The Magic of the Dragon and the Phoenix
The sacred symbols of our various traditions act as touchstones or magical shorthand to remind us of the power that we as Witches can wield to shape our reality. Last year at SpiralHeart WitchCamp, I had the opportunity to explore what these two ancient symbols mean to me in a magical context. That these two symbols had been chosen at all was the result of a community shared trance. None of us had more than an educated person’s acquaintance with either, but they were clearly linked in that trance. From that work, the Dragon and the Phoenix came to inform and shape my magical understanding and practice.
What has come to me is that Dragon magic is practical, tactile, rooted in the physical, and flows from the earth through our bodies, energizing and inspiring us. Phoenix magic is illusive, requiring imaginary constructs and imagined outcomes and derives its power through our trust in our abilities and the Mystery. Phoenix magic demands a leap of faith that shatters the apparently real barriers that keep us from our goals.
I had the intuition that these symbols of power were linked, that their magic was complimentary, and that their power balanced and combined in a way that augmented each other. The Mystery provided the answer one day while my wife and I were fabric shopping at a local store. We had picked out a gorgeous scarlet fabric embroidered with gold dragons, and we were waited on by a Chinese woman. When my wife mentioned that she had been born in the year of the dragon, the woman replied that in China, girls born in the year of the dragon were referred to as a phoenix.
Fascinated, I began to explore the relationship between these magical creatures in Chinese culture. What I found was astounding.
In Chinese mythology, dual images of the Phoenix and the Dragon date back more than seven thousand years and are linked in a cosmic dance of peace and disharmony, creation and destruction, rest and action. They represent the fluid balance required for governance – governance of a state, a marriage or an individual. The mythological Phoenix and Dragon are elemental beings, literally composed of, and guardians over, the elements. Their bodies comprise all of creation.
However, the Phoenix and the Dragon are more than just symbols. They are metaphorical entities, willful illusions manifested to help us understand and shape the world. Stories are told and retold of these creatures that teach and influence and inspire. Such stories can have real world consequences. For example, it is said that the Phoenix will only nest in a country that has a fair and just government. The mundane mind might see this as wishful thinking, but the magical mind knows the power of repeated affirmation. So, the wise ruler will wish to hear reports of sightings of the Phoenix nesting in her country during her reign.
The more stories that I read, the more it seemed that the Phoenix and the Dragon being wedded symbols is contradictory. They are both depicted as guardians (of the south and east) , but said to be enemies. They can represent the male (Dragon) and female (Phoenix) in a happy marriage, but the Phoenix (fire) is often at odds with Dragon’s element (water) . Both are strongly identified with yang (male) energy, but they are considered mates. That the Phoenix and the Dragon should be so linked and so imagined is a paradox.
To the mundane mind, paradox is merely an idle curiosity, not to be taken too seriously.
To the magical mind, there is wisdom in paradox. A paradox is a challenge to look closer, to examine more thoroughly – to work harder. It is a call, not to see differently, but to accept the possibility that there is a different way to see.
I meditated on what I had learned for months until, in an email, a friend mistakenly described her style of magic as “illusive” (meaning illusory) when she meant “elusive” (hard to pin down) . I was struck by this error, for it seemed to me that my friend’s magic was indeed illusive and that it seemed akin to that of the Phoenix.
What came to me was a metaphorical extension of the Dragon and Phoenix mythos. It was to me a new way of understanding and using these sacred symbols. In a trance, I wrote my own versions of stories of the ancient and mythical creatures. From this exploration, my current understanding flowed.
The Phoenix and the Dragon balance two apparently opposite ways of being in the world. The Phoenix is so sure that what she imagines is real, so positive that she will be reborn, that she will fearlessly burn herself away to ash. Her imagining is what inspires her. Her power flows from the divine source of creation. She conjures up the illusion, a creative imagining, of what will be. She acts decisively and then trusts in the outcome.
The Dragon luxuriates in the physicality of incarnation and renews himself by shedding his old, worn out skin. He scrapes up against the granite and swims through the oceans of the world to gain his wisdom. His power flows from the living earth.
Her magic might be said to be illusory, while his is practical.
Her magic is illusory in the sense that the Phoenix must convince herself by repeated affirmation that she will be reborn, that the world of her imagining can be made manifest in spite of evidence to the contrary. The Dragon does not bother himself with notions of other worlds. He accepts what is and revels in the contact with stony ground to generate the delicious friction that will release his new self. Both beings are reborn, but in dramatically different ways.
As Witches, we use magic to create the world we want – a world of beauty, balance and delight. Or do we? Those of us who would be like the Phoenix create realms of imagination and through repeated affirmation, live into them, willing the “real” world to fade. The energy required to do this can be like a self immolation. The Dragons among us insist that we be practical, and that our magic is in our cooking, in our sensuality, in our songs, in our dances, in our art, in our activism and in the million ways that we kneel and kiss the ground.
The paradox of the Phoenix and the Dragon in dynamic, vibrant balance, teaches us that the world we want lies between our imagination and our senses. The Dragon is the ground of our being. The Phoenix is the fire of our imagination. The Dragon makes it possible for us to leap into the fire. The Phoenix holds the vision of the reward for our courage in leaping.
Between the illusive and the practical is a magic that will manifest our desires.