Saint George and the Dragon (The Wedding of Light and Love)

Fire and Water, the ‘outer’, polar elements of Nature, are irreconcilable; they cannot meet
directly, but only through the intermediaries of air and earth. In order for them to
encounter each other, and blend into one, they must be transmuted from the natural to
the moral plane; which is possible only through the evolution of the moral sense in
mankind, in whom the polar opposites of Nature are experienced within themselves (and
projected without themselves) as ‘good’ and ‘evil’, imagined variously as Mind/Soul and
Body, as Light and Dark, as Alpha and Omega. Between these opposites lies a world of
myriad tones of colour: the world of Air and Earth. This is the daily world of mankind,
who is (though aware—through the heavy veils of daily life—of the unadulterated
energies of the opposite poles, looming at the horizons of its world), unable to endure
this awareness directly, except through prayer and sacrifice to the side of Light, of
‘good’; and through magic, to protect it from the side of Dark, of ‘evil’.
These poles of the manifest world need not, however be envisioned as in opposition to
each other, but merely of contrary qualities, both partaking of the wholeness of the One:
the qualities of Light and of Love; which ‘principles of being’ may indeed be conceived,
and felt, not as antagonistic, but as yearning towards one another.
However, that harmony which is achieved in Nature, the flow of energy between the
poles [as emblemized in the yin-yang concept of Taoism], is ever hindered on the moral
plane by mankind’s ego-self, striving to shape the world into what it experiences as
itself, its own individual image. In doing so, it identifies itself with the principal of
Light alone (God-as-Alpha), opposing itself to, and demonizing, the contrary pole of
Love (God-as-Omega), seeing it only, (and experiencing it in its own body) as wild and
destructive lust. To counter and overcome this ego-resistance to the flow of Light into
Love and its return thence to itself, teachings, expressed in allegories, legends and
‘histories’, evolved within mankind. In the European world, which became the
quintessential Christian world, the teaching evolved out of the Hebrew myth of the
world’s creation.
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According to this myth (though the matter is not so stated or seen), the first separation of
Fire from Water occurs when the seraph Michael drives Lucifer out of Heaven (in
accordance with Lucifer’s own will [God’s own will, manifesting as ‘luciferian ego’, to
see Himself, as in a mirror, from Without] to ‘explore outwardness’, bearing the Light
into the ‘uncomprehending’ Dark); so breaking the oneness of the World into two
incommunicable halves, for Lucifer (the ‘light-bearer’), shining (and seen as ‘falling’)
into the ‘uncomprehending’ Dark, ‘turns his coat’, becoming himself the ‘king’ of the
Dark who, as Satan, the ‘Adversary’ of the Light; takes upon himself the form of the
serpent (or ‘snake’ or ‘dragon’), this being a creature most easily imagined as the body of
the deep and dark water underlying the ‘outer’ and still unpeopled earth.
To heal this breach of the cosmos, God makes Adam and Eve from water and earth, the
‘lower’ Omegan elements of Himself, and gives them life with his fiery breath, the
‘upper’ Alphic elements of Himself; thus making them at one with Himself. But this
‘binding of the wound’ is broken by Adam and Eve’s also choosing to explore
‘outwardness’, pictured as their ‘seduction’ by Satan from their awareness of ‘being-in-
God’ in the Garden of Eden (the image of Heaven on Earth), into a ‘knowledge’ of their
separate, individual existences; God then becoming for them no longer themselves, but
Other, an external image both fearful and desired. In this self-created condition, they
experience themselves as being driven from the Garden, as was Lucifer from Heaven;
and their burdened lives in the ‘outer world’ are seen in Christian tradition as their, and
their descendants’ imprisonment in the myriad coils of the ‘underworld serpent, or
dragon’.
With the flow of time in this ‘outer’ world, the yearning of mankind towards its own
godhood expresses itself in the image of ‘Eve’ in her turn ‘turning her coat’, directing all
her energy away from the ‘outer world’ to the heart of her own being, so evolving into
‘Mary’; who gives herself (emblematic of the whole ‘outer’ world of earth and water) to
God-as-Gabriel (the ‘inner’ world of fire and air). From this union ‘Jesus’ is born, the four
elements in one, as God’s avatar in the samsaric world of ‘outwardness’.
When grown to manhood, Jesus becomes ‘twice-born’ through his passage through water
(his baptism in the Jordan, wherein he is newly named ‘Christos’, the ‘Anointed’); so
allowing the Serpent, the image of water, to infuse his being; so becoming One with the
Omega aspect of God as Water and Earth; so enabling God to experience Himself in
Himself-as-Outwardness. In this state of awareness, ‘God-the Anointed’ returns to
Himself-as-Alpha: through his ‘crucifixion’, his living experience of the coincidence of
opposites, He becomes thrice-born, uniting the watery Omega world with the Alphic
world of Fire, experiencing their flowing through his own heart, the centre of the figure
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eight of his own being.
From this central Christian myth of ‘God’ himself [‘god’ in Everyman] there evolved
through the successive centuries—with the evolution of ‘saints’, men and women
experiencing ‘god’ in themselves and themselves in ‘god’—other tales, of one or two of
thse saints, illustrating exfoliations of this concept of Being ‘turning its coat’ so as to
experience itself as Becoming, so ‘increasing Its wisdom’ [like Odin, hanging himself
head-first ‘into the world’ to gather from it the twigs of the holy tree Yggdrasil, of which
the alphabet articulating the world was made], and reuniting that world of Becoming
with Itself as Being. These tales, vivid and beloved ‘tales of heroes and dragons’ (having
for many the ‘factual’ quality of ‘history’), and frequently illustrated to intensify their
‘reality’, became auxiliary guides to people’s souls through the labyrinth constructed by
their own minds.
Of these, that which became the most widely known and loved was the Tale of Saint
George and the Dragon.
It was not, in its anecdotal content, original to Christianity, but had many forerunners in
legends of Georgia, Cappadocia, and the Levant in general. And centuries before them
(and remaining alive in the culture of Europe), was the ancient Greek myth of the
slaying by Perseus of the dragon to which a princess, the daughter of the king of
‘Ethiopia’, had been offered, to keep it from ravaging the kingdom. With the help of
both Hermes and Athene, Perseus saves her, is wedded to her, and becomes, through her,
the father of the line of Danaan kings who rule Argos from Tyrins and Mycenae.
The maiden who is rescued from the dragon by Saint George is not so wholly of ‘this
world’; the tale, in accordance with the manner of Christian teaching, has become
allegorical, having a ‘clear and open’ reference to the victory of good over evil. It has
also, as we shall see, an inner, veiled, meaning. Which may be perceived—though not
easily—in the many pictures of the event painted over the centuries in mediaeval and
renascence Europe.
The usual ‘icon’ of the tale is of a mediaeval knight on a white horse encountering a
dragon which is rising out of water (often from a dark cave flowing with water) to
challenge him. Nearby, on ground of one kind or another, is a ‘maiden’ who is bound
there—usually by only the finest of cords, indicating rather than illustrating her
condition of sacrifice to the dragon. She is said, in the legend (although this is not
usually evident in the icon), to be the daughter of the king of the realm.
The most frequent portrayal of the scene shows the point of Saint George’s spear
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piercing into the fiery breath of the dragon, so indicating his slaying it; which the
Christian Church, on whose walls this ‘icon’ is hung, tells us illustrates the triumph of the
Light of Christ over the Dark of paganism. But we may, if we look carefully at the
encounter, see other teachings in it than that.
Why is Saint George’s spear typically shown as penetrating the dragon’s mouth?
The legend tells us that its scales are impenetrable. Is this the reason? Or is the icon
telling us something other?
It may be well, at this point, to remember that Saint George, even in the Christian
context, is not the original ‘dragon-slayer’; nor indeed was he originally a dragon-slayer
at all; but a simple Roman soldier. The ‘dragon-slayer’ of the early church was the
Archangel Michael himself, in mediaeval costume veiling his Light, encountering the
‘mediaeval’ image of Lucifer, prince of the Dark. Of this encounter, between ‘Saint
Michael’ and the ‘dragon’, there are also many iconic representations.
What need then for Saint George, if the dragon was so effectively slain by ‘Saint
Michael’?
‘Saint Michael’ was not a man; all his ‘manly’ mediaeval dressing could not conceal that
he was, in his essence, an angel.
An angel can, of course, slay a dragon. Light can shine into the Dark.
But will the Dark ‘comprehend’ it?
Need it?
If it does not, the whole remains broken into opposing parts; the One is Not-One.
*
The Hero of the encounter therefore evolved, through the ‘descent’ of the Archangel
Michael, emblematic of Heavenly Fire shining into the created world as pure white
Light (light in its fullness, containing all the colours of the rainbow), into ‘Saint George’,
his microcosmic aspect. For this to be possible, Saint George was ‘reborn’ (in the
manner of pre-Christian spiritual rebirth, on horseback) out of Saint George the
(foot)soldier, a man like other men, to enable him to serve as the (twice-born but still)
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human protagonist (exemplifying the ‘hero’ in all mankind) in the encounter with ‘the
Dragon’.
For this encounter, he rides a white horse, symbolic of the Light within him of Michael
the Archangel, and his body is enclosed in fire-forged armour, emblematic of the
dedication of his ‘earthly body’ to the ‘upper, heavenly’ realm of Fire [symbolically
equivalent to the circumcision of the Hebrews, and the tonsure—itself suggestive of
circumcision—of Christian monks], which will shield him from the danger of his own
physical dissolution in the encounter with the formless waters; for without the armour,
his body is only of earth, air and water, of the world of flesh and grass.
For his mission, his ‘quest’, was not—against the teaching of the Church—to ‘slay’ the
dragon, to drive it back into its own Darkness; but to draw it out of that Darkness into
the Light of the ‘upper’ world; and himself, as the emblem on earth of that world of Fire
and Air, to become One with it.
The Waters, in order to play their part in this encounter, create out of themselves the
‘serpent’ or ‘dragon’, maintained in form by its armour of scales [Ourobouros, the world
encircling snake coiled into a circle of stillness; Mary the inward-gazing evolution of
Eve; the Empress of the Tarot turned within herself as the High Priestess of the inner
temple, whence flow the living waters of the world; Percival’s sister giving her blood
and her life, that the queen of the outer world may be healed and flower], so that it may
receive St. George’s phallic spear [as did Mary Gabriel’s lily], and know it, in its own
being; so that living form may be the fruit of their union. Were there no ‘dragon’, Saint
George might plunge his spear of Light into the dark waters unendingly [like Onan
spilling his seed on the ground] and nothing whatever come of it.
*
The ‘icons’ of the encounter of Saint George and the Dragon, though differing in many
details, do not normally vary in two essentials: Saint George rides a white horse and the
dragon’ breath is fiery red; so representing the polar opposites of Light and Love.
Opposite but not equal; because, in both the legend and its illustration, the Light is
idealized, characterized as ‘good’, while Love is demonized, characterized as ‘evil’. The
White Light of Heaven, by which mankind, exposed to its nakedness, would be instantly
destroyed, is doubly sheathed: in the ‘angelic’ body of Michael within the human body of
Saint George, from whose heroic presence—itself sheathed in armour—it appears only
in the ‘spear of Light’ in his hands, and the white cross, the Christian formal picturing of
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the Light, on his shield; Light so muted in the ‘Air’ of the world that we may bear it, and
be nourished.
‘Love’, however, as seen in the emblem of the Dragon, is in no such manner transmuted;
it is in its raw, destructive state of lust and wild desire, symbolized by the flailing of its
body in the waters; and is therefore (felt to be) dangerous to the ‘upper’, Light-filled
world of Air.
And this ‘world’ is not—although it is so pictured—the ‘world without’, but that within
each one of us: the ‘dangerous’ Dragon of Love, our own inchoate sexual desires and
emotional longings, flailing about for means of expression; which ‘Saint George’ in each
of us must tame, so that our lust may be transmuted to the pure Love of which the
Maiden is the emblem.
But for this to be accomplished, it is not possible (against the overt Christian teaching of
the legend and icon) that the ‘dragon’ (the emblem of the great and formless energy of
the underlying waters) be slain; for without the ‘dragon’, our whole (untamed) emotional
being, there can be no love at all, ‘holy’ or ‘unholy’; but only wallflowers pressed in a
book of pious devotions to a far and desolate god.
The ‘mating’ of Saint George with the Dragon-Maiden is, therefore, twofold. The first is
his entering the ‘underflowing waters’, personified by the dragon, into whose—open,
offered—mouth he penetrates through his phallic spear, so entering himself into the
world of which it is the image, the ‘outer’ world of God, as God-as-Omega, the Buddhist
Samsara. This is the essential ‘marriage’ [like that of Mary with Gabriel (his phallic Lily
being the equivalent of Saint George’s spear)]; for as he ‘descends’ into the world of
Earth and Water, she rises out of it into the world of Air and Fire, and is transfigured
from the dragon to the maiden.
Only when this has been accomplished may they both (and all mankind who bear them
within) meet in the ‘world without’, knowing, experiencing themselves as God both
Alpha and Omega, the Androgyne heart of the world.
*
There are, in several of the many icons of this encounter, curious and suggestive details.
In one, the armour of Saint George appears to be made of scales, like the skin of the
dragon; and is green, the colour of earth and water. In other, Orthodox, icons a boy is
riding on the horse behind Saint George. And in many, the maiden is shown not as a
6
captive of the dragon, but rather as its ‘mistress’, holding in her hand a cord, the other
end of which is around the dragon’s neck.
These ‘details’ tell us much about the nature of the encounter.
That the armour of Saint George is as scaly as the body of the dragon tells us that he is
able to ‘comprehend’ the ‘dragon’, that he is not, like the original Light of Lucifer shining
into the dark, as uncomprehending of the Dark as the Dark is of that Light; Saint
George, the child of both the ‘fall’ of Adam and Eve and the Resurrection of Christ, is
himself of the world of the dragon, and knows it. Were he not, he would not be able to
encounter it; for the ‘dragon’ is the creature of his knowing of himself-as-dragon, the
under-waters of his own being taking the primal form which enables him to ‘know’
them, through allowing the Light of ‘Heaven’ to pour through his spear into the mouth
the emblem of ‘articulation’ of the receptive dragon; which he knows to be himself. [So
did Percival, to bring to conscious form what it was he experienced in the Grail Castle,
need to ‘ask the question’.]
Equally, the ‘Maiden’ is not the ‘prisoner’ of the dragon; she is the dragon herself, her
own prisoner, in her amoral ‘innocence’, her unknowing that her unending Becoming is
at-one with her own inner Being. And so it is natural that the Maiden be seen as the
dragon’s ‘mistress’; for ‘Saint George’ himself knows that she is at-one with the dragon,
and that both are aspects of himself.
The ‘slaying’ of the dragon is thus the entry of ‘Saint George’, into the ‘lower’ world of
God-as-Omega, which he, as the evolved representative of the ‘upper’ world of God-as-
Alpha, is able to see, but only ‘darkly’, as the dragon, the shape of the energy of untamed
‘natural lust’, or Eros. In ‘entering’ this world, ‘Saint George’ allows this energy to flow
‘upward’ into his own body, to his heart (the centre-point of the white cross on his
shield), where it is transmuted to Love, or Agape. In enabling this to happen within
himself, he ‘frees’ the ‘maiden’, herself the purified ‘dragon’, Ourobouros curled into a
still circle, radiant with the Light of Saint George’s spear, they together forming the I of
Light in the O of Love [the lingam in the yoni of Hinduism, the ‘jewel in the lotus’ of
Buddhism], the androgyne ‘seed’ from which the whole ‘outer’ world bursts into flower.
The Feast of ‘Saint George’ is, therefore, the feast of the springtime, when seeds, the
source of all underworld energy, burst their bonds and stretch their limbs, and flower.
And Saint George—his very name, in demotic Greek declaring him a farmer: ‘Giorgos’;
which is to say ‘Gi-ourgos’ or ‘earth-maker’— ‘cultivates’ this earth, the ‘outer’ world;
which is to say that he strives to come to know its unendingly proliferating nature,
emblemized in the Maiden and dragon both. in himself.
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*
And the boy on the back of Saint George’s white horse?
Anecdotal reasons for his presence are given in different versions of the legend, for
those to whom such veiling anecdotes are the ‘colour’ of their spiritual life; but he is,
under such veils, an image of the inner spirit of Saint George himself, remaining always
innocent, untouched by the muddying world into which he is venturing. [Like the
‘innocent boy’ within the Prodigal Son, who can still hear his father’s voice calling him.]
*
As if in a shadowing of this spiritual adventure, on the 23rd of April, Saint George’s feast
day, herdsmen throughout the lands bordering the Mediterranean, gathered their sheep,
goats or cattle and began to drive them from the soon-to-be-hot lowlands to the cool of
the hills.
And in the autumn, with the fall of the leaves, they returned to the then warm lowlands
from the chill of the hills, beginning their journey at the feast of Saint Demetrios, on the
26th of October. Six months after and before the feast of Saint George. And there is
again a boy, riding of the back of the red horse of Saint Demetrios; whose
complementary legend we must now consider.
Who was Saint Demetrios?
He was not, according to the Church, east or west, Saint James (the Greater, son of
Zebedee); but the qualities they emblemized were much the same; and herders in the
lands of the Western Church began to herd their animals down from the hills to the
lowlands on the feast of Saint James, the 23rd of October. And both are emblematic of
what may be called the ‘journey of Return’, from Love to Light. But Saint Demetrios is
particularly a saint of Orthodox Christians, and it is in their icons that his relationship to
Saint George is clearly seen.
He is always pictured as riding a red horse, the red of Love, in contrast to the white
horse (of Light) of Saint George. And, in accord with the narrative of his legend, he is
pictured killing, or having killed, a big-bodied man [said to be a ‘pagan’ or ‘infidel’;
which is to say a man who has so lost his sense of his own inner self that he is as much
of the proliferating ‘natural’ world as the dragon itself; but without its innocence], who is
lying on the ground at the hooves of the horse, his hands sometimes still struggling to
8
pull it down, as Saint Demetrios’ plunges his spear into his body. And, riding on the
horse’s back behind St. Demetrios, is an unarmed boy, usually carrying a tray.
Who is this boy?
The story told to the faithful is that he was a boy who worked in a cafe, serving coffee to
the clients, and that Saint Demetrios had taken him up on his horse.
Why? There is a ‘natural’ narrative explanation, but it has no significance; for the boy is
not a ‘natural boy’, but (like the boy on Saint George’s horse) an emblem of Saint
Demetrios himself, reborn out of the ‘pagan’ his spear has killed. The ‘pagan’ being
himself also.
For the ‘pagan’ in the icon is the emblem of the soul of man (imaged by Saint Demetrios)
dying to the amoral world of natural energy, in which he lives and dies unaware of his
own inner self (the ‘boy’) being at one with ‘God’ [the atman ignorant that it is Brahman].
‘Slain’ by ‘Saint Demetrios’ becoming aware of his own inner self, the ‘pagan’ is ‘reborn’
as the ‘innocent boy’, in full awareness of the oneness of the Self, and his being himself
‘at-one’ with it. ‘Saint Demetrios’ dies and the nameless boy [‘nameless’ because he has
surrendered his ego, his ‘personality’ into the Self] is born, still astride the red horse of
Love, through which he is able to live in the ‘outer world’ and ‘guide his flock’ down
from the hills to the ‘sea’. As do Percival and Bors in their Grail Quest when their ‘trials’
have been overcome. But for Saint Demetrios no ship is waiting to carry him to ‘Sarras’
at ‘the world’s end’; his world is still turning. So, with the winter’s ending and the
spring’s flowering, he ‘turns his coat’, as his red horse (of Love) pales to the white of
Light, and he becomes again ‘Saint George’, riding over the land in quest of the dragon,
through which he will come to know the ‘outer world’ in its myriad tentacles; and again
draw it all, through ‘Saint Demetrios’, into Himself.
(Victoria, 20th of July, 2014)
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