Mother Earth, the ecological magazine of 3W, was probably the only green publication to be wishing its readers a Happy St George’s Day. Why? Because to orthodox ecologists, fluent in “progressive” shibboleths, England’s patron saint is suspect. A symbol of national chauvinism perhaps, and a dragon-slayer to boot. Probably a reactionary. But there is more to the St George legend than that….
Far from being exclusively “nationalist”, St George links the English to many of the world’s cultures, from the Turks, Russians and the Georgians through to the Pygmies of the Congo. Jean-Pierre Hallet, a Belgian who lived among the latter and became an honorary member of the Efe tribe, retells the following legend :
A gigantic dragon-like monster kills the first man and his sons. His wife manages to escape from the rampaging beast. She gives birth to a son by miraculous means. The young hero swears vengeance on the murder of his father. He slays the monster with an iron spear that was originally obtained from God. His triumph over the dragon enables him to perform a deed that resurrects his father and the dragon’s other victims. To show their gratitude, they install the saviour-son as the supreme ruler or king of the primordial Pygmy nation.
(Pygmy Kitabu, 1973)
Part myth, part oral history, the legend of the dragon-killer unites diverse cultures and historical divisions. As the Encyclopaedia Britannica (14th Edition) says in its dragon entry :
The dragon myths of the pagan East took new shapes in the legends of the victories of St Michael and St George… In this respect indeed Christian mythology agreed with that of the pagan north. The similarity of the northern and oriental snake myths seems to point to a common origin in remote antiquity… the slaying of the dragon is the crowning achievement of heroes — of Siegmund, of Beowulf, of Sigurd, of Arthur, of Tristram — even of Lancelot, the beau ideal of mediaeval chivalry.
Animal rights activists please take note — the dragon, or serpent is not a real creature at all. It is a metaphor for everything that stops us from being free — from feudal tyranny to the bureaucratic leviathan of the modern state, from iniquity and hunger to the over-abundance of the supermarket junk culture. These are the modern possibilities. Historically, the dragon-slaying myth is a myth of death and rebirth, of man’s benign tussle with nature before the age of the machine. St George, whose Greek name means “farmer” or “close to the Earth”, is linked in Eurasian folk memory to the Green Man, that mocking nature spirit who grimaces Cathedrals and country churches to remind the worshippers of their pagan roots. Green George in the Black Forest, “the Green One” in the world of Islam, England’s saint is also related to the Leshys, wood sprites in Russia’s vastness who have come to life since the Soviet Empire’s fall. Largely benign, they have nonetheless been known to tickle unwary strangers to death!
Those interested in finding out more about St. George should take a look at the St. George section of our Altculture website