Maps and dragons, oh my.
If we had a map of the self, one that described who we are, there would be the known world of the self, and those parts at the edges of the known map that had yet to be explored.
Did you know that 16th century cartographers placed dragons on the map to indicate those unknown and foreboding areas that had not yet been explored?
- The message was simple: "Here are Dragons that devour explorers."
The unexplored world of the self, according to Jung, was the shadow.
The shadow is that place where we placed those parts of the self that seem unacceptable to others or to ourselves.
Jung believed that a central task in life required integrating the shadow side into the self. While there are some things in the shadow that are less than desirable, Jung insisted that 90% of the shadow is golden.
The 13th century Islamic mystic Rumi said, "Our greatest fears are like dragons guarding our greatest treasures." Some of our greatest treasures lie within that place called the shadow, guarded by dragons.
There are two schools of thought regarding dragons, one Western and one Eastern.
- In most European mythologies the dragon is viewed as a demonic beast.
In the Book of Revelation in the Bible the dragon symbolizes the devil. In Christian mythology a famous encounter is between St. George and the dragon in which he slays the dragon and frees the maiden.
In Norse mythology the dragon appears as Fafnir, a giant who changed himself into a fearsome dragon to guard the gold that he had stolen.
- By contrast, in Oriental mythologies the dragon is a beneficent animal, one that bestows good fortune.
We can choose in any given moment to avoid the dragon or confront it.
In confrontation, we can either try to slay the dragon or befriend it.