St George: The Art of Dragon Taming
Paul Broadhurst in “the Green Man and the Dragon”told about the art of Taming the dragon in Britain:
One of the best-selling books of all time was The Golden Legend, written by the Bishop of Genoa Jacobus de Voragine. In it he provided the medieval world with a definitive account of the lives of the saints, which everyone at the time believed to be historical facts gleaned by his scholarship from ancient records. In reality, like so many others that were to follow down the centuries, it was a motley mix of fact and, where there were no facts, a liberal dose of fiction. There was also an agenda.But it was a formula that gripped the attention of its readers, who preferred to believe in the fabulous and miraculous exploits of their heroes, just as in Celtic times when people loved to hear of the wondrous world of giants, gods and the Land of Faery. The saints were all these, and more, for they did the work of the one true God.
Printed in English in 1230 it contained a detail of St George’s career that had strangely hitherto gone unmentioned in the voluminous annals of the saint’s life. Almost a thousand years after his supposed death George was to become famous all over the world for what was his most fabulous exploit of all—the slaying of a dragon.
Jacobus’ story is a classic mix of fairytale heroic deeds and propaganda aimed at the conversion of previously pagan believers to the true faith. In it St George came upon the city of Silene in Libya where a terrible dragon ‘envenomed all the country’.
When the inhabitants set out to rid the land of it they were overcome by its foul breath and fled in terror. To keep the monster satisfied they fed it two sheep every day; if they failed to do this then it devoured a man instead. A local law was proclaimed that children should be selected by lots, and whoever the lot fell upon, whether rich or poor, they were to be sacrificed to the beast. But one day the lot fell upon the King’s daughter. He offered the townsfolk gold and silver instead but they would not be moved; it was the King’s daughter or they would burn down the palace. Lamenting that he would never see her married he begged for eight days respite, and then, when again approached by the desperate inhabitants who reminded him that the ‘city perisheth’, dressed her in the finest wedding gown and, blessing her, took her to the dragon’s lair.
As it happend, this was the very moment that St George was passing by, and no doubt struck by the sight of an attractive woman dressed for a wedding and hanging around in a swamp, he naturally enquired as to her well-being.
She replied that he should go on his way, lest he perish too. But the valiant hero, on learning of the imminent arrival of the dragon, would have none of it; `Fair daughter, doubt ye no thing hereof for I shall help thee in the name of Jesus Christ.‘
At that very moment the dragon appeared and charged towards them. St George made the sign of the cross, struck it with his spear and threw it to the ground. Then he said to the maiden, ‘Deliver to me your girdle and bind it about the neck of the dragon and be not afeard‘.
The dragon, up until that moment a terrible beast that would devour anything, instantly became as meek as a pet. They led him to the city, where the people were aghast and began to flee. But George said that if they would believe in God and Jesus Christ and be baptised into the Christian religion he would slay the dragon and save them all. There was no argument. The King was baptised immediately, the dragon’s head was cut off, and all 15,000 men as well as all the women and children became Christian.
The King built a church to Our Lady and St George, where the waters of a magic fountain healed the sick. He offered George great wealth, but the saint asked for it to be given to the poor. And so they all (except George who was evidently later to be horribly tortured by Diocletian) lived happily ever after…
The elements of the story are the same as many folk-tales which people would have been familiar with at the time, and this applies to the formula as well: damsel in distress is rescued by brave hero who saves the land from devastation.. It is the very stuff of legend as recounted endlessly throughout history. Yet certain parts indicate something else is going on `behind the scenes’, which may help to enlighten us about its real meaning.
To begin with, it is strange that the townsfolk choose to give their children to the dragon when sheep seemed to keep his hunger at bay. Or surely they wo have preferred to send one of their more elderly residents to the dragon ’s lair?
This looks as though it refers to some form of ritual sacrifice, where the vitality of the young is an essential feature (the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac on the rock at Jerusalem is another example of a reference to this primitive method of appeasing the gods).
Then we have the King’s daughter all dressed up in her wedding finery. This too is reminiscent of ancient ritual. But who is she to be married to?
Presumably, as she is about to go into the dragon’s cave, she is about to enter the underworld with its monstrous inhabitants. It is very much as tho she represents the archetypal maiden of the Earth, an innocent young woman about to confront the hellish denizens of the hidden realms. The word Hell though, before it came to have Christian associations of torture and retribution merely meant transformation.
Hel” (1889) by Johannes Gehrts. Hel, the female being, holding a staff, and flanked by what is presumably the hound Garmr – both atop a cliff’s ledge. In the background, a serpent crawls around among roots, a basin sits, and partially shadowed figures appear to be in movement below the cliff.
The modern English word hell is derived from Old English hel, helle (first attested around 725 AD to refer to a nether world of the dead) reaching into the Anglo-Saxon pagan period. The word has cognates in all branches of the Germanic languages, including Old Norse hel (which refers to both a location and goddess-like being in Norse mythology), Old Frisian helle, Old Saxon hellia, Old High German hella, and Gothic halja. All forms ultimately derive from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic feminine noun *xaljō or *haljō (‘concealed place, the underworld’). In turn, the Proto-Germanic form derives from the o-grade form of the Proto-Indo-European root *kel-, *kol-: ‘to cover, conceal, save’. Indo-European cognates including Latin cēlāre (“to hide”, related to the English word cellar) and early Irish ceilid (“hides”). Upon the Christianization of the Germanic peoples, extension of Proto-Germanic *xaljō were reinterpreted to denote the underworld in Christian mythology, for which see Gehenna.
Related early Germanic terms and concepts include Proto-Germanic *xalja-rūnō(n), a feminine compound noun, and *xalja-wītjan, a neutral compound noun. This form is reconstructed from the Latinized Gothic plural noun *haliurunnae (attested by Jordanes; according to philologist Vladimir Orel, meaning ‘witches’), Old English helle-rúne (‘sorceress, necromancer’, according to Orel), and Old High German helli-rūna ‘magic’. The compound is composed of two elements: *xaljō (*haljō) and *rūnō, the Proto-Germanic precursor to Modern English rune.The second element in the Gothic haliurunnae may however instead be an agent noun from the verb rinnan (“to run, go”), which would make its literal meaning “one who travels to the netherworld”.[
Proto-Germanic *xalja-wītjan (or *halja-wītjan) is reconstructed from Old Norse hel-víti ‘hell’, Old English helle-wíte ‘hell-torment, hell’, Old Saxon helli-wīti ‘hell’, and the Middle High German feminine noun helle-wīze. The compound is a compound of *xaljō (discussed above) and *wītjan (reconstructed from forms such as Old English witt ‘right mind, wits’, Old Saxon gewit ‘understanding’, and Gothic un-witi ‘foolishness, understanding’
In fact after the dragon’s death the King builds a church to `Our Lady and St George’—strongly implying that she does indeed represent the Virgin or Madonna, one of the great themes of early 13th century belief.
The enigma of the dragon is most bewildering. Why, we must ask, does St George not simply kill it outright? The answer is that he must use it to threaten the townsfolk into submitting to become Christians. The choice is clear. Be baptised or the dragon will run free, devour the princess and you as well. So here is in fact no choice. But the method of subduing the dragon is strange, and has deeply magical overtones. The Virgin’s girdle is placed around its neck and it is transformed from a deadly and noxious monster into a submissive creature that breatens no-one. It looks as though they could have kept it in a cage and fed it marshmallows for the rest of its life…
As we suspect, the story is full of many-layered symbolism involving the Earth Goddess and the Solar Hero. Here too are correspondences between the divine female principle and the dragon, with the dragon standing for the pagan religions and the princess, with her spotless wedding gown, the unsullied Virgin of Christianity. Most interesting is that the dragon is tamed not by sheer force but by her girdle with which it is led meekly to the city. This has a strong flavour of the legendary beginnings of the Noble Order of the Garter, where the garter slips from the leg of a beautiful woman and becomes the emblem of the mystical brotherhood.
- Taming the Dragon
Dragon-slaying, and its more peaceable offshoot dragon-taming, is one of the most widespread mythologies in the world—wherever amateur dracophiles may travel they are likely to come across some version of it. Even in remote areas, especially in Europe, it is often the case that a local cathedral or church was originally founded by, if not a classic dragon-slayer, then one who tames the beast and leads it away to somewhere it can do no harm. Extraordinarily, it is in Genoa, the very place where the St George dragon legend first appeared in print, that there exists a prime example of this. The patron saint of the city is St George, but the basilica, a former cathedral (bombed-out during the war and now looking more like an Art-Deco cinema) is dedicated to San Siro. The earliest foundations of the building are from the 4th century, and in 1006 it became a Benedictine monastery, later to be consecrated by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Genoa was a crucial port for the Crusaders, with the First Crusade preached in its streets, and the wealthy merchants making their chips available for the coming invasion of the Holy Land. That it was important to the Templars and their compatriots, the Hospitallers is evident; amongs the many remains is a commandery of the Knights of St John, standing somewhat at the waterfront.
Genoa still seems to resonate to those times. The Bank of St George, first formed in the 14th century by the Templars, the world’s first international bankers, stilt exists. As Italy’s largest seaport it has been a trading centre from Phoenician times, but its heyday was during the 12th century, when it became the focus of one of the world’s leading maritime empires.
But back to dragons. San Siro himself obviously had a way with them, for his legend tells of a great snake-like monster or basilisk that lived in a well. Unlike St George however he had no need of sword or spear, but coaxed the creature from its lair by the power of eloquence alone. Praying at the well, his virtuous sermons persuaded the serpent to emerge quietly, and he then led it to the edge of the sea where it vanished into the waves, never to trouble the people of Genoa again.
Celtic legend is full of such dragon-taming episodes which go back far beyond the age of the Templars. One of the most famous for his dealings with such fabulous creatures was St Samson of Dol, who was bom in Wales toward the end of the 5th century. The Life of St Samson is of special interest to those suflering from dracophilia, in that not only was he expert at vanquishing spitting serpents, but the account of his life is one of the earliest and most authentic extant, having been written in the early 7th century not long after his death.
Born in Wales and educated at the famous monastery of Llantwit, the site of an earlier Druid college, he travelled to Ireland, Cornwall and then Brittany, where he established his own monastery at Dol on the north coast. His fame quickly spread throughout Europe, and, because of the unusually early record of his life, he has become one of the great high priests of Celtic Christianity. This gives us a valuable insight into that twilight world where the religion Druidism merged with that of pre-Roman Christianity.
Samson’s prowess was formidable. He could tame wild beasts as well bring peace to warring factions. When crossing the Hundred of Trigg in Corn (Bodmin Moor), he came across the inhabitants worshipping an idol on top of a hill by enacting a mystery play around it. He admonished them, and promised to bring one of their number who had fallen from a horse and died back to life, if they would destroy the idol. He duly performed the miracle and they were amazed. A nearby standing stone was carved with a cross by Samson himself to mark his achievement.
Directly after this incident the chief of the tribe explained their problem: `We have a certain fair land in occupation by a poisonous and very vicious serpent; in fact this serpent lives in a cave impossible to approach, and it is destroying nearly two villages and allows no man to dwell there‘. Samson replied that in name of the Lord he would help them; `If indeed thou believest, then thou shalt see with thine eyes in this serpent the wonderful works of God‘. They came to the entrance of the cave and Samson went in.
The serpent trembled and bit its own tail, whilst the saint seized a linen girdle and slipped it around the serpent’s neck.
Casting it down from a high place he ordered it to die. But curiously he became strangely enchanted by the serpent’s lair, and afterwards spent some years living within the cave (still thought to exist under the church at Golant near Fowey), praying and fasting.
This sounds very similar to St John in his cave on Patmos, who carved out a hollow in the rock where he would place his head during sleep or meditation.
Were they both inspired by the natural power of these places?
On another occasion a similar situation arises, with ‘a vile serpent doing great destruction and making desolate’ the surrounding country. Again Samson goes boldly into the mouth of the cave where the serpent dwells, calling out for to come forth. As it obeys he takes his mantle and binds it around the serpent’s neck whilst singing a psalm, ordering it to go to the other side of the river, and commanding it to remain there under a certain stone.
These early legends suggest that the serpents or dragons that were causing havoc in the countryside did not necessarily have to be killed, but rather tamed. And the method, as in the St George story, is not what we perhaps might expect; a girdle or mantle is placed around their necks, when they become docile and larmless. Singing and praying also gives power over them.
Other Celtic dragon saints include St Caradoc, who banished a huge and terrible serpent causing devastation in the land of Arthur. He placed his stole around its neck and led it away like a lamb. St Petroc, another famous saint of the early Church, prayed at a venomous serpent and it went harmlessly on its way. On another occasion he nealed a wounded dragon by sprinlcling it with a magic potion.
So what are these tales trying to tell us? They must have been written to impress the people of the time with the message that Christianity was the only sure way to restore harmony. As propaganda for the new religion this is entirely understandable. There is also a suggestion that the place where the serpent lived had peculiar properties attractive to dragon-tamers like Samson. But these stories must have had something in them that struck a chord in the common mind, otherwise they would have been entirely fabulous and lacked any real power. What might it have been?
- Saving the Earth
We have already encountered a living tradition that speaks of how a serpent or dragon can cause villages to be wiped out, crops to fail and the land to slowly wither and die. The only likely explanation for this curious state of affairs is that, as recorded in the science of feng-shui, the dragon energies of the Earth can become, as described by the Rev Eitel, `noxious emanations’ or `negative ch’i’, the `poisonous breath’ of the dragon that can cause all life to be deprived of the vital force that, in a healthy landscape, causes everything to flourish.
According to feng-shui the invisible currents of earthly magnetism coursing through the landscape are constantly in a state of flux, affected by geographical and climatic conditions, especially earthquake activity and heavy rainfall that can overload the subterranean streams of water.
Another important factor is the influence of the heavenly bodies, particularly the Sun and Moon which set up tides and currents within the body of the planet. These forces concentrate especially where they issue from the deeper levels of the Earth’s crust, in places like caves and springs. In Science and Civilisation in China, Joseph Needham writes of the twin polarities of vital force that must be in balance if the dragons are not to have a debilitating effect on the land:
`The two currents, Yin and Yang, in the Earth’s surface, were identified with the two symbols which apply to the eastern and western quarters of the sky, the Green Dragon of spring in the former case, the White Tiger of autumn in the latter.’
Here Needham identifies the twin polarities in Nature with the times the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, the virile `male’ power of Spring and the secretive, withdrawing female power of Autumn, when the goddess descends the underworld.
Of course she must be rescued the following Spring, otherwise the Earth will become barren. The other early commentator on feng-shui,Eitel, also speaks of this all-pervading polarity, the very essence of the act of Creation, but in the more scientific terms of the Victorian age: ‘There are in the earth’s crust two different, shall I say magnetic currents, the one male, the other female, the one positive, the other negative…’
This understanding of the Earth as a living being is taken even further in this and many other ancient disciplines, so that the planet is not only alive in the sense that it is reacting continually to cosmic influences, but has an innate intelligence of its own too.
The concept of the Earth as a sentient entity stems from the earliest times. In the Mesolithic and Paleolithic ages mankind had no need of settled communities, and people moved around the country according to the seasonal cycle, visiting the traditional sites and shrines of ancestors.
This way of life is still preserved in the `Songlines’ of the Australian Aborigine culture, where the serpentine paths they follow from place to place the ‘Rainbow Serpent’, are hallowed in their ancestral memory with localised stories, and were created in the `Dreamtime’ at the beginning of Creation. this was once a universal way of life, as people walked the lines which brought life and spiritual sustenance; these ways became the earliest pilgrim routes, as they, like their ancestors, followed the rainbow paths of the serpent.
As people settled into villages and a more agrarian lifestyle these pilgrimages continued at certain times of the year, but now their lives depended more on the fertility of the land. This is why, during the Neolithic and subsequent eras, standing stones were erected to concentrate the currents that brought harmony and prosperity. If we think these people were savages we do them a great injustice. It is apparent that they were very spiritually attuned to the Earth and its cycles and knew how to make the most of its gifts. As John Michell comments in The Earth Spirit:
`The long continuity of Chinese civilisation to which feng-shui has made an important contribution, has in turn preserved the methods of that science up to the present day; and thus has come down to us a legacy from the primeval golden age. Not that early wandering people needed any formal system of feng-shui, because, as they lived and moved under the direct influence of the earth’s subtle energies, its principles were naturally integrated into their lives. Like all sciences, feng-shui is an expedient of civilisation, a technique for reconciling human nature to the limitations imposed on it by settlement.’
Here could be a rationale for the otherwise incomprehensible meaning behind the legends of dragons or serpents causing the land to become poisoned. The ‘fiery breath’ of the creatures, a common feature of such stories, may be a mythic way of saying that the usually harmonious and beneficial forces that make seeds sprout, plants grow, and animals and humans healthy, are in some way out of balance. The Celtic saints such as Samson, who were far more Druidic than the popular image of holy men presented to us by the Church, were well-versed in these matters, having studied the magical sciences at the great Druidic centres of learning (of which Llantwit was a famous example). Samson and his compatriots were not saints in the normal sense of the term, they were shamans who could see into the spiritual worlds and manipulate the unseen forces.
One of the most intriguing things about such dragon tales is how frequently the beast is not `killed’ (for this would have serious consequences for the fertility of the land), but tamed, or moved, by magical techniques of ritual, which include singing, praying, and placing a mantle or a girdle around its neck.
If these really were the ferocious creatures we are led to believe, it is most unlikely they could be restrained by such means. These stories speak of spiritual disciplines whereby the noxious and unbalanced energies within the Earth are brought back into balance, much as some dowsers today claim they can correct harmful emanations causing ill-health by a variety of techniques (which may include creating a circle of stones or copper pegs hammered into the ground to isolate and `earth’ the `negative’ energies).
In the St George story (graphically portrayed in the famously futuristic painting by Ucello) it is the girdle of the princess that is used to lead the dragon into the city. This is a metaphor for the dark destructive powers of Nature being brought back into harmony through the use of the opposite force—the White Goddess symbolised by the bride, the Virgin energies of the Earth. In Ucello’s painting the maiden is chained to the dragon—a symbol that they are both different aspects of the same thing, the chthonic forces of nature.
The early date of these tales, and the fact they are so widespread across the world, are testimony that they are an inheritance from yet earlier times, when what we might today call magic—in truth a science of natural energies—was well understood, and spiritual techniques involving the transmutation of harmful forces were by no means uncommon.
Some authorities believe that the dragon or serpent symbolised the pre-Christian religions, and that is panty the case, for they were certainly steeped in the lore of the natural world. But the taming of these powers suggests that this knowledge was not violently eradicated but absorbed, like so many other aspects, into the doctrines of the Christian Church.
The actual techniques employed seem to correspond to those often used today by healers to treat the human body. Chinese medicine uses needles inserted under the skin (which standing stones, carefully positioned in the skin of the Earth, may parallel), a process called moxabustion where balls of wax are ignited at certain centres where meridians cross (the old fire-festivals so important in the ancient world are analogues of this), and the freeing up of blocked channels (where the serpent energies have become knotted), all as common ways of restoring balance.
All this is based on the science of the bio-magnetic flow of the Life Force. In the human body the acupuncture meridians must uninterruptedly for optimum health, and the coursing of the blood (which is heavily impregnated with iron) creates an electromagnetic field in and around the body which sensitives can see as a coloured aura.
This can be `read’ to reveal deficiencies or sources of ill-health. The same techniques may also be applied to the body of the Earth, with its own gravitational and magnetic field created by it spinning around the pole, guarded by the constellation of Draco.
Thus the terrestrial currents may be regulated or adapted to the prevailing conditions. Those healers of the human body who work through ritual and prayer, two of the most powerful forces in their armoury, can bring about the transformation of inharmonious energies by altering their character, usually by the visualisation of Light flooding into the affected area.
It seems apparent that the dragon-tamers of old did likewise. First they would locate the source of the imbalance (a cave, fissure or spring from which the dragon power issued), and then they would ritually ‘fix’ it (as suggested by the Uaz sceptre of the Egyptians with its forked end, used to pin down the head of the serpent) within a circle, symbolised by a girdle.
- Note: the Kila in Buddhism
The kīla is used as a ritual implement to signify stability on a prayer ground during ceremonies, and only those initiated in its use, or otherwise empowered, may wield it. The energy of the kīla is fierce, wrathful, piercing, affixing, transfixing. The kīla affixes the elemental process of ‘Space’ (Sanskrit: Ākāśa) to the Earth, thereby establishing an energetic continuum. The kīla, particularly those that are wooden are for shamanic healing, harmonizing and energy work and often have two nāgas (Sanskrit for snake, serpent and/or dragon, also refers to a class of supernatural entities or deities) entwined on the blade,
As a tool of exorcism, the kīla may be employed to hold demons or thoughtforms in place (once they have been expelled from their human hosts, for example) in order that their mindstream may be re-directed and their inherent obscurations transmuted. More esoterically, the kīla may serve to bind and pin down negative energies or obscurations from the mindstream of an entity, person or thoughtform, including the thoughtform generated by a group, project and so on, to administer purification.
The kīla as an iconographical implement is also directly related to Vajrakilaya, a wrathful deity of Tibetan Buddhism who is often seen with his consort Diptacakra (Tib. ‘khor lo rgyas ‘debs ma). He is embodied in the kīla as a means of destroying (in the sense of finalising and then freeing) violence, hatred, and aggression by tying them to the blade of the kīla and then transmuting them with its tip. The pommel may be employed in blessings. It is therefore that the kīla is not a physical weapon, but a spiritual implement, and should be regarded as such. The kīla often bears the epithet Diamantine Dagger of Emptiness (see shunyata)
- The girdle:
The word itself means ‘to secure’ by encircling something with a cord or belt (sometimes made of iron, for it also, in old English, means `griddle’). This is a classic mystical technique used in many magical traditions. Most modern witches and magicians still mark out their magic circles with a cord to create a boundary that harmful entities or energies may not enter; within the circle only e qualities associated with the purpose of the ritual or invocation can exist.
In summary, the dragon slaying and dragon-taming legends are not fairy biles at all. They are a folk-memory of the magical rituals performed to bring the dark and chaotic aspects of nature back into balance. An earlier method of propitiating the spirits of the land involved both animal and human sacrifice, pence the references to this in the stortes. St George rescuing the maiden is yet another mystical metaphor: there is no longer any need to provide sacrificial victims, for the power of faith (understanding) and knowledge (truth) can quell the ferocity of any Dragon.
- Note: The Magnetic North Pole Shift
Despite the north pole being a fixed location in the Arctic circle, the Magnetic North Pole is a wandering location which changes year on year. The Magnetic North Pole describes the point where the Earth’s natural magnetic field points inwards and down to the ground. For years, the magnetic pole’s location was determined to lie not too far off from the Geographic North Pole. Scientists have, however, noticed in recent years an increased rate at which the pole appears to shift from location to location.
Deep beneath the Earth’s surface, liquid iron is sloshing around at its core, causing the North Pole to move away from Canada and towards Siberia. This has caused global geomagnetism experts to undergo an urgent update of the World Magnetic Model where it will alter where exactly North Pole is. The next update was not scheduled to happen until 2020, but due to the North Pole’s sudden shift, researchers have to bring it forward.
Is Earths magnetic field in the process of reversing? Since 1900 the magnetic north pole has been moving across the top of the planet moving in a straight line toward russia. At first it was traveling at 25 miles per year and today it has speed up to 40 miles per year. The magnetic south pole has been doing the same and has now left the continent of Antarctica as it continues to move toward Australia and Indonesia. Plus, a new magnetic field has popped up over south America in an area called the south Atlantic anamolie. Are these signs that the Earths magnetic field is in the process of flipping? Where are the poles moving to if not a reversal?
- The Two Dragons
In the Mabinogion is a tale called The Adventure of Llud and Llevelys. It concerns Llud, King of all Britain, who rebuilt the walls of London and surrounded the city with innumerable towers. Although he had many strongholds he loved London the best. He spent most of the year there, and so it was called Caer Llud, later Caer Lludein, and then Lundein. All this could well hark back to historical fact, for 3000 years ago the people of London spoke Welsh.
After some time three plagues fell upon the island of Britain. The second of these concerned two dragons. There was a scream heard every May Eve over each hearth in the land. It pierced the hearts of the people and terrified them so much that men lost their colour and strength, women suffered miscarriages, children lost their senses, and animals, trees and soil all became barren, and water polluted.
King Llud consulted his brother Llevelys who was the King of France. He told him that the scream was caused by a dragon. A dragon of another race was fighting with it and struggling to overcome it, and therefore Llud’s dragon screamed so horribly. He said that Llud must measure the length and breadth of the island, and when he found the exact centre he must have a pit dug. Into this he must place a vat full of the best mead and place a silk sheet over the vat, guarding it himself. This was what would happen, Llevelys said: You will see the dragons fighting, and when they are weary they will sink onto the sheet in the form of two little pigs: they will drag the sheet to the bottom of the vat where they will drink all the mead and fall asleep. When this happens you must wrap the sheet round them and lock them in a stone chest and bury them in the earth within the strongest place on the island. As long as they are within that strong place no plague will come to Britain.
Llud buried the chest at Eryi (Mount Snowdon) and the place was called Dinas Emrys. Years later when King Vortigern wanted to build a fortress, as recounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth, this was the site he chose.
But every night the stones disappeared. His Druid advisors told him to find ‘a child without a father‘, kill him and sprinkle his blood around the site. Vortigern sent messengers throughout Britain to look for such a child. After some time they found two children quarrelling in Carmarthen, One was taunted by the other for not having a father. They discovered that the child was the son of a nun, who was herself the daughter of a king. She had been magically impregnated by an angel or supernatural being (a Virgin birth) and the resulting child called Merlin.
Bewildered by this, Vortigern asked his Druids to explain: ‘Between Moon and the Earth live spirits which we call incubus demons. These have partly the nature of men and partly that of angels, and when they wish assume mortal shapes and have intercourse with women.’ Merlin, perhaps understandably questioned the Druids and said that a sacrifice was not necessary, but that they should dig a pit to discover the source of the problem. He prophesies they will discover a pool of water with two hollow stone chambers in which there are sleeping dragons. This they do, but as the dragons awaken, one coloured red the other white, they begin exhaling fiery breath and fight ferociously. At this, Merlin feil into a trance and prophesies:
`Alas for the Red Dragon, for its end is near. Its cavernous dens shall be occupied by the White Dragon, which stands for the Saxons whom you have invited over. The Red Dragon represents the people of Britain, who win be overrun by the White One; for Britain’s mountains and valleys shall levelled, and the streams in its valleys run with blood. The cult of religion shall be destroyed completely and the ruin of the churches shall be clear for all to see. The race that is oppressed shall prevail in the end, for it will res the savagery of the invaders.’
Merlin continued with a fantastical account of future British history, spoken in allegory and symbol. In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s version no-one understand exactly what he was saying, for he began “to speke so mystily…” This dragon tale, among the oldest in British literature, is worth briefly dwelling upon, for besides the obvious interpretation of the two dragons symbolising the native British and the invading Anglo-Saxons (who both went into battle flying pennants emblazoned with dragons), it is clear that the dragons preceded the time of Vortigern and the coming Arthurian dynasty. It also seems clear that when Merlin predicts the demise of the churches and religion of the time, he is speaking of Druidism being supplanted by incoming Anglo-Saxon paganism.
The original story in the Mabinogion tells of a `screaming’ dragon whose sound can be heard on May Eve, or Beltane. This was the first day of Summer in the ancient British calendar, and was, as we know, attended by countrywide rituals (as at Padstow) to celebrate the return of fertility. These involved activities in the wildwood as well as Maypole dancing, celebrations, and mystery plays enacting the return of the Sun God and the awakening Dragon energies within the Earth—the very forces of vitality characterising the Beltane rites.
The central figure as far as we can tell would have been a dragon-slayer (or dragon-tamer), an earlier version of St George who is still so prominent in the folk rituals today.
A `screaming’ dragon that can be heard at every hearth in the land, terrifying the people, causing illness and a barren, infertile country? What could this possibly mean?
From what we have discovered so far we can only assume that the awakening dragon energies within the Earth, especially at this time when the power of the Sun’s radiation is starting to become more intense, affects the planet’s magnetic field and the subtle streams of power that course through the strata of its crust. It is a time when they must be in perfect harmony, otherwise the unbalanced forces of nature could cause havoc.
Early Norman font from Luppit, Devon, with a spear-wielding dragon-tamer confronting a double headed dragon. The twin heads symbolise the polarity of the forces of Nature.
- Note: Luppitt’s Norman font and pillar piscina: An Extract from the book ‘Luppitt: Parish, Church and People’
“Both the font at the base of the tower, and the pillar piscina, now in the south east corner of the chancel, are declared to be of the early Norman period, probably around 1100 AD.
It would be impossible to include all the comments made by so many on our remarkable font, but there is general agreement on its probable age, and some consider that there are Saxon influences in its barbaric carvings. An explanation given is that, although it might have been carved in early Norman times, in this country area the Saxon influences would still have been strong. Coxhead refers to it as a ‘relic of an ancient Keltic Church’. Francis Bond in his work on fonts and font covers, endeavours to find a biblical inspiration, such as Sisera and Jael, on the east face. Dr C A Ralegh Radford, who in the early 1920s gave Rev F T Maydew, our Vicar a detailed explanation of the historical background of our Church, considered the description given by Miss Kate Clarke to be a good one, and so here is the extract;
The story of the font, then, may be interpreted as follows: a holy man made his abode in a remote forest inhabited by barbarians, many of whom he converted to Christianity. The king of the country, a pagan, desired to put him to death; a pretended friend of the saint betrayed him and guided the king and his following to his retreat. The saint was captured and murdered, the king standing by. The false friend, with a congenial associate, retired to a little distance; the other attendants of the king stood around; the Christian converts fled.
The animal on the north face has been referred to as an amphisbæna, and is mentioned in Pliny’s natural history as ‘a serpent with a second head at the end of its tail’ thus able to go two ways at once, and very dangerous. This weird beast was much used in moral instruction to typify the sin of duplicity and its danger. The west face has been termed ‘foliage ornament’ to represent the afforested area as much then was, and the south face described as a hunting scene, with possibly dogs and a hare.
The square leaded bowl at the top, the richly carved sides and about three inches of the round shaft appear to be original, and we suppose that it was this part that was found by Rev W T Perrott soon after he became Vicar of Luppitt in 1880, when digging on his glebe land nearby.
- Every hearth in the land? `Hearth’ is an interesting word. It contains both `heart’ and `earth’, as if it symbolises the Heart of the Earth in a microcosmic sense. It is the central point of every household where the fire burns at the very heart of the home.
Beltane was a time when all over the country great fires were lit on sacred hilltops, purifying the land. Animals were driven through them to protect them from disease and ill-health (very much like the moxabustion techniques of acupuncture, where small fires are lit at the critical energetic points of the body). Can we see here the body of the Earth being purified to balance out the Yin/Yang, Solar/Lunar, Male/Female polarities through the use of magical fire rituals?
Is the story of the terrible dragon a warning that if the old rituals are not maintained then the imbalance could affect every plant and living creature, that when the old rituals and understanding die, then civilisation declines? And is the central position of St George in the remaining vestiges of the old folklore festivals a memory of how the Dragons in the Earth were tamed through the use of magical ritual, with his role formerly taken by a High Priest, Druid, Saint or Perfect Man?
Please Read also : Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul By Titus Burckhardt
Alchemy, Spiritual attainment has frequently been described in the terminology of the alchemical tradition whereby man’s leaden dull nature is returned to its golden original state. This has often been referred to as ‘spiritual alchemy.’
In this wonderfully insightful volume, we are treated to some of these metaphors which have been found useful for establishing certain attitudes in the soul, including: trust, confidence, hope and detachment. For example, there is a clear symbolic relevance in the following analogy: When any substance or entity undergoes dissolution (this could be even a relationship), it must eventually be resolved or re-crystalized in a new form.
This opens the possibility that the new entity could re-congeal in a higher and nobler form. This what Rumi means by, “Feel joy in the heart at the coming of sorrow.” Ibn ‘Arabi mentions in his Wisdom of the Prophets that distress is to be welcomed as it incites the soul to move forward.
“Here we are treated to those metaphors which establish certain attitudes in the soul: trust, confidence, hope and detachment. Spiritual attainment is described via the alchemical tradition, whereby man’s leaden nature is returned to its golden state. This opens the possibility that one can re-congeal in a nobler form. Thus, what Rumi means by, “Feel joy in the heart at the coming of sorrow.”
“Muhyi’d-Din ibn ‘Arabi regards gold as the symbol of the original and uncorrupted state (al-fitrah) of the soul, the form in which the human soul was created at the beginning. According to the Islamic conception, the soul of every child unconsciously approaches this Adamic state, before being led away from it again by the errors imposed on it by adults. The uncorrupted state possesses an inward equilibrium of forces. This is expressed by the stability of gold.”
“. . . since nearly all traditional forms in life are now destroyed, it is seldom vouchsafed to the conservative man to participate in a universally useful and meaningful work. But every loss spells gain: the disappearance of forms calls for a trial and a discernment; and the confusion in the surrounding world is a summons to turn, by passing all accidents, to the essential.” Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul By Titus Burckhardt