Here be dragons

For many years I have been an avid collector of original 1960’s psychedelic rock posters. In my flat the walls are covered with posters, from artists in the 60’s underground counter-culture movement such as Martin Sharp, Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse & Aton Kelly. If there were artists that really captured the mood and times of swinging London in the late 60’s, it was Michael English and Nigel Waymouth collectively known as Hapshash & the Coloured Coat. Their beautiful silkscreen posters covered the walls of many a hippie pad and the streets of London. One of their most iconic and famous is of Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore Auditorium. Jimi is depicted dressed as an native American Cherokee, with a magnificent feathered headdress, holding a peace pipe while at his feet lies a dragon with swirling wings unfolding into space. The poster is printed in rich day-glo pinks, blues, oranges and a metallic gold which seems to shimmer with life. The dragon was a popular symbol within the hippie movement, with its love of Arthurian legends, science fiction and a fascination with all things esoteric.

In the east dragons have less negative connotations than in western European mythology. In Nepal they are known as nagas, serpent-like beings who inhabit the watery underworlds especially oceans, lakes, and rivers. They play an important part in many Asian mythologies, religions and folk tales. In Sanskrit, nag is the word for cobra. Nagas are regarded as having strong magical powers, vast knowledge and a capricious nature, which can quickly change from friendly and helpful to angry and malicious. In Buddhism nagas are associated with wisdom and are seen to protect or guard the Buddha’s teachings, and there are stories of nagas appearing to yogis and revealing hidden teachings and precious treasures of gold and jewels. It is interesting to note that nagas live underwater, water being an image for the unconscious, the realm of dreams, the feminine and soul. It may be helpful to see nagas as unintegrated parts of our psyche which could be destructive if left forgotten or repressed in the unconscious. When faced with compassion and courage they will bring us into deeper relationship with ourselves and to a sense of integration and wholeness.

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Poet