So, it is Saint Patrick’s Day once again, a curious religious-turned-secular celebration which in its modern incarnation owes far less to fact than fancy. Still, it gives those who need it an excuse to hoist a pint and dream of leprechaun gold and other Hibernian stereotypes which have little if anything to do with a saint who wasn’t even Irish. The facts are, Patrick—aka Patricius—was, as his name attests, a well-born Romano-Briton, kidnapped from Wales and raised as an indentured shepherd across the Irish Sea. When he escaped his captivity, he became a priest, in time returning to Eire as bishop and evangelist to the heathen Celts.
Arguably the most famous bit of blarney connected with Patricius is the story of him driving all the Irish snakes into the sea. That there never were any Irish snakes in the first place proved a minor inconvenience to the hagiographers. It was the Dark Ages, after all. They were dealing in myth and metaphor, in selling the Faith to the masses with broad strokes and simple symbolic tales.
Never let the truth get in the way of a good sales pitch.
But, in the truth they so blithely ignored lay something far more insidious. To understand exactly what was going on, we must take a step back, to a time before the one God replaced the Many. A time when Druids held sway and Dragons ruled.
Learned men and women, the Druids were the moral compass of the people. They were also blessed with the ability to converse with all manner of creature, including Dragons. They looked into Dragon eyes and saw a part of the oneness of nature: as with tree and spring, deer and human, so too with Dragons. They recognized the Dragons were old before time with spirits indwelling and immortal. Like the stones beneath their feet, they could roar with joy, speak, and sing. As keepers of their people’s justice, faith, and wisdom, Druids formed an intimate bond with the Dragons of Prydain, Cymru, Brittany, Eire, and the outer isles, receiving both guidance and instruction from their long-lived associates. The Druids shared their knowledge with kith and kin, and, in the process, Dragons became the most powerful creature in all Celtic lore. They represented the entirety of creation, from the rolling solidity of hill and mountain to the sinuous turn of river and stream. To a people who honored the eternal unity of the universe, no being could be more magnificent.
When Constantine obliterated the separation of Church and State in the 4th century, any previous laissez-faire attitude towards Pagans vanished, and the Christian notion of Dragons as demons straight from Hell was fine-tuned into the strictest article of faith. To Medieval minds, draconic physique not only made them perfect models for Lucifer’s minions but also linked them to Satan in his Serpent garb, tempting humanity to sin. (Note: A look at Genesis suggests that the Serpent was actually a Dragon—certainly a legged reptile—who only lost his limbs after that little kerfuffle with the apple. Gnostic texts, particularly On the Origin of the World, are much kinder, casting him as the descendent of Zoe [Life], the “instructor,” and “wisest of all creatures.” This more pro-Dragon take may have affected the Church’s decision to label Gnostics as heretics. But that’s another story.)
To anatomy and temperament add their association with the God-less Pagans and Dragons became the peerless targets of an increasing number of fanatics. Would-be saints and tin-pot heroes were lining up around the block, scripture and swords at the ready, as Dragon slaying became a quick—if dangerous—path to fame, fortune, and heavenly reward.
This was the stage upon which Patricius played, the script which informed his legend. No real snakes in Eire? No matter. There were Druids and Dragons, beings as figuratively serpentine as Satan himself. For the Patrician mission to succeed and the Church to claim ascendancy, one way or another both had to be eliminated. So Druids and Dragons fell under siege, their sacred springs and blessed woods seized in the name of the new God. No one knows how much blood was spilt in their defense—record-keeping gets a little sloppy when fighting for one’s life—but tales from sidhe and weyr speak of the Dark Times, “when rivers ran red.” Among the survivors, a band of adventurous Dragons emigrated to the New World (“driven into the sea”), while others retreated beyond the veil, dwelling in the land of the fey until the human madness passed. For centuries, the only reminder of Ireland’s rich draconic history lay in the verdant hue of her hills. From a dracophile’s perspective, Patricius left the isle much poorer than he found it.On March 17th, take a moment between sips of emerald lager and think back on the dear price our scaly friends paid—and continue to pay—simply for being themselves.
Last night, as the clock struck twelve and the Year of the Dragon became official in my frosty neck of the woods, I sat up in bed and thought, Hmmmmmmmm. This was quickly followed by a tussle with Spike, the Demon Cat, (which I lost) and a battered retreat under the covers and back to sleep.
In the light of day – and following several cups of coffee – that amorphously draconic hmmmmm began to take shape, along with the realization that I have become too much of a politics junky for my own good (but I’m working on that).
Here’s the thing: Emperors, presidents, tyrants, and generals, ambitious individuals with their sights on being leaders of men and making their mark on history, have long craved the Dragon dancing through their lucky stars. Rumor has it, imperial astrologers of yore were not above fudging a date here and there in the name of the draconic agrandizement of their liege lords. And one has only to look at the public personae of Gingrich and Romney to know they not only wish they were Dragons but strut about pretending to be Dragons (which no doubt pisses off Dragons immensely!)
But – and this takes me back to my hmmmmm moment – the fact is that too often people, especially those in the political arena, think of Dragon traits as power, authority, fierceness, courage, resoluteness, and confidence to the point of arrogance. This is only half of the picture.
Which brings me to a story…..
Long, long ago, the Jade Emperor (who had a rather contentious history with Dragons from day one) was having trouble with Time. The days and moons and years seemed to tumble past without any proper sense of order and, well, quite frankly, it was giving him a headache not even ginseng tea could alleviate. (The Jade Emperor was a bit of a prima donna, so this may well have been hyperbole on his part.)
To give order to the temporal chaos, he summoned all the animals for a great cross-country race. The first twelve creatures to cross the finish line at the Emperor’s palace would have a a house in the zodiac, a place in ordering the calendar. The very fact that the Dragon was invited to participate illicited rumblings of discontent from the mundane animals. After all, unlike them, he was supernatural, huge (i.e. long-legged), and could fly, and the Emperor made no secret of the fact that he expected the Dragon to come in first (even had a side wager on him).
Still, when the animals crested the hill in front of the Imperial Palace, there was Rat and Ox, Tiger and Rabbit, each claiming their space in time, but no Dragon. Suddenly the great creature descended from the heavens and landed beside the Emperor.
“What took you so long?” demanded the Emperor.
The Dragon stretched his wings (Chinese Dragons had wings back then) and pulled his tail close. “If you must know,” he purred – only a Dragon dared speak to the Emperor like that – “I was sailing along, making excellent time when I looked down on your land, acre after acre parched to the bone. The crops were brown and shrivled, the people starving, their paper voices raised in prayers for rain. Well, I could hardly ignore their cries, could I? What sort of Dragon would that make me, I ask you. Hmmm?
“So I wrapped my tail around the clouds, sparked lighting, roared thunder, and sent the rains to slake the dusty land. Your people needed help,” he chided, stroking his whiskers. “This race could wait.”
The Emperor glowered for a moment, embarrassed at being called to his duty by anyone, then smiled. “Dragon, your care for Our subjects is noble, indeed. You keep us mindful of the world beyond these walls. When I forget, I know you—well, you will not let me forget, I am sure.
“Dragon, the fifth house of the zodiac is yours.”
It was thus that the Dragon took his place in the arch of time, anchoring the world. And from that day to this, every Emperor tries to live up to the Dragon’s example.
For all you latter-day power-hungry wannabes out there who long for the character of the Dragon, remember: strength, luck, and charisma are all well and good, but they are in ways only the outer integument, the glittery scales that shimmer in the sun and rattle like sabres. The spirit of the Dragon is a much more complete, complicated, and tempered thing. Dragons may not have much use for politics, but they know that power without kindness is nothing short of tyranny. They know that a Dragon lacking compassion and honesty, who ignores others’ needs for the sake of his own comfort and advancement—He is no Dragon at all. And never will be.
Happy Year of the Dragon.
If you are are not yet Solsticed out, drop by Word Shark Karen S. Elliott’s blog and enjoy a mythic tale, Of Avalon & Mistletoe: A Solstice Carol.
Having tipped my hat to Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, it crossed my mind that, at a time we weary of perpetual showings of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, there must be wonderful, little-shown, unsung holiday films out there just begging for an audience!
Now, don’t get me wrong: I think both of those flicks are classics and for good reason.
But, being a bit of a cinephile, I thought I’d toss a few other chestnuts onto the hearth. So, for your consideration, I suggest:
- The Lion in Winter – a brilliant domestic drama in royal trappings (and perfect reminder to be nice to each other around the Yule table!). Peter O’Toole & Katharine Hepburn are stellar.
- A Christmas Carol (a k a Scrooge)  – with Alistair Sims. The best of the best versions to this viewer’s eyes.
- The Dead – an exquisite rendering of James Joyce’s short story. The last film John Huston made, with Anjelica Huston and Donal McCann. Set at a Yuletide feast, it is a luminous tale of love and loss in Dublin in the early 1900s.
- The Mouse & His Child – a quirky animated film which starts at Christmas and follows our titular characters (two wind-up toys) through a year of hardship and joy in their existential quest to become “self-winding.” Not to everyone’s taste, but one I enjoy.
- In Bruges – Colin Farrell is his usual complicated self in this tale of two hit men holed up in Bruges (Belgium) over the holidays after Colin botches a hit, killing a child in the process. It may seem odd fare for the season, but is, at heart about the nature of goodness and redemption, which hit the Christmas points in my book.
- Joyeux Noel – a beautiful film about the spontaneous Christmas Truce on the front lines of WW I in 1914, and how it impacts the lives of 6 people, French, German, and Scottish. An indictment of war that’s almost painfully human. Also, one of Ian Richardson’s last films.
- A Christmas Tale – A French film starring Catherine Deneuve and Anne Consigny, about a fractious family gathering at Christmas to deal with, among other things, Mom’s need for a transplant. Touching and funny by turns as only the French can do.
- Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas – Jim Henson’s muppets, what more need be said.
- Peter’s Friends – Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson (she’s hysterical!) and friends, gather in the country for a week at New Years. It has a Big Chill flavor but punctuated by delicious British wit.
- A Christmas Memory – based on a Truman Capote short story and originally made for TV in 1967. with Geraldine Page, narrated by Mr. Capote, himself. This is the lyric story of a young boy and his eccentric aunt, Sook, as they go through their ritual adventure of making Christmas fruit cakes in rural South of the 1930s. A classic and very fitting for the times we’re living in.
- Oldies but goodies in no particular order (if you haven’t seen these, you should, at least once in your life!): The Bishop’s Wife; Holiday; An Affair to Remember; Come to the Stable; Shop Around the Corner; The Man Who Came to Dinner; Miracle on 34th Street; Christmas in Connecticut; Holiday Inn; Auntie Mame; The Apartment. (and more up to date: Go; Nightmare Before Christmas; Ice Storm; Shadowlands; Love Actually; Die Hard; Bad Santa; The Holiday; Perfect World; and Comfort & Joy.)
So, a few festive thoughts–a holiday share I hope you enjoy.
What are your odd and wonderful holiday favorites? Love to add to my list!
Happy Solstice Everyone!
Contrary to what Doomsdayers were predicting, the world did not end yesterday, and tonight the Hogfather will make his ride and usher in Winter’s demise!
(Those of you unfamiliar with the Hogfather and the traditions of Hogswatch, I urge you to go to the library and check out Terry Pratchett’s wickedly delightful tale or, if you prefer your holiday fare visual, check it out on DVD.)
Cause for celebration across the Universe!
For those of you who only have time for small, savory mouthfuls of festive reading, a suitably brief shout-out today to Holiday Week over at Karen S. Elliott’s blog. A diverse group of stories and memoirs will be appearing from December 20th thru the 27th, with my own Solstice Carol appearing on Boxing Day (December 26). Hope you will check out these delightful literary gifts and enjoy.
It is the Eve of Samhain.
The veil between the worlds is thinning and the Month of the Dragon is coming to a close. What better time to weave a tale to curl every hair on a Dragon-lover’s head: a tale of persecution, demonization, exile, and near extinction. A tale of the Dark Times and the hope given Dragons in the Otherworld.
The Dark Times, though starting in the Near East, are today considered European in temperament and scope. It all began with the advent of the Common Era and Christianity replacing Dragon-friendly pagan beliefs. Scaled, with calid breath, our friends were suddenly transformed forces of nature into the minions of the Devil, personae which put them squarely in the sights of every knight and would-be saint from Palestine to the Gulf of Bothnia.
By the Age of Chivalry, Dragon Quest was the sport du jour, with many a young knight breaking his bones in the pursuit of their elusive quarry. Nine times out of ten, the creatures actually slain not true Dragons (TDs were far too clever and fey to be caught by bumbling disbelievers), with marsh drachs and slow-witted fen flappers the most common victims. In fact, even King Pellinore’s ravaging beast fame was, by all accounts, not a Dragon but a Loch Worm, one of the least sociable pseudo species.
Still, the anti-Dragon sentiments and assaults on weyrs (especially during hatching time) took a heavy toll on the enchantments. The great forests they relied upon for food and haven were felled to make room for towns and fields; the sacred groves and holy wells which illumined the ley lines were replaced by churches and shrines of the new religion, Christianity. Magic was fading from the Old World, leaving little room or need for Dragons save as legendary curiosities, much like the Faerie folk, Silkes, Unicorns, and the very rare Fivergriffs.
Even Celtic lands, Dragon havens for centuries, were no longer safe. Their Druidic allies were struggling for their own existence and any association with Dragons greatly increasing their peril. Without friends, enchantment choices in an increasingly hostile world became increasingly limited.
In the tenth century, apocryphal tales about the coming end of days stoked public fears beyond reason. This was a time when the Antichrist and his creatures were very real beings bringing very real torment. It took only a little fine-tuning of Sabbath sermons and the “divine” law of the land to raise apocalyptic specters and make Dragons anathema from one end of the continent to the other.
Fight or flight were the choices at hand. And while a few Dragons stood their ground, more saw the wisdom in retreat, emigrating across the Atlantic to North America or, as was more common, being welcomed into the mystical Otherworld by the Faerie. There Dragons stayed, watchers still, seen by a few keen-sighted kindred spirits, especially at Samhain. For on October 31, the veil between the world of the mystical and the world of humans, thins, and travel between the two is, while not always common, at least possible.
Fortunately, the worst anti-Dragon attitudes of the Dark Times are a relic of the past; Dragons have returned to the everyday world in all their glory. No one is sure, even now, what the tipping point was that induced Dragons to come out of the mists. New Agers suggest that it is connected to the new millennium, while Neo-Darwinists lean towards the need for self-preservation in the wake of unprecedented global warfare and human population explosions. Certainly, the late-Victorian Celtic/Druid resurgence helped pave the way by softening public attitudes toward our spiky-wiky friends. Whatever the cause, we have all benefited immensely from their return, for we are blessed to share in the Dragon Renaissance.
So, when you are out trick-or-treating tomorrow night, keep your mind open and your eyes peeled. And remember, if it is true that Dragons need us, it is a greater truth that we need them more.
Have you had a Samhain/Halloween Dragon encounter? Please share!
This is your last chance contribute a Month of the Dragon comment and put your name in the hat for a chance at a signed copy of my book, The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook. The drawing will be tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. (EST), and the winner will be announced here tomorrow night.
Diwali ~ The Festival of Lights!
Lest we give short shrift to our Eastern friends, smack in the middle of Tell a Dragon Tale Week (and, yes!, all Dragon Tales are still welcome!) is Diwali, or the Festival of Lights. As any dracophile will tell you, this is a delightful time for Dragons around the world.
Diwali, like Month of the Dragon itself, is a moveable feast, celebrated by Hindu, Jain, Sikh, and Buddhist, in the nations around the Indian Ocean and across the world, around the Caribbean Sea. Occurring sometime between mid-October and mid-November, it is a festival of joy, wishes, fireworks, and sweets – all thing Dragons embrace! It is also a time when intricate rice/flour paintings or rangoli are created on floors and in courtyards as sacred greetings for the gods. A bit of common sense advice: ask your Dragons to stay clear of the paintings, as they are fragile and can be dispersed with the slightest whoosh of Dragon wings.
Diwali is a time to rejoice in the Inner Light, the underlying Reality of All Things.
Including Dragons, of course!
So Happy Diwali, one and all!
The Separation of Church and Dragon: A Clash of Titans.
Before we get rolling through Dragon Country an announcement:
Tomorrow, October 21, I am delighted to be hosting the guest writings of The Dragon Master. I hope you will all drop by and enjoy the wit and wisdom of this dracophile extraordinaire.
Now, to our tale.
In this Week of Wells, it is only appropriate to acknowledge on of the classic scenarios in European history: Church v. Dragon for the rights to springs. The end of the first millennium C.E. (Common Era) saw the royal stamp of approval placed firmly on the new Christian faith. Conversion went hand in hand with conquest, and the sacred sites of Druid and Dragon were prime targets.
It made sense, after all. Displaying an arrogant, back-handed regard for the old ways, the Christian knights, monks, and their monarchs, recognized the importance of the ancient spiritual places, with their Dragon guards and mystical power (hard not to, really). And claiming them in the name of the new religion, they felled the sacred groves, using the timbers in their new churches.
And then they turned to the springs and wells. This was understandable. In the new faith, the rite of baptism maintained the link between water and religious mystery. And the waters of Druid and Dragon were very mysterious! Linked to ley lines, they were alive with Earth power, and treasured for their ability to heal and inspire. Conflict between old uses and new was inevitable.
Of course, this was not a new battle. During his despotic reign (37-41 CE), Caligula got it into his head to shatter every Roman taboo he could, including invading the sacred woods and waters of Nemi, a crater lake 30 km southeast of the capital. From time before remembering, Roman law declared Nemi the holy province of Diana. No one was allowed to sail the lake or hunt the forests, and the surrounding mountains created an idyllic, micro-climatically controlled enclave for a plethora of creatures including both Dragons and unicorns, the latter of which were sacred to the Dea Loci.
Believing he was himself divine, Caligula, sought to claim the lake as his personal playground. He did not care that a weyr had been thriving there since before the mountain blew its top and the lake was formed, or that, every year, passions of unicorns filled the hills with their mating songs. His imperial ego demanded an imperial footprint on the world. At Nemi, that meant following the template laid out by the Hellenistic and Ptolomeic monarchs: he set his twisted mind on the construction of an aquatic resort, including two massive ships, one a temple, one a floating palace, for his pleasure. As a result of these hedonistic pursuits, the enchantments were decimated, those who survived the Roman onslaught flying across the Adriatic, into the more hospitable Carpathian Mountains, never to return. The unicorns disappeared for well over 200 years, before the renewed grace of the Goddess and their mating instincts drew them back. Reports of their song bouncing across the crater exist to this day. But that is another story.
Back to the Christian conflict.
In the days of early Roman forays into Dragon lands, the Druids and tribal leaders had stood with their scaled friends against the invaders. Now, unfortunately they were so besieged themselves that the Dragons were on their own. And so began the darkest chapter of the draconic Dark Times, when losses on both sides were too numerous to count. For what is a Dragon without water? Without guardianship?
In the end, the humans won out, driving Dragons across the Atlantic to the New World or into the Otherworld sanctuary of the Sidhe. Today, we are blessed by their return. With luck we have learned to separate Church and Dragon to the benefit of all.
 The planet’s energy grid, throbbing with electro-magnetic energy.