Athena's Web Weekly Column
Week of Jan 5th, - Jan 11th, 2007
New Year and Dragon
There is a very ancient association between the dragon and New Year's.
It seems as though there's a trail of dragons which leads right back through time. Most folks will associate this with the Chinese Dragon and their New Year, and we are; but the roots run even deeper than that. The Chinese start their New Year with the New Moon in February.
The Celts celebrated their New Year's on May Day, one of the quarter holidays of their eight spoked calendar wheel. Nineteenth century woodcuts from the 'Book of Days' depict a May Day procession, with a person costumed as a dragon amidst a crowd having his tail pulled by a merry reveler. This great serpent appears in other cultures, at other times.
There is a Babylonian epic poem simply titled for its opening words, Enuma elish, which means 'When on high...' It consists of about a thousand lines and was recorded on seven clay tablets. It had originated as a liturgical chant associated with the Babylonian New Year Festival. In this work, Marduk, the head of the Gods, battles with Tiamat, a great dragon, and is able to subdue her. There are similarities between the Sumerian dragon myths and those of the serpent myths of Egypt. In his work, Middle Eastern Mythology, S. H. Hooke notices the connection.
"Another text containing a curse against the enemies of the Pharaoh says 'They (ie: the king's enemies) shall be like the snake Apophis on New Year's morning'. Here the snake symbolizes the darkness which the sun defeats every morning as he begins his journey in his heavenly barque through the heavens, and especially on New Year's Morning. We have here an interesting parallel with the victory of Marduk over the dragon Tiamat at the Babylonian New Year Festival."
The dragon is our constellation Draco. Each of these cultures, Chinese, Celtic, Egyptian and Sumerian were aware of the precession of the equinoxes. Our north celestial pole is the point around which we currently watch Polaris pivot every night. Five thousand years ago, all the stars pivoted around a star known as the 'Heart of the Dragon'.
What is important about this point is that the circle of heaven, the celestial equator, is controlled by that center. The entire calendar, together with their religious holidays and seasons, were dependent upon knowing the exact point on which creation turned. That point was guarded by a huge serpent.
The circle of time is the circuit of the year. It can begin and end wherever it wants, on January 1st, or the New Moon of February, May Day or a number of others. They are all simply points on the circle.
But the circle is defined by its center.
Knowing the center of heaven put time in its place, gave the seasons their quarters, and took the chaos out of creation. With the harnessing of time, civilizations were made stronger. All the cultures who had their roots entwined in the earth five thousand years ago have a memory of a time when a great dragon looked down from on high, and watched civilization turn beneath him.
And every New Year both the priests of time and the Dragon carefully noted just where the axis of heaven and Earth was to be inserted.