Chasing the Dragon

– Thoughts on St George’s Day

By Paul Kingsnorth

Back in the day, I was rooting for the dragon. It was a thing that some of us did back in the prehistoric nineties. Among the young, crusty eco-activists of yore, the myth of St George, patron saint of England, was another old story that needed to be turned on its head. As we battled to stop yet another square mile of English soil being concreted over for a motorway extension, superstore, housing estate, airport runway or whatever other embodiment of Progress was ‘necessary’ this week, we would hold up the dragon, not the saint, as our guiding light. This armoured human dealing out death to this innocent, wild creature: wasn’t it so appropriate that he would be the patron saint of this most modern and destructive of nations? The dragon, on the other hand was the icon of wildness, of untamed nature resisting the onslaught. Why couldn’t he be our saint instead?

As it happens, the dragon was once the symbol of England, back when St George was nowhere to be found. On Senlac Hill in 1066, Harold Godwinson, the last English king, was said to have fought William the Bastard’s Norman invaders under two banners: the dragon of Wessex, and the ‘fighting man’. The latter is still a mystery, and an intriguing one (I’ve often idly wondered if it looked anything like this.) But the dragon – or wyrm, to use the Old English – still flies on the official flag of Wessex today.

The king was defeated that day, of course – a story I wrote once – and the England which once flew the banner of the dragon now flies the banner of its slayer. But it always seemed to me, even when I was writing books about the state of England, that the English don’t care much for their patron saint. Perhaps we don’t care for any saints, and maybe that’s what haunts us. We wrecked most of their shrines during the Reformation, after all, and what did our national church replace them with? Ah yes: Helter Skelters.

But St George, in recent decades at least, has never attracted much popular loyalty. His national day only recently became a Bank Holiday (holidays used to be named after saints or heroes: now they’re named for global finance houses), and St George’s Day events in England have always been a bit lacklustre. Mostly a man in a dodgy dragon costume will get knocked about a bit by a crusader with a Pound Shop plastic sword, before everyone goes to the pub. In the background, a chorus of Guardian journalists can be heard piously chanting that ‘St George was Turkish anyway’, thus proving that England never really existed, or something. The new ritual year in our culture of inversion requires that England’s patron saint must be routinely denigrated on this day by the country’s chattering classes, all of whom remain Normans at heart.

But I’ve always found this line of attack on our patron saint a curiously self-defeating one. After all, if you’re championing a lovely new multicultural Britain, rather than a parochial, past-it old England, then St George is a highly appropriate saint. Originally from the Middle East (not Turkey, which didn’t exist at the time), he became England’s patron after Richard the Lionheart – once a symbol of English martial valour but actually a French king who barely came near the place – had a vision of George during the crusades, and was led by him to victory.

George himself was a Roman soldier martyred by Emperor Diocletian for his Christian faith, and he is one of the most popular saints in the world. He even has a country named after him. I remember, many years ago, walking down the street in the Italian port city of Genoa and wondering why I kept seeing English flags everywhere. I found out later that St George was the city’s patron, which made me feel stupid. And George is not only significant for Christians. Being much more popular in the middle east than he is in England, many Muslims also consider him an important figure; some of them even seem to think he was a proto-Jihadi.

All of this symbolises not the sinister, Brexity English patriotism which causes New Statesman types to shake as they sip their almond-milk Americanos, but the very international nature of Christianity, which is, after all, the world’s most globalised and multicultural religion. George seems an appropriate saint for an age like this: even more appropriate, perhaps, than he did back in the middle ages.

Yet he remains unloved in England, and perhaps for the same reason: because he belongs to so many in general, he belongs to nobody in particular. There is nothing actually English about him, and so he doesn’t speak to the country or its history. Call me old-fashioned (I’d take it as a compliment), but I believe that a nation’s patron saint should come from the nation: England, after all, is a land which has generated many great saints of its own. Before the middle ages, the country had several native holy men as its patrons, one of whom, St Edmund the Martyr, has always been a favourite of mine. I’ll write more about him when his own day comes around, but I regard him as the true, unofficial patron saint of England, just as I regard Jerusalem as its true, unofficial anthem. If I had my way, Edmund would replace George as the patron saint of my homeland tomorrow, and we’d get his shrine rebuilt in his hometown as a matter of national priority. Who knows what might start to happen then?

But this kind of wistfulness, like most other kinds, is unproductively redundant these days. Maybe the days of patron saints are gone, at least in the West. Maybe the days of nations are gone too: certainly a lot of people would like that to be true. The vortex of globalisation, of modernity itself, is widening and deepening daily, and into it all distinctions and differences are sucked, to emerge bleached, efficient and unloved on the far shore. Can countries as we have known them survive this? Can there be such a thing as a ‘national identity’ in the age of smartphones, shipping containers, mass media and mass migration, and do many people even care? Is England real, or did the Machine eat it long ago? Is it, like George and Edmund and all of their kind, only something we can access now through icon and memory?

I don’t know. What I do know is that nostalgia won’t get you far these days, if it ever did. When I look forward I can’t see anything much that is fixed or holy or pegged down. All I can see, somehow, is that dragon. I think that we are entering a dragon time. I don’t know what that means: those words just appeared this moment, unplanned. I’m going to leave them here, and see what they become.

There have always been dragons: across cultures, across time. They haunt the human mind, they invade our stories, and what they tell us can be as distinct as the English legend of the Lambton Wyrm or the Chinese tale of the Four Dragons. Sometimes they defend the kingdom, sometimes they ravage it. Sometimes they eat maidens, sometimes they eat their own tails. I would like to offer some deep, Jungian wisdom about the meaning of slaying our internal dragons, but I can’t pretend to have slain mine, and who am I to give advice? I just have a feeling, today, that the dragon might have more to say to us than the saint.

If this is a dragon time, what is our age’s serpent saying? What has it come for? Perhaps our dragon is the beast rising from the sea. Perhaps it is the return of the wild nature we have crushed outside and inside of us for so long: what D. H. Lawrence called the ‘inward revolt of the native creatures of the soul.’ Is it the consuming passion of the Machine, which will end up consuming us all? Is it some rescuer from beyond our small understanding? Does it come to destroy us or to redeem us – or are they both the same thing?

Today is St George’s Day, but it is also the culmination of Lent in the Orthodox Church. Tonight is Pascha – Easter. Later, we will gather in a darkened church just before midnight. When the hour strikes, a single light – a candle – will emerge from behind the iconostasis, and all of us, each holding an unlit candle, will light our own wick from its flame. Light will flood the darkness. Everything will look different. Everything will be changed. It will happen quickly, though we have been waiting so long.

This is how it works, it seems, always and everywhere. This is the cycle. Destruction leads to resurrection, for nations, people, ages, families, hearts. Dragons are needed as much as saints. Don’t ask me to explain any of it. Perhaps just light a candle tonight, and see what is revealed.


– Read also :St George: The Art of Dragon Taming

  • St George: more like a “radical Islamist” than an English nationalist!

Featured By Z A Rahman

“….and you will certainly find the nearest in friendship to those who believe (to be) those who say: We are Christians; this is because there are priests and monks among them and because they do not behave proudly” [1]

In the UK today is St George’s Day. England’s flag is also named after St George bearing what is referred to as the “St George’s Cross”. But who exactly is St George?

Who is St George?

Not much accurate information is known about George. Historians believe he was born in Cappadocia, a part of modern Turkey, into a noble Christian family in the third century around 270AD, some 300 years before the advent of the final Prophet, Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).[2]

Bovenkant formulier

His father was of Turkish descent whilst his mother was a Palestinian from the city of Lud. Lud of course is the city where we know that ʿĪsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) (Jesus) will kill the Dajjāl (anti-Christ) as the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

“….Then, the son of Mary will go in pursuit of the Dajjāl, and will overtake him at the gate of Lud , and will kill him.” [3]

George is said to have joined the Roman army, following in his father’s footsteps. When his father died, he and his mother returned to Palestine, and he became an officer in the retinue of Diocletian, the Roman Emperor at the time. It is unclear whether George would have openly declared his faith at this time, however, what we know is that Emperor Diocletian embarked on a systematic terror against all Christian believers.

Before we continue with this story further, let us pause for a moment and consider what the Christians were like at the time of George.

Christianity Pre-Council of Nicea: The Islām of that time?

In order to understand what Christianity was like at that time, it would assist to understanding how we understand Christian beliefs and practices to be today. It must be remembered of course that George lived before the Council of Nicea, which took place in or around 325AD (George is reported to have died in 303AD). This is important because we know that it was at this Council that many aspects of how we come to understand Christianity today came from that period.

We know that Constantine was the Emperor at the time. In Constantine’s day, Rome’s official religion was pagan sun-worship — the cult of Sol Invictus, or the Invincible Sun—and Constantine was its head priest. Unfortunately for him, a growing religious turmoil was gripping Rome. Three centuries after ʿĪsā’s (ʿalayhi al-Salām) messengership, his followers had multiplied exponentially. Among the ‘Christians’ of that time were followers who were very similar to the original disciples of ʿĪsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) i.e. Muslims (worshipping God alone and following the teachings of ʿĪsā as a prophet); alongside a variety of other types of Hellenised Christians with innovated ideas and beliefs about ʿĪsā, including those who began to worship him instead of or in addition to God. The various Christians and pagans began warring, and the conflict grew to such proportions that it threatened to render Rome in two. Constantine decided something had to be done. He decided to unify Rome under a single religion, a Roman Christianity.

Perhaps one of the most important matters to be settled at the Council was the status of ʿĪsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) who was viewed by many of his early followers as a mortal Prophet. Around this period, the Christian world had many different competing Christological formulae and among them was Nontrinitarianism which rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, namely, the teaching that God is three distinct hypostases or persons who are co-eternal, co-equal, and indivisibly united in one being and believed in the oneness of God.[4]

Constantine of course favoured the view that existed of ʿĪsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) being the Son of God and tied this in with his beliefs. Historians still marvel at the brilliance with which Constantine converted the sun-worshipping pagans to Christianity. By fusing pagan symbols, dates, and rituals into the growing Christian tradition, he created a kind of hybrid religion that was acceptable to both parties. The vestiges of pagan religion in Christian symbology are undeniable. Constantine’s favoured pagan deity was Sol, the sun god, which he and many other pagan converts identified with ʿĪsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām). Thus, he officially fused Christian celebrations, and pagan celebrations of the sun. The pagan god Mithras—called the ‘Son of God’ – was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days. By the way, December 25 is also the birthday of Osiris, Adonis, and Dionysus. Even Christianity’s weekly holy day was borrowed from the pagans. Christianity honoured the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, but Constantine shifted it to coincide with the pagan’s veneration day of the sun.

Constantine also commissioned and compiled the Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of ʿĪsā’s (ʿalayhi al-Salām) human traits and embellished those gospels that made him godlike. The other gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned. Anyone who chose the forbidden gospels over Constantine’s version was deemed a heretic. The word heretic derives from that moment in history. The Latin word ‘haereticus’ means ‘choice.’ Those who ‘chose’ the original history of ʿĪsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) were the world’s first heretics.[5]

What we know therefore is that the Christian community that was in existence at the time of George was virtually unrecognisable from the Christian community that followed later until this present day.

George and the Companions of the Cave 

The story of the Asḥabul Kahf, ‘Companion of the Cave’ is told in Sūrah (Chapter) 18 of the Qur’ān which takes its name from their story, ‘The Cave’. In it, Allāh tells us about a story where we learn that the believers at that time were a persecuted people and, as a result, a group of youth left their town with their dog and hid and sheltered themselves in a cave in a mountain fleeing from the persecution; much like how the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and Abū Bakr (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) sought refuge in the Cave of Thawr fleeing from the persecution of the Quraish. The youth said:

“Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, never shall we call upon any ilāh (god) other than Him; if we did, we should indeed have uttered an enormity in disbelief. These our people have taken for worship āliha (gods) other than Him (Allāh). Why do they not bring for them a clear authority? And who does more wrong than he who invents a lie against Allāh”.[6]

They withdrew to the cave, fell asleep and remained asleep for some generations or centuries. When they awoke from their long sleep, they still thought of the world in which they had previously lived when they had slept. They had no idea of the duration of time. But when one of them went to the town to purchase provisions, he found that the whole world had changed. The religion was no longer persecuted, His dress and speech, and the money which he brought, seemed to belong to another world. This attracted attention and thus, their story and miracle was made known to all by Allāh.

It is well known in Islām that the youth were followers of ʿĪsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām), who were Muslims (i.e. those who submitted their will to Allāh). In fact, the Sūrah starts with a message to the Christians in the opening verses wherein we find:

“And warn those who say Allāh has taken a son, they have no knowledge of it, nor had their fathers, a grievous word it is that comes out of their mouths, they speak nothing but a lie” [7]

Now there is a similar story in Christianity about the sleepers of Ephesus where it is taught that a number of youths went into hiding during the tyrant rule of none other than Diocletian. We can read this account in Edward Gibbon’s monumental “The rise and fall of the Roman Empire” and in other western works. If this is correct, then it places St George and the Companions of the Cave in the same period and given that this was known as the Great Persecution, it adds credence to the possibility that the Companions of the Cave were fleeing from the same persecution, and Allāh knows best.

It is well known that Emperor Diocletian issued a decree requiring public sacrifice which meant that Christians were compelled to sacrifice to Roman gods or face imprisonment and execution. Diocletian’s campaign has come to be known as the “Great Persecution”, which has been noted as the most severe persecution of Christians in Roman history.  And whilst some, such as perhaps the Companions of the Cave escaped, others such as George did not.[8]

When the persecution of the monotheistic Christians began, George openly declared that he was a Christian and that he would not persecute his co-religionists.[9] Despite being cruelly tortured at the order of the emperor, George refused to denounce his faith in the oneness of God and venerate the Roman idols. His actions saw him dragged through the streets of Palestine and beheaded in 303 AD.[10]

So he was a religious fundamentalist immigrant who refused to accept his country’s ‘values’, that racists love?

Not only was St George a Turkish-Arab, but likely a believer in tawḥīd, of the One true God and who refused to associate partners with Him like the Companions of the Cave who were Muslims.

St George shunned and refused to believe in paganism and idolatry, which is unfortunately, associated much with modern day Christianity and it is for this reason that, if St George was alive today, he would most likely find idolising ʿĪsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) a strange practice indeed, and would, conversely, find familiarity with the teachings of Islām.

Being of Turkish and Palestinian Arab descent, he would have been the perfect captain for the Gaza Flotilla, the Mavi Marmara (the Turkish ship which sought to break the siege of Gaza in 2010) and he would no doubt champion the cause of his fellow natives against their tyrannical and oppressive rulers, the Zionist entity of Israel.

There is a particularly delightful irony of far right groups in the UK venerating him as a saint. Sometimes the extent of racists’ stupidity is nothing short of hilarious to onlookers. They erroneously claim to be the true heirs of St George, but it is clear that if St George was alive today, they would reject him, call him a foreigner, and tell him to go back to his own country. In fact, if they saw him drowning in the Mediterranean Sea like 800+ poor souls recently, then they would have probably also called him a ‘cockroach’ and refused to rescue him.[11]


Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] Al-Qur’ān, 5:82

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/st-georges-day-2015-as-google-doodle-marks-englands -patron-saint-here-are-some-facts-that-may-surprise-you-10196496.html

[3] Muslim

[4] Ehrman, Bart. The Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew.

[5] G. Barna and F. Viola (2008), Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices, BarnaBook;

[6] Al-Qur’ān, 18:14-15

[7] Al-Qur’ān, 18:4-5

[8] W. H. C. Frend (1984). The Rise of Christianity. Fortress Press, Philadelphia

[9] Gibbs, Margaret (1971), Saints beyond the White Cliffs, Ayer Press

[10] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/apr/23/hewasbornin

[11] http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/apr/20/katie-hopkins-sun-migrants-article-petition-nears-180000-mark

Z A Rahman

Z.A Rahman is a community activist and a member of a large Mosque in the UK. He has a keen interest in politics and history, particularly Islamic history. He also enjoys traveling and has visited numerous countries in the Middle East and North Africa.