Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of December 25th - December 31st, 2009

New Year's Day

Columns Archive


  The Dragon is an ancient keystone, unlocking the vault of heaven to mortal contemplation. In a language known to both mariners and the initiates of the temple mysteries, mythological choreographers were creating a record of their society's greatest 'mathematical and scientific' (to use modern terms) achievements for posterity. They observed and recorded the motion of the precession of the equinoxes; describing the correct celestial pole and Vernal Equinox among the stars in pictorial form.

  Over time, sky positions shifted, and the mythic imagination kept pace right along with them. The 'evolution' of the Dragon myths describe the changes of these markers through the years.

  During the early 3rd millennium, the North Celestial Pole passed by Thuban, listed in catalogues as Draco's primary star (Alpha Draconis). This precise pinpointing pierced the venomous viper, and he squirmed on the observational and mythological lance of these civilizations for centuries.

  S.H. Hooke says in his Middle Eastern Mythology,

  "It is possible that the Sumerian dragon myth reached Egypt towards the end of the third millennium BC and inspired the legend of the huge sea-serpent Apophis (or Apep or Apop), enemy of the sun god, Re. Another text containing a curse against the enemies of the Pharaoh says, 'They' (i.e. the kings enemies) 'shall be like the snake Apophis on New Year's morning.' Here the snake symbolizes darkness which the sun defeats every morning as he begins his journey through the heavens, and especially on New Year's morning. We have here an interesting parallel with victory of Marduk over the dragon Ti'amat at the Babylonian New Year Festival."

 This interpretation, while catching the drift, misses the mark. Light defeats darkness and yes, the dragon hugging the North Celestial Pole seems to be the champion of the Night, and therefore the opposite of everything the Sun represents. What is being missed is an image; simple, effective, and to the point. 'Shaft them through the middle until dead', just as the sighting on the dragon was geometrically and symbolically pierced by various priests on New Year's.

Dragon Dance

The Dragon's Dance

 As our quote illustrates, this motion was also known to the Sumerians, and may have been 'passed on' to the Egyptians (or the other way around). There are English woodcuts from the 19th century showing Dragons as part of a May Day festival, the ancient New Year of the Druids. The Chinese continue to associate the Dragon with New Year's to this day. The Egyptians celebrated their New Year about the same time we do, shortly after the Winter Solstice with the 'birth' of the Sun. The Chinese New Year is after the New Moon in February. The Sumerians celebrated their New Year on the Vernal Equinox, while the Celtic priests celebrated their New Year on May Day. Hebrew tradition starts the civil year in September with Rosh Hashanah.

 Each of these is 'cutting' the circle at a different point for different reasons, but they all invoked the Dragon at this time.

 Around the globe Dragons and New Year's go back a long way together.


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