Schooled By A Dragon – The Story of Awakenings

The last few days have been spent being schooled by a dragon. With a very big surprise at the end of it.
Illuminated Found Poetry piece that combines my photographs with drawing, painting and text from Brave New World, to tell stories of the inner landscapes of human experience.

Awakenings, a Found Poem Níðhöggr

The last few days have been spent being schooled by a dragon. With a very big surprise at the end of it.

CJXusS1W8AAFC47Earlier this week I woke up and turned over to find this dragon sitting on my bedside table, and he told me he has been glimpsed in Viking longboats sometimes.

And, I thought, “who am I to argue?”

This piece started weeks ago, I have known the name of it as “Awakenings”, but that is all I knew about it. I had no idea what it looked like, or how it felt, just its name; but, slowly bits of it pierced through.

An unusual obsession with the History Channel show, Vikings, became a thread that, when cast into the fascination with medieval illumination, caused the gilt to froth and surge like a molten wave; and a dragon rose on the crest. I just caught it by its tail as it surged overhead, and let it drag me out of the eruption of energy; as we rose I saw the “Tree of Life”, rising above the clouds that had formed from the steam.

As we flew higher I could feel the flank of the dragon’s form under my hand, and I just had to lean in and listen to its story.

I was so energised, inspired, and holding something that was wanting to be told, yet I was not ready to hear it just then. “Awakenings” had to settle back down under the Tree of Life to wait for me to understand.

I was distracted by the elections in the UK – or so I thought – by the feeling that they were looking at us from the Dark Ages and telling us that a simple mark on a paper would reveal us to ourselves. As a nation whose grubby indifference to the collective well-being, our health, education, water, food chain, pay scales, and our planet, was in search of a moral justification for selfishness. Revealed as influenced by profit for the few, corporate dominance over government law, infinite consumption in a finite world and, ultimately, predictable in our fear.

In that mood, I instinctively picked up my eldest son’s A-Level copy of Brave New World that was lying around, and there it was – the Found Poem for the dragon’s piece, on page 93 of the Vintage Huxley paperback…

“Pulsing with the indefatigable movement
The drums
Quickened their pace
The pulsing of the drums
Seemed to be beating
Stronger and stronger
With every step they took”

From within this the dragon was unleashed and, far from taming him, he trained me.

I sat down to work on him that morning and lost the next three days as my ideas of what he looked like were swept up in a beguiling conversation with him. I understand that I am working with my imagination here, but he had ideas of what he looked like and, at first, he was just a whisper.

Always imagining him to be gold, a shimmering light gold against the older illumination gold of the background, I was doing some tests when I first heard him gently breathing a reminder that he’d been seen in Longboats.

I was a little startled and asked – out loud – if he was brown? As I listened, he asked me to look at where he lived. He whispered he was born deep in the pulse of the earth, and his kind rose through the soil and roots of trees to become one with the sap. That’s why their spirits could be glimpsed in the prow of Longboats that could cut through sea ice, and warded off evil.

My Níðhöggr's NoseSo he became the burnt sienna of wood, and soil, and sap.

In the middle of this a friend saw the work in progress on Facebook and told me I was drawing “Fafnir” from The Saga of the Volsungs. I was too involved in conversation and challenges with my dragon to think about this, and knowing nothing of Norse dragon tales, I accepted he was Fafnir and called him so.

He rounded on me and stared; then asked me to look closely at his nose and asked if I really thought it was what it should be? Of course, as you can see, it wasn’t. As I looked properly at him I saw his lineage back to velociraptors, and redrew what I saw.

Once he had my attention he became stronger and louder. He curled round behind me and, as he began to open up, he snaked his tail to lie across the table in front of me, and asked; “do you really think I’m a 15C French kind of dragon?”

TMy Níðhöggr's Tail Tiphe thing is I’d fallen in love with the ginkgo leaves and curls before I knew him, and so this is what I had given him as a tail tip.  He sent me off to dig in his Nordic past.

Suddenly I found myself in a world of symbols, where curves and marks have significant meaning, and then I came upon a Viking Age gold-plated silver pendant of the Hammer of Thor, with trefoil knots carved in the hilt. Found at Bredsätra in Öland, Sweden, it is called Mjölnir, which means “That which marks and pulverizes to dust”, and that was something my dragon could live with.

As I designed the trefoil in his tail tip, he asked me to look up Rune marks and he bears a few warrior tattoos on him, the main one means “Awakening” I am told. As I said, who am I to argue with a dragon?

I could not rest until all this was done. Just as I finally exhaled and turned to look at him, he looked me in the eye and asked one final question; “Do I really seem like Fafnir to you?”

I had no idea. I have no knowledge of Norse Lore, dragons or otherwise. I’ve only just found out that Viking is a verb; you go viking, like a pirate. All Vikings were Norse but not all Norse were Vikings, only those that took to the sea to raid and trade far from their Scandinavian homelands.

So imagine my surprise when I looked up Norse Dragons and found mine is indeed not Fafnir. There are only three. Fafnir’s story is of cursed gold, hoarding and greed. The very people that have roused my dragon’s anger. Fafnir was in fact a man called Fanfare, who was affected by the curse of Andvari’s ring and stolen gold which would destroy anyone who possessed it,  he became an avaricious dragon, Fafnir, and was slain by Sigurd.

On the other hand there is little known about the story of Níðhǫggr, Malice Striker, but tales tell he is the dragon who gnaws at a root of the world tree, Yggdrasil. In historical Viking society, níð was a term for a social stigma implying the loss of honor and the status of a villain. Níðhǫggr would come above ground and roam the land chewing on the corpses of the níð, those guilty of the worst possible crimes.

That was what I was looking at; I had just drawn Níðhǫggr under Yggdrasil, the Norse Tree of Life, without knowing the story at all.

Here is the Medieval imagining of him

“Nidhogg”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

And then I read this poem: Völuspá

A hall I saw,
far from the sun,
On Nastrond it stands,
and the doors face north,
Venom drops
through the smoke-vent down,
For around the walls
do serpents wind.
I there saw wading
through rivers wild
treacherous men
and murderers too,
And workers of ill
with the wives of men;
There Nithhogg sucked
the blood of the slain,
And the wolf tore men;
would you know yet more?

The most prevalent opinion is that the arrival of Níðhöggr heralds Ragnarök and thus that the poem ends on a tone of ominous warning.

Just as an aside: here are the two Runes the dragon picked out, and their meanings.

dagaz_lDAGAZ “thaw-gauze” The letter D: Day or dawn. Breakthrough, awakening, awareness. Daylight clarity as opposed to nighttime uncertainty. A time to plan or embark upon an enterprise. The power of change directed by your own will, transformation. Hope/happiness, the ideal. Security and certainty. Growth and release. Balance point, the place where opposites meet.

algiz_lAlgiz ( the letter R: Elk, protection.) Protection, a shield. The protective urge to shelter oneself or others. Defense, warding off of evil, shield, guardian. Connection with the gods, awakening, higher life.