Chinese Astrology and culture has a long-standing love affair with the Dragon, the mystical culmination of the Celestial Zodiac. During Dragon years, everyone in China tries to get pregnant. In the Chinese mind, the promise of a male Dragon son represents a potential for greatness unmatched in the other signs. For the Dragon has always been a symbol of the Emperor and the power of Heaven.
(To the Western mind, the Chinese preference for male children is, of course, problematic. A Fire Dragon daughter born in a small fishing village would have been considered too much trouble and would have most likely been “given back to the ancestors,” i.e. thrown down a well, and many Chinese families today still choose to abort Horse, Dragon, and Tiger daughters, especially the rebellious Fire types, for they are considered disruptions to society.)
I have been looking forward to and dreading my exploration of Dragon Qi. I was born in a Metal Dragon hour, so I am half Dragon, for the year and the hour form the primary image of someone’s Qi Character/Signature. Therefore, I am excited to explore and share with you part of my own Character. Like the Tiger, studying the Dragon has been a great source of personal revelation, and I hope I can offer some of the insight gained from my self-reflection.
When I first began studying this tradition, I did not account for Daylight Savings (a bane of Astrologers) and thought I was born in Snake Hour. Eventually, it occurred to me that some weird rule made up by Germans during WWI about setting the clocks back an hour was probably irrelevant to the Immortal Currents of Fate, so I shifted my chart back an hour and had to reassess my Character and Fate. An argument can be made that whatever the government writes down is your fate, which is a very Chinese idea. But, I have now done many readings in which the chart adjusted for Daylight Savings is clearly more accurate, including my own, so I stick with the adjustment.
I had convinced myself that I was half Snake, and it took a lot of self-reflection to accept the Dragon. I have always been quiet, introverted, and gentle. The powerful dynamic image of the Metal Dragon did not seem to fit, especially with my primary Character, the Tiger, which is a potentially catastrophic combination, sort of like strapping a rocket (Dragon) into a slingshot (Tiger) like Wile E. Coyote. But after a thorough study of the Dragon, I have come to accept this side of myself and embrace it as part of my potential, and I will share my expression of Dragon Qi as we go. Although I may be reserved/reluctant in my expression, I am not in my energy, and that was the difference—I was confusing nature with nurture.
Since a young age, I have learned to repress/suppress my energy in many ways, and I misidentified my Qi because of this. I now work to unleash my Dragon nature, within reason, for I have a ridiculous Qi capacity that, quite frankly, scares me. The only famous person I have encounter so far with a similar combination is Che Guevara, an Earth Dragon born in Fire Dragon Month on a Wood Tiger Day in a Fire Tiger Hour, which is a bit scary. I have an Earth Dragon friend born in Tiger hour, and he and I are basically the same dude. Fearing my own nature, I have worked very hard since I was young to manage it, because I recognized right away that it was potentially destructive, but like Che Guevara, it is also revolutionary. When I am at my best, the Dragon comes out, and I love this side of myself and, in many ways, prefer it to the Tiger.
I dread discussing the Dragon because it cannot be defined. Whenever I do readings for Dragons or Snakes, I throw my hands up and say “?!” As the mystical Yin-Yang culmination at the center of the Zodiac, the Dragon and Snake are defined by being ineffable, characterized by their unknowable quality, but in different ways. The Snake is Big Yin, emptiness, and the Dragon is Big Yang, fullness. The Snake represents the inner open capacity to become any of the other 11 without being them, but the Dragon actually is all 11 Characters embodied.
The symbol of the Dragon, then, is a synthesis. If you look at depictions of the Chinese Dragon you will see that it is a composite of every animal. According to tradition, it is said to have the whiskers of the Rat, the face and horns of the Ox, the claws and teeth of the Tiger, the belly of the Rabbit, the body of the Snake, the legs of the Horse, the goatee of the Goat, the wit (or brain) of the Monkey, the crest of the Rooster, the ears of the Dog, and the snout of the Pig.
The Dragon is the only animal of the 12 capable of flight, an important part of the symbol, and yet it is rarely depicted with wings, for its ability to fly is super natural. It is the only supernatural animal in the group, and people question its existence.
But the Chinese never questioned the existence of Dragons because everyone knew they were controlling the weather and water. Dragons were thought to be behind the clouds, causing storms, floods, and rain. If you could ride to the source of a great storm or flood, then maybe you could see one and earn the title “Dragon.”
The synthesis of all 11 into the supernatural Dragon represents infinite potential, which is the first and most important thing we can say about Dragons. Dragon Qi is said to have the qualities, capacities, and skills of all 11 and the power to express all or none of them if they choose, sort of like the 9 on the enneagram. The Dragon can choose to deny its potential, which is why Dragons need a path. Their infinite potential is meaningless to the Chinese unless it is turned away from selfishness and towards self-reflection, dedicated to the benefit of others.
Ming used to say that each Character is like a tool box with a specific set of tools/skills, but the Dragon tool box just has a Dragon in it. In other words, we don’t know what Dragons are for. They are a paradox outside the paradigm, and often they are an enigma to their friends and family. The Snake is an enigma even to themselves, but Dragons, while mysterious, are often very self-confident and assured, which is part of what baffles people about them.
Historically, the Dragon is a symbol of the Emperor and the Rising Sun to the East, the ruling power of Heaven from an unknown mystical origin. Because of their potential, Dragons were considered great leaders, capable of the biggest most inclusive view with the most compassion. So, it is easy to understand why the Chinese revere the Dragon and the Emperor.
There is a mountain of lore around the Dragon symbol, but let’s get into the Character. I will do my best to make this specific, but again, Dragons may be all or none of this, and the uncultivated Dragon may be a mess of everything all at once, unable to make sense of themselves.
The Dragon’s native element is Yang Earth, which is also shared by Dragon’s opposite, the Dog. They each express the virtues of Yang Earth in different ways. For the Dragon, Yang Earth represents flight—the ability to break away from the Earth, symbolizing the Dragon’s capacity to see and travel beyond. The Dog represents territory and the ability to intuit, cover, and protect the terrain.
Yang Earth represents manifestation, confidence, alliance, leadership, wealth, abundance, balance, caring, and power—yang expressions as opposed to the Yin aspects of Earth (nourishing, mothering, stabilizing, supporting, etc.) By nature, the Dragon has these capacities, but often has difficulty expressing them without training. And of course, each Elemental Dragon has their own challenges.
Dragons can have a difficult time expressing their greatness in a mature and grounded way because of the expansive nature of Dragon Qi. If there is one thing we can say about Dragon Qi—it is big, sometimes too big. Dragon Qi is pervasive and expansive. It is Big Yang exploding out into heaven, into the sky, seeking to fly beyond and above all boundaries. In myself, I feel this as an outward expanding “bigness,” hard to put into words. This bigness, in my view, is what tends to give Dragons characteristics we can talk about, which they otherwise transcend.
The transcendent quality of the Dragon makes them natural mystics, and often people with Dragon Qi are interested in spiritual occult traditions, especially those with extraordinary cosmologies. The way Dragons experience themselves and the universe is just too big for ordinary views. To me, Bruce Lee was the quintessential Dragon (Metal Dragon born in Earth Dragon Hour), and his life was a demonstration of the mystical power of Dragon Qi.
Dragons see through and beyond ordinary appearances like the Snake, but unlike the Snake, their powerful expansive Qi pushes them towards action. Dragons want to go beyond and actualize their potential, and they can go further than any other sign. If a Dragon chooses to leave the world, they will never be seen again; if they choose to embrace the world, they go into it deeply and lose themselves in the service of greatness.
So now we get into key words. And like last time, I am going to discuss the key words in charged/depleted pairs. Remember, each positive virtue of a Character has a flipside when we become depleted.
The first is strong or powerful. The Yang Earth Character of the Dragon has a strength unmatched by any of the other 11 Characters. Dragon strength is different than say Ox or Horse strength. Ox strength represents the capacity to carry, maintain, and endure, and horse strength represents the power to manifest, work, and accomplish, but Dragon strength is not related to any specific capacity and is better represented by the power of a great storm, the strength of nature unleashed. We marvel at the strength of nature, and we respect and fear its destructive side. The power of water, when harvested by a dam, can generate immense energy, yet uncontrolled, a tidal wave can demolish a town. We do not consider tidal waves evil, yet we mourn and fear nature’s destruction. In the same way, Dragon strength is immense, raw, wild and can be destructive, but like the dam it can be harnessed for good.
This strength, the explosive Yang, can turn to profound compulsiveness. Dragon Qi can be overwhelming, and Dragons can be a handful, bundles of energy that need channels in which to flow lest they flow everywhere. Like Tiger Qi, Dragon Qi has an explosive outward moving quality, symbolized by flight, that can propel Dragons toward uncontrolled action and reaction. This compulsive strength can be physical, mental, or emotional and can manifest as patterns of unruly behavior or speech, speaking freely and challenging everyone and every idea as a demonstration of power, especially Fire Dragons. In general, Dragons need an outlet where they can demonstrate their strength otherwise they will destroy themselves.
The strength of the Dragon feels very natural and becomes a kind of confidence, not necessarily social confidence but self-assuredness and confidence in view. Dragons know they’re right. Other Characters have this too, Roosters for example, but the Rooster arrives at confidence through analysis. The Dragon does no analysis; we’re born assured and cannot be convinced otherwise. I may whine and complain, but I know why I was born and the world just doesn’t fit into my plan; since I was born I have had a big grandiose vision. The problem is that nothing can live up to the Dragon’s vision, so it is hard for us to come back down to Earth. Dragons feel like they’re the rulers of the universe, masters of destiny, the most capable, the smartest, the best, and so on.
With training, we can be, but often, this self-assured confidence is over-confident and all talk, what we call “delusions of grandeur.” So, Dragons are often very selfish and “egotistical” in the ordinary sense. Dragons often feel like royalty, like everything should be given to them, like they’re already awesome and should be rewarded justly. We may even have low self-esteem, but that’s because people just don’t get how awesome we are, so it’s their fault not ours, or so we think. We can be attention hungry and expect others to acknowledge us regardless of what we do.
The Dragon can be so confident in their abilities that they never actually work to do anything. Often, we need big reality checks, to “eat humble pie,” and we need to put in the time and effort to master something. And when we do, this natural confidence in our abilities can be actualized and taken to great heights like Bruce Lee.
Dragons, therefore, possess a natural charisma. Something about their power, confidence, and ineffability becomes enigmatic and impressive to others. To me, Patrick Steward, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, a Metal Dragon and fantastic Shakespearean actor, is a great example of the Dragon charisma. He exudes a natural confidence.
Dragons are a mystery to others and defy labels. At their best, Dragons love showmanship and can be flamboyant and outgoing. I have never been outgoing in an extroverted sense, but when I am “unleashed,” put into a situation where I can demonstrate my abilities, I can be very charismatic and authoritative. Dragons often have big personalities, even if that personality is introverted.
The outgoing nature of the Dragon is based on a kind of ambition and adventurous spirit. Grand is the only scale Dragons work with. We have a big, broad, expansive, and inclusive vision, the capacity to see a panoramic picture. Philosophically, the Dragon has a view/insight no other Character is capable of and can fly out beyond the clouds. Dragons seek grand Peter Pan style adventure. Small goals and narrow ideas seem insignificant, unimportant—why bother?
Dragons have a tremendous capacity for fantasy and envision themselves to be great magnanimous beings; we take the whole “I want to grow up to be an astronaut” to ridiculous proportions. We may live in a fantasy world in which we are invincible and infallible. I have only ever been interested in big lofty spiritual goals and, sorry, nothing in this world can live up to my aspiration to be liberated for the benefit of all beings. A personal vision may not necessarily be defined, but Dragons feel destined for greatness. Living in the clouds, fantasizing of greatness, Dragons can appear aloof and distant, difficult for others to connect with.
On the flipside, we are unrealistic. Nothing can live up to the Dragon’s scale. It is hard for Dragons to sweat the small stuff, to pay attention to details. Dragons are a telescope looking out to the stars, not a microscope. We can be unrealistic with everything—our own abilities, our plans, our expectations of others.
Dragons are also dramatic. We can make a big deal out of small things because big is how we roll. When things don’t go our way, and when things fall short of expectations, Dragons are sarcastic drama queens. The feeling of bigness, too, can lead to being insensitive, blunt, and unconcerned with people’s feelings, except for our own, of which we “make mountains of mole hills.”
The power and self-assuredness of the Dragon can be assertive, willful, confident, dedicated, and demanding. Dragons demand the best from themselves and from others and tend to assert and insist upon their opinion, which is both a virtue and a challenge. To be a leader, one must be assertive and able to make decisions, and the Dragon is the most skillful leader and should not be put in subordinate positions. They thrive in leadership roles, but without feet on the ground, they can fly over the little guy. Once the Dragon has developed their heart, their assertive willfulness can accomplish greatness for better or worse, like Che Guevara.
If turned toward the spiritual path, this capacity to assert will power, to connect to the Yang expression of Heaven, can be unparalleled. A great example of this is the late teacher and Earth Dragon Swami Rudrananda, otherwise known as Rudi. His book, Spiritual Cannibalism, is a fantastic exposition of Dragon Qi applied to the spiritual path. Rudi had titanic willpower and dedication, and he taught people to essentially “eat” and be nourished by everything as energy, to become what Tantra calls a viśvaboghi, a digester of the universe. Unfortunately, not many people possess Rudi’s willpower and fall short of his example (this includes most of his students teaching today). Not everyone can live up to the Dragon’s vision, but he was inspiring nonetheless.
The final positive virtue I will offer of the Dragon is generosity. It may sound like Dragons have a lot of potentially challenging qualities, but we must remember that they have unlimited potential. The Dragon can display all virtues to the grandest scale. Dragon Qi is big and overflows all boundaries, which naturally turns to generosity. The flipside we discussed is selfishness, but the Dragon can give and demonstrate tremendous sacrifice for others. Of any sign, the Dragon is the most likely to die for others or for a cause.
I must reiterate again that Dragon Qi is a paradox that cannot be defined other than to say it is unlimited Yang creative potential. The qualities I have discussed are merely an attempt to discuss what happens when Dragon Qi is confined in human Character. Dragons can be anything or nothing if they choose, and they represent a culmination of the Zodiac, everything rolled into one, exploding out.
My Mantic Arts teacher, Liu Ming, wrote a book on the stages of human spiritual development called Dragon’s Play. In the book, the Dragon represents the twelfth and final stage of human life, the greatest expression of Yang Qi and human potential—the Rainbow Light Body, Ja lü in Tibetan, Prakāśakāya/Tejokāya in Sanskrit, and Hóngshēn in Chinese. In Daoist and Tantric cultivation, a practitioner of the Way is said to draw all of creation into their heart or navel creating a “cosmic egg/immortal fetus,” an expression of ultimate Yin, the return to Source. The result of Ultimate Yin turns to Ultimate Yang, which is the Dragon, ultimate freedom bursting from the Egg, light flowing freely and consciously into all dimensions, consciously becoming the Universe, which other people witness as a display of Light. The Dragon is the primordial gesture of the Dao itself, the demonstration of Source Qi’s power to become everything, which all humans are destined for.
This may sound fantastic, but of course, everyone, every Character has this potential too; it is not limited to Dragons. Dragons are just a symbol of our unlimited potential. Dragon Characters need a path otherwise this potential is meaningless. Above all, Dragons need training; we need a path, but we must never be controlled. Dragons must be left alone to follow their own way, or they will eat you.
Dragons, like Rabbits, exemplify the relationship between Character and Fate. An Earth Dragon born in the ghetto with no opportunity to demonstrate their leadership capacity might become a gang leader, go to prison, and be king inmate. A Dragon born without major obstacles and challenges will most like destroy themselves; their strength demands "big" Fate.
The Five Dragons each demonstrate a different flavor of Dragon Qi, the Wood Dragon (Laughing Dragon) being the most creative and light hearted, the Fire Dragon (Sky Dragon) the most challenging and explosive, the Earth Dragon (Yielding Dragon) the most grounded and regal, the Metal Dragon (Angry Dragon) the most powerful and articulate, and the Water Dragon (Rain Dragon) the most nurturing and mystical.
I hope you enjoyed this exposition of Dragon Qi. Stay tuned as I attempt to discuss the other ineffable Character, the mystical Snake, Big Yin, the sorcerer philosopher.
Tiger's Play--the View Teachings of Chinese Astrology
This page is your source for short, pithy articles on the view teachings of Chinese Astrology. Here, I will share everything I have learned about how to follow Astrology as a spiritual path.