I wrote to a friend recently about the difficulty of moving back to my hometown after a 34-years absence. I was afraid, I said, that there would be dragons lurking there. And there were.
One could say that I entered the dragon’s cage.
So this morning I googled “Joseph Campbell dragons” and found a transcript from the “Power of Myth” and an excerpt from “The Heroic Journey.”
I learned that slaying the dragon is a part of the journey Campbell refers to as “the soul’s high adventure,” the journey each of us has to make if we are, I concluded, to live and not just survive.
We are called to make the journey perhaps when we have “ . . . a realization that the story we are living no longer matches the story that we are;. . .,” Campbell says. “Psychologically,the dragon is one’s own binding of oneself to one’s ego. We’re captured in our own dragon cage.. . . The ultimate dragon is within you, it is your ego clamping you down.”
Captured in my own dragon cage.
Then there was this exchange between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell:
Moyers: How do I slay that dragon in me? What’s the journey each of us has to make, what you call “the soul’s high adventure”?
Campbell: My general formula for my students is “Follow your bliss.” Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.
Moyers: Is it my work or my life?
Campbell: If the work that you’re doing is the work that you chose to do because you are enjoying it, that’s it. But if you think, “Oh, no! I couldn’t do that!” that’s the dragon locking you in. “No, no, I couldn’t be a writer,” or “No, no, I couldn’t possibly do what So-and-so is doing.”
Moyers: When I take that journey and go down there and slay those dragons, do I have to go alone?
Campbell: If you have someone who can help you, that’s fine, too. But, ultimately, the last deed has to be done by oneself.
So I came back to my hometown so I could follow my bliss. Not what I expected. For one thing I thought bliss was — well blissful. Filled with fluffy clouds and maybe even bare-assed angels playing hand held harps following me throughout the day, whispering “No pain,” in my ear.
Now I think that bliss is finding your authentic story and living it. And while that surely will include pain as well as joy, it is much less painful than living the story that no longer matches you. There is certainly no joy in living a story that doesn’t fit.
But to follow your bliss you must first free yourself from the dragon cage; embrace the story that you are, which might not be the one you’ve been living. To do that you have to be willing to let the fire of the dragon’s breath burn away what isn’t you, then slay the dragon — with compassion.
And here’s the thing. My writing took on a new depth after moving here. Perhaps because when the story isn’t working, you have to go deeper to find the real story.
This doesn’t quite relate to your main point … but my impression is that it’s only in the European tradition, which is rather dualistic, that the dragon has to be slain.
In the Chinese tradition, the dragon is simply raw power. It can be either good or evil, depending. It can be harnessed; it need not be (nor perhaps should be) slain.
You are indeed right. Dragons are portrayed differently in European and Asian mythologies.
Any comments on my point?
“If the story isn’t working, you have to go deeper to find the real story…”
And the story is always being rewritten, isn’t it? Finding your story (and your life) is a transitory thing. You have to hold it loosely, and that’s the part that’s hardest for me, but also the most rewarding. Shedding my skin, looking “gorgeous,” knowing it’s only temporary. I’ll shed my skin again (if all goes well).
Do dragons shed their skins, or did I just introduce snakes into your metaphor? =)
I think they shed their scales, which is — well skin.
Firstly: You write very well, a fluid pen. And secondly, living in the Western tradition, you’ve got to kill the dragon, you can’t apply the Eastern rules on a Western Psyche ….that’s my take after reading Joe’s Myths to Live By, Chapter IV: Separation of East and West.