I live about a half-hour’s drive from the city of Alton, Illinois. On the nearby bluffs, overlooking the Mississippi River is an ancient petroglyph created by American Indians. This ancient artwork depicts a bloodthirsty dragon-type creature. The Beast’s gaze is quite threatening-looking. I have driven by this fearsome creature many times.
This ancient dragon is called the “Piasa Bird” (pronounced Pie-a-saw). The first European explorers on the scene believed that this artwork was too advanced to be the work of “savages” since it required challenging engineering know-how to produce its intricate design 50 feet up the side of a sheer cliff.
What does the Piasa Bird have to do with the 18th century theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg? This winged beast is said to have lived before white men came into the area and prehistoric mastodons still roamed the land. Swedenborg claimed that prehistoric humans possessed a universal symbolic language that formed the basis of their knowledge and spiritual culture. He wrote volumes of works explaining how to decode this universal symbolism.
As someone who has studied Swedenborg for over 35 years, I tend to apply his insights whenever I come across ancient artwork—like the Piasa Bird— to see if it holds up. Better yet, the Piasa Bird comes with a spectacular legend. And even though there are various versions of the story, certain symbols stand out as verifying Swedenborg’s claim that this symbolic language was given to humans all over the globe many thousands of years ago—from God!
So allow me to interpret the legend of the Piasa Bird from a purely psycho-spiritual interpretation of its fanciful elements.
Dragons represent an accumulation of false thinking from evil principles—those opposed to God’s principles (which can take on a large and frightening form). This is evidenced by the fact that the Piasa Bird came out of the “western” sky. Ancient worshippers turned to the east (and the rising sun) to worship God—the origin of good and truth. The “west” represents the opposite—the source of falsity and hatred. This same universal symbolism explains the following ancient passage in God’s Holy Word:
They shall fear the name of Jehovah from the west, and His glory from the east (Isaiah 59:19).
This symbolic interpretation is given further credibility by the fact that the Piasa Bird flew above the “Father of the great waters.” Spiritually speaking, “flying” means an elevated point of view. In this case a monstrous creature flying over the “Father” of such waters (the progenitor of truth) represents a worldview that puts itself above God’s sacred knowledge.
Some have interpreted the word “Piasa” to mean “devourer of men” or “bird of evil.” Evil and its derivative false assumptions can definitely consume the hearts and minds of mortal men—leading to their spiritual deaths. So the Piasa Bird represented an attack by evil and falsity upon the Indian tribe (congregation) and the quality of the spiritual attributes of their hearts and minds.
A “chief” represents the central love of God’s (the Great Spirit’s) message and teachings. In this legend the Indian chief Outoga asks the help of the Great Spirit to defeat the Dragon. The chief receives the divine answer (spiritual strategy to combat evil) in a dream (foresight and divine revelation).
The plan requires the chief to use himself to lure in the Piasa Dragon. Evil and falsity will naturally attack its central opposition. Six warriors shooting six arrows at the Beast signifies the succession of steps in spiritual combat by which goodness and truth take aim at evil and falsity. Arrows represent spiritual principles sharpened to the point by which they have the power to penetrate and persuade. That the special arrows used by the Indian warriors were said to be poisoned, simply augments the spiritual concept that God’s truth (or Great Spirit’s) is like poison to the forces of evil—no matter how formidable.
So deep psychological and spiritual messages were contained in such ancient methods of storytelling.
We know that God’s Holy Word came to us from remote times. Swedenborg claimed all its stories, both Historical and Prophetical, contain similar symbolic meanings hidden within their literal sense.
The Lord God is currently reintroducing this sacred language to the world.