Friday, 24 October 2008


What's all this dragon business, then? Scary, or what? Well, let's have a look.

Dragons have appeared all over, from Wild, Wet Wales to China. And in this part of the world they've got a bad press, eating all those virgin princesses - well, princesses in general, I suppose. A complex and universal symbol, according to the Illustrated Encycolopaedia of Traditional Symbols; J.C Cooper. A book I highly recommend. ...combining the bird as spirit, and the serpent as matter. ... the breath of life, and the life-giving waters. In those long-ago days the beast represented the Sky gods and their earthly embodiments: emperors, queens and kings.

Breathing fire and lightning, they symbolised the four primal energies combined into One: the earth, the waters, the fire and the air. But also, in the good old days, they embodied male and female in a balanced whole. But like all good things this original state didn't last; they became ambivalent and finally they split. In our neck of the woods, the Occident, they came to be seen as dangerous, negative, evil. The fearsome powers of the dark beneath the Earth; monstrous, chthonic, undifferentiated, destructive. While in the Orient they continued to streak the heavens as beneficent celestial powers.

Yet, at some point inbetween, in Greece for example, they were regarded as guardians of the gold within the earth against whom a creator has to strive for mastership, and which the hero must fight and conquer. Or as the poet Rilke says, 'Our deepest fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasures.'

Will that do for starters? I wish I had a picture. Maybe I should try to paint one.

I sit down with my materials, sketch book, pastels, paints, with this picture in my mind, but I soon I realise that the image is beyond me to put down on paper. The colours aren't like anything I've seen before, and I don't think pigment paints can capture them. The dragon I see is gold, but purple violet incandescent earth-red all together - all at the same time. In fact it's more the colours than the dragon's form that I'm aware of. Its shape is the usual thing - prehistoric lizard sort of head with fiery, bulging eyes you can't meet and can't look into. Its body, scaly, spiny, massive and heavy - powerful, thrashing its tail - so you can't catch it -- hold it in your vision long enough to paint it. It doesn't say still. It changes and shimmers, and moves so lightly, as if it is made of silken thistledown. So transparent that you realise you're seeing into it, and it's like looking into a cauldron - molten streams of metal, different metals all swirling, mingling their various colours, which as your eyes are drawn further down into the maelstrom, become everchanging streams of water, pouring into fathomless, underground lakes and seas.

It's all still and silent down here among these unnameable blues and greens - a silence like a long-held breath - - 'til you begin to wonder, how long. You're transfixed by a tension - a building pressure - and then you see bubbles rising to the surface - bubbling, boiling - and the pressure mounts, forcing jets of steam up and out.

They come roaring and rumbling like thunder, out from the dragon's nostrils in clouds --thunderclouds, dark and ominous, rolling and filling the sky - until, watching them, it seems they're starting to soften. And the thunder in the deep cavern belly which had been shaking the earth, begins to turn to a purr. The dragon's breath mists, silver and shimmery, releasing pearly scales of honesty, luminous moonpennies, and snowdrops glinting with a million frozen crystals - falling soft and quiet, covering the Earth.

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