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“No, I would not want to live in a world without dragons, as I would not want to live in a world without magic, for that is a world without mystery, and that is a world without faith.”

–R.A. Salvatore, Streams of Silver

Okay, I admit it. My Game of Thrones addiction is a full-blown disease. Great writing, an intricate story, compelling acting, amazing filming …. it’s the whole package.

Of course, everyone has their own favorites, but the Khaleesi, Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Mother of Dragons is especially spellbinding.  But, rather than concentrate on her for this post (check back in two days), her children are today’s focal point.


*picture, courtesy of HBO

“They are dragons, Khaleesi. They can never be tamed. Not even by their mother.” – Joran


Here be dragons. There be dragons. Everywhere be dragons.

What is it about dragons that enthrall us, make our hearts beat a little faster?

Dragons are an integral part of our cultural and spiritual lives. They’re everywhere. They live and breathe within pages upon pages of books both old and new, in games, in video, in music, toys and fashion, on television and in the movies.

But why this fascination? Why do we return, over and over, to the image and trope of the dragon?

Let’s take a look at the dragon and what it represents – although what it normally symbolizes in the Western European tradition is vastly different than the Eastern tradition. In fact, the two views are polar opposites.


“No dragon can resist the fascination of riddling talk and of wasting time trying to understand it.”

–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

 In the East (especially Chinese tradition), dragons symbolize good luck, good fortune, wisdom, prosperity, longevity, immortality, and life. Royalty were the ones to sport any dragon symbols and for the people who weren’t royals? If they were caught wearing or displaying the symbol of the dragon, they’d be punished (or killed).  Dragons don’t only possess magic, they ARE magic. Something to be embraced and admired. Most of all, they are considered benevolent.

In the West/European tradition, however, dragons are viewed much differently. In the West, they were something to be conquered or slain. Dragons were known treasure hoarders, gathering more and more, guarding it treasure ferociously.  Saints, knights and heroes always hunted and killed the dragon to save the princess (more on that in the next blog post).  They’re viewed as greedy and evil, destroyers without conscience, the devil incarnate. Western/European dragons, unlike Eastern/Asian dragons, are most oftentimes considered malevolent.

Even within Western tradition, though, it seems that the symbology of the dragon is contradictory.  On the one hand, dragons are viewed as evil, and things to be killed or conquered. On the other hand, dragons are used to symbolize strength, power, authority and military might, killing machines that wreak havoc across a countryside and lay waste to everything in their paths.  How apropos for an army.

Double meaning much?

Perhaps that’s part of the fascination, this conflicting view.  We are always at war with ourselves. Always.  Whether to be safe or take a risk. Whether to be kind or naughty. To do good or do nothing.

The “hero,” whether knight, saint or supernatural always goes on the quest to slay the dragon. In slaying the dragon, safety is restored and balance is regained – supposedly.

“The hunger of a dragon is slow to wake, but hard to sate.”

–Ursula K. LeGuin

 There are, however, common characteristics that dragons possess in both the East and West:

Strength, Power and Freedom

So let’s look at those.

These are traits and stations in life which everyone wants (whether or not they admit it), but so few achieve. Dragons are the outer symbols of our inner desires and aspirations: strength (physical, mental, emotional) , power (self-empowerment hopefully, but outer power and influence, as well), and freedom (from want and authority, from poverty, etc.)

Dragons are primal, forces of and in nature and of the universe. They represent our inner selves. Nature IS strength and power. Whether humans like it or not, nature is unstoppable, no matter how many dams, seawalls and shelters we build. Like so many gods and goddesses of mythology, dragons are creators and destroyers, controllers of the elements.  As they breathe fire, they imbue life or destroy life.  Some breathe ice, which preserves. Their blood can be poison or it can provide invincibility.

Daenerys’ dragons follow her obediently, with love and admiration, but they are, after all, dragons. As they grow, they change.  It’s in their nature to breathe fire, to soar, to stretch.

Like us.

 Fairy tales are more than true:

 not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

–Neil Gaiman, Coraline

What does that say about OUR nature?

We are ALL baby dragons just waiting to hatch. Magnificent, yet undeveloped, creatures. Some of us do break out of the shell and grow large. Others stay small. And others don’t hatch at all, staying safely nestled in our protective – yet fragile – shells.  What do you want to do?

How can you use the dragon in your own life?   Start with those cultural commonalities of strength, power and freedom. What in your life do you need strength for? How about power? Do you yearn for freedom? What does that look and feel like?

What if by “slaying the dragon” great power arises instead? Maybe you don’t have to kill the dragon. Not because it’s fearsome, but because it’s awesome. Magnificent and ferocious.

We’re our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.

–Tom Robbins

 Consider this:

We talk about “slaying dragons.”

But … why slay? What if training and riding the dragon fit better than slaying?

Notice that I did not say “tame.”  Dragons can never, ever be tamed. But they can be faced, communicated with, and trained. Throw the bridle, reins and saddle on whatever dragon lives with you and ride it. RIDE THAT DRAGON!  Instead of fighting AGAINST the dragon, fight BESIDE the dragon, then hop onto its back.

Reinvent that part of yourself and everything that haunts you: insecurity, fear, self-doubt, worthlessness.  Retrain yourself, your thoughts.  Use your dragon to assist you. They guard treasure, correct? YOU are treasure. Make sure your dragon guards your thoughts and emotions. YOU are your own dragon. Be fierce and tenacious, and guard yourself well.

Come back on Thursday and Friday for more dragons and Daenerys – and the meaning of power.


jsantadragonImage courtesy of John Santagada & Radioactive Uppercut:

 –        Syndee Barwick

©2014, Syndee Barwick and My Great Motivator. No part of this post is to be reproduced without written permission of the author.

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