Years ago now I was given the assignment to study dragons.
At a minimum, I rolled my eyes many, many times inside my head. I don’t really “do” things that are not real. Now a person could argue that evil is not real, or that souls are not real. But those matters, and others like them, don’t bother me at all because they are abundantly in the Bible and reveal themselves in reality all over the place.
Seemed like foolishness to me. Yes, sure, they popped up their fiery heads in the Bible, but wasn’t that metaphor for something else?
Well, perhaps yes and perhaps no.
Then, not that many years ago, I was given the task to study, and eventually learn to bind, a dragon soul. Well now, that’s more up my alley, I thought.
And while I applied myself to developing the prayer for such a binding, I never was absolutely clear about the true nature of the dragon soul. Fierce anger, perhaps? Destructive tendencies?
I kept thinking of those dragons that we find in fairy-tale books, flying about, burning haystacks, compromising virgins. How does that reduce into the qualities of an evil soul?
So I was absolutely delighted to learn that almost the first words of the Bible, the ones that describe the formless void, was in Hebrew the word for (you guessed it) dragon.
Isn’t that so cool?
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, our very own formless void is, in reality, a dragon.
Now all you have to do is poke your fingers into the scholarship about this to find references to myths from Babylonia or Canaan. Both civilizations predated the Israelite story of the creation of the Earth, and both had stories of the conquering of a dragon by a hero.
Except, if you poke your fingers into more scholarship on the subject you will learn three things (that I find absolutely fascinating): (1) the word that is used for dragon in Genesis is neither Babylonian nor Canaanite; (2) “our” dragon is demythologized, leaving the world of fairy tales far behind; and (3) in Genesis, the story of creation is not one of a mythic battle between man and beast, or king and monster, or even good and evil. It is, simply, a description of the ordering of chaos.
Yes, it seems that our universe is all about order and chaos. And if you arrange it in a certain light, perhaps the ordering of chaos is one very solid definition of creation itself.
Some scholars have pointed out that the Hebrew Bible opens with the words:
When God began to create the heaven and earth, the world was without form and void.
Not “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth. The earth was without form and void.”
The first version is the way the Bible was first written, the second was a slight rewriting, by Christians, people like Iraneus, who wanted to assert that God created everything out of nothing and did not, as it seemed in the original writing, had to make do with what he found already existing. That formless void stuff.
It’s about good and evil. To the early Christians, God is too good to have to have dealt with formless void. Because that allows the idea that God and evil coexist in some way. In the beginning rewriters wanted us to know to our bones that there is only a good God in our universe. That evil has come from our free will and choice. It is not something that is naturally occurring.
But see, I think this argument does a disservice to our dragon.
Chaos, formless voidedness, isn’t by its nature evil. It is just a state of disorganization. It is an adjective-noun, that is a description of a state of being.
It’s the children’s room in a library after a bunch of two-year-olds have had their run through it.
It isn’t evil. Evil, unlike the descriptive above, is an action. It is an act of harming someone else.
So God’s bringing order into this state of disorganization is just that: an act of straightening things up. Not one of confronting evil.
And all of this brought to my mind Eden. And that snake.
I’ve always wondered, just what was in it for the snake? Why did he do what he did?
Boredom? Nothing much on TV? Finished his model airplane and all his friends were at the malt shop?
But thinking about our dragon, our very own dragon, that starts off our book, is the very first character (as it were) in it, I wondered about chaos and life.
The snake, I reasoned, could be the incarnation of that watery chaos, the direct descendant (the Bible is so fond of lists, after all) of that un-scaly non-beast. The snake could have just did what he did for the sake of creating chaos.
A two-year-old slimmed down and rounded off.
God ordered the chaos, yes. God created the heavens and the Earth from that same ordering of chaos, yes. But perhaps that little snake in Eden was what was left over from all that formless void.
The leftover screw from an Ikea project.
Chaos in life.
Hey, it’s got to be there.
Life would not be life without its penchant for disarray.
And then I continued the thought progression: The snake is chaos. The snake does what it does because it is chaos and it just has to do what it has to do. He had to be himself.
But then, what if he accomplished his chaos-creating, and looked at the result and saw that what he had really accomplished was to create a separation, a seemingly separation, between God and man?
What if this actualization of chaos in reality pleased the snake because (drum roll here):
The snake realized that for the first time on Earth, evil existed. And he had made it happen.
So the snake stood back, and saw that it was evil, and said, That’s good!
What if the snake, in his act of bringing chaos into Eden, actually created evil in one of its forms (the illusion that man and God are separate)?
So, going just one little tiny step farther, if creation is a result initially of God imposing order onto chaos and making something out of that process, did the snake also find a means of creation, that is, by undoing the order that God imposed?
If God created the heavens, and the stars, and the mice, and the turnips, and the rocks, and the trees, and the (this is getting tiring), did the Snake create a literalized chaos that became in its literalization, evil?
So, perhaps, in the end (which is really in the beginning), the formless void took a bite of its own out of the universe and got its own back, at least in a little way.
Dragons. Perhaps in some ways, they would make a good study.