It’s St George’s Day today. I’ve often wondered what the patron saints do for each other’s birthdays. Does David take George some daffs, while Patrick plays the harp, and Andrew pours him a whisky? As a Scot born here but from English stock, and having lived both sides of the border, I’ve always felt a bit weird about St George, and a bit alarmed at all that flag-waving. St George seems to have been a Roman soldier, but it’s not very clear why he’s a saint, or why he’s England’s patron saint. Most of us probably know him best for his dragon-slaying.
There are lots of tales about dragons in the Bible and in Western Mythology. They’re usually to be found guarding trees or treasure, being serpents or devils; and requiring to be vanquished by saints and heroes. Leviathan is the sea-based version, who swims through the Psalms and the Old Testament.
This rich iconography has established the dragon as one of those primitive mental images, which lurk in our collective unconscious and loom large in our dreams. So St George slaying the dragon is supposed to be about good defeating evil, or about our conscious minds overcoming their unconscious fears.
This makes it quite interesting to see how dragon lore has shifted during our lifetimes. Gone are the snake-like foes gushing blood while a saint stands astride with a lance, and even the image of the dragon in The Hobbit, hoarding that huge pile of treasure, has been overtaken by the dragons my children know – cute ones you can hitch a ride on, who are on your team in battle, and whose eggs you help hatch. The psychologists would applaud this domestication of our fears, and delight in a generation of children befriending dragons.
Lockdown has made many of us confront our fears: of death and dying, of losing people and loneliness, of job security and health. The story of St George and his dragon reminds us that this can feel like a bloody battle. But the psychologists would urge us to keep trying, because maybe if we can train our dragons, they’ll lose some of their power to hurt us.
I have been delivering “Thought For The Day” pieces on BBC Radio Scotland since November 2016. By kind permission these pieces are reproduced in blog posts here on my website. To find my other pieces click here go to my Thought For The Day index page.