Friday, August 10, 2012

The Archetype of the Dragon Image as a Talisman

The first culture in which we find a lot of archeological remains of adornments bearing the dragon image in its original and most spiritually expressive shape is the Hongshan culture in what is now called Inner Mongolia encircled in the arms of the Yellow River.  I will not go back into the background of all the people who came down into this region, but will deal just now with the Hongshan New Stone Age agricultural society.  They enjoyed rich grasslands, and they raised domestic animals for food production.

Bones of animals such as cows, sheep, goats and pigs are found in the archeological sites.  The jade images from the Hongshan culture show that the animal need not have been domesticated in order to be important.  Images of eagles, lions, tigers, rabbits, gazelles and insects such as the cicada (locust) are prominent in the carved jade amulets in this society.  In later blogs we will be discussing the meanings that historians and archeologists have learned from the amulets buried with the owners.

While the Hongshan culture was developing along the lower reaches of the Yellow River, farther west along the same river and in the same time span of ca. 5,000 B.C. to 3,000 B.C., the Yangshao culture was developing its own treatment of the many of the same jade images.  If we moderns can discern the most important ancient sacred symbol by counting the replications of a certain image over the area from Syria eastward to the China Sea, we have to say that the dragon is by far the most important.  There is a work that discusses this phenomenon and relates this to a natural phenomenon observed by the people in that part of the earth in the Early Neolithic Age.

First, let me simply and rather superficially note how the writers explain the origin of this important manifestation of the image of a dragon eating its tail, or the ouroboros.  Let's look at a photo in order to have a point of reference.
This particular dragon symbol is antique, but not ancient.  It is given a more detailed treatment than the Hongshan or Mijiayao, and also shows the influence of later cultures within that same geographical area over the millennia.  A fuller description of this piece is HERE.

The archetype or original image of the dragon eating its tail was that, according to Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs and Anthony L. Peratt in The Ouroboros as an Auroral Phenomenon, the people of the time between about 10,000 B.C. and 6,000 B.C. observed an aurora or a flaming circle around the sun.  Because the sun flare, or simply a brilliant circle of light, suggested it to the human imagination, there arose an 'incipient dragon motif, lacking its hind feet' and having its tail in its mouth.  

For the people along the Yellow River, who definitely associated the dragon with sky and water (which falls from the sky), there could be a simpler explanation.  I thought perhaps the sinuous shape of the river itself might suggest such an image.  I hypothesized that if one stood on a high spot in the mountains, one might see what resembled just such an image by looking down at a river circling back upon itself at certain points.  I searched for and found a photograph of just exactly that.  It is a photo of the Yellow River taken from a low-flying plane:
After DisturbedShadow

The Yangshao or Mijiayao culture in what is now Gansu and Qinghai Provinces in China, jutting up against Mongolia, and in the shadow of the Kunlun Shan Mountains from which the Yellow River flows, embraced the tradition of the Hongshan dragon motif and much of the same cosmic iconography as the Hongshan culture.  So the dragon motif extended a great distance, even considering only the area of the earth East of the Himalayas. 

My own imagination that relates the dragon motif to the river rather than to a possible sun flare or atmospheric aurora does not explain the fact that at about the same time, a similar image of the ouroboros had developed in Northern Mesopotamia, a great geographical distance from the China Sea.  
But then no physicist has proven the event of an aurora around the sun that could be seen by all humanity in that region.  Neither has there been proof offered that such a sun flare happened within the time frame in which the ouroboros was born.  

This blog is simply to give us a point of reference in discussing the cosmic iconography that later became the mythical symbols and popular onamentation of so much of humanity.