformation was sometimes illustrated by the Chinese as two contending dragons (Lung and Mang) which face each other and represent the yin/yang dual forces. They are the union of heaven and earth, the emperor and empress of divine potentiality. A single dragon may combine these forces when its coils extend around the elliptic pole. The axial point of this motion is the centre referred to in the art of Tai Chi, which is in effect a circular compendium of the yin and yang. In this case, the dragon is itself the pole around which it moves.

The amalgam of dual powers in the single dragon is also reflected in its masculine (goat, ram, horned bull) and feminine (lizard, crocodile, dolphin) parts which combine hot and cold-blooded elements. Like the Goat-Fish and Makara of the ancients, the fusion symbolizes Agni in the waters, a sign of manifest power adopted through the ages by imperial heads of state.

Just as the five-clawed dragon was the emblem of the emperor of China, so the red dragon was the sovereign insignia of Wales, and dragon standards were carried by Romans, Persians, Parthians and Scythians. With the latter three peoples they were figures borne in relievo which were so realistic that they deceived the enemy who took them for real dragons.

The sense of power and destiny exhibited by ancient rulers must have derived much of its conviction from the notion of their being an instrument of divine will. In the case of King Arthur, who wore a dragon helmet, this was surely linked up with his magician-mentor Merlin, who was called by some a red dragon. All the Teutonic tribes carried effigies, banners and shields with dragons, and the Norse Berserkers named their boats after them, adorning the wooden prows with their terrible visages.

In Celtic chivalry the word ‘dragon’ came to mean ‘chief or ‘pendragon’, a sort of dictator created in times of danger, and the later dragoons were so named because they were armed with fire-spouting muskets that bore the head of a dragon wrought upon their muzzle.

CREDIT: Theosophy Trust