Since ancient times story has been a potent means of understanding ourselves, from myths and legends to religious allegories. While our relationship with these stories has changed, they can still tell us about who we are, and especially where we are right now in our world of crises.
From wars to pandemics and our altering climate, our present troubles mainly come from human activity. We know that. And we know the changes that must be made. But we only ever tinker around the edges. For despite our cleverness and ability to make conscious choices, we are dogged by disruptive tendencies that play out within our psyches and stop us functioning well. Here is an old story to put us in the picture.
A mighty battle
In the Bible’s apocalyptic book of Revelation, in chapter 12, there is a drama of cosmic proportions. Yet on a microcosmic level it is about the state of our soul. And it contains a warning.
A pregnant woman clothed with the sun and with the moon at her feet is threatened by a great dragon. While she undergoes the birth pangs, it hovers eager to devour the newborn child. Then suddenly Archangel Michael comes upon that ancient dragon, called the Devil and Satan. It is ‘thrown down to earth’ that is, into human consciousness – and there the battle rages in our soul.
The dragon names are usually seen as interchangeable. But if we look deeper, they can be distinguished. Their origin lies in two mythological beings, Lucifer and Ahriman. And they tell us why this dragon in the story is ‘the deceiver of the whole world’.
Lucifer means ‘light bringer’ and was originally associated with the morning and evening star, a heavenly being no less. Light can be a blessing. When we ‘see the light’, inwardly we understand, and our profoundest questions are answered. But in many myths Lucifer is exiled from heaven. And if we lack discernment and wisdom, we are dealing with ‘fallen’ Lucifer, the false light that distorts our desires and skews our imagination beguiling us into self-delusion and even illusionary spirituality. We lose touch with reality and the realities of everyday existence.
Ahriman, from early Iranian myths, is the anti-life spirit of Darkness opposed to Ahura Mazda, the good being of Light. Anti-life pulls us down, away from anything with heart and feeling, so what might be sensible practicality becomes calculating acquisitiveness and hard-hearted control over the earth’s resources, including the living world, and including human beings. Ahriman chains us to materialism.
Although polarities, these two impulses are portrayed as a single dragon because working together in the human soul, the dual-dragon nature easily seizes control. This happens most clearly in a tyrant, say Adolf Hitler to name a familiar one, whose delusions of the one pure superior race and obsession with conquest and power brought on world war. He wasn’t unique. Individuals like that are with us still.
Our dragon nature may not erupt so dramatically but it filters out through ethically precarious attitudes. So for example, amidst fears and disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic we turn to blaming, or feed on fabricated stories of global conspiracies, or strip the supermarket shelves of toilet paper because we acknowledge only our needs.
Often, though, when faced with challenges we simply find it hard to maintain our centre and remain clear headed, balanced and harmonious.
The woman and the child
The extraordinary cosmic story continues. The woman, who on the human level is the wisdom in the soul, gives birth to her child and must flee from the dragon. Symbolically this child is our indwelling spirit, the inner Christ, the mediator with the potential to transform our consciousness. The dragon cannot harm the spirit, which belongs to the eternal.
But it does pursue the woman across the earth. It tries to drown her, spewing water like a great river from its mouth. And interestingly in the story, the earth comes to help the woman, swallowing the river. Mother Earth herself wants us to rise above our dragon nature and find healing in her world.
If we live in her realm with courage, compassion and love for all life, the child that is our spiritual self will thrive. The wisdom in our soul is like a mother who protects, nurtures and nourishes the child. The divine cosmos is there to assist but only we can bring that child to maturity.
And when we stand in our true humanity, those negative, niggling, undermining dragon impulses lose their power over us. Amazingly then we also help the earth to heal and thrive.
The painting: William Blake 'The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Sun' c. 1805