After embroidering a series of Wheel of Time clothing samples, such as Rand’s cloak, and coat sleeves, red and black, I thought it would be fun to attempt the Dragon banner. The dragon being an important motif in Chinese decoration, this project fitted in with a study of Chinese embroidery that I’ve been making for a group exhibition.
We were given a good description of the banner when it was uncovered at the Eye of the World along with the Horn of Valere and a Seal:
A long, white banner spread out, lifting on the air. Rand could only stare. The whole thing seemed of a piece, neither woven, nor dyed, nor painted. A figure like a serpent, scaled in scarlet and gold, ran the entire length, but it had scaled legs, and feet with five long, golden claws on each, and a great head with a golden mane and eyes like the sun. The stirring of the banner made it seem to move, scales glittering like precious metals and gems, alive, and he almost thought he could hear it roar defiance.It is no accident that the Creator’s champion is the Dragon, since in Chinese thought the dragon had supernatural power and was king of the elements and lord of nature, bringing the rains and making the land fertile. The five-clawed dragon also came to symbolise the Chinese Emperor, and so had supreme temporal power too, and this is the dragon depicted on the Dragon Banner. In the Age of Legends, Lews Therin could summon the Nine Rods of Dominion, which were actual people, so he effectively had ultimate authority. Like the dragon of Chinese mythology he had power over the great forces of nature through his immense strength in the One Power - as strong as a channeller could be. The Dragon is one with the Land and his wounds, physical or mental, become the Land’s wounds. If he is blighted, so is the Land.
"What is it?" he said.
Moiraine answered slowly. "The banner of the Lord of the Morning when he led the forces of Light against the Shadow. The banner of Lews Therin Telamon. The banner of the Dragon."
- The Eye of the World, There is Neither Beginning Nor End
Jordan’s Dragon also encompasses the European symbolism of the dragon as a destructive force making it much more ambivalent: born to save the world and Heal the Land, the Dragon is also a great danger to it, and despite his best intentions, does as much evil as good. To reflect this I decided to embroider the dragon in materials and stitches common to both European and Chinese cultures – satin, back, couching and straight stitches in silks and gold thread. However, I sewed the dragon’s body in needlelace of single buttonhole stitches hand-made in situ to give a scaly effect. Lace is entirely a European development. Chinese embroiderers typically would have used spirals of gold thread to symbolise the dragon’s scales.
The dragon symbol on the banner is in serpentine side view. I decided it should represent both dragons, Rand and Lews Therin, and reflect the danger of the times with the world completely out of balance and the Seals on the Dark One’s prison breaking. The banner was last seen at Falme when Rand fought Ishamael in the clouds. So on my version of the banner the dragon rushes through the clouds roaring triumphant defiance and clasping a Seal. He has blue eyes, like Rand’s, and red eyebrows, since Rand has red hair. Lightning crackles along his body.
The Seal on the banner is out of shape. Is the Dragon crushing it in his grip or holding it together?
Lews Therin urged Rand to break the Seal Taim presented him:
Only four seals stood between humankind and the Dark One. Four, if the last was still whole. Only four, standing between humankind and the Last Battle. How well did they still hold, weakened as they were?and he barely resisted doing so.
Lews Therin's voice came up like thunder. Break it break them all must break them must must must break them all break them and strike must strike quickly must strike now break it break it break it....
Abruptly he heard the words he was muttering hoarsely. "Must break it now break them all break it break it break it." Abruptly he realized he had his hands over his head, holding the seal, ready to smash it to the white pavement.
- Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival
Cadsuane’s embroidery also focussed on the breaking of the Seals:
The major image on her piece of embroidery was finished, a man's hand clutching the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai. Cracks ran across the black-and-white disc, and there was no telling whether the hand was trying to hold it together or crush it. She knew what she intended, but time would tell what was truth.Now that we are nearly at the end of the series, it seems particularly timely to look at the Dragon Banner anew and remind ourselves too of the Seals, and I did so in the guise of this banner. The Heroes of the Horn must follow the Banner and the Dragon. Will the Seals be broken by Rand or the Dark One when they do so?
- The Path of Daggers, New Alliances