This is an essay I originally wrote in 1998 for a class at UCSB called On The Edge -- about the exploration of fringe thought.
Frankly, my life is about as fringe as they get.
I'll let the essay speak for itself -- and for me.
People often find it difficult to deal with non-mainstream belief systems. I find that who I am is very difficult to explain in person, because I have to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to justify my beliefs -- something which I shouldn't have to do, but is nonetheless socially necessary.
I want to give people a chance to understand me without trying to work around the strict limits of a conversational setting. I want people to be able to gather all the facts at once and to ponder them for minutes, or hours, or days. I want to share my view of the world in a way that doesn't encourage people to be judgmental.
Equally important, I want to declare to the world what I believe, because I know there are a lot of folks out there who secretly believe the same thing. By declaring my passions, perhaps I can give someone else the courage to follow theirs.
On to the story.
To say that I believe in magic, or that I believe in dragons, is an understatement. It's certainly true, but barely brushes the edge of my paradigm. My life has not been touched by magic and draconity -- it has locked itself into a full-body embrace with them. Every day I see and talk to beings who don't physically exist on this earth. Very few of them are humans. Neither am I. Underneath my human skin lurks a soul with wings and scales, and for me, that soul is what counts. I am a mage. I am a dragon.
Depending on their prior experience with the metaphysical, the average person finds this aspect of me either disturbingly insane or immensely fascinating. I have very little trouble admitting my beliefs, as I learned long ago to live for myself instead of others, but I find a great deal of difficulty in trying to explain them.
After all, in a world like ours, you'd be hard-pressed to find more fringy topics than the existence of magic and dragons. (Not fantasy-novel fireball-throwing and firebreathing monsters; real magic is the changing of reality with applied willpower, and real dragons are highly misunderstood creatures. Those misconceptions are, unfortunately, some of the kinder ones.)
Both of the dominant paradigms today, religion and science, turn up their noses at magic, either because it's "satanic" or "unbelievable". Even within the metaphysical community, there's great disagreement as to just what is and isn't really out there. Not to mention that nobody has yet publicly provided convincing proof of even the bare existence of magic.
How, then, does the son of a scientist, born and raised a Christian, turn to embrace it? What is out there -- or, perhaps, inside us -- that causes one to choose the path of willworking?
In my case, the answer is inextricably linked with not only who I am, but who I consider myself to be. I most likely would never have studied magic if I did not believe I was a dragon, and if I hadn't learned as much as I did about magic, draconity might have been little more than a vague lifelong aspiration. This almost begs the question: What made me think of myself as a dragon?
I hope to illuminate these themes through a variety of personal experiences. Surprisingly, there are a great number of people out there who also consider themselves dragons; many of them are quite public about it. I hope, as they often do, to deliver some insight into the broader dragon paradigm (as well as that of the mage).
Many dragons -- and mages -- have always lived with their beliefs. My case is different. I started out in a Christian household, got baptized, and went to Sunday school. I cherished science (and science fiction) from an early age. The influences on me during my formative years were all very normal adults. The person I am today would not exist if something hadn't steered me away from that path. So what was it? The question bugs me to this day, but I'd like to share some insights.
One of the things I've continually noticed since grade school is that I was always very different from most kids. Partially in that I was very bookish ... but mostly in ways that were very subtle, in ways that still elude easy description.
In a way it's like when you're shopping with friends, and the cashier gives you an extra nickel in your change, and you hold up the line for 15 seconds while you explain that she gave you too much money back. And then all your friends ask you why you didn't just take the extra nickel ... and you're helpless to explain because it's not something logical, it was just the right thing.
I couldn't fit in with humanity. I couldn't justify it. But I knew in my heart it was right. There was just some twist in my mirror to the outside world. From my classwork, it became obvious to me I didn't think the same way as other children my age. (Indeed, at the age of nine, I wrote a letter to an adult crossword-puzzle magazine pointing out an error in one of their clues.) As I grew up, though, I found I couldn't fully relate with adults, either. In many ways, I felt abandoned; I grew up believing that not even my closest friends understood me.
I also wasn't very skilled with emotions. As most bright youngsters do, I endured a great deal of teasing; unfortunately, I tended to bottle myself up, and the tears and the rage would come out all at once in periodic breakdowns.
I've thought long and hard many times about my childhood. Was I reaching for an identity? Did my desperate quest to find a peer group, understanding and a non-destructive environment lead me to retreat into the realms of draconity?
Honestly, I don't think so. I've always had a rich and treasured fantasy life, but only around junior high school did dragons even start showing up. Even then, it was in a much larger framework.
And why dragons? That's a question that, for me, has no good answer.
What I'd like to say is that I was drawn to dragons because I am one, and I was subconsciously reclaiming my heritage. That's the simple answer, the one that fits, but it also hinges entirely on my self-assessment being objectively true. I believe entirely in my draconity, but realistically, there's a chance I've got a faulty self-image, and thinking about alternative theories certainly can't hurt.
I've had two draconic friends tell me that their respective guardian spirits, who they'd been talking to since early childhood, were dragons. I do know that I grew up similarly, with a dragon spirit guarding me, but I have no conscious memories of even recognizing his presence.
I'm certain that a number of dragons out there got started with recurring draconic dreams. A friend of mine who goes by Sev online explains his experiences:
I suppose that one of the things that really started the ball rolling were my dreams. I mean, I was either a human in my dreams, or a dragon. That's it. And I have had some potent dreams, with dragons ... there was one that seemed so real that when I woke up, it took me several minutes to realize that it was a dream.
This wasn't my case, though; I have horrible luck remembering dreams at all. And I have only had dragons show up in my dreams at all five times in my life.
I did, however, feel completely at home with the form. "When I was in the form of a dragon, in a dream, it just seemed natural. And even waking, sometimes, I could feel ... well, limbs that were not there," Sev added, echoing my thoughts on the times my imagination has carried me where I can't fly in my dreams.
It's possible that I picked up the dragon idea from the video games I played or the books I read. I was a voracious reader, and the sci-fi/fantasy genre I preferred has a way of throwing new ideas at you. But I only started seriously investigating draconity after my reading had tapered off due to a high-school courseload. I do remember reading Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman's Dragonlance saga as a younger child, but I also remember the novels not impressing me too much, and the books' concept of dragons certainly didn't match the noble attributes I associated with them. I remember one comic book I read, Southern Knights, which had a dragon as one of the four members of its superhero team. To the best of my knowledge, though, I picked it up originally because I was already fascinated with dragons at the time. Southern Knights' dragon character matched almost perfectly with my ideals, but my investigations into draconity predated my first literary exposure to them.
I don't think I picked up my fascination with dragons from the games I played, either. Games such as Dungeons and Dragons usually portrayed dragons as evil beasts guarding hordes of fantastic treasure -- as something to be overcome. Despite this, I did a lot of role-playing.
One of the pastimes that I engaged in from an early age was role-playing. It came very naturally to me; putting myself behind a mask was a skill I'd picked up to deal with Real Life, and to do it in a setting where my character could laugh in the face of adversity and fight for what he believed, was a pleasure. Around the time I was going to junior high, a friend and I embarked on an ambitious project to create a game world for our role-playing adventures. I did nearly all the work. It came out onto paper frightfully fast.
Even though the game's setup made the world's religion essentially irrelevant, I fleshed out the world's dominant pantheon to a startling degree. Most people worshipped Thideras, the Dragon God. The draconic ideal of honor was the ultimate goal to be reached. Having long since rejected both the social organization and the contradiction-riddled belief system of Christianity, I started -- mostly in jest or in rebellion -- calling myself a Thiderean and dedicating myself to developing the virtues I had laid out for the game.
There was no good reason for me to associate dragons with honor. I don't recall having read anything by that time that would have caused me to view them sympathetically. Perhaps I felt a bond of kinship with them, since they were different and hence persecuted, as I felt myself to often be. I think, though, that the kinship I felt was more deeply-rooted. Up until about sixth grade, I was fascinated by medieval knights and their heroic deeds -- at some point I just flip-flopped entirely and moved to their traditional enemies. I doubt I would have had such a drastic shift had nothing drawn me to dragons beyond their otherness.
Still and yet, dragons were ignored through my childhood and a sideline for most of my adolescence. There was one specific event that completely blew my life out of the water and made me reconsider everything I'd thought I'd worked out.
My mind habitually wanders. I'm always coming up with new ideas. It wasn't surprising, then, that I considered the thought that perhaps this Thideras I paid homage to was real. (Which brings to mind an interesting but silly side point: Did I create Thideras ... or did he just make himself known to me when the time was right?) Perhaps, too, dragons did exist out there somewhere. I spent a lot of time stargazing, squinting at those little points of light and wondering whether the planet I'd envisioned was orbiting one of them. Although I often imagined the possibilities, these were things I accepted early on as unresolvable epistemological questions.
Thidereanism was (and still is) important to me as a value system. The philosophical aspects of it far outweighed the religious ones. I was entirely happy accepting it whether or not my god actually existed. Therefore, the question of his existence became unimportant -- it didn't matter whether I was following a real god or not, because I wasn't in it for salvation. I was a Thiderean because it enriched my life by giving me a set of standards to aim for. And, hey, maybe if there really were dragons out there, and this god-from-the-role-playing-game were real, I'd be doing good enough to earn my wings.
For perhaps three years after I'd developed my moral system, life was uneventful. I recited my little bedtime prayer every night:
Thideras, let me look inside myself and find honor, courage,
strength, dedication, wisdom and tolerance.
Let me transmit these virtues to others in thought and deed.
Give me a chance to make the world a better place for my presence.
I'm still aspiring to be a dragon.
I meant every word (although it's important to note that I was using "for" in the sense of "because of"). And I think this says a lot about who I was and am -- and what standards I held myself to in the name of draconity.
My childhood existence often seemed a war. I never surrendered my individuality (I still haven't once worn blue jeans!) ... but I took a lot of flak for defending it. So, I learned to have very few expectations for the outside world. I certainly wasn't expecting the events of January 22, 1994.
The day before that was perhaps the worst of my life so far. It was one of those days where everything you touch gets twisted into something which turns and bites. A thoroughly miserable day was capped off by my fanny pack being stolen -- including my wallet, keys, and nearly everything else of value to me save my quotebook. The 22nd wasn't much of an improvement. I somehow survived school, and aimlessly wandered downtown, ending up in a phone booth outside a drugstore.
I called a friend, talked aimlessly for about thirty seconds, and tears started dripping down my face. I uncharacteristically hung up mid-sentence and sat there and cried. Everything from not just the previous two days but the last few months of teasing and held-back frustration burst all at once. Within seconds, things spiraled, and I had gone full-out into a nervous breakdown, consumed by an overwhelming self-pity. I'd tried my best, but the world had just connected one too many times. I was friendless, and I just couldn't go on on my own.
It was then that I heard the voice.
Someone called my name. Someone was speaking to me. I raised my head, but nobody was around, certainly nobody I knew. The voice echoed through my head, just like I was hearing it ... but nobody was speaking. I was hearing someone mentally.
I've since tried to duplicate what I experienced. And I can state unequivocally that the voice was NOT mine. I think in an odd jumble of images and words which flashes from one concept to the next. What I heard was clear, organized, and proper English. Even when I'm in complete self-control, when I force myself to think out loud in complete sentences, it's still thoughts, it's not a voice. (And I was in hysterics at the time!) The voice in my head was calm, reassuring, and completely lucid. Which I was not. The voice was loud ... I heard it at roughly the level of someone standing a few feet away and speaking firmly to me.
"Tad," it said, and repeated my name a few times firmly, making sure it had my complete attention. "It's alright. Everything's going to be okay."
There was only one possibility. "Thideras?" I asked in amazement.
I swear I felt him smile. "You're going to be okay," he repeated, reassuringly, and faded out. I was so amazed by this that I completely forgot I was supposed to be having a nervous breakdown. Less than thirty seconds later I walked out of that shopping center, shoulders straight and high, jaw still hanging loose in awe.
To say that the encounter did a lot to convince me that there were things out there is an understatement. From that point on I had no doubt that there was something behind all my earlier speculations. The question became a matter of degree. Most of the remaining uncertainty hinged on what exactly it was that I heard.
For months only my most trusted friends knew. I was deathly afraid that my encounter would be written off as a split personality rather than schizophrenia. I wasn't ready to handle trying to explain something I knew to people who might not believe. Only recently have I realized that even if it was nothing more than my subconscious, the experience still provides a basis for my beliefs -- after all, if I'm powerful enough to stop a full nervous breakdown cold, I'm certainly a powerful enough mage to trust my observations in the spirit arena!
Was it really Thideras? There are any number of alternate explanations available, even just in the realm of the spirit. (The dragon-spirit who was my full-time guardian while I was growing up has disavowed any responsibility. I believe him.) The existence of Thideras, though, is epistemologically irrelevant to both my draconity and my magery. By the time I decisively and permanently acknowledged my draconity (very nearly a year ago), it was on the weight of a great deal of outside knowledge. Magic stood on its own evidence, and everything I'd seen indicated I was indeed a dragon spiritually; finding the alt.fan.dragons community on the Internet and realizing that there were others who felt as I do was the clincher.
Though I have little evidence for it, I do believe it was Thideras who spoke to me that day. I have spoken to a great many spirits in the years since, and not once have the thoughts been that delineated, loud or clear. (Most spirits, as I do, tend to think and communicate in images and concepts, which are great for getting across large, tangled thoughts quickly, but don't translate well at all into sharp English.) Also, he knew my name. Anyone who both knew my name and cared enough to intervene must have been protecting me for some time. My guardian-spirit claimed to have nothing to do with it; nobody else but the one who heard my prayers for years would have had the motivation and the knowledge.
I previously hadn't dared to consider myself a dragon. I associated with them such incredible ideals that it would have been hubris to my young mind to assume I'd reached that plateau. They were certainly, by 1994, a dream as much as an ideal, but I never thought I'd earned enough to transcend humanity. And dragons were, for me, a transcendence; their minds were well-honed knives sharpened by dedication and tempered by wisdom, their honor and their compassion were developed as only a millennium can provide, and their wings represented the physical as well as the intellectual freedom they reveled in.
After the aborted breakdown, though, I had to reconsider -- maybe I was worthy. I was obviously doing something right in order to get that sort of attention. Perhaps the blade was still a bit dull, but the weapon was usable. I was still aspiring to be a dragon ... but was the aspiration transcendence ... or maintenance?
At the time, I was going through public high school. I will unapologetically state that anyone with an academic bent should under no account be allowed to languish there. It was a very easy environment in which to gather evidence of my fundamental differences from humankind, and that's about the most it contributed to my development. Many of my friends knew of my quest for draconity; the majority of them found it an interesting oddity.
Strangely enough, the choice for me was always a dichotomy; either I was a dragon, or I was merely getting there. The thought that perhaps I was something else in spirit never crossed my mind. Nothing ever had the fundamental appeal for me that draconity had. Even now, nothing else does.
In a way, magic was a very natural offshoot of my draconity. If I believe something as irrational as me being a dragon ... why not magic? It seemed so sensible as to be tame in comparison. On the other hand, magic was on a different level entirely. I could identify myself as a dragon with abandon, and never have to interface that belief with everyday reality; since it was largely an outgrowth of how I already thought and acted, it really was only a footnote to my teenage life. Magic meant taking that belief, that desire, and integrating it with reality. For two years I stumbled around blindly, occasionally building up energy but never able to do anything with it except wish.
I really only got started with magic when I came to college. I was lucky enough to meet and befriend a teacher within a week of arriving in the fall of my freshman year. (It's things like that which have caused me to throw out the word "coincidence" from my vocabulary entirely.) One of the first things that I learned was what magic was.
A friend of mine who is a physics major as well as a mage explains it better than I ever could. "Magic is when you cause things to happen by sheer force of will," he says. "Whether you're learning, or playing an instrument, or causing the sun to go supernova for some strange reason."
Most of the trouble in learning magic comes from learning to focus that willpower effectively and see the result. It wasn't a problem for me. I had a goal to work towards. I wanted to be a dragon physically.
I didn't (and don't) see genetic engineering as currently viable, even given recent successes in cloning, and I didn't want to wait for a better method of changing bodies to be slowly developed over my lifetime. I turned from science not because it conflicted with my beliefs, but because it just didn't suit my ends.
There's really no fundamental conflict between science and magic, in fact; they're flip sides of the same coin. "Most of reality is defined by the collective will of the people," my physics-major friend occasionally reminds me. And it's quite possible to mix the two, according to him. "By explaining my paradigm in terms of their beliefs, I can force it to happen."
"The scientific method is really an excellent thing," Sev noted. In fact, it's one of my main tools in approaching magical phenomena, and still the best way I've got in distinguishing between magical events and natural ones. Magic really has no problem fitting within a logical framework. Why is magic given so little credence in the real world, then?
The problem is not in the paradigm of the science, it's in the paradigm of the scientists. "Physics is the art of trying to explain what has happened within a rational basis, and trying to figure what happens in other cases on that same rational basis," the physics major explained. Ideally, physics wouldn't be a cut-and-dried set of rules. "In case of a conflict [between the rules and the event] ... the benefit of the doubt has to go to the event." It's only when those rules become rigid that things become "impossible" and magic becomes frowned upon.
Sev summed it all up nicely: "I think that science is a great thing if you don't let science get in the way."
And how does being a dragon and a mage affect my life? It's irreversibly broadened me. There are worlds beyond our own, inhabited by all sorts of strange and (generally) wonderful beings. Even on our own planet, there's such an incredible diversity of beings that it's very hard to not make deep friends. The Internet, especially, allows people to find their niche in the world within weeks. I've become close friends with dozens of dragons out there.
Draconity and magic have also given me a focus for my research. The physics major told me, at one point, how he reconciled his lifelong dedication to magic with his chosen discipline: "I know my paradigm. I want to know theirs. It lets me know what I have to work with."
Perhaps someday the magic paradigm will return to the Earth, and people won't think it strange to see fireballs zooming down the street. Until then, there's a lot out there which works, and a lot out there which doesn't. There are a lot of people who believe strongly in the topics they've chosen to study, be they fringe or mainstream. There are a lot of people to both learn from and teach. And, mage or schizophrenic, draconic or delusional, I'm going to keep trying to learn about the world, adjusting my beliefs as necessary. And whatever the truth of this existence may be, I'm going to be able to look back and say that it was a fun search.
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