Slaying the Dragon

How many times have we heard the story of brave knights riding off to slay the fire-breathing dragon? How many mythological gods have had to battle the hydra, slay the python or behead the serpent-headed gorgon? And how many movies have depicted the same dragon slaying theme with slithering monsters or fanged aliens from another planet? Even in the Bible, Adam and Eve were tempted by a devil-serpent, persuading them (and us) toward some evil knowledge with its cunning forked tongue.

So why all these serpents and dragons in ancient mythology, religion and today's pop-culture?

Most are not aware that nearly all pre-Christian religions involved some kind of serpent worship. It is found in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology as the divine Naga (meaning 'serpent' in Sanskrit). They are found in Chaldean serpent worship, the Egyptian god Sebek (a 'musuh' or crocodile messiah) and the Lung Dragons of China. Even in South America we find the Mayan serpent kings of Caramaya, Naga Maya (and later Kukulcan and Quetzalcoatal), as well as the Amarus and Con Ticci Viracocha of Peru.

Descended from the Sumerian serpent god Ningizzida (symbolized in the caduceus symbol of modern medicine), it was the Egyptian serpent-worshipping Naga who built the great pyramids and later taught Pythagoras that all life emerges from spirals into waves like a serpent. Even the name 'Pythagoras' has its origin in the Greek words 'Python' and 'agoras,' together translating into the phrase 'serpent meeting.' The cult of Pythagoras, as the grand unifying archetype for all ancient Naga philosophies, was founded on the knowledge of Fibonacci spirals and harmonic waves in nature.

Indeed, it was this knowledge of how nature organizes itself that was at the bottom of nearly all pagan theologies. It was the balance between spiraling and circular geometries in nature that was best symbolized for tribal societies in the serpent. While most people shiver at the thought of a snake, it was this primal reptilian form that once inspired the belief that God was in Nature and inside ourselves (along our wave-like spine). It gave rise to the study of nature, leading us to the discovery of musical harmonies, geometry in numbers and the orderly movement of the planets as they circle the sun while simultaneously spiraling together through space.

But why must we always 'slay the dragon' when the dragon appears to be just an innocent symbol for the self-organizing forces in nature?

In pre-Christian times, the spiraling or coiling action of a serpent, a snail or seashell was representative of infinity. It was the opposite of closed periodic waves and associated with the world underneath physical reality (i.e., the Underworld) and thus represented death. But it also represented the knowledge that God was all around us in nature. It symbolized the idea that closed periodic life is born from these infinite spirals and that it is through this spiraling action that we might find God and enlightenment.

Slaying the dragon in those days meant conquering death, gaining enlightenment and connecting spiritually with God and all creation. This was a very happy thing indeed, celebrated around the world in countless ways.

But in Christian times, slaying the dragon came to refer to the campaign against paganism. Beginning with the crusades, brave knights were sent to slay the serpent religions, expunging much of the natural knowledge gathered by the ancient civilizations. The ancient libraries of Alexandria were burned while pagan temples and artwork were sacked and destroyed, at least to the extent possible. Back home, the Inquisition slayed the same dragons as they crept up in Gnostic theosophies and early science, ensuring that only one true religion would rule Europe and one day the world.

Today, the dragon has been thoroughly slayed. It's deader than a door nail, killed a million times over.

But as they say, the Phoenix will one day rise from the ashes. Transformed into the mythical firebird, the serpent will inevitably return on the wings of truth. Lifted up by the ancient knowledge of nature, she might at last harmonize the spiral with the circle, the unlimited with the limited and the spiritual with the physical -- carrying us back to a long lost wisdom. Perhaps in this we might once again find our balance with nature and peace within ourselves.