By: Ranilo Abando (Manila, November 1, 2020) ***
Today I will discuss the puzzle that has been bugging many minds for ages. Why have there been so many depictions of gods (or men) killing dragons (or serpents)? We can mention a few: The sun god Ra battling the world serpent Apep in ancient Egyptian texts, the hero Marduk defeating the world serpent Tiamat in the ancient Mesopotamian text Enuma Elish, the Hindu god Indra defeating the demonic dragon Vritra, Greek god Apollo killing the world serpent Python, the archangel St. Michael defeating a dragon, St. George fighting a dragon, and numerous other versions. Please note that the world serpent is synonymous to the fictional dragon, which is also depicted as serpentine in character.
But before we could satisfactorily answer the above question, we have to go back first to the basics: the concept of the world serpent. The following image from an ancient Mesopotamian cylinder seal says it all… well, for those who can see deeply.
The line drawing above is from an ancient Mesopotamian cylinder seal. The figure with a tall conical hat with bull horns and with fiery rays or flames shooting from his shoulders is the Mesopotamian sun god Shamash. He symbolizes the human seat of consciousness (spirit). He steers his boat from the stern with a long steering pole. The boat is made from bundles of reeds. There is a god with a pair of horns on the prow, who powers the boat forward with a forked punting pole, and he seems to be actually part of the prow. This god represents the main spirit of a human being that dwells above the top end of his mind column. A human-headed lion is tied to the prow, representing the strong spiritual will of this main spirit. A large jar, a farming plow, and other objects that appear as cargoes of the boat represent all the knowledge and memories stored in the human mind column. There is water below the boat, as indicated by three wavy lines, representing the primordial ocean of chaos (singularity).
We can see the goddess Inanna (Ishtar), the goddess of civilization and agriculture, standing on dry land at the left of the sun god’s boat. She holds a plant in her hand, as if offering it to Shamash. An ear of grain, perhaps barley or wheat, grows from her body, indicating that she is the symbol of the intellectually advanced beings who gifted humanity with agriculture.
The world serpent compose the extreme back end of the boat, as its body coils down around the stern and at the bottom begins to transition into the winding pattern of the reeds. The boat appears to be an elongated composite of a coiled serpent at the back end and the body of a lofty spiritual being at the front end. It must be obvious now that this boat represents the human mind column, where the lower portion is predominantly composed of chaos matter (symbolized by the serpent) and the upper portion is predominantly composed of spirit matter (symbolized by the lofty spiritual being).
The high chaos content of the lower mind causes its “builder” aspect to build a virtual physical world that is also prone to disorder and degeneration – both physical matter and physical energy. It is stated in the Second Law of Thermodynamics: the things in this physical world has the natural tendency to change towards more disorder. That is the nature of this world that is creating a lot of problems for us. The paint of our houses fade over time, foods spoil, our bodies become sick and die, our clothes tear and wear out, etc. The energy of our bodies dissipates into unusable heat energy so we have to eat regularly. All of these demand that we work and do labor during most of our waking time. We have to constantly fight the metaphorical serpent of disorder (chaos) during the course of our lives, if we want to have an orderly environment and healthy bodies that are conducive to learning and spiritual growth. That is why the evolution of life forms over millions of years progresses toward more complexity and greater degree of order, in defiance of the general tendency of non-living things to change toward greater disorder and less complexity.
Except at the top, the mind column is surrounded by the primordial ocean of singularity (chaos). Just like using the metaphorical forked punting pole, the main spirit of each person powers this mind system with spiritual free energy through that “river from Eden” information highway that forks out into the various aspects of the mind column below.
The metaphor above shows us that the world serpent represents an integral part of our lower nature. And worse, this unsavory part of our nature always tries to dictate the course of our destiny. Well, that is exactly what creates the conflict between our lower nature and our spirit. That constitutes the proverbial war between the “god” in each of us and the world serpent or the dragon.
St. George fighting the dragon.
Enuma Elish Texts
The legendary struggle between the spirit and the world serpent is immortalized in the saga of the thousands-year-old Enuma Elish found in the ancient Library of Ashurbanipal in Mesopotamia. It depicts a battle between Marduk and the world serpent Tiamat, as recounted in the following lines:
When Tiamat opened her mouth to consume him,
He drove in the Evil Wind that she closes not her
As the fierce winds charged her belly,
Her body was distended and her mouth
was wide open.
He released the arrow, it tore her belly,
It cut through her insides, splitting the heart.
Having thus subdued her, he extinguished
He cast down her carcass to stand upon it.
After he had slain Tiamat, the leader,
Her band was shattered, her troupe broken up;
And the gods, her helpers who marched at
Trembling with terror, turned their backs about,
In order to save and preserve their lives.
Tightly encircled, they could not escape.
He made them captives and he smashed their
Thrown into the net, they found themselves
Marduk subdued Tiamat by sending an arrow into her mouth. This is to effectively say that the spirit has tamed chaos and degeneration in the physical world by utilizing available ordered free energy (symbolized by arrow) to produce a more ordered world conducive to living, learning and experiences. That maintenance of order includes, not only the structures for physical dwelling and upkeeping of our physical bodies, but also subduing destructive passions through the use of enlightened rational thinking.
The following lines are about Marduk building Heaven and Earth from the vanquished body of Tiamat, as well as everything contained in those worlds:
Then the lord paused to view her dead body,
That he might divide the monster and do artful
He split her like a shellfish into two parts:
Half of her he set up and ceiled it as sky,
In her belly he established the zenith.
The Moon he caused to shine, the
Blood I will mass and cause bones to be.
I will establish a savage, ‘man’ shall be his name.
Verily, savage-man I will create.
He shall be charged with the service of the gods
That they might be at ease!
In like manner the ways of the earth he defined.
In heaven and on earth six hundred (thus) he
The above selected lines metaphorically describe how Marduk (representing the spirit of each of us) used the vanquished body of Tiamat to build heaven and earth, the zenith and the moon. The real meaning of them is that the spirit uses the lower mind, even with its significant chaos composition, to build the virtual physical world that we see now. The phrase “in her belly he established the zenith” means that our present perspective is inside the “belly” or the interior of the lower mind. That indicates that the wide expanse of the physical world that we see now is virtual only, a grand illusion — but a very realistic and high-quality one ! The lines above also indicate that the bodies of humans are also built using the chaos-tainted lower mind, thus subject also to degeneration, aging, and death.
(Thanks to pixabay.com for the three photos of works of art above depicting battles with serpentine creatures)