In Chinese Martial, Healing and Spiritual Arts
Since the age of ten, I have been interested in Chinese martial arts, Chinese healing arts and Chinese spiritual arts. As I learnt more and developed my skills in these areas, I inevitably heard the word Dragon.
In Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine, we use Dragon’s Bones (Long Gu-Ossa Draconis). In Chinese martial arts, we use the Dragon Claw hand shape and in Pa Kua Chang (Baguazhang), we have the Dragon Style Form.
In the practice of Taoist Meditation, the Dragon is a symbol of nature, energy, spiritual development and the spirit body. All ancient societies across the world had dragons in their myths, legends, poetry and belief systems.
The Chinese Shaman Dragon from Prehistory
In Yangshao, near the Yellow River, archaeologists have uncovered a shaman’s grave from the Neolithic period around 7,000 years ago. Next to his body is the sculpture of a dragon. It is made from shells, with the body shape of a snake and the legs of a tiger.
The tomb is curved at the top and square at the bottom. The curve is the symbol of heaven. When you look at the night sky, it forms a dome which touches the earth in a circle.
The lower half of the tomb was square shaped. This is symbolic of the earth. When mapping the world around us, we use the four corners: north, east, south and west.
The shape of the tomb represents the shaman ascending from earth to heaven.
The Fossilised Feathered Dragons from China
Fossil of the Sinosauropteryx Dinosaur (Zhonghua Long Niao- Chinese Dragon Bird)
Our current understanding of the archaeological record indicates that dinosaurs had died out before modern humans evolved. So it is highly unlikely that a human would ever have seen a dinosaur. However, in China there are many fossils of flying feathered reptiles. Maybe the ancient Chinese also came across these fossils?
The Dragon from the Chinese Shang Civilisation
3,700 years ago, during the Shang Civilisation, the dragon was depicted as a feathered serpent (a combination of bird and snake).
The Dragon from the Meso American Olmec Civilisation
3,500 years ago, during Olmec Civilisation, the dragon is depicted as a feathered serpent called Quetzalcoatl. The Olmec predate the Maya and Aztec.
The Dragon from the Greek Civilisation
A dragon mosaic that is 3,600 years old from the ancient Greek city of Caulonia (now in south east Italy) during the Magna Graecia Civilisation.
The Dragon from the Akkadian Civilisation
4,300 years ago, during the Akkadian Period, Sumerian poetry from mesopotamia describes a dragon called the Usumgal. It has the claws of a lion and the wings of a bird.
The Prehistoric Dragons from the Unconscious Mind
If we go back in time to the prehistory of early humans, there would have been three terrifying predators.
First would have been hidden snakes surging up from within the ground to bite with poison fangs.
Second would be razor clawed felines (lions/tigers/leopards) with teeth that could tear a person apart.
Third, birds of prey with their sharp talons and spiked beaks, swooping down from the sky.
It is possible that a subconscious combination of these three ever-present predatory dangers evolved in the darkest reaches of the early human mind.
A serpent with clawed feet and wings: the Dragon. This would account for the idea that dragons dwell in both the earth and the sky and are to be feared, revered and always remembered.
The Instinct to Kill Dragons
The knight in shining armour who kills the dragon is a hero of European medieval mythology. This is because on a deep subconscious level, we want to be free from the dread fear of predators. This is hard wired into us, from our evolutionary history.
However, defeating this primordial fear has led to the death of a vast amount of wildlife. Humans have hunted predators to protect themselves and hunted any and all animals for food. They then hunted predators to protect the domesticated cattle and other livestock.
Whole areas of the earth that where once teeming with animals have now become a pale shadow of their rich biodiverse past. For our ancestors, the instinct to kill dragons was for survival. However, in the modern age we have a duty, to future generations, to protect what remains of nature.
We must try and save all the predators, the prey and the remaining wild areas. Wildlife populations have fallen on average 60 percent globally since 1970. Now only a quarter of the planet’s land is free from human impact.
The Deadly Dragons of Today
If you feel a strong mythological urge to slay a dragon, to be fearless and make the world a safer and better place, then maybe your hero’s journey can begin with defeating The Deadly Dragons of Today. You are not going to be killed by a snake, a leopard or a raptor. It is cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and being overweight that will kill you.
The Symbolism of the Dragon as our Spirit body
The snake represents the limits of the physical body as it is close to the earth. However, a bird with wings can fly in the sky. The dragon is a snake with wings, so ‘The Feathered Serpent’ symbolises the transformation from earth to heaven, from the physical body to the spiritual body. Once the method has been mastered, then it is possible to fly in one’s spiritual body through the sky.
Here is an inspiring poetic description of what we can attain if we train with dedication for long enough. It is by the 18th century Taoist adept, Liu I Ming.
Transformations of A Spiritual Dragon
by Liu I Ming
A dragon, as a spiritual luminosity, can be large or small, can rise or descend, can disappear or appear, can penetrate rocks and mountains, can leap in the clouds and travel with the rain.
How can it do all this? It is done by the activity of the spirit. What I realise as I observe this is the Tao of inconceivable spiritual transmutation. The reason humans can be humans is because of the spirit. As long as the spirit is there, they live. When the spirit leaves, they die.
The spirit penetrates heaven and earth, knows the past and present, enters into every subtlety, exists in every place. It enters water without drowning, enters fire without burning, penetrates metal and rock without hindrance.
It is so large that it fills the universe, so small that it fits into a hair-tip. It is imperceptible, ungraspable, inexplicable, indescribable.
One who can use the spirit skilfully changes in accordance with the time, and therefore can share the qualities of heaven and earth, share the light of the sun and the moon, share the order of the four seasons, command nature in the primordial state and serve nature in the temporal state. This is like the transformations of a spiritual dragon, which cannot be seen in the traces of form.
Paul’s Book A Taoist Way of Life contains the method for spiritual transformation.
Paul with the dragon in a Chinese village in southern Malaysia in 1988