The serpent and the dragon are two of the most powerful symbols in Western literature. They’re also potent symbols in our subconscious for both good and ill, depending on our choices.
Naturally everyone reading this will know the Biblical story of The Fall from the book of Genesis. The “subtile” serpent successfully tempts Eve to take a bite of the apple, fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. She then offers the apple to her husband Adam, who eats of it, too. This first sin, the “Original Sin,” breaks Adam and Eve’s covenant with God, and for that sin they’re banished from paradise and cursed with the sufferings of mortal life.
Curiously, contemporary science seems to validate humans’ ancient connection with serpents. Research has shown that our brains recognize a snake faster than any other object. Scientists even speculate that the need to recognize snakes might have driven the accelerated development of human sight.
Regarding the dragon, a man who has explored any amount of personal development will be familiar with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey Cycle. The solitary hero heeds a mysterious and provocative “call to adventure” and departs from his mundane village. He descends into an underworld to face a series of trials. At the climax of his adventure he encounters the fearsome dragon he must slay.
Once successful, he earns a priceless treasure and returns to the village a transformed man, bringing new life to his home.
Examples of this story appear in everything from the 6th century “Legend of St. George” to the contemporary science fiction novel “Dune”, wherein the hero Paul Atreides becomes a sandworm rider, demonstrating a different mastery of the beast. The same pattern appears in different guises throughout mythological literature and all forms of contemporary entertainment, with the “dragon” taking shapes as numerous and varied as the human experience itself.
THE END IS THE BEGINNING IS THE END
Note how the image of the serpent appears at both the start and end of the heroic journey. In the beginning, Adam’s failure to overcome temptation leads to him eating the apple, thereby triggering The Fall from paradise into a grueling material reality. Then at the end of his long journey, the serpent appears, needing to be overcome once again, albeit in an evolved form.
In the garden, the serpent is comparatively powerless in physical body. Adam and Eve are far larger and stronger. On the other hand, the serpent is more mentally/emotionally/spiritually powerful than Adam and Eve, being able to manipulate them to bite the apple.
On the other hand, once in material reality, the power of the serpent becomes primarily physical. The dragon is a terrifying creature, breathing fire and clad in armored scales. He cannot be overcome with mental/emotional/spiritual force. He must be slain and mastered in body.
At the same time, the dragon hordes piles of gold, which signifies spiritual wealth. The preparation to slay the dragon also has spiritual significance to the hero. The process of preparing for battle is more than just physical training. The hero’s trials on his road through the underworld prepare him spiritually for his great upcoming test.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
The serpent represents temptation. How many temptations do you fall prey to in your life? What are they? Alcohol, pornography, gambling, the Internet, television?
The physical acts required to stop participating in these actions are actually fairly straightforward: throw out the booze, block the websites, don’t go to the casino. But at the same time, these addictions hold a spiritual power over us, the temptations promise a release from suffering, or some conquest over life.
Failing to overcome these temptations, however, is what triggers the larger journey necessary to defeat them. Many men set out on the road of personal self-development because they’ve fallen prey to these temptations. They embark on a long journey to transform themselves mentally, emotionally, and physically, and prepare to fight the great spiritual battle once again. Only it’s been magnified.
Reflect on the serpents in your life, and the heels of yours they strike. Reflect on the serpents you’ve seen in the lives of others, and your friends, and the journeys they’ve undertaken to defeat them.
Reflect the dragons you’ve fought and slain, how monumental those battles were. Could they have been avoided? And did you not gain immeasurably from the process, regardless?
Consider that the serpent and the dragon are not separate, they’re evolutions and representations of the same battle within you. The more serpents you fall prey to, the more dragons you’ll have to fight. The more dragons you fight and slay, the more you master yourself.
The more you master yourself, the fewer serpents you’ll fall prey to.
The more dragons you slay, the more you’ll find your way back to paradise, in this world and the next.