Dream: ‘Tasting The Dragon’
TASTING THE DRAGON
Dream: ‘Tasting The Dragon’Mar 08
TASTING THE DRAGON
By Ryan Hurd
The Dream Tribe
February 22, 2012
In the West, the only good dragon is a dead dragon.
In our shared imagination known as mass media, our heroes slay dragons left and right, and with the violent act comes the annihilation of the dragon’s traits we love to hate: greed, fear, and wickedness.
Western dragon stories, recorded long ago from English and European folk tales, are resurfacing in popular culture with surprising quickness.
Currently, the most popular fantasy novel series, George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, features the resurgence of fire-breathing dragons to a post-Tolkein landscape that has forgotten the ways of magic. (It’s also a popular HBO series).
And one of the highest grossing video games this season is ElderScrolls V: Skyrim, an engrossing single-player game that has taken dragon-killing to a new level of technical precision.
Yet we don’t actually need the mass-media injection of dragon lore, because dream and visions bring this classic motif to the surface spontaneously. The dragon-serpent as mighty adversary is a narrative built into our storytelling DNA.
In dreams, the dragon — or one of its variations: wyrm, sea-creature, dinosaur — doesn’t just show up so the heroic ego can kill something ancient and vaguely reptilian to score some gold and a black-haired virgin.
That would be too easy.
No — there’s unfinished business after you retrieve the sword from the dragon’s belly.
I learned this for myself in a terrifying nightmare.
Swallowed by the Wyrm
In the dream, I was swallowed up by a giant snake-monster. I fell through its throat and into a dark, wet pit. With startling clarity, I felt the beast’s stomach acids soak into my skin — it burned like liquid fire.
Pulling out a knife from my pocket, I cut a hole in the side of the beast, spilling out onto the ground, and instantly waking up.
Sitting up in bed, the sensations of being eaten alive faded almost instantly, and I was at first proud of my quick reaction to this dream.
But a gnawing remained in my own stomach.
I felt sick and admitted to myself that I had cheated. Sure, I had escaped thanks to some crafty derring-do, but the physical symptom of indigestion was stronger.
“By its fruits,” William James once said, “you shall know them, not by their roots.” James was speaking about how spiritual experiences can arise from many sources but contain similar kinds of perennial wisdom.
The statement also applies to working with dreams. Often, the surest way to proceed with a dream is to feel how it resonates in your body upon awakening: this often tells you more than the imagery itself.
I had to go back.
So I fell asleep, focusing on the disgusting wyrm as I closed my eyes. Instantly I was back in the dream. I jumped into its mouth, and once again landed in a dark moist pit full of churning acids. When the burning of my skin heated up, I sat through it. It hurt, and I waited as the sticky walls drew closer, filling me with clausterphobia.
I was being digested. It was terrifying, but I was resolved to stay with the dream. Within a few moments, though, the scene greyed out and I awoke again.
This time, I felt invigorated, like I could climb a mountain. This is the physical fruit of a good dream outcome, in my reckoning anyways. I discovered that cunning — my prized first defense again most threats — is not always the way. Sometimes courage is in the waiting.
In my dream, facing the dragon actually meant being killed myself. Jonah and the Whale is the Biblical version of this myth, where being heroic requires surrender to the monster’s power, letting it soak into your skin. Jonah sits in the whale’s belly for three days, repenting his sins and his out-of-balance pride.
The Taste of Dragon’s Blood
Another classic Western story of dragon slaying is the Icelandic myth of Siegfried, which later was cemented into Germanic culture thanks to Richard Wagner’s 1876 opera The Ring of the Nibelung. In this myth, Siegfried is charged with killing the dragon that guards a magical ring.
When he slays the dragon, he extracts the blade from its belly, but his hand is burned by the dragon’s blood. Instinctively, he puts his hand to his mouth, and tastes the blood.
Instinctively is the key word here. What happens next sheds light on the dragon’s power: Siegfried soon realizes he can understand the language of birds, and also can read men’s thoughts.
For Siegfried, killing the dragon means absorbing just a taste of its power, reconnecting him to nature and to the intuitive arts.
How much of the dragon’s power you need to complete the task depends on you, your own life myth, and the particular place you need to grow right now.
No matter how much of the dragon’s power we need, the fruit is transformation. We struggle against it, of course, and try to stay within our comfort zone (craftily hiding our small blades for just such an occasion), but a part of us larger than the ego knows that the bitter medicine is needed.
Why We Slay Dragons
The truth is that we don’t slay a dragon to crush the darkness, but rather to uncage it, to let it out so balance is achieved in our minds, and in the world. This could about the balance of rationality and intuition, as it was for Siegfried, or the balance of cunning and courage, as it was in my own dream.
Joseph Campbell says it well in The Power of Myth:
“Psychologically, the dragon is one’s own binding of oneself by oneself. We’re captured in our own dragon cage….” The goal is to “disintegrate that dragon, break him up, so that you may expand to a larger field of relationships.” (1988, p. 149).
I’m happy to see that the videogame I mentioned earlier, ElderScrolls V: Skyrim, actually incorporates this oft-forgotten piece of Western dragon lore into the game. When you kill a dragon, its soul-essence rises like a mist, and you absorb its power. The dragon soul then can unlock new powers for the character that can be achieved by no other way.
As Amy wrote in her piece about working with Dragon dreams, the confrontation with the dragon might empower you to “face your fears, recognize and claim your inner gifts so you can more easily take them into the world.”
Go on… taste the dragon. Just one sip might do the trick.