The Great Inversion of Our Age

A couple Saturdays ago, I sat in a movie theater with a friend, her children, and my daughter watching How to Train Your Dragon. The movie was being offered free to families for an early matinee at the local historic movie theater. Throughout the entire movie, I found myself increasingly troubled in spirit as I contemplated how our culture seeks to supplant and invert everything.

For all human history, since Eden, human beings have lived God’s story through symbols. Our culture—and many in the Church in the wake of Vatican II—seek to destroy symbols. There is an iconoclastic fury to all of this, which is why statues are torn down in our streets, and churches were stripped of their sacred symbolism. We are forcing ourselves into cultural and spiritual amnesia and blindness. This tearing down and stripping away is not an end in itself. It is to usher in a “new” way of doing things, a “re-birth.”

This destruction comes with a disordered, even diabolical, re-birth through an inversion of traditional symbolism. In the Church’s desire to stay relevant, we have jettisoned much of our own story, and with it, the symbols that helped Jews and Christians understand the natural and supernatural order for millennia. In many ways, we are no longer able to read “the signs of the times” precisely because we have abandoned the supernatural vision symbolism grants us. We are a people of signs, especially in the Sacraments, but we have reduced everything around us to a material reality. This is why we cannot seem to see this constant inversion taking place around us.

From the beginning of Genesis to now, Judeo-Christian tradition uses the serpent or dragon as a symbol of the devil. The book of Revelation, which we read on the Solemnity of the Assumption, depicts Lucifer as a great dragon who seeks to devour. The image used for Lucifer in his war in heaven, during which he was cast out of heaven by St. Michael, is of him as a dragon. The dragon image is found at the beginning and the end of the Bible for a reason. In George Ferguson’s book, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, he explains the symbolism of dragons:

The dragon, or serpent, was selected by the painters of the Renaissance to symbolize the Devil. The dragon as the enemy of God is vividly portrayed in Revelation 12:7-9, “And there was a war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found anymore in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, the old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” The dragon, expelled from Heaven, continues his war against God. Thus, he is depicted as the devouring monster who angrily destroys his victims.

The dragon was cast down to earth where he “prowls about seeking the ruin of souls.” For millennia, the dragon was a symbol for the devil, which only recently has been inverted on a cultural scale. Dragons are cunning, powerful, consuming, fearsome, destructive, and seductive. Dragons devour their prey, which is the whole goal of Satan and his army of demons who are very real.

Flash forward to 2010 when How to Train Your Dragon came out, and we are now faced with the inversion of this ancient symbol. The dragons wreak havoc, maim, and kill the Vikings on the imaginary island of the story. They are fiercely battled against by the older generation of Vikings, but in another inversion that is so common in our day, the young Viking teen, Hiccup, leads everyone to a new understanding and tears down the tradition of battling dragons, as well as the tradition of the elders.

No matter how great the animation, dragons are fearsome, ugly, and dangerous, and this is apparent even when the Vikings befriend the dragons. At a symbolic level, this movie is in line with our culture’s romanticization of the diabolical. In popular music, film, and television shows, the devil is misunderstood. In the same way, dragons are misunderstood, and we need to befriend them, even though for thousands of years dragons were understood to always symbolize the devil.

Christians who understand this ancient symbolism should recognize the ancient tactics of the serpent in the garden. Are you really not supposed to be friends with dragons? Are demons really so bad? There are countless witches and Satanists who spend their days trying to convince the world that their practices are “harmless.” The devil has done a good job of convincing our culture that he is misunderstood and that he is our friend.

The saints understood our call to spiritual combat and our need to cast out dragons, not befriend them. There is a reason the story of St. George and the dragon is a powerful memory in the Church. The saints show us that we must wage war against Satan and his minions and this includes at the symbolic level. We absorb stories through imagery and symbolism. This is precisely why both Judaism and Christianity have a long history of symbolism tied to the sacred. We are absorbing these inversions on a daily basis, and if we are not careful, they can lead us astray.

Ferguson goes on to explain the relationship between the saints and dragons:

The dragon is the attribute of St. Margaret, and of St. Martha, both of whom are said to have fought, and vanquished, a dragon. It is also the attribute of a number of other saints, including St. George of Cappadocia, who slew the dragon “through the power of Jesus Christ.” The dragon appears with the Apostle Philip, St. Sylvester, and the Archangel Michael, who is often shown with a dragon under foot, in token of his victory over the powers of darkness.

Dragons have always been a symbol of darkness. Stories matter a great deal. They shape entire cultures and civilizations. We are a people of a specific true story, which is to say, a people of the most powerful story ever told. We have an obligation to reclaim our story, which means rejecting the inversion of symbols tied to our Christian Faith. The devil is not a tragic and misunderstood character. He is the enemy of our souls who must be vanquished by Christ.

If none of this convinces us, then we should look to the most perfect, beautiful, and holy person ever created for guidance. Our Blessed Mother does not befriend dragons. She crushes the dragon—serpent—with her heal, as was promised in Genesis 3:15 in the protoevangelium: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.”

Our Blessed Mother is often depicted crushing the dragon—serpent—in depictions throughout Catholic history. Our Lady is the most feared among Satan and his legions. She should be our guide. We should not befriend dragons, like her and the saints of our Catholic tradition, we should be casting them far away from us.

We should seek what is true, good, and beautiful in our story and turn away from the inversions of our age. These inversions are everywhere, but the light of Christ shows us the path of truth. The Christian story is the most powerful story ever told, and it is time to reclaim what is ours. No inverted story of our age comes close to what we have been given in Christ Jesus.

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash


Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate with an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in philosophy. Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage