The Eagle and the Snake

I’ve been rereading a lot of the great mythical stories, and Joseph Campbell at the same time. He teaches us that the struggle between the two mythical beasts – the eagle and the snake – represent the conflict between the earth-bound realism, and the soaring imagination. The combination of the two is the winged dragon, a majestic creature that shows up in most mythologies (though not in the Native American).

Why then is Christianity so insistent on showing various saints slaying dragons? Saint Theodore in Venice, Saint Michael the archangel no less at the apocalypse, but especially Saint George coming back from beyond the Crusader’s east, Assyria and India beyond it. There seems to be an insistence on taking a symbol that comes from within us, that allows us to complete the struggle for ourselves, and move it into the fold of its religion. The snake had long been sentenced to a life of representative sin, and the eagle, beyond its appearance in the tetramorph in early Christian art, never achieved the power of the dove, the sheep, the bull… or so many of the other docile submissive animals.

My favorite animal has always been the winged dragon; now I see why. When we come to terms with the struggle of what we dream and what is real, we become invincible. It is only then that we grow strong, and begin to change our lives, rather than having our lives change us.

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