Dancing With Dragons – D.J. Conway – May BBBR

Dancing With Dragons
D.J. Conway
Llewellyn, 2003
296 pages

I finally got around to reading this one, which just happened to be on the clearance rack. I knew it was pretty popular, though I didn’t realize it was in its thirteenth printing by 2003. I’d imagine there’ve been more since then.

I can see why the book has been so popular–for one thing, it was pretty much the first of its kind. Many pagans think dragons are the best thing since sliced bread, and so a book on dragon magic would have a pretty wide appeal. I’ve only seen one other book of its type, Torrence’s Sea, Land Sky: A Dragon Magick Grimoire which is on my wish list which I have reviewed as of 10 July, 2007.

So what was the first book on dragon magic like? Rather disappointing. I’ve generally disliked Conway’s works because she has a tendency to recycle the basic Wicca 101 material and plug in different cultural trappings; for example, her “Celtic Magic” and “Norse Magic” were practically the same book, only with different sets of deities and spirits. This book isn’t much different.

There’s a bunch of information on the history and mythology of dragons (without any sort of internal citations to show where she got specific bits of information). It seems pretty solid, and she has a good variety of cultures. However, it’s nothing you couldn’t find in any basic book of dragon mythology, such as The Book of the Dragon by Allen and Griffiths. Conway also indulges in a little more “Christians are evil!!!” sentiment than I’m comfortable with (as if no other group or religion had dragons as a symbol for dangerous things).

As for the magic itself, it’s basically Wicca 101 mixed with draconic imagery and a lot of Conway’s own UPG about her own dragon spirits. There are also pages upon pages of correspondences, information on basic Wiccan altar tools,and other 101 information that you could find in any book about Wicca, which makes me think that there was a serious need of filler. I really question the wisdom of some of her own material about dragons; for example, in the basic dragon ritual (p. 118 et. al) she instructs the reader to invoke Fafnir as the dragon of the south. I can’t find any evidence for the other three directional dragons, names Grael, Sairys and Naelyan. Is this UPG? She also talks about dragons as if anyone could work with them, and it’s just a matter of being polite to them.

The chapters on the different types of dragon read somewhat like a D&D manual, and she classifies dragons by their elemental properties regardless of what culture they come from. This just continues a neopagan trend that really annoys me, trying to wrap the entire world up in a neat elemental package. IMO, if you’re going to work with dragons deal with them as individuals according to the culture they come from, not whatever element they remind you of.

Basically, if you’re new to Wicca and you like dragons, you’ll probably like this book. Just don’t make it the do-all and end-all of your research on either topic. As per usual, there’s a lot of questionable material. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen on the internet most of the material available on dragon magic stems from this book. Here’s hoping that Torrence’s work or future books of dragon magic will be improvements over this one.

One and a half pawprints out of five.

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13 Comments

  1. Psyche said,

    May 13, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    …if you’re going to work with dragons deal with them as individuals according to the culture they come from, not whatever element they remind you of.

    This just about sums up every book Conway’s ever compiled (‘written’ would be over-generous) – substitute [dragons] for “the Celtic pantheon”, “the Norse pantheon”, etc…

  2. Silvaerin'a said,

    May 13, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    Ok, this bit, “she instructs the reader to invoke Fafnir as the dragon of the south,” raises my hackles. Does she know who Fafnir is!?! She can’t, she really can’t. Fafnir is the wyrm who twines itself around and through the roots of Yggdrasil, eating the same roots, and dripping poison. Not very South if you ask me. Twit.

    This right up there, as Ravenwolf suggesting in her teen guide, that it’s a good idea to call upon the Jotuns/Frost Giants to “cool down a relationship”.

  3. May 13, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    She also talks about dragons as if anyone could work with them, and it’s just a matter of being polite to them.

    Could you explain a little more about what you mean by this? I’ve never worked with dragons before and haven’t really looked in to doing so, so apologies if this is common knowledge.

  4. Angelforlorn said,

    May 13, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    can you recommend and GOOD dragon / magic / wicca books then. the Internet only goes so far and some people who are serious about working with dragons would probably need something a little culture focused

  5. Daven said,

    May 13, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    Natalie,

    Dragons are essentially people, just like us. They have different cultural motivations, different goals, but they have the same basic desires that we do, they want what they want.

    Courtesy to any being, no matter what form, simple politness is key. You go into the lair of a Dragon, you don’t start telling them what is wrong with their home, you don’t tell them how they are screwed up, you don’t stick your nose into their politics without invitation and you don’t start telling them how to run their life.

    Most dragons I know feel that humanity is little better than lice, and the only value we have is that there are so many of us.

    So for her to summon dragons for a wiccan ritual, then to arrogantly say that this dragon is what she says they are instead of what they believe they are, well, that tends to piss dragons off. And a pissed off dragon can really mess with someone baddly.

  6. lupabitch said,

    May 13, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    Natalie – IME, dragons are not just critters you can walk right up to and expect to mesh with immediately. It varies from dragon to dragon, but I’d be wary of territorialism. My basic advice is get to know a dragon first before asking it for help in any magical endeavor. Of course, the same goes with any other being. The way Conway writes, it sounds like she’s basically saying that dragons are ready to work with us, we just have to ask. Dragons are not customer service representatives; unfortunately, that’s what a lot of this sounds like. Read Daven’s comment above mine (#5)–he has good points there, too.

    Angelforlorn: My advice at this point would be to research dragons in general (The Book of the Dragon that I linked to in the review above is a good start). Do some research on invocation and evocation techniques; I work with a nix of neopaganism and Chaos magic, but that’s what works for me. If you haven’t done much with invocation and evocation, I suggest practicing with beings you’re familiar with before leaping into dragon territory.

    As for contacting an individual dragon, I’d suggest finding the culture that most resonates with you, as well as make yourself familiar with the view of dragons that culture had. Most of them don’t have rituals to deliberately attract dragons (that I know of, anyway), but if you want to work within that cultural context a bit, it might help give the ritual a more welcoming flavor. If there are offerings that are traditionally given to dragons in tha tculture (within reasonable limits–no human virgins!) you might try bringing and offering into the ritual. Then use the ritual to put out a call for an interested dragon. If you don’t get a response right away, don’t worry–just give it time.

    Once you’ve gotten in contact with a dragon, talk to hir about ways to work together. I find that when working with any sort of spiritual being, it’s best to figure out a system that’s unique to the two of you rather than sticking to a script.

    That’s what I would do, anyway.

  7. May 13, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    Draven, thanks for that.
    So from this, I’m getting that politeness is very understandably required, but, as they are like people but not beings that hold humans in high regard, it isn’t necessarily enough – like approaching a wealthy stranger with one’s problem, the answer may well be “…and I care why?”

    Hopefully I read that correctly!Thanks again for answering.
    Sincerely,
    Natalie.

  8. May 13, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    *nod* Thanks, Lupa.
    The way Conway writes, it sounds like she’s basically saying that dragons are ready to work with us, we just have to ask. Dragons are not customer service representatives; unfortunately, that’s what a lot of this sounds like.

    Yes, I guess there would be also be the risk of rationalising these as great visualisations/parts of the self (and geared toward the ritualist as a a result) rather than actual beings. (I used to hold this view with gods when I started out, and am being progressively swayed to be the other side with regard to this.) Having read other Conway books years ago, I could very much imagine it would be quite nurturing toward such a stance. Would I be correct?

    Of course, there’s always virtue in treating customer services representatives like actual people, also. 😉

    Sincerely,
    Natalie.

  9. Angelforlorn said,

    May 13, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    Lupa. I think I may need to explain a little. in the process of a guided medition to met our animal spirit I encountered a orental dragon. the image that sits mostly with me is that when I ask his name he said I already knew it. at least I think that’s what happened. so I guess that’s why my question

  10. lupabitch said,

    May 13, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    Natalie: I used to be the same way when I was heavy into Chaos magic. Then I realized that a wholly psychological worldview just didn’t make sense to me. These days I see the beongs who choose to share my life as being connected to me, but also being their own individual entities.

    Angelforlorn: Heh–in that case, the hard part’s over 😉 But seriously, at this point I think your best bet is just to meditate with him more and talk to him. Some beings like to talk in riddles as a way to teach us things (or because they have a weird sense of humor!). I’d guess there’s probably something more to the “you already know my name” thing than a simple term. So I’d say keep talking to the dragon and see what else he has to say. It may be an exercise in frustration, but I bet you’ll learn something by the end.

  11. Waywind said,

    May 14, 2007 at 8:01 am

    Lupa,
    That’s pretty much how I felt about “Dancing with Dragons.” Considering that it was in a sense the first book of its kind, it should have been more original, instead of using so much reused information. Standard history of the dragon myths, standard Wicca. I’m sure it was to some extent necessary, since the reader would need to know about dragons and magic to do dragon magic, but it shouldn’t have been the whole.

    For an example of what I felt was missing from the book, and needed to be in there for it to feel complete and new: in “Dancing with Dragons,” I would have liked to see more personal anecdotes about Conway’s experiences with dragon spirits, which she really just glossed over. Perhaps that was just out of respect for their (or her own) privacy, which is reasonable and likely. However, personal anecdotes of that kind are what make non-fiction books on telepathic animal communication (such as “Straight from the horse’s mouth,” which is a comedian’s take on it) so interesting and enlightening to read, even if the reader is skeptical about whether the communications are wholly real.

    I didn’t like the system of sorting dragons by element rather than culture, either. That didn’t seem intuitive or logical at all, after reading Allen’s “The Book of the Dragon.” Then again, as they said in that book, any attempts to categorize dragons tend not to work well. In the practice of dragon magic, a person might be better off just learning about each dragon they meet as an individual because classification is so likely to fail.

    Silvaerin’a,
    the dragon chewing the roots of the world-tree Yggdrasil is named Niddhoggr, not Fafnir. That’s a different dragon. Fafnir is a wicked dragon from Norse mythology, yes, and not someone who you would want to call on as an ally, yes. The mythology is retold in Wagner’s opera “Ring of the Nibelung,” and Fafnir started out as a giant (or dwarf, in the original legend) but when he acquired some enchanted treasure by killing his own brother, he used its magic to transform himself into a dragon so that he could better defend his hoard. He was eventually slain by the hero Sigurd. In either case, he’s not someone who you would want to call on as an ally! I’ve heard people speculate that the Fafnir mentioned in “Dancing with Dragons” must be a different dragon who happens to have the same name, but it’s still more than we know about the other three dragons of the cardinal directions that Conway mentioned, since their names appear in her book alone and nowhere else that I’ve found. Those four cardinal-direction dragons are doubtless from Conway’s Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) as Lupa calls it.

  12. Eyes of Twilight said,

    May 14, 2007 at 11:08 am

    Definitely glad I’m not the only one with such sentients in regards to this book. Interesting review =)

  13. Rosie said,

    May 27, 2010 at 7:54 am

    This review tells me nothing. Well It tells me the book is not worth buying.
    I just want to know the history of dragons and their culture to better understand them. I also wanted to know their social standing.
    Please someone point me in the right direction or advise a book that will cater to my needs


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