Zarathustra Seminars

[Carl Jung on the meaning of the “Dragon”]

Prof Jung:

But it might be like an octopus. No, the dragon, as well as the snake or the salamander, or even the frog, are representations of that part of the psyche which is immediately below our higher animal psyche. The psyche of monkeys is not in the dragon.

The dragon is supposed to be a cold-blooded animal.

It has a long tail and scales, and on account of the fact that it has no warm blood, it represents the inhuman, cold-blooded part of our psychology.

In many saurians the great intumescence of nervous matter is not even in the brain, which is exceedingly small, but in the lower part of the spinal cord.

So the dragon shows that it is a matter of that part of the unconscious which is strongly identical with the body, including naturally the sympathetic system.

But the sympathetic system has its proper symbols, it is symbolized by invertebrate animals, not only the cold-blooded ones-spiders and other insects, and crabs and the octopus are all symbols for the sympathetic system.

These are by no means arbitrary interpretations therefore; they are all based upon experience.

You know very well why I say that the dragon or the snake has to do with the spinal system, and why the spider, for instance, has to do with the sympathetic system; you see, the unconscious does not choose those symbols with a complete ignorance of zoology.

They are born out of the very substance which you also find in those animals.

We contain nature, are part of it; animals are not only in text books, but are living things with which we are in contact.

Probably in our remote ancestry we have gone through those stages and therefore the imprints are still to be found in us.

As certainly as we have a sympathetic rope-ladder system within ourselves, have we to do with insects and worms or any such invertebrate animals.

So the dragon represents not only a human past-say the laws and convictions of a thousand years ago, those of warm-blooded animals the dragon goes back much further.

And the real power we encounter in those old laws is not their power, but the power that has been fettered by them; the laws of five thousand years ago, primitive moral laws or
primitive religious convictions, would have absolutely no power and no interest for us if they were standing by themselves, but they are still the fetters round the ankles or the necks of dragons, and they give them their weight.

These very old destructive instincts in man were caught by the old symbolic forms, and inasmuch as these forms still seem to play a role in us, it is due to the fact that they are still in their place, still fettering those old instincts, but unconsciously.

For instance, Christianity, which has become unconscious to so many people, is still doing its duty; we are unconscious of its way of doing it but it is still working, still a power over the old dragon.

But naturally the further you get away from the history or the continuity of consciousness, the more you forget the purpose of certain religious convictions and of certain laws.
And the more your interest is withdrawn from such forms, the more they are weakened, till the moment comes when they no longer function, and then the dragon breaks loose.

But there are conditions, as we learn from Zarathustra, where that old dragon really has to be disturbed, where we must have a lion to destroy old forms in order to give a new form to old instincts and a new protection against old dangers.

And that of course is the case here; the dragon ought to be fought by the lion.

You see, all the old values that served the purpose of fettering the dragons became identical with the dragon, because we no longer see what those values meant.

For instance, we don’t understand why God should be a trinity-that conveys nothing to us-yet it was an exceedingly important concept once.

It needs now a long dissertation to explain why it was absolutely important that Arianism, the idea that Jesus was not of the same substance as God, should not win out; he must be God and man at the same time completely, and not only God-like.

These questions are strange to us; even theologians now avoid speaking too definitely about them.

But they have a very definite psychological meaning, and people once fought and killed each other for this or that most abstruse dogma, for the homoousia for instance, which meant that God and man were equal in substance, or the homoousia which meant that they were similar in substance.

It was as if those people knew what they were about; of course they could not know as we can from this distance, but they knew it was all-important and that was enough.

I understand these things now in such a way that I think I understand why they had to fight each other, why the question had to be decided in favor of homoousia.

It was of absolutely indispensable psychological importance.

Of course I cannot explain this to you now; you must be satisfied with the fact that those old forms like the Trinity have had their functional meaning, and that it is a loss to get away from them and forget about them.

You don’t understand why certain doors are locked because you don’t know what is behind them, but destroy those doors and you will discover the dragon behind them; you will even think that the doors are identical with this dragon that is your enemy. ~~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Pages 900-902