Sally McLaren Jungian Analyst and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist
Horsham, West Sussex

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St. Leonard and the Dragon

Have you seen the notice board at Roosthole car park as you enter St Leonard’s Forest? It is just along the road from my house and it reads as follows………

‘Imagine……………….a bloodthirsty dragon rampaging through the Forest.

Legend has it that a French hermit lived here in the 18th century. It is from him – St. Leonard – that the Forest takes its name.

St. Leonard famously fought and killed a dragon in the Forest. But, injured during the long battle, it is said God made white lilies spring from the ground where the Saint’s blood fell. At Lily Beds there is a wild colony of white lily of the valley – could this be where the giant serpent was slain?

As St. Leonard’s reward for freeing local people from the terrible dragon, snakes were banished from the Forest and nightingales, which had disturbed his prayers, were silenced.’

I have a great interest in the life and work of Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung and I think he would have liked this story. Jung saw myths and legends as containing the distilled unconscious wisdom of ancient cultures; he saw the symbols that they provide as holding the potential to activate new possibilities for the individual and, as a consequence, for the wider community or the ‘collective’.

Jung undertook an intense period of self-exploration and self-experimentation in mid-life which he describes variously as a confrontation with the unconscious and as a search for soul. He recorded the dreams, visions and fantasies which arose during this period of introspection; he describes his ‘active’ engagement with this stream of images and his conversations with the figures he met on this ‘imaginal’ journey.

Perhaps this is the kind of inner journey being described metaphorically in this local legend of the hermit’s withdrawal into the forest to pray and his encounter with the dragon.

Jung’s record and elaboration of his experiences is contained in his large and impressive Red Book. This was only recently brought into the public domain and translated into English. It contains not only the written word in medieval calligraphic style but also Jung’s beautiful, colourful and symbolic paintings. The dragon/serpent features in a number of these paintings.

So stop and read that notice board at Roosthole car park as you enter the Forest and……

‘Imagine……………….a bloodthirsty dragon rampaging through the Forest…………’


Jung, C.G. (2009). The Red Book. London: W.W. Norton & Company.

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