Burkhard Sievers – Curing the monster

"Curing the monster"
Some images of and considerations about the dragon[1]

Burkard Sievers

Bergische Universität Wuppertal Adresse:

Prof. Dr. Burkard Sievers
Bergische Univerität Wuppertal

Gaußstr. 20
42097 Wuppertal

Tel. +49-202-439 2585/2548
Fax +49-202-439 3852
e-mail: sievers@uni-wuppertal.de

published in:
Pasquale Gagliardi (Ed..), Symbols and Artifacts: Views of the Corporate Landscape. Berlin (de Gruyter), (1990), 207 – 231

 "The dragon was evolved along with civilization itself" (Smith 1919: 76).

"The artefacts of culture can be understood as defense systems that help to create the illusion that we are greater and more powerful than we actually are"
(Morgan 1986: 213). {mospagebreak}

1. On the way into the dragon’s cave

Writing about and reflecting upon the dragon has become an ongoing venture for me since I decided to choose it as the object of my presentation at the Milano conference on corporate artifacts in 1987. Once I had allowed this creature to enter into my mind and given it some space in my office it somehow began to crawl all over the place; dragons eventually were everywhere, in cartoons, in fairy-tales, legends, in advertisements, in churches, in mythology, in children books. And the more I let my friends know what a curious creature I had in my mind I received post-cards, newspaper articles and even a record with the famous song from Peter, Paul and Mary: ‚Puff, the magic dragon‘. It is the story of little Jackie Paper who shared part of his childhood with Puff, the gigantic dragon, till he eventually left the dragon when it made way for other toys.

No later than when I first had listened to this song, I decided to play it at the beginning of my presentation which I was going to prepare. But when I did so it happened that the sound of the small tape recorder was by far not loud enough for the auditorium. Then, to my big surprise, when I nearly had switched the music off, the people in the room suddenly began to sing the song of Puff, the magic dragon; first softly as if they didn’t dare to trust themselves and then, the more they began to enjoy it, rather loud. Can you imagine, some hundred colleagues gathered in an auditorium of a famous Catholic University singing a song about the dragon like children ? There it was, in the middle of the audience, the dragon!

The more I allowed the dragon to enter into my space the more I made the experience that this creature allowed me to cross boundaries, time boundaries as well as cultural ones. Not only that I rediscovered that previously in my life, as a boy-scout, there had been a time in which the dragon already had quite some significance for me as I identified myself with St. George, the hero. Very soon it also became obvious to me that the dragon not only is as old as mankind but more or less a universal creature which, despite its various meanings, can be found in nearly all cultures. Like the chimera, the centaur or the sphynx the dragon is a creature of the imagination. The question whether such an imaginary creature will be regarded as unreal or as real soon leads one into deeper areas of philosophy and of epistemology, in particular. Although at present there can be no doubt that the dragon is an artifact, created and brought into life through art, during previous millenia it often had the same reality as gods, angels, devils, ghosts, fairies and other beings. Today we may be convinced that there is no such a thing as a dragon and that dragons never really existed, but nevertheless we are surrounded by countless symbolic representations which prove that there were times in which our predecessors considered dragons to be as real as either the particular hero who attempted to kill it or the horse he rode upon.

Overtime, the more I tried to take the dragon seriously the more I became confused with images and perceptions, previously taken for granted, of what reality was supposed to be. If, for example, according to contemporary Christian belief of the existence of God, the saints and the angels is supposed to be real but not the existence of the great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns which is described in the Revelation of John (cf. Rosenberg 1956: 207 ff.), what are then the ‚criteria‘ to discriminate the real from the unreal? Similar is the case of St. George whose historic existence eventually was negated by the church. What about all the good works which have been accomplished by thousands of Christians for his glory; are they less real after the annihilation of this saint? And if, on the other hand, the dragon will be regarded as a symbolization of a part of human reality which otherwise cannot be grasped or described, what then is that reality about? Is it a real reality, an unreal or even a false one?

But before I go further into what I came up with on my attempt to cure the monster it seems to be important to illustrate what I had in mind when, on the occasion of this conference, I decided to approach the dragon. This choice had to do with the fact that this was a SCOS-Conference in at least two ways. On the one hand, at the First International Conference of SCOS (Standing Conference of Organizational Symbolism) which I attended at Lund in 1984 the conference poster showed a beautiful fascinating dragon coming through the strong lines of an organigram. {mospagebreak}

Figure 1: SCOS Poster, The First International Conference on Organization Symbolism and Corporate Culture

Since then the dragon has become the ‚logo‘ of this network of social scientists, an autonomous work-group within EGOS, the European Group of Organization Studies; from 1985 to 1987 Dragon was the title of the journal of SCOS. At the same time my wish to become more concerned with the dragon was guided by the ’slogan‘ of SCOS: "We do it for fun!" And as a matter of fact quite some fun it was both searching for dragons as well as presenting part of my results on the occasion of the Milano conference.

It seems that what I came up with out of this particular search is twofold: It is a piece of research on the logo of a pa rt icular organization, but it also is the expression of how an organization member acts within the process of intersubjective constructions of reality and its meaning. As I cannot hide that I am a member of this pa rt icular institution the following results and reflections may also show how a pa rt icular SCOS-member used his own impact and authority to explain and describe what appears to him as a pursuable interpretation of organizational reality. As in any other organization such an individual interpretation seldom is a solipsistic one; it normally is rooted in the institutional histo ry and tradition and related to other members representing as such either a mainstream approach of thinking or a more deviant one.

So far as SCOS and its short history is concerned the notion propagated here of curing the monster instead of killing or taming it in itself and in this particular institutional context never was a prominant or revolutionary one. As Rein Nauta (1986: 6) states, in the history of SCOS there is a reversal of the ancient hero

myth in which "the hero fights a struggle against a reality which is different from what he wants it to be… Reminding one of that fairy-tale written down by the Grimm brothers of the young man who travelled into the world in order to learn what horror was, at the beginning of SCOS some young and daring scholars went into academia not to fight the dragon, but to find him. Researching the dragon they enacted a revaluing of values (an ‚Umwertung aller Werte‘ – a paradigm change), because they tried to use the treasure of rationality, of choice, of consciousness as an instrument for finding the dragon. On the road to the dragon-country, the promised land of life and understanding, we made some friends and met quite a few fellow-travellers …. One interpretation of the ways of SCOS is that of a religious quest, in search of the truth of organization life".

"It is generally assumed", as P. O. Berg (1984: 4), the first chairman, put it, "that SCOS was created in the bar of Strathclyde Business School, the last evening of the EGOS 1981 Colloquium" in Glasgow. As a matter of fact, it was only a small group expressing their common interest in ‚organizational symbolism‘, using it somehow as a container for a possible broader methodological and interdisciplinary variety of organizational research. When after two smaller conferences in Exeter and Groningen the First International Conference was set up at Lund University in 1984 already more than 200 people from a whole variety of countries attended. Despite its increasing membership SCOS has succeeded in remaining a network in its true sense over the years; it only has a very minimal organizational infrastructure and is primarily carried by its members‘ initiatives; it emphasizes "the importance of personal interactions in an open and nonevaluative atmosphere" (Nauta 1984: 7). Quite unusual or even superfluous for normal scientific associations, in SCOS "the shared attitudes of support and tolerance … have left room for the individual, the spontaneous and the unpredictable performance" (Kreiner 1987: 17). {mospagebreak}

2. Draconology or the science of dragons: Some facts and figures

Before we begin the journey into the mythology of the dragon, its various images, and their symbolism it appears, appropriate to inspect some facts and figures through which the existence, quality, and dissemination of dragons may be proved. From such a ’scientific‘ perspective enough evidence must be provided in order to confirm the truth that the dragon is a primeval, universal and real phenomenon:

The dragon belongs to the wider family of snakes and serpents, as such it is much older than mankind. Contrary to men, dragons are creatures of chaos (Redaktion … 1985: 13). As can be learned from various accounts of the creation of the world, dragons have existed since the first days of the genesis.

Dragons are born from eggs which usually have the size of two man’s fists. Especially during infancy their predominant living space is water; different species prefer lakes, swamps, rivers, or the seaside. At least for the Chinese version of the dragon it can be proved that dragons take about 1500 years to grow up to their full length, another 500 years till their characteristic horns develop and again another 1000 years till their wings are formed (Redaktion … 1985: 44). Descriptions of dragons were seldom accurate, because those who happened to meet a dragon were so scared that they could only remember one or the other of its horrible parts without any further perception of its gestalt (Redaktion … 1985: 95). Although it seems to be true that no one dragon equals the other (Mode 1983: 120), dragons predominantly consist of the following elements: the jawbones of a crocodile, the teeth of a lion, the wings of a bat, the legs of a lizard, the claws of an eagle, the body of a python and the horns of a bull (Redaktion … 1985: 14).

Dragons are disseminated all over the world; detailed maps prove, for example, the dragon places in Middle Europe (Redaktion … 1985: 78 f.; Vinycomb 1906: 79 ff.).


Textfeld: [2]As Dickinson (1981: 75), for instance, indicates, there are at least 60 places in Europe which derive their names from the dragon, such as Drakenburg (Dragonburgh), Wurmlingen (named after a big worm which was the original Germanic word for dragon, as in Lindwurm) or Klagenfurt (a town in Austria which derives its name from the wailing which was heard when the town was destroyed by a dragon, a tragedy which is depicted by the huge monument in the town center).

From their historical evolution dragons can be classified into two main categories: the cosmic and the mythological dragons; the latter are often then subdivided into modern and psychic ones. Cosmic dragons cannot be regarded as animals in the literal sense, they were incarnations of the chaos, they are direct descendents of the Titanes who lived before time. Contrary to their predecessors the modern mythodragons were natural creatures; they housed in caverns and canyons, curled around mountains and ancient mounds, leaving behind them stink and slime; they crawled through the woods and mixed with the ghosts of sources and rivers (Redaktion … 1985: 76). The psychic mythodragons, which seem to be the most interesting ones in the context of the symbolics of artifacts are inhabitants of the human inner world. As they often cannot be acknowledged as such, they have to be projected into objects of the outer world (Steffen 1984: 7). – It seems to me that post-modern mythodragons can be neglected so far because they only are allusions to certain elements deriving from ancient styles.

As dragons nowadays are becoming more and more rare the fact that SCOS has chosen the dragon as its emblem can be regarded as akin to the panda of the World Wildlife Fund. As for the panda the days of the dragons are numbered; as it has no chance to survive in normal hunting-grounds it not only has to be protected, but eventually will be bred in special zoological gardens. Perhaps one could even gain the Queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, as honorary president of SCOS. As England has had St. George, who obviously was one of the predominant instigators of dragon killing, as its national saint for so many centuries, this could be an important act of reaparation. {mospagebreak}


3. How to cope with a dragon? Five pragmatic ways

Whereas the proof of the dragon’s existence is more a matter for scientists or researchers, the question of how to handle a dragon leads us into the fields of scholars. As Cooper states, "the scholar cultivates the critical spirit of the ‚humanistic sciences’" (Cooper 1983: 721) which "answer the central question of men’s collective existence and of individual life history. Their themes are justice and freedom, violence and oppression, happiness and gratification, poverty, illness, and death. Their categories are victory and defeat, love and hate, salvation and damnation" (Habermas 1971: 96).

From such a broader perspective there are at least five predominant ways of treating a dragon:

  1. 1. The heroic way: "You have to kill him!"
  2. 2. The magic solution: "Kiss him!"
  3. 3. The Chinese version: "It is the emperor of wisdom and rain!"
  4. 4. The science fiction approach: "Ride him!"
  5. 5. The lonely child solution: "Let’s be friends!"

Out of these five versions, the heroic solution of killing the dragon obviously is the predominant one in our western tradition. The magic creators of the SCOS logo around P. O. Berg have deliberately not chosen the image of the knight fighting the dragon because that would have given "too much power to the knight as being a symbol of the victory of the modern technocratic society over the primitive and instinctive dimensions of life" (Berg 1987a). Another, obviously unconscious reason for their choice could have been that e.g. the image of St. George would have been too reminiscent of the Order of the Garter which then probably would have been in collusion with SCOS‘ predominant myth of an open network.

Although I favour such a creative attempt at organizational mythmaking, it appears to be important to elucidate a bit further the image of the dragon fight which as such is as old as mankind. The legend of St. George seems to be a good example to begin with because the history of his relation to the dragon not only has a relatively clear origin but also a significant relevance as a symbol of many European nations. As he was the patron saint of all those who had devoted their lives to fighting, St. George was also the patron of the crusaders. They obviously were the ones who brought the image of St. George as the dragon fighter back. It then ultimately became a constituent part of his iconography through Jacobus de Voragine a dominican and archbishop of Genua, who, in the 13. century, included this legend into his ‚Legenda Aurea‘ (Golden Legend) which was of great influence on folkloristic piety (Braunfels-Esche 1976: 21 ff.; Egli 1982: 223 ff.). Although St.George did not officially become the national patron of England until 1347, his feast, the 23rd of April, received the same rank as the great feasts of the ecclesiastical year through a synod at Oxford in 1222. Around that time he also became the national patron of Georgia, Greece, Russia, Hungary, Poland and Sweden; in Germany he was the patron of the nobility.



That the dragon became the incarnation of evil, the enemy and often enough the devil in Christian mythology during the last millenium not only became evident through thousands of churches which were dedicated to St. George all over Europe but also through the fact that the legends of nearly 60 saints are based, one way or the other, on dragon killing (Aufhauser 1911: 239); among them are also women who like St. Martha vanquished the dragon with holy water or St. Margaretha who became the patron of pregnant women, because, when she was swallowed by the dragon, the cross which she was wearing grew till it finally burst the monster (Redaktion … 1985: 95; cf. Roheim 1972: 299).

That the dragon also has a long tradition in our western military history is, for example, indicated by the ‚dragons‘, the French cavalrymen in the Thirty Years War, who were equipped with small-arms called ‚fire-spitting dragons‘; it seems that the fact that, for example, the English, French, German, and the Swedish language have incorporated the Latin ‚draco‘ (which was taken from the Greek ‚drakon‘), originates from the dragon as a cohort sign of the Romans which they themselves had adopted from their Teutonic enemies (Höfler 1961: 99). The self-identification with the dragon in order to put one’s enemies to flight is in itself a symbolic act which e.g. can be found among the ancient Persians, who wore dragon helmets, or among the Vikings, whose ship bows were shaped like a dragon, a symbol which was later put on the church roof as protection against the demons. "In the sign of the dragon they were conquering the dragon" (Steffen 1984: 30).

In addition to St. George some further names and images may indicate how primeval and universal the heroic way of coping with a dragon is. There is, for example, the mythical story of the nordic hero Sigurd who when he killed the dragon on behalf of a dwarf realized only by chance that one single drop of the dragon’s blood gave man the knowledge about the primeval things on earth. One also may be reminded what happened to Siegfried, his Germanic namesake, who took a bath in the dragon’s blood in order to get the strength of the dragon himself. The epos of Beowulf and Wiglaf (Redaktion … 1985: 7 ff.) or that of the Golden Fleece are other examples that the dragon had to be slaughtered in order to receive the enormous treasure which he kept in custody.

Ancient Egyptian mythology contains a further image of the dragon fight. It is the sun-god Re who accompanied by his hyena faced guard Seth moved across the Egyptian sky in his shining barque, keeping away the dragon Apep who reigned over darkness striving to annihilate the god of light.

Out of all the stories and legends on dragon fighting I, however, prefer most the one of Sire Eglamour and Lady Chrytobel, two French lovers who had to suffer long and painfully because of their affection (Time-Life 1987: 128 ff.). Like the ancient hero Hercules, Eglamour had to accomplish a variety of works before he was allowed to marry Chrytobel. Before the hero had come back from the dragon fight his love expected a child from him. And as her father had decided to kill her together with the infant she escaped into the magic empire. It was a long odyssee till Eglamour and Chrytobel eventually became united again; it was only after Eglamour unknowingly had fought his own son, thus preventing him, like the ancient Oedipus, from marrying his own mother, that the double marriage of Eglamour and Chrytobel as well as their son and his wife could be celebrated in the far Orient.

That a woman or a virgin is part of the dragon fight myth, as in St. George’s legend or in fairy tales (Rank 1922), is also a constituent dimension of many of the dragon images of ancient Greek mythology. There is, for instance, the Greek god of light, Apollo, a son of Zeus, who killed Python, the dragon who had tried to kill Apollo’s mother Leto (Steffen 1984: 44). Perseus, another son of Zeus (together with Danae), fought the dragon at the seashore of the red sea and thus gained Andromeda as his wife (Redaktion … 1985: 120 f.; Egli 1982: 218 f.), akin to Cadmus, a hero from Thebes, who liberated Harmonia, a double of Aphrodite, by slaying the dragon (Roheim 1972: 301). And most famous of all is the myth of Amor and Psyche. Amor, the son of Venus and Jupiter, liberated Psyche, the king’s daughter, who, chained to the rocks, for the monster. He hurt himself with one of his arrows. Thus he fell in love with her in order to save her.

In my attempt to understand especially these latter myths of the dragon fight I found a contribution which Roheim (1972: 297 ff.) made, quite challenging. As this author demonstrates a variety of connections between the ancient Apollo myth and that of Cadmus, it becomes evident that both these dragon- or serpent-slayers are serpents themselves. From such a reading of these myths it becomes evident that "Apollo or Cadmus, the young serpent, killed the old serpent at springtime and married the old serpent’s daughter" (Roheim 1972: 307). As such "the idea of death (is) associated with that of a new life" (ibid.: 304); thus the dragon or the serpent turns into a symbol of fertility and initiation (cf. Drewermann 1984: 397 ff.). – From another psychoanalytic perspective, i.e. from the Jungian tradition, Erich Neumann (1953: 83, 162), makes the point that the serpent or the dragon represents the archetype of the ‚great mother‘ which has to be conquered in adolescence in order to integrate the anima. Whereas the serpent or the dragon in these ancient myths, no matter whether they were Greek, Egyptian or Judaic, originally symbolized the relation between man and his cosmos or the universe, it seems that particularly in the legends about various saints since the Middle Ages the dragon became a container for the often unconscious anxieties related to sexuality, marriage and the loss of virginity. What originally had been a symbol of mankind was more and more converted into an episode of certain individuals. As such the dragon also became a symbol of the pleasure of the flesh and lasciviousness which then had to be projected by men into women.

I am quite aware that what I have stated so far about the dragon fight as the predominant mythological way of coping with a dragon has to be left as nothing more than a brief sketch. Before I try to refer to the SCOS-dragon I would like to offer at least some further imaginations of how to cope with a dragon.

The above mentioned magic solution is a proof that the relationship among virgins and dragons was more complex than just being a city’s sacrifice to prevent the annihilation of the town through the monster. Some women, who had fairy-like magic power, kept these monstrous creatures as slaves in order to use their strength for bad purposes or just to tame these beasts (Redaktion … 1985: 83). The Russian scorceress Marina in the palace of Kiew used to seduce the dragon fighters and turned them into harmless magpies, pigs or oxen. The French ghost-lady Succube rode a dragon and seduced her young adventurers through vampire-like kisses which ultimately made them die. As Neumann (1953: 121 f.) states it, the image of the madonna standing on the dragon is a symbol of the wholeness of the female self; in its Christian version it has been converted into the virgin (Maria), who tramples the head of the serpent.

The Chinese version of the dragon, however, has quite a different mythological connotation than the traditional western one. Akin to the western dragons the Chinese dragons are of cosmic origin but they were much more the friends of the mortals. As the dragon represented ultimate wisdom and was the source of blessings, he became the symbol of the emperor who thus was regarded as a descendant of the dragons. The dragons were the masters of the rain; they often had god-like qualities (Redaktion … 1985: 41 ff.).

It seems that the dragon in science fiction literature has for the most part lost its magic and threatening character; it occasionally has been converted into a domesticated animal which, as it is tamed and controlled, can be utilized like a flying horse due to its enormous power and its ability to fly attacks against one’s enemies (e.g. McCaffrey 1981; Vance 1986). The degeneration of the dragon in science fiction stories in comparison to the ancient mythological figure seems to parallel the discrepancy between the horses of the horsemen of the apocalypse and brewery horses to quite an extent; like horses dragons are tamed and breeded; the passion is gone.

The dragon has also become an increasingly prominent figure in children books. Although in some cases (e.g. Lindgren 1986) the dragon seems to keep his magic notion, it predominantly seems to be turned into a pet or a friend for the lonely child. Quite often the dragon is trivialized into a child-like little creature who either is full of inferiority feelings himself (Korschunow 1984; Schmögner 1975) or becomes an ally against the child’s parents or his comrades (Kent 1986; Nerev 1986). As such the dragon occasionally has become a substitute for the split off double which, as, for example, in R. L. Stevenson’s ‚Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde‘, was a well-known pattern in the fictions and novels at the turn of the last century (cf. Rank 1971, McWhinney 1987). The dragon in recent children books thus sometimes carries the notion of the Jungian shadow, the unaccepted split off part of oneself which has to be integrated during the process of further maturation (Jung et al. 1986: 118 f.; Neumann 1984: 69 ff.). However, from my own limited impression of children’s books about dragons I hesitate to confirm their positive educational function (cf. Burkolter-Trachsel 1981: 168); these books rather often seem to favour their authors‘ point of view, as if the fascinating, frightening, magic part of reality did not exist. To quite an extent these books appear to me to be trivializations of the numinous, i.e. they seem to reconfirm a metamyth that there is nothing beyond the rational and the obvious, that it all can be handled (cf. Ingersoll, Adams 1986: 362) and that not only "a management text" but also

management itself "is no place for fairy tales" (cf. the advertisement for a recent book on management by South-Western using the dragon image).


4. The dragon as a symbol for corporate identity: Avantgarde or arrieregarde?

As already mentioned above, it was a deliberate decision to take the image of the dragon for the SCOS-logo without the often related image of the hero or the knight. The designer actually was asked by P.O.Berg "to let the dragon tear down the organization chart that was trapping it" (Berg 1987a). Underlying this image is obviously quite a different notion of corporate culture than the one propagated e.g. by Deal and Kennedy (1982): "For an organization you’ll need heros; if you don’t have them create them!" Such a trivialization of the hero would, as I assume, ultimately lead to a trivialization of the dragon – and the concept of culture.

It seems to me to be important that we as SCOS-members collectively try to find out what such a new version of the dragon could mean and represent for us if we were prepared to give it more significance than just a trademark – which some people wear on their shirts in form of a crocodile. As the SCOS-dragon obviously is supposed to have another relevance than just to discriminate its members from those who in their respective organizations wear a lion or an eagle on their ties or banners, it seems important to discover its particular meaning through a comparison of its similarities and differences with other dragon images.

In my own first attempt to relate the SCOS-logo to other more traditional dragon images I found the considerations about avantgarde and tradition/arrieregarde quite helpful which Bazon Brock (1986: 102 ff.), a colleague of mine, developed in his theory of art. The widespread understanding of avantgarde is that of a total break with every tradition and the creation of the absolutely new, alternative and unfamiliar, which then often enough either leads to the consequence that such a piece of art is either regarded as meaningless and gimmick or that the artist himself becomes the object of irony and aggression. Brock’s perspective, however, is quite different; he is convinced that we only recognize something as avantgarde which forces us to build new traditions. "Traditions" as he states it, "are nothing other than those comprehensions about the relationship of historical events which result from the respective contemporaries‘ attempts to look backwards" (Brock 1986: 105). Unlike the usual understanding of tradition as a force coming out of history which then influences the respective present, Brock regards as tradition that which influences the social construction of historical events in the present in so far as these historical events are united as ‚history‘ through a new tradition. Without such a (re)integration of the new into history which – at least so far as the history of art is concerned – especially during the last centuries has been a history of the previously new or avantgarde, the avantgarde remains meaningless and falls into oblivion as soon as it is antiquated by the very next avantgarde.

As in art, the function of the avantgarde in mythology or symbolism could be to look at the apparently assured interpretations of our ancestors from a different perspective, i.e. to recognize again as unknown and surprising what has been regarded as evident and familiar. To the extent that traditional myths and images have to be rediscovered or reinterpretated from newly created or shaped images, the new myth may also appear in another light.

To create such a new tradition often enough means recognizing the social as well as the unconscious dimensions these images refer to and are built upon as parts of a common culture. This, for example, means that ancient images often carry latently, so to speak, more cristallized meaning than we are able to reactivate contemporarily or that we, in a non-conscious manner, are referring to earlier images; we may even quote from them without being aware of the fact or of its sources.

In order to demonstrate more explicitly what I mean by it, I would like to start with an example which, in the present context, appears to be interesting, because it might contribute towards a better understanding of the SCOS-dragon. On my hunt for the dragon I found a picture of one of the adventures of Baron Münchhausen fighting the dragon in what appeared to me on first sight as quite a curious way of dragon slaughtering. Münchhausen, a German army officer of the 18. century, well known for his countless adventurous journeys, once killed a dragon in Nubia by sticking a cake made of pitch and poison on a long stick into the dragon’s throat. As soon as the monster had swallowed it, it burst into pieces with a terrible bang. Well, I thought, just another of those curious stories of Münchhausen like the one in which he pulled himself up by his own hair out of the swamp (cf. Watzlawick 1979) or akin to the one in which he rode on a cannon-ball. But only later, when I discovered another picture showing the ancient prophet Daniel killing a dragon in Babylon in the same manner, was I able to realize that the Münchhausen episode was a quotation which, as it may be assumed, may be even older than the dragon fight in the Daniel-Apocrypha. Referring to the biblical context (Dan. 14, 23-27; cf. Schmidt/Schmidt 1982: 41) the Münchhausen story received quite another meaning: stick into the dragon what it normally is supposed to spit out.


And I made two similar discoveries in my attempt to look back on previous dragon images with the SCOS-logo in mind. One refers to the use of the dragon as a symbol for corporate identity, the other one is related to the combination of the dragon and the organization chart.

As it was stated before, the fact that the dragon became a symbol of corporate identity is not new. During previous centuries countless churches and many nations as well as cities have chosen either St. George or St. Michael, the dragon-fighters, as their patrons. And even earlier the Romans and the Vikings, among others, had chosen the dragon as a symbol which they carried in front of them on their various military and exploratory expeditions in order to scare their enemies as well as unknown demons. It seems that what later became a slogan of the crusaders referring to their cross, the "In this sign we shall conquer!", originally refered to the dragon; for the Roman legionaries, for instance, the preservation of their dragon’s banner literally meant the survival of the legion.

According to my understanding, we at SCOS, unlike the ancient Romans or the crusaders of the Middle Ages, are not preparing a military campaign; we are not propagating the endless war of growing economic and managerial successes. What the SCOS-logo in comparison to these contemporary myths seems to represent is an anti-myth. This anti-myth is based on the assumption that "the dragon is to symbolize the underlying, powerful, restless, collective aspects of the organization which, although we try to imprison them …, tend to break through, break out and ‚disturb‘ the smooth machinelike functioning of the corporate machine" (Berg 1987a). There can be no doubt that "the dragon itself is powerful, ruthless, determined – but not necessarily evil. It is people, who cannot stand things they cannot control, who see cruelty and viciousness in him" (ibid.).

What the dragon in the SCOS-logo is supposed to symbolize for our contemporary institutions and our work enterprises, in particular, is a different metamyth from the glittering and sterile pseudo-reality as it is expressed in the best-selling soap operas on corporate culture and the related search for excellence. The dragon in this newly created version may get the previously explored function of the avantgarde in order to help us to create a new tradition of looking backwards to previous dragon myths and images in order to (re)discover that there may be other ways to cope with a dragon than just to annihilate it. It may even be the case that, by referring to the Chinese version of the dragon, we may discover new ways to help wisdom out of the wheel-chairs where it has been dislocated societally, in order to incorporate it in our organizations again (cf. Sievers 1986 a/b). The dragon tearing down the organization-chart may thus e.g. help us to perceive our history of industrialization from a new tradition, i.e. the repression and imprisonment of that part of reality which cannot be counted and measured.

So far as the image of the "dragon breaking out of the corporate psychic prison" (Berg 1987a) in the SCOS-logo is concerned, I found two pictures which caught my thoughts and which may help on further attempts to perceive the mythology of this logo. The first one obviously is well-known; it is the front page of the first English edition of Thomas Hobbes‘ ‚Leviathan‘, which appeared in London in 1651.


The Leviathan, in the Judaic tradition, is the cosmic dragon which along with his counterpart Behemot was created at the beginning of the world (cf. Steffen 1984: 83 f., 112 ff., 142 ff.). Althoug this cannot be the occasion to argue about the meaning and the possible failure of the Leviathan as a political symbol – a point which was extensively made by the German political philosopher Carl Schmitt (1982) in his book which first appeared in 1938 – what strikes me, if I compare the composition of this picture with that of the SCOS-logo, is the combination of the chaos symbolizing creature on the one and the hierarchical order of the state and the church on the other side. The similarity of the organigram and the dragon in the SCOS-logo is quite obvious!

Whether Hobbes himself or Wenceslaus Hollar, the artist, who produced the engraving of the Leviathan in his commission knew the other picture I found, probably cannot be proved. It is a page from a Middle Ages codex of the rules of St. Benedict and shows God, the father, fishing for the Leviathan.


So far as its one central image is concerned it is based on Job’s discourses with God in the Old Testament (Job 40, 25 ff.). On its left side it shows a ladder on which the angels are climbing up and down. Realizing that much of the rational structure in our contemporary industrial enterprises ultimately originated in monasteries and in those under the rules of St. Benedict, in particular (cf. Kieser 1986), may not only help us to perceive the dragon differently than as the traditional Christian image of the devil; it may also remind us that particularly during the Middle Ages the daily life of a monastery often enough was determined by other realities than just prayers and work (cf. Morgan 1986: 208; Burrell 1984). – Brandt (1987), in an article about the front page of Hobbes‘ first edition of the Leviathan, adds some further interesting insights. As this author states it, "the Leviathan is his citizens" (ibid.: 168) – an expression which leads to the idea of looking at the SCOS-dragon’s scales as being built by the members of an organization. {mospagebreak}

5. SCOS, the magic dragon: Pet or fundamental?

The further exploration of the two Leviathan images which I happened to find on my way to the cave of the dragon may throw a new light on the SCOS-logo – probably not primarily through analogy but hopefully through a kind of playful creative exploration of our own cultural experience.

In revitalizing the dragon for our organizational world we may discover through this image a myth of the dragon which differs both from the pet notion of the lonely child as well as from the cosmic creature, which filled up the emptiness and exceeded the universe. If we allow the dragon to be a symbol for the unconscious similar to the serpent from which it descended, we may find ways to perceive, to understand and ultimately to live in our organizations which lead further than those which are offered by the mainstream approaches of our organizational and managerial theories. Curing the monster instead of killing it may help us to integrate into our own individual and collective lives those dimensions which traditionally are considered typhonic, named after Typhon (whom Zeus in his attempt to annihilate, imprisoned in the vulcano Aetna), i.e. our ‚animalistic‘ nature which – when we discover it in ourselves or in others – often scares us so much that it has to be neglected. (As Typhon occasionally is regarded as the father of other monsters such as Cerberus, Hydra or Lerna (Steffen 1984: 43 f.), the acquaintance with the dragon ultimately may lead us to further discoveries.)

Although I find it very encouraging that SCOS, with P. O. Berg’s help, has rediscovered the dragon and chosen it as its logo, I would like to repeat on this occasion a warning which P. O. Berg already expressed: "You cannot fool a dragon – he senses tricksters miles away. Dragons are not calmed or fooled by smooth talk or manipulation but cut right through the most essential (power) relationships and (emotional) experiences" (Berg 1987a).

This warning in mind, it seems to me that, so far as the presentations to our SCOS conferences as well as the contributions to our journal are concerned, we have not seriously enough started not to fool the dragon; on occasions it appears to me that there are just still too many tricksters around and that the stories and images which are presented about the dragon, i.e. about ‚the ugly face‘ of our contemporary organizations, are far away from an attempt to elucidate where, how and to what an extent "our organizations are killing us" (Morgan 1986: 273). Much too often these contributions seem to repeat the title of one of the children books "There’s no such thing as a dragon" (Kent 1986).

In order to let the dragon break out of the corporate psychic prison of our organizations, as it is indicated by the dragon tearing down the organization chart, a first step could be to indicate and to describe the traps and chains in which the dragon traditionally is caught in our organizations. What we as SCOS-members have been able to contribute so far, to a further understanding and conceptualization of culture, in general, and of corporate culture, in particular, reminds me in its predominant part of a comment George Steiner (1971: 34) once made referring to T.S.Eliot’s ‚Notes towards a definition of culture‘ which appeared shortly after the Second World War: "How, only three years after the event, after the publication to the world of facts and pictures that have, surely, altered our sense of the limits of human behaviour, was it possible to write a book on culture and say nothing." – If we are, however, prepared to discover in our "exercise in contemporary archaeolgy" (Berg 1987b: 25) the dragon traps as corporate artifacts, we have to acknowledge that the dragon, whose image we are projecting on others, lives in us (cf. Steffen 1984: 253 f.). It has to be recognized, accepted and cured by us before we will be able to discover it in the outer world of our organizations.

Don’t let us forget that "a core element in the drawing", as Berg (1987a) states it, is "that the dragon should be fearful, i.e. scare the people experiencing him. Fear (of the uncertain, of lack of control, of the unknown, of death, of love – that could be lost -, of pain etc.) is probably one of the key emotions that build up the collective".

I would like to finish these thoughts with a Chinese fairy-tale which was given to me by one of my students. It is based on the Chinese idea that the dragon sleeps during wintertime. At this time it is very tiny. In the flash of the first thunderstorm at springtime it rises again towards the clouds. And thus it is expressing the nature of the dragon as a cosmic appearance. {mospagebreak}

The dragon after hibernation

Once upon a time there was a scholar reading in the upper floor of his house. It was a cloudy and rainy day and the weather was gloomy. Then he saw a little thing which was shining like a glow-worm. It was crawling on his desk. There, where it had been, it left behind burning tracks curved like the tracks of a rain­worm. It gradually twisted on to the book and the book, too, became black. He then realized that this could be a dragon. Therefore, he carried it on the book outside the door. He stood there for quite a while; but it remained seated, rolled up and did not move at all.

Then the scholar said: "One shall not say of me that I was wanting in respect." With these words he carried the book back and laid it down again on the desk. Then he put on festive raiment, made a deep bow and escorted it outside. He was no sooner out of the door than he noticed that it raised its head and suddenly it extended. With a hissing sound it flew up from the book forming a shining stripe. It once again turned back to the scholar; by then its head was already as big as a barrel, and the size of its body measured nearly a cord. After another meandering a terrible thunder-clap crashed and the dragon went up into the air.

Then the scholar went back and investigated which way the little creature had come. The tracks went to and fro as far as the bookcase (Chinesische Märchen 1961: 135 f.).

Don’t let us be too afraid to have a look in our bookcases; we may discover a dragon in hibernation! We also may be reminded that it behooves a scholar, not a mere scientist, to become aware of what a dragon stands for. {mospagebreak}


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  1. [1]Verwendet mit Erlaubnis von Prof. Dr. Burkard Sievers
  2. [2]Figure 2: Matthäus Merina, sen., Merians Welt der Tiere, Nördlingen (Greno) 1985
  3. [3]Figure 3 Albrecht Dürer, St Georg killing the dragon. Woodcot ca. 1501/04
  4. [4]Figure 4: Seth, the guard of the sun-god Re, Fighting at the bow of the shining barque against the gaiant-serpent Apophis. Papyros 21. Dynasty (1085-950 B.C.); from Steffen 1984: 48
  5. [5]Figure 5: Academy of Management Journal 29, 1986: 876
  6. [6]Figure 6: Daniel, the prophet, killing the dragon. Matthäus Merian, Die Bibel, p. 787
  7. [7]Figure 7: Front page of the first English edition of Thomas Hobbes‘ "Leviathan" (1651); ill. By Wenceslaus Hollar, Mansell Collection, London; from: Vrandt 1987
  8. [8]Figure 8: Illustrated page of the Regula Benedicti, Stuttgart; Code hist. fol. 415, p. 87 ; from Paulsen 1966

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