Why the dragon preys upon our mind

A dragon is a mythical monster often represented as breathing fire, having a scaly reptilian body, wings, claws, and a long tail. It is also sometimes portrayed as a giant snake. Dragons in European tradition are most often symbols of chaos, of evil supernatural forces and are the natural enemy of humanity. In Asia the dragon is usually benevolent, spiritual, and a great source of wisdom.

The word, dragon, originates from ancient Greek, drakon, meaning a serpent or giant seafish. It may have been derived from derkesthai, meaning to see clearly. Seeing clearly may refer to the one with the deadly glance, a name for the dragon somewhat like the basilisk. The basilisk as you might know from Harry Potter, can be portrayed as a giant snake with a deadly stare. Latin took the same word, Draconis, for snake or serpent.

The dragon features strongly in western mythology denoting the ultimate force that a hero must overcome. In Greek mythology the dragon, Ladon, guarded the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. Another dragon guarded the Golden Fleece. Pythia and Python, a pair of serpents, guarded the temple of Gaia until it was seized by Apollo, who then draped them around his winged caduceus which he gave to Hermes.

In the Judeo-Christian canon, dragon is the translation used for the Hebrew word tannin in the Old Testament. It perhaps denotes crocodiles, whales or sea creatures in general and even wolves or jackals. In Isaiah 51:9 it is the Egyptian pharaoh:

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?

But in the New Testament whenever dragon is mentioned it refers to the devil. From Revelation 12:9:

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world— he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Over time the dragon has come to represent the epitome of primordial evil in western culture. It is portrayed as a metaphorical force opposed to the civilizing nature of humanity. DH Lawrence writes:

Every new stroke of civilization has cost the lives of countless brave men, who have fallen defeated by the “dragon,” in their efforts to win the apples of the Hesperides, or the fleece of gold. Fallen in their efforts to overcome the old, half sordid savagery of the lower stages of creation, and win the next stage.

The magical and deep-seated malevolence of the dragon in our culture may be explained in the context of the Jungian collective unconsciousness. The dragon in our imaginations may be a manifestation of our instinctual fear of predators. This has been imprinted in the DNA of our brain and dictated our earliest behaviours. In the long distant past our pre-monkey ancestors scuttled around in trees trying to avoid the serpents and birds that preyed upon us. If this is the case, the dragon, the serpent with wings, will continue to wage its magical battle with us for a long time to come.