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St. George and the Dragon: Embracing Our Own Inner Demons


St. George and the Dragon by Paolo Uccello c. 1470, National Gallery of Art, London

I love stories, symbols, and fairy tales. They teach us so much about the hidden parts of our selves.  Yesterday, I was perusing a book called “Slay Your Own Dragons: How Women Can Overcome Self-Sabotage in Love and Work”, by Nancy Good.  The author defines the dragon as an image for negative self-thoughts and negative emotions that sneakily and pervasively drive even the most intelligent, educated, and ambitious woman to denigrate herself and bring herself down when she is just about to realize her dreams.

I began to think about the story of St. George and the Dragon, and the first image that came to my mind was Uccello’s painting, that I saw years ago in London at the National Gallery (see image above).  There are many historical paintings of St. George and the Dragon, but what I like about this one is the presence of the dark and mysterious cave, and how the lady is attached to the dragon by a leash.  Is she chained to the dragon, or is she in control of the dragon?  Who is the dragon to her (she appears so calm), and why is St. George trying to kill the beast?  This story and this painting are both important clues to the history of masculine and feminine inner balance and to the social evolution of the masculine and feminine in western society.  In some of my previous posts, I have explored the question of why the fear of the feminine is so pervasive around the world.  I feel that the dragon in this myth may represent the negative aspects of the feminine, which Jung would call a negative animus.  When a woman is possessed by a negative animus, this means that she does not fully embrace her masculine side (which would be the equivalent of her own muse, inspiring her to make positive contributions in the world).  It would appear in this version of the painting that the lady is very much in possession of her own masculine side.  The dragon is out in broad daylight, outside of the cave (her subconscious mind), and the leash by which she is attached to him is slack.  The lady is calm and demure, and in control of her emotions.  So why is the man in armor (St. George) trying to kill the dragon? Obviously, he is not saving or protecting the lady.  In fact, he is trying to save himself.  In order for a male to mature into manhood, he too must come to terms with his own inner feminine.  The negative nagging of his own mother’s voice in his mind has inflated into the size of a dragon, and he needs to break away from the negative aspects of the feminine, but also to understand them and also incorporate the positive aspects of the feminine into his own character. 

These stories are very important because they teach us how to grow up.  Most of us live in adult bodies, but maturity-wise, we are still very much children.  There is so much to learn, and today, there are a lot of images out in the world.  We need images of wisdom, which are maps of the soul, to help us to grow up and to reach our full potential as men and as women.  Art, literature, folk literature all contain these images, stories, and symbols, which can help us to navigate the turbulent waters of our subconscious minds. 

I am strongly drawn to the story of St. George and the Dragon on a personal level.  My mother, an extremely intelligent and gifted woman, has never adopted her own dragon.  In fact, she has allowed that dragon to take over her personality, which has made her into an angry, bitter individual who can no longer empathize with others.  Her desire to be admired and appreciated co-exists with an overwhelming need to control everyone within her sphere.  Her universe is drawn completely in black and white, with no shading, no nuances.  Evoking psychology – even the word- would drive her into a rage.  My father was very passive – no dragon slaying.  He was content to remain absorbed into the feminine rather than develop his own feminine and masculine aspects.  Growing up in this environment was very confusing for me, as far as developing my own personality – because my mother’s was so strong.  Becoming a girl and a woman was confusing because my mother was so predominantly masculine, yet somehow ashamed of her femininity and not really fully in control of her masculinity either.  My dad was strong in intellectual arenas, but he was mostly passive.  My mother took over the business aspect of my father’s medical practice, and he entrusted much of the public relations aspect of the practice to her as well.  My need to make sense of the inner life is entirely based on this confusing childhood experience.  I needed to clarify what it means to be a woman, and what  masculine and feminine aspects are involved.  My mind and curiosity grew to desire wisdom and understanding of life, because I did not want to remain a passive victim of circumstance.  And life has taught me that while I cannot control the events and people who enter my life, that all of these events have teaching power.  And I do retain the power to control how I respond to these events.  My hope is that I will remain positive, hopeful, and confident in my innate abilities, and connected to the energies that restore my being each day.  While the universe within and without are both composed of light and dark, positive and negative energies, I do believe that the light of understanding and compassion can both help us to grow and mature.  As individuals, I believe that we can each make the world a better place by the way we behave and by the way we take responsibility for ourselves and our personal growth.

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One comment on “St. George and the Dragon: Embracing Our Own Inner Demons

  1. Thank you for your excellent and insightful commentary on this painting which has always been one of my favourites.

    Like

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