The dragon is a much-loved symbol both in the Greek mythology as well as in western and eastern alchemy. One of the most best-known myths in Europe is about the fight between Saint George and the dragon to liberate the beautiful princess (the soul) from the grip of ‘lower’ life. In the language of the Apocalypse it is Michael who conquers the power of the dragon, which refers to the instinctive energies – the dragon or serpent of lower life - as well as to the higher spiritual awareness, after the necessary transformation.
The mythical sea-monster Leviathan, or the many-headed hydra, is initially threatening and poisonous for without transformation we experience the world as threatening and dangerous. This monster must be conquered by the hero: Mardoek, George, Siegfried or Hercules through the sword of the spirit. Then, at last the dragon can spread its three pairs of wings: those of the body, those of the heart or soul and those of the head or spirit. The harmonious unity of spirit, soul and body is achieved and can rise out of the depths of the material world.
In alchemy it is the fleeting ambiguous Mercury who, like the genie in the bottle, in the shape of a creeping reptile has to be released. This is the prima materia, or original matter, of which the Universe is made and which is converted during the alchemical process. The black dragon has changed into a golden dragon. It is freed from the prison of time and space.
Ouroboros is another symbolic dragon or reptile from the Hermetic and the Gnostic wisdom. This serpent from ancient Egypt and classical Greece is always shown with the tail in its mouth and has many interpretations. The name means ‘he who eats his own tail’. This image refers to the endless circle of perpetual return to the earth. In the oldest pictures it symbolizes the shapeless chaos around the ordered world (that was Egypt). Egypt, which is the land of order and civilization with the elevated goal of protecting the Universe. By keeping and protecting the eternal order, it can ascend above this chaos.
In the Gnosis, Ouroboros shows us the unity of all things, spiritual and material, of which the essence never disappears but is constantly dying and born again. The gospel of the Pistis Sophia describes ‘the disc of the sun like a twelvefold serpent with its tail in its mouth’.