Awakening Dragons

Album cover of “Martha’s Dragon” by Cantiga on Spotify. If you know the artist, please let me know! I have been unable to track them down.

In the fairy tale, the myth, the religious text, the story: there are two sisters, one dark and one light, one radiant and one beastly, one beautiful and one ugly, one pure and one profane. Sometimes, perhaps often, they are the same woman, two halves. As the patriarchy tells it, the pure one is malleable and tractable, dutiful and kind and good. She is holy, as long as she is holy, and then she is the Other One. The Other sister is wayward, deranged, defiled, dirty, and dangerous. She is likely a prostitute. She may be possessed of demons.

Think Eve and Lilith. Eve was the pure one. Until she wasn’t.

Think Isis and Nephthys.

Think Inanna and Ereshkigal.

Think beautiful Helen and avenging Clytemnestra.

Think Mary and Martha of Bethany. And these two are interesting, in their dance between the poles of acceptability and disgrace. Mary of Bethany (my friend says we need a book of Mary for Dummies, there are so many Marys) is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. But even that is in dispute. Some scholars look at references to Martha and some modifications on the initial scroll that indicate even this dyad was perhaps one person. As the story is most often told, however, they’re two women, who with their brother Lazarus are best friends of Jesus. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and receives his blessing for it. Martha asks Jesus to get Mary to help him, and is lightly scolded for it. Mary the contemplative, Martha the scold. Martha the dutiful, Mary the shirker. Things get interesting when you read the scholarship that suggests that Mary was the same person as Mary Magdalene, the best best friend of Jesus. Although there is almost no evidence that the following is true, this Mary carries the legend of being a prostitute, who hosted seven devils that Jesus cast out of her. Even to tell this story, I am conflating Marys, allowing the confusion about Mary the sister of Lazarus, Mary the sister of Martha, and Mary Magdalene to stand.

More lore: In the Catholic folklore of the French countryside, when the Marys (who knows which ones?), Lazarus, St. Sara (daughter of one of the Marys and probably Jesus) and maybe Joseph of Arimathea, set sail on the Mediterranean to escape persecution, they end up on French beaches. It could happen. It is also a convenient way for European folks to transport the sacred stories of their Middle Eastern-centered faith to their own lands. In the legend, Mary Magdalene (Bethany) lived out her life in a grotto-cave that you can still visit today. Martha lived in a seaside town that was beset by a dragon named Tarasque, who was in the habit of eating people. The villagers appealed to Holy Martha, who sprinkled Tarasque with holy water and tamed the ferocious beast. She walked the tamed creature into the town, where the villagers attacked it with sharp spears and killed it, poor thing.

St. Mary the radiant lives a holy hermit life in the mountains. Her sister St. Martha takes the more practical and worldly life and tames a dragon.

So here is where I pick up the story. Mary and Martha, radiant and beastly sisters, both with Mar- as their name-root. Mar, meaning “of the sea,” meaning “bitter,” meaning “beloved.” Maybe the pairing is too convenient. Perhaps I am creating something that isn’t there. But that’s the thing about stories. They become ours as we pick them up and work with them. The Keepers of the Patriarchy have been using these stories for their own purposes for centuries: Women, be dutiful, be pure, be careful, be attentive, be hard workers, be pure. For if you aren’t, you are that Other One. And even if we look at this story with a metaphorical psychological lens, we see Martha taming the dragon. Does the dragon represent women’s sexuality, power, passion, drive? Good old Martha tamed that stuff right out of Tarasque, enough that the righteous spears of the village could destroy the fearsome thing.

But if we look at this story as we do fairy tales, uncovering the layers of religious and psychological patriarchy, we see a sister who devoted her life to contemplation, and a sister who engaged with dragons. We can look at Martha outside of the realm of a woman who works with the patriarchal village structure to tame dragon-nature, but as a woman who engaged with dragons, who awakens dragons. I know it feels like the opposite of the Tarasque story, but it feels like something is more deeply embedded here, that practical Martha is one who tends to the dragons, like the Tarasque story both hides and encodes something essential about this shadowy sister of the radiant contemplative. Think Martha the Dragon Whisperer, Martha the Tender of Dragons.

I’m seeking to reawaken my own dragon, the passion and fire and fierceness that I know was a part of a younger me, a past self (either in this life or lives previous), that I know is part of the birthright of women, and of my own family line (although it is sometimes hidden in those genetic spirals). I’m grateful to my friend Chris and her references to Sharon Blackie’s talk about dragons in Hagitude for leading me to the lair of the dragons.

I love the image from the cover art of Cantiga’s album “Martha’s Dragon,” where the saint rides the dragon in a joyful spiral rather than taming it for slaughter. Perhaps I will ask St Martha to help me awaken and tend to my own wild and fierce inner dragon, so I may find both my fire and my flight.

Gratitude List:
1. Following the fire in a story
2. The thoughtfulness, professionalism and good-heartedness of my colleagues
3. Grey as it is, I know that the light is returning
4. Making new habits
5. So many good books!
May we walk in Wisdom!

“If you want to change the world, you have to change the metaphor.” —Joseph Campbell

“Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.” —Emily Dickinson

“Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.

“I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” —Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old Swedish climate activist

“Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader.” —Dr.Clarissa Pinkola Estes

“The opposite of death is not life. The opposite of death is birth. Life has no opposite.” —Eckhart Tolle

“Compassion is a lifetime business. You can’t say something like, ‘I will have compassion on Monday, Thursdays and Fridays only. But for the rest, I will be cruel.’ That is hypocrisy.” ―Israelmore Ayivor

“Stop being horrible in the name of God.” —John Pavlovitz

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