Civilization is rooted in a mythology of fateful monster killing. At the very root of Indo-European civilization is perhaps a failed or incomplete initiation, in which a dragon is slain.
Western civilization, and certain other civilizations, are rooted in a pseudo-initiation which invokes the killing of a collective ecological organism, or holobiont.
The killing of a holobiont, a mythic distributed creature made up of the myriad fateful intra-agencies, intra-actions and intra-connections of minerals, plants, animals, bodies of water, weather systems and humans in an ecosystem, accompanies the first moves of civilization: walling off the wild and performing more extractive forms of agriculture.
This mythic story of Dragon killing is often accompanied by the raiding of a horizontally-orientated commons-based and community orientated culture by a more vertically-orientated hierarchical culture.
In Sumerian mythos, which later influenced Greek and Roman culture, Marduk kills the monstrous Tiamat. In Greek mythology Zeus throws the God-beast Typhon, off-spring of Gaia, into the underworld, George kills the dragon, Apollo slew the Oracular Python.
Such stories are multitudinous and occur not only in almost all Indo-European cultures. All such Dragon slaying stories have in common being somehow associated with weather systems, water and the land.
When Cadmus founded the city of ancient Thebes he slew a Dragon sacred to Ares. As a result Cadmus has to give penance to him for eight years.
Of course plenty and wonder came out of this city-founding endeavour, just as it did out other civilizations as a whole, but was it all beneficial? It also produces a braided knot of fateful and sometimes tragic consequences.
Consider for example Cadmus’s lineage: great splendour emerged from this lineage but, like western civilization, it was also seeded with a kind of litany of destruction caused by failing to feed and honour earth based mythbeings.
Cadmus’s grandson and successor Pentheus, was later killed by his mother Agave as a frenzied Maenad after Pentheus rejected the earth based God Dionysus.
Cadmus’s daughter Semele was killed when she was tricked into gazing upon the divine form of Zeus by Hera.
The grandson of Cadmus named Actaeon was torn apart by the dogs of the goddess of the wild, Artemis.
Eventually several generations later in the ancestral lineage Laius (Cadmus’s great grandson), after hearing a prophecy that his son would grow up to murder him, abandoned his infant son Oedipus in the wild, inadvertently bringing about the prophecy by trying to avoid it.
When folks like Cadmus decided to create walled city states with standing armies (ancient Thebes was a fortified city) and top-down power structures they sometimes isolated themselves to an extent from the earthbody.
One might ask at this point: “Isn’t though there something good about this dragon killing?” “Is there something good about bringing the “light” of civilization to various disordered smaller groups?”
It is not a case of being anti-city or anti-civilization, but looking at what this wall building excludes, and what it’s cost is; what ecological and cultural debt amounts to.
What is the result of the separation from the earth body that is the creation of walled cities with top-down hierarchical political structures and soil-eroding agricultural systems?
That which is outside, the foreigner, the other, is separated from that which is inside the gates. Black and white, up and down, inside and outside became separated in absolutist metaphysical terms for the first time.
That which is below in the deep earth, becomes demonised and is separated from the sky gods. The early walled city-state was sometimes a kind of physical manifestation into the world of the human psyche divided by historical trauma from the earthbody
And the monstrous represents all of these things that were excluded. It is the “outside”, the animal, the terrifying but delicious tempting other, the fiery destroying chthonic, the queer, the liminal ground, the underworld earthbody and even the mysterious aspects of the soaring luminous divine.
That is why it must die for the city to be founded.
THE DRAGON MUST DIE SO THE FAILED PSEUDO-INITIATION AT THE BEGINNING OF CIVILIZATION CAN OCCUR
But what if the dragon wasn’t slain, but instead fed and recognised as a valuable predator in animistic-mythic bioregional ecosystems?
What if the real ancient paleolithic or early neolithic initiation was to integrate and come into relationship with the dragon, the monster and the chthonic serpent, to draw on its earth based serpentine underworld power to regenerate culture and ecosystems?
What if we were to time travel backwards into the past to the root of this initiation and remake it back to its original form?
Perhaps our civilizations would transform into cosmo-local eco-civiums harnessing agroforestry for ecosystem regeneration, collaborating with inter-animistic artificial intelligences and creating mutualistic redistributive economic systems, and some of us would be moved to join abundant cosmo-local earth regenerating ecovillage networks. Robust forms of intercultural deep diplomacy and conflict resolution would develop
Even the liminal fate goddess Hekate was sometimes thought of as a Dragon, the 10th century Byzantine work the Suda mentions that:
“(Hekate’s) manifestations are humans with the heads of dragons, of immense size, so that the sight terrifies those who see it.”
Before I ever knew of these historical references, at a time of great chaos and change in my life twenty years ago, this manifestation of Hekate once appeared to me in staggering fully physical form, pulled a invasive entity from me, cast this demon into the outer darkness and said :
“I AM THE PROTECTOR OF THE EARTH.”
This was the beginning of a sacred time in my life of co-creating and dancing into existence abundant earth community with the sentient intelligence of rocks, birds, human, trees, slugs, roe deer, Bluebells, hobs and many other mythbeings
Of course all this is not to say should new-ageify the dragon and unrealistically or naively idealise all monsters as “good”
One would be foolish to hug medusa, or hug a volcano or a bear. Some dragons might be in a freeze place, some might be locked in constant rebellion trying to burn the world down, due to not having been fed for thousands of years. Some are just natural earth based predators that like eating humans.
Instead perhaps folk should aim to approach the Dragon with a dance of respect, to find those particular aspects of the dragon that are fructifying, to find those monsters that need to be fed, and given back their place in a psycho-mythic-animistic-materialist ecosystem. Approach the beast with cautious protection and learn to titrate it’s venom and replace it in its ecological context.
Certain eastern European werewolves can gather treasures that villages might have lost from the otherworld. Certain wyrd dragons in the land can help with conflict resolution that goes beyond non-violent communication.
Like Parsifal, who was upbraided by the tusked hag Cundrie, messenger of the grail, for his inability to ask the wounded grail king what ails him and thereby heal the wasteland, at this time in history in industrialised cultures at least, we are all in a sense being upbraided by our inability to listen.
We are being upbraided for our inability to ask each other, our wounded ancestors and the land what ails them.
However, in the story this very beast-woman Cundrie (spoiler alert) finally allies with Parsifal and accompanies him to the castle of the grail, where he does indeed listen to the king’s grief and thereby heal the wasteland.
Equally perhaps, (spoiler alert) it is in listening and allyship with the mythbeings of the land that we might heal our wasteland, regenerating watercourses and rewilding landscapes, creating the abundant cosmo-local ecovillage and eco-civium networks of the ancient future.
Something I learnt from Aboriginal elders was that holobiontic entities rule over war and tribal conflict and also mediate peace negotiations between groups and tribes of people, governing which animals, minerals and plants can be taken as what times, maintaining a level of abundant simplicity which mitigate against out of control inter-group conflict caused by scarcity.
This is important at our time as humanity is once again threatened by nuclear catastrophe as well as being involved in a zero-sum game of escalating irregular warfare and an artificial intelligence based arms race which will likely eventually result in humans exterminating themselves and many more other species if left unchecked.
When it rises up from the dreamtime and enters the sphere of history, the dragon that has been pushed down for so long, may emerge from the earth with a wail of rage and grief, and may start to cause destruction all around.
But if this dragon is courted with cunning, if the dragon’s wail of grief or ecstatic rage is ritually heard, fed and channelled, something may happen that is even more magical, even more exciting, even more courageous, even more spiritual, even more aggressive, even more terrifying than war, even more satisfying and tempting than mutually assured destruction, and even more horrifying, grounding and barbarous than hate.
Certain monsters can support folks to wield and absorb grief and violence and expresses it as vocal wailing or even as ritual diplomacy rather than as algorithmically deployed disinformation warfare or as gunfire
Conflict resolution then becomes something mythbeings and wise justified ancestors on both sides of the debate are involved in: ceremonial argument, a meeting of one’s own and one’s opponent’s mythbeings, a storytelling contest listening to an opponent’s deepest ancestral values and ancestral grief, becoming a collective organism with one’s opponent like push hands in Tai Chi.
By listening to the sentient intelligences of ecosystems, the interrelationships of every animal, plant, minerals and weather systems in a bioregion, we can learn from holobionts how to master garden bioregions and bring them to maximise thriving and abundance, minimising conflict, obsoleting war and ensuring abundance for all with syntropic agriculture, agroforestry, techno-animistic ecovillages and steady-state regenerative economies.
It may be time for ceremonies in which one can time travel to the roots of civilizations and replace the failed initiation of dragon killing with a ceremony of integrating, becoming, wearing the God-face of certain dragons or becoming an ally of certain dragons in the land.
Was it inevitable that some late neolithic city-states became anti-egalitarian, top-down slave owning extractive non-animistic systems? Some did not and were able to maintain egalitarian social forms or ritually disintegrated and became roving hunter-gather cultures at certain parts of a season.
Was it inevitable that unregulated industrial growth became the norm and technology harnessed us and ritually bound us like a solomonic demon in a magical circle instead of us harnessing it?
Dragon magic says “NO” to these questions. Engaging in a monstrosity ritual is to open up the multiverse and engage in a kind of counter-history.
Such a ritual may function more like an large scale practical socio-political-ecological activation of a folk’s awareness of an ecosystem’s intelligence; it may be a bringing together local farmers, storytellers, regenerative businesses, gardeners, ex-soldiers, government, technologists and others with dragons, horned goddesses and water nymphs in order to map the regeneration of a particular ecosystem and local deep-democratic culture, using the tools of both high technology, modern empirical science, syntropic agriculture and magic.
Monstrosity rituals and dragon activations are counter-history rituals that function not only to challenge historical narratives but, but in a more taboo and more outrageous sense, to actively seek to practically and sorcerously INTERVENE in history, to redream it and change it.
At this time in history, whether through the existential threat of nuclear annhiliation, climate change, or monstrous AI takeover, the apocalypse looms vast and terrible over our threadbare present with an enormous outsized overgrown future.
The shadow of the apocalypse mountain crowds out our relationship with our deep immense ancestral earthbody forest garden homeland. But the apocalypse beast and the red dragon mentioned by John of Patmos may be forgotten earth-based mythbeings.
Also, the Babylonian whore that John the revelator saw on the apocalypse hill in Patmos, was possibly a partially forgotten goddess, the Anatolian-originated form of Aphrodite, conflated sometimes with Astarte and Ishtar, who was worshipped in the valley on the other side of the hill.
Now more than ever, with the help of the dragon in the land, we may need to compost the apocalypse and find our way back to ancestral ancient future forest garden time, the time of the networks of abundant regenerative eco-communities.
Instead of being threatened by the disaster of history or consumed by the beast behind all history, perhaps we can become the beast behind history, consume the apocalypse and history itself, spiral back to our ancestral earth based roots and create in the place of history the regenerative ecovillage networks of the ancient future.
Let’s welcome that great filth-encrusted snake crawling from the pit, that a hero failed to kill.
A failed Cadmus, a failed St George and a failed Marduk.
Let’s dance and celebrate those hero’s failure.
Because that great snake, dripping venom, may redeem the world entire with its grief. A snake whose body is a million year old knowing of ecological thriving and a vast super-sensory ecological intelligence
A monstrous venom-dripping snake that will birth abundant regenerative earth community with the wail of its grief, the thunder of its voice and the storm of its tears