Who killed the dragon?

And our odd insistence that dragons can't be real

We had our goose. Did you have yours?

No? Why not? It was Michaelmas on Wednesday! Didn’t you know it’s traditional to have goose on Michaelmas Day? How else would you celebrate Michaelmas? Not, I hope, with a turkey, or a side of beef.

Wait. You don’t know about Michaelmas?

You’ve probably heard the word. In fact, if you went to a certain kind of school, your autumn term may have been known as Michaelmas. 29th September is a day in the Church calendar where we remember St Michael and all angels.

St Michael was a popular figure in the Middle Ages, hence the number of churches dedicated to him. 816 in England, including 41 in the Diocese of Bath and Wells.

The feast day of St Michael, Michaelmas, was also a significant date in the calendar being a Quarter Day, when rents were paid and accounts were settled.

Okay, hold it. Who is St Michael?

Michael is the Archangel Michael, referred to as a saint. This is dubious as Christians are saints, and angels are angels. But Michael appears in Revelation 12 where he fights a dragon. Yes, a dragon:

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Christians these days tend to have Enlightenment brains and are keen to point out something here: there’s no such things are dragons. But it’s okay. We can believe the book of Revelation as inspired and inerrant scripture because the dragon is a metaphor. Phew.

It is and it isn’t. The language in Revelation is metaphorical, but it describes a real, true cosmic spiritual battle. Even if dragons aren’t real, Michael, angels, Satan and the fallen angels are. If we take the Bible seriously, we must take Satan and demons seriously.

Wot No Demons?

In the last two years, I’ve spent a lot of time in John’s Gospel for my book, The Gospel According to a Sitcom Writer, and a forthcoming one-man show called Water into Wine. (More on that next week). John is different f

rom the other three gospels in a way you don’t notice at first; there are no demons. They are crawling all over the Synoptic gospels, popping up all over the place. We are we to make of them?

On that score, I don’t think we do a very good job. We tend to mutter and mumble that we don’t need to worry about demons because Jesus is more powerful than them. One of the reasons for our shiftiness is that we are children of the Enlightenment, so demons are awkward and embarrassing.

Maybe we would believe in the reality of demons if we believed in dragons. But of course everyone knows that dragons aren’t real.

There Be Dragons

And yet, the Bishop of Wells in Somerset killed a dragon in the woods near my house eight hundred years ago. The village of Worminster is named after this wily wormy serpent. The nearby village of Dinder has a festival every fifty years to keep the dragon away. The village church dedicated to St Michael. This is all close to Glastonbury where Merlin was said to keep a dragon.

I know how this sounds. Everyone knows that dragons aren’t real.

It’s interesting that dragons appear independently in civilisations all across the world. And we’re told we could not have lived at the same time as dinosaurs. And yet these pictures, drawings and cave paintings are strikingly similar to each other, and dinosaurs. But let’s put that to one side and continue to believe that dragons aren’t real.

No-one, not even Young Earth Creationists these days, dispute the existence of dinosaurs. Some of the dinosaurs could fly. So we have abundant scientific, archaeological evidence of large flying lizards.

But of course, everyone knows that dragons aren’t real.

Do we need dragons?

Some would say they’re not real, but we needed to invent them. Recently I’ve been reading the Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim published in 1976. It is about the importance of fairy tales in the development of the minds of children, written from a secular perspective.

But GK Chesterton says it all much better and more succinctly in these words from Tremendous Trifles, written seventy years earlier.

The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place…. Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already.

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

So who killed the dragon? The Archangel Michael? St George? The Bishop of Wells? Jesus? All of the above? Are dragons real? Can the Church canonise an archangel? Plenty to talk about next year over your goose. And the day after when you have the leftovers with hoisin sauce and pancakes, Chinese style. And of course, what do the Chinese know of dragons?

Gospel According to a Sitcom Writer

If you can train a dragon, is it a dragon?

I talk about this question - and How to Train Your Dragon - with Reformed Mythologist, Nate Morgan Locke on the Popcorn Parenting podcast.

For further discussion about the age of the earth and what the Church used to believe, have a listen to Barry Cooper and I chat with Rhys Laverty over on Cooper and Cary Have Words.