This week begins the Chinese New Year of the Wood Dragon. Generally, I hold only a passing interest in this annual cycle of the Chinese zodiac—it isn’t my culture, after all—but I am thrilled this year. (I admit that I did note I was born under the sign of the Snake when I wrote about my experiences with snakes.)
Thrilled because, as I am now confessing, I have a long-standing fascination with dragons.
(Which are related to snakes, of course, in cosmologies that demonize serpents and their connection to the earth, the feminine and transformation.)
For as long as I remember I’ve had an interest and affection for dragons. Though I’m not sure where it came from—I don’t remember Mother Goose or fairly tales for little ones having any dragons. I think the only books with dragons I read as a kid were The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, and the series by Ruth Gannett beginning with My Father’s Dragon. I didn’t read Arthurian tales or similar adventures. I wasn’t a big Lord of the Rings fan or ever played Dungeons and Dragons or the like. Except for those I mentioned and the two noted below, I don’t think I’ve read a book with a dragon in it for at least 50 years.
No matter. Though I didn’t actually believe dragons were hanging out anywhere near my childhood home, I had no doubt they existed, somewhere. Somehow I had a clear sense that they varied—in appearance, habitat, temperament and mission. Some splashed in seas, some nested in caves, some rambled through forests; most had wings and could fly and spew fire, though perhaps not all. Some were hoarders, cranky and scary, but most were not.
I just took this “knowledge” of dragons for granted—like the surprising existence of rhinos—but had no reason to think much about them over the years.
Until one day ten years ago when a dragon appeared in my art. I loved that dragon! Three weeks later, on a day when I was feeling down and working with that sadness in my drawing, another dragon (along with some snakes) made a surprise appearance. That dragon emanated Protection. Despite my surprise, I was struck with how right this felt.
(I can’t explain why I knew this was right. Ten years before that day–after an encounter with an angel–I had consciously given up needing to understand everything I experienced. Or to believe that only what I understood was real. But that’s another story for another day!)
Not long afterwards, driving in a storm amidst heavy traffic, I found myself calling on dragons to protect me—visualizing one on the back bumper, one on the front, one sitting beside me and one flying overhead. I sang a little song for them in return. I do this now regularly when the driving is tricky, and even sometimes if someone else is driving. On takeoff I often ask dragons to protect the plane until we are safely in the air. If I feel a need for protection, I call on “my” dragons. “My” dragons only because I love and respect them, and I feel that they appreciate our relationship.
So now you perhaps think I am nutty.
I understand the concept of archetypes and how they influence us—certainly archetypes are integral to a rich interpretation of Tarot. Yet I don’t see that archetypes fully explain how I could describe with specificity a vast variety of dragon communities—or communities of other “mythical creatures” for that matter—descriptions that often deviate from conventional ideas about them.
(I recently read The Book of Dragons: An Anthology by Jonathan Strahan; I found it disappointing, because most of the stories relied on old familiar tropes about dragons rather than what I feel to be—admittedly, without “proof”—their true nature.
(I did love When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill, but that is a book about society, science, secrets, memory and patriarchy, not really about dragons.)
Despite advances in science, the cosmos gets more mysterious all the time. I love that I don’t understand everything. And I love intuitive surprises.
Dragons continue to pop up occasionally in my art, and I sense there will be more this Year of the Dragon. And I’m thrilled.
What “crazy” helpers do you call on? I’d love to hear.