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America celebrates the adventures of Captain Ahab who speared a great fish, England has St. George lancing the dragon, Norse myths see Thor defeating the World Serpent and in Scotland St. Columba defeated the Loch Ness Monster. Dragon and serpent slayers once featured in ancient religions, myths and legends but now they populate movies and video-games where they are depicted struggling against an array of monsters, each epitomizing chaos, to gain treasures and enlightenment and the love of high-value female characters. While reading this article be mindful of the sub plot; you are the hero and the monsters are works of your ego.


Carl Gustav Jung's search for self

In Jungian psychology the central dot is the Ego whereas the Self is both the whole and the centered dot.  CC ASA 3.0

In Jungian psychology the central dot is the Ego whereas the Self is both the whole and the centered dot. CC ASA 3.0

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was the Swiss founder of analytical psychology and crafted groundbreaking theories on the mechanics of the human mind. The Ego according to Jung is what we think we are, while the Anima and Animus are our underlying polar-sexual opposites. The Shadow is the collective of our repressed primal drives and all these principles were affected by our Personal Unconscious and Collective Unconscious. Hidden somewhere deep within these psychological systems is a long lost semi-mythical island known as Self - where the pre-Ego you that was born into this world is stranded, awaiting a hero to save it.

In contrast to the Personal Unconscious, which refers to life experiences and gained wisdom secular to ones self, Jung believed that the Collective Unconscious is fused together with environmental factors that affect everyone in the world. He suggested the events and characters in world myths are archetypes which rise from our shared Collective Unconscious and his research in this field answered many problems not only in psychiatry, but in the sciences of anthropology, literature, archeology, philosophy and theological studies in the early 20th century. [1]

 
quote-knowing-your-own-darkness-is-the-best-method-for-dealing-with-the-darknesses-of-other-carl-jung-15-14-87.jpg
 

The dragon slayer was a common archetype of mythology in ancient times, for example, when Queen Cassiopeia invoked the wrath of Poseidon by boasting that her daughter Andromeda was more beautiful than the Nereids (female sea nymphs). Poseidon sent the sea monster Cetus to attack Æthiopia and an oracle advised Queen Cassiopeia and King Cepheus and to sacrifice their daughter and Andromeda was subsequently chained to a rock for the beast to devour. The dragon slayer hero Perseus saved Andromeda by driving his sword into the beasts back and in some accounts by using the serpentine Medusa's head turning it to stone.

The Cetus monster is commonly depicted as a serpentine fishlike creature with a long muzzle and sometimes with long ears, horns and legs instead of flippers. In Ancient Greek the word kētos was Latinized as cetus (pl. cetea) and denotes a large fish, a whale, a shark, or a sea monster, and the term cetacean (whale) originates from this word, as does the name of the constellation Cetus. [2]

 

Cetus dominates this card from Urania's Mirror (1825). CC ASA 3.0

 

Another version of the great sea beast archetype appeared in the Bible in Jonah 2:1 (1:17 in English translation). Dag Gadol was the great fi’H in the belly of which Jonah was trapped for three days and three nights, so the “Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”. Folklorist Theo Brown drew comparisons between Jonah’s three-day confinement inside a whale and the Norse Orcadian myth of Assipattle and the Stoor Worm noting similarities between this tale and Herakle's rescue of Hesione - concluding stories of this genre were “confined to countries beginning to move away from primitive beliefs and possibly evolved out of the suppression of human sacrifices to divinity”. [3]


World Serpent Archetype

Orkney's Assipattle myth features a young man’s battle with the Stoor Worm (World Serpent) described as biting its own tail; a classic motif of mythology applied by many ancient cultures and collectively known today as ‘ouroboros’. Indigenous people of South America held that the waters at the edge of the world-disc were encircled by an anaconda biting its own tail and according to the medieval Yoga-kundalini Upanishad ‘ouroboros symbolism was used in the east to describe Kundalini energy flows “like a snake, coiled round upon herself she holds her tail in her mouth and lies resting half asleep as the base of the body”. [4]

Ouroboros is a circular serpent or dragon swallowing its tail, as an emblem of wholeness or infinity.

Ouroboros with the words ἕν τὸ πᾶν, hen to pān ("the all is one") from the Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra.

The earliest depictions of the serpent biting its own tail appear in the ancient Egyptian Book of the Netherworld, a 14th century BCE funerary text discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Describing the union of the gods Ra’s and Osiris in the underworld, an illustration from this text depicts two serpents holding their tails in their mouths, coiled around the head, neck, and feet of an enormous god - the unified Ra-Osiris - the beginning and the end of time and a motif for the cyclical nature of the year. [5]

The symbol migrated from Egypt into Greek magical systems, evident in the early alchemical text The Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra which encloses the words hén tó pãn “one is the all.” Cleopatra was a student of esotericism as if often accredited as one of four female alchemists who had produced the Philosopher's Stone as she “had mapped out a series of inscribed symbols which contained a synchronized, cryptic set of information that permitted the duly initiated towards decoding the knowledge required for transmutation. [6] 

The Chrysopoeia of ‘Cleopatra the Alchemist’ is one of the oldest images linking the ouroboros with the legendary opus of the alchemists, the philosopher's stone, which interpreted the ouroboros’ black and white halves as being representative of the Gnostic concept of a ‘duality of existence’. Therefore, it can be regarded as the western equivalent of the Taoist Yin and Yang symbol. In medieval alchemy, hermeticism and in renaissance magic, the ouroboros came to represent introspection and the infinite creative and destructive cycles of nature - life and death. The physician and alchemist Sir Thomas Browne saw it as a symbol of the ‘eternal unity of all things’ and the ‘cycles of birth and death’ from which the alchemist sought release. In his A Letter to a Friend, a medical treatise full of case-histories and witty musing on the human condition, he wrote of the ouroboros:

[…] that the first day should make the last, that the Tail of the Snake should return into its Mouth precisely at that time, and they should wind up upon the day of their Nativity, is indeed a remarkable Coincidence, […]. [7]

Carl Jung said the ouroboros symbol was an “ancient archetype” and called it “the basic mandala of alchemy” and when defining the relationship of the ouroboros to alchemy Jung said:

 

The alchemists, who in their own way knew more about the nature of the individuation process than we moderns do, expressed this paradox through the symbol of the Ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail. The Ouroboros has been said to have a meaning of infinity or wholeness. In the age-old image of the Ouroboros lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself.

The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This 'feed-back' process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which [...] unquestionably stems from man's unconscious. [8]

 

The Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann said of the ouroboros “it was a representation of the pre-ego dawn state depicting the undifferentiated infancy experience of both mankind and the individual child.” Norse representations of the ouroboros include the legends of Ragnar Lodbrok told in Ragnarssona þáttr, where one of his sons was born with a white snake biting its own tail encircling the iris of one eye; named Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye. [9] Furthermore, The Prose Edda tells of Thor’s battle with  Jörmungandr - the Midgard Serpent -  the beast that will releases its tail at Ragnarök, the end of the world.

 

Thor's Fishing Trip .W.G. Collingwood, 1908. CC ASA 3.0. In Norse mythology the Midgard Serpent encircled the world.

 

While Norse mythology is threaded together with stories of gods defeating serpents and dragons, lesser known stories like Assipattle and the Stoor Worm of Orcadian folklore also hold the archetypes of the serpent slayers. This particular folktale was preserved by 19th-century antiquarian Walter Traill Dennison and it was retold by Orcadian folklorist Ernest Marwick in a 20th-century rendition that integrated Dennison's texts with other traditional Scottish storytellers. This story, like most others with valuable content “begins a long time ago” at a small farm in Orkney called Leegarth, descried as “a peaceful ordinary place.”


Assipattle and the Stoor Worm

Assipattle was the seventh and youngest son of a Goodman (male head of a household) and his family were hard working common people who lived on their father's farm in a valley under the hillsides of Leegarth. Apart from being the youngest son he was different in many ways and rather than working he spent most of the time being 'slothful' and playing at the fireside in the ashes, an activity which earned him the name Assipattle; meaning ‘fire raker’ (Tom Muir 2017). Neglected and dressed in tattered hand-me down clothes Assipattle was a brilliant story teller and often featured himself as the hero in his adventurous stories. [9]

The terrible Stoor Worm had dominated Assipattle’s homelands for sometime ravaging villages and farms and one afternoon it yawned indicating it was hungry. The villagers sought advice from a spaeman (sorcerer) who explained that the Stoor Worm had eaten rich foods all over the world and that it would only be satisfied with “seven maidens, delivered every Saturday before sunrise”. 

 

In Stoor worm folklore, the Princess must be fed to the monster. 1908 book Fairy Tales from Folk Lore by Herschel Williams and illustrated by M. H. Squire. CC ASA 3.0

 

The Threat

One Saturday morning Assipattle and his father were in a nearby field watching in horror as the seven weekly maidens were casually devoured by the beast when his father realized that very soon all the local maidens would be eaten and nobody would be left to marry his seven sons. Concerned with the imminent destruction of his family line Assipattle began telling stories of how he would kill the Stoor Worm but his father, dismayed, told him that there was more chance of him making “spoons with the horns of the moon” than this confrontation ever happening.

Fearing genealogical armageddon the spaeman advised the villagers to offer the Stoor Worm the tastiest treat in the kingdom, the beautiful princess, which would finally satisfy the worm’s hunger and drive it away once and for all. While outraged at this idea the king declared that “having descended from Odin himself” the princess must be truly noble and would indeed die for her people.

During the period of grace before the Princess Gem-de-Lovely had to be sacrificed messengers were despatched to every corner of the realm offering to whomever could kill the Stoor Worm; the princesses hand in marriage, the entire kingdom and the king’s sacred magical sword - Sikkersnapper , that he had inherited from Odin. The number of candidate heroes who came forward changes between 12 and 36 but scared of confronting the monster only the king himself was left to fight the worm for his daughters life.

The Calling

One night Assipattle was at home keeping the fire alive with dampened peats when an idea began formulating in his mind, causing him to select a single glowing peat which he placed in a metal pot in his bag. Then he stole his father's horse, Teetong, known to be the “speediest horse in the kingdom.” Assipattle raced to the harbor and hijacked the kings ship which he sailed into “dark seas” to fight the Stoor Worm. As he approached the slumbering monster he could see its head “as big as a mountain with eyes like dark round lochs.”

As the first rays of the sun rays hit the Stoor Worm’s eyes it gave the first of seven great yawns which sucked the ocean into its mouth. As the sun began to rise, being a Saturday, the creature yawned a second time in anticipation of the seven maidens but Assipattle sailed into its mouth. Descending down the beasts cavernous throat Assipattle voyaged through many miles of dark tunnels and shadowy landscapes until he eventually reached the belly of the beast “which glowed with a dull green phosphorescence.“

Assipattle had started many fires with fish-liver oil and he carefully placed the glowing peat into the creatures liver then blew on it repeatedly until a flame begin smoking, before running back to his ship. On shore, the king and his people noticed something they had never witnessed before, a plume of smoke piping from the worm’s mouth and nostrils. The worm eventually choked and puked out the ocean causing a tsunami, which threw Assipattle onto the beach among his people.

A Harmonious New World

As the Stoor Worm died the entire sky filled with smoke and believing the world was ending the islanders clambered up a hillside to watch the final death throes of the creature at a safe distance from the tidal waves and earthquakes. Shooting its tongue into the sky it grabbed the moon but it’s wet forks “slipped on the horn of the moon” and when it crashed back to earth it created the Baltic Sea “cutting of the Danes from Norway and Sweden.”

When the worm crashed back to the sea it did three pre-death flips each time knocking teeth out. The first teeth formed Orkney, the second created Shetland and the third set formed the Faroe Islands. Finally, the Stoor Worm curled up into a tight coil and died, but we can still see its body today as Iceland, and its steaming lava flows and volcanoes are the liver of the beast which still smolders to this day.

The princess had been saved and as promised the king gave to Assipattle his magic sword. But before peace could return to the land, our hero had to settle an outstanding issue; Princess Jem-de-Lovely’s mum, the queen, was having an affair with the spaeman. When Assipattle discovered that the wizard had advised the king to feed the princess to the beast to rid himself of a future inheritance issue, Assipattle mounted Teetgong, tracked down and killed the trickster with the sword Sickersnapper and the evil queen was incarcerated in the castle tower for the rest of her life.

For killing the Stoor Worm and the wizard the king gave to Assipattle the entire kingdom and permission to marry the princess. The wedding festivities lasted for nine weeks and the couple, of course, lived happily ever after - “And, if not dead, they are yet alive.”


Jungitypes in the Assipattle Myth

According to folklore researcher Jacqueline Simpson the story of Assipattle and the Stoor Worm is a classic “dragon-slayer tale” and folklorist E. S. Hartland said it was “purely Norse demonstrating the triumph of bravery over adversity.” Assipattle might also be the male counterpart of the Cinderella (Cinder-girl) stories, but it is much older and might have originated in an era when inheritance was via daughters as opposed to sons. 

According to Jungian psychologists, archetypal patterns in myths, albeit they are expressed through the voyages and tribulations overcome by mythical characters are encoded systems of the human mind. [10] In comparative mythology heroes leave the safety of their ordinary worlds and embark on dangerous adventures and after decisive crisis’ they win victories before returning home; changed, transformed or enlightened. In 1949 scholar Joseph Campbell wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces in which he outlined 17 stages of a basic mythological narrative pattern of the hero's journey as follows:

 

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. [11]

Outlining the basic path of the monomyth, or "Hero's Journey" this diagram is loosely based on Campbell (1949) and (more directly?) on Christopher Vogler, "A Practical Guide to Joseph Cambell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces" (seven-page-memo 1985). CC ASA 3.0

 

Assipattle’s journey began in a fear filled and highly repressive Ordinary World  where a Call to Adventure led him on his hero’s journey. The Supernatural Aid archetype was reflected in the king twice consulting the speaman and Assipattle Crossed The First Threshold  when he was sucked into the beasts mouth. His journey through the shadowy landscapes and tunnels of the beasts inners to finally arrive at the belly of the beast, where the waters ran dry, correspond with the fifth stage of the hero's journey - The Belly of the Whale. At this seminal stage in the journey the hero has fully separated his known world from Self and is prepared for metamorphosis and subsequent growth. 

The Road of Trials is where the hero attempts to do something and fails, generally twice and succeeding on the third try and this is seen when Assipattle applied his knowledge of fire starting by blowing repeatedly on his glowing peat before lodging it in the liver of the beast. The Magic Flight/Road Back archetype appears when Assipattle was puked out of the beast and the final Freedom to Live step comes right at the end of the story when Assipattle married the princess and became king and wielded Odin’s legendary magic sword.

Now, living firmly in the present, relieved of the anxieties caused by living consciously in the past or future, and having broken the shackles of his family’s expectations, Assipattle owned his fears and and went from zero to hero.


Monster Slayers

What does all this mean in the real world? How does the hero archetype relate to your psychology? Slaying, by definition, is putting to death in a deliberate, violent, even wanton manner, and it has a more heroic connotation than killing or murdering. Thus, it is accurate to say that this Assipattle myth and the many other dragon slayers referred to within this piece of writing convey a similar underlying message; conquest and mastery of ones own ego.

The word ego means ‘I’ - how you imagine yourself, and psychologists generally agree that every neurosis is an anxiety neurosis. The ego said Freud, “Is the actual seat of anxiety which reacts anxiously and then repressively to what it regards as threatening or dangerous.” Jung said of Freud's observation “Our anxious ego neurotically defends itself against the unconscious mind” and that “the psyche consists essentially of images.”

Jung maintained that it “does not matter very much what the image is”  but the underlying concept, for example, when writing about the 'monster' archetype Jung said, “it matters little if the mythological hero conquers now a dragon, now a fish or some other monster… Topographically, the unconscious is something below your feet, and you are St. George standing upon the dragon.” (1988 1: 155).

Mythologists such as Joseph Campbell have argued that dragon slayer myths can be seen as a psychological metaphors for people “transcending their humanity and re-associating themselves with the powers of nature, which are powers of our life, and from which our minds remove us.” Therefore, psychologically, the dragon is one's own binding of oneself to one's own ego. [12]

But in less personal terms this myth also holds vestiges of ancient astronomy and geography and Jungian psychology offers etiological explanations for these elements pointing to the importance of the annual cycle of the sun, moon and seasons - nature’s cycles of death and rebirth. It is probable that the numbers of potential hero’s that failed to face the beast were in groups of 6 and 12 which might reflect the ebs and flows of the tides. [13]


Bibliography

  1. Ridpath, Ian; Tirion, Wil (2001), Stars and Planets Guide, Princeton University Press

  2. Brown, Theo (1954), "The Dartmoor Legend of Mr. Childe", Folklore, Taylor & Francis

  3. Roe, Peter (1986), The Cosmic Zygote, Rutgers University Press

  4. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt7zbnm

  5. https://www.khrysopoeia.com/blog/2017/7/1/khrysopoeia-of-cleopatra-one-the-all

  6. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Sir_Thomas_Browne%27s_works,_volume_4_(1835).djvu/67

  7. Carl Gustav Jung and R.F.C. Hull, Alchemical Studies, Routledge & Kegan Paul.

  8. Muir, Tom (2003), "Tales and Legends", in Omand, Donald, The Orkney Book, Birlinn

  9. Simpson, Jacqueline (1978), "Fifty British Dragon Tales: An Analysis", Folklore, Taylor & Francis, 89 (1), JSTOR 1260098,

  10. Campbell, J. (1968) The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  11. Briggs, Katharine Mary (2011) [1970], Folk Tales of Britain: Narratives, II, The Folio Society

  12. Traill Dennison, Walter (1901) [189?], "Assipattle and the Mester Stoorworm", in Douglas, George, Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales, Walter Scott

FURTHER READING

  • Adams, M.V. (2004) The Fantasy Principle: Psychoanalysis of the Imagination, Hove and New York: Brunner-Routledge.

  • Bateson, G. (1987) Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology, Northvale, NJ, and London: Jason Aronson.

  • Hillman, J. (1977) An Inquiry into Image, Spring: An Annual of Archetypal Psychology and Jungian Thought, pp. 62-88.

  • Hillman, J. (2004) Archetypal Psychology, Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman, vol. 1, Putnam, CT: Spring Publications.

  • Jung, C.G. Except as below, all references are to the Collected Works (CW) by volume, page number, and paragraph.

  • Mary Williams, “The Indivisibility of the Personal and Collective Unconscious”, Journal of Analytical Psychology 8.1, January 1963. See also: Jung, Collected Works vol. 9.I (1959), "The Concept of the Collective Unconscious" (1936)

 
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