The Secret Life of Dragons
Here There be Dragons
In the world of fabulous creatures, the dragon is unique. No other beastie has appeared in such a rich variety of forms nor in so many places. Are they mythical, allegorical, or did they really exist?
Dragons appear in the traditions of many different cultures, possibly the oldest critters in the mythological menagerie..
Often portrayed as the first creature to roam the universe just after the Creation, the dragon is the frontier between our world and beyond!
In Europe, dragons are traditionally portrayed as ferocious brutes representing the evils fought by human beings, but in Asia, they are generally friendly creatures who ensure good luck and wealth.
Meet a dragon in Europe and end up scorched
Meet a dragon in Asia and go home with a gift!
Are Dragons a Force of Nature?
Or something else?
Ancient dragons, diverse in form and behaviour, appear from Western Europe across China and over the opposite side of the globe to America.
Did dragons once represent a frightening forces of nature?
Or are they real living beings, hiding still in deep wilderness or places where people can not, or dare not, venture.
Are Dragons an Extinct Species?
A real creature, not mythical
Or perhaps dragons weren't mythical or symbolic at all. Are dragons an extinct species? These mystical creatures can sometimes be found today in watery haunts of the Southern hemisphere.
The Celtic Saints were especially skilled at banishing and destroying water monsters and dragons, and perhaps the imagery is symbolic of the early struggle between Christianity and the older religions.
The best known water monster is the one banished by Columba in the great lake at Ness in 565 CE.
There is definitely something uncanny about Loch Ness, and it's been suggested that the area is a 'window area' for strange phenomena. What does this mean? Dragon lines, ley lines, ancient gods, aliens? Your guess is as good as mine.
Are Dragons really Comets? - It's an interesting suggestion
Kukulkan along northern stairway of El Castillo, Chichen Itza
Dragons were depicted as serpents with a head and a long body, and with wings to fly through the sky. Likewise, comets have a head and a long body and appear to fly through the sky.
The Feathered Serpent
The chief Mayan god was Kukulkan meaning "feathered serpent" and a feathered serpent is a perfect description of a comet. El Castillo in Chichen Itza served as a temple to Kukulkan. During the spring and autumn equinoxes the shadow cast by the angle of the sun and edges of the nine steps of the pyramid combined with the northern stairway and the stone serpent head carvings create the illusion of a massive serpent descending the pyramid.
In Aztec mythology the feathered serpent was Quetzalcoatl, the inventor of the calendar and of books, the protector of goldsmiths and other craftsmen. Quetzalcoatl was also identified with the planet Venus and, as the morning and evening star, he was the symbol of death and resurrection.
As recently as the 17th century, scholars believed dragons were real, writing in scientific detail of their anatomy and natural history
Middle Eastern Dragons
The Dragons of Babylon and Egypt
In Babylonian mythology, there was neither land nor living things, there were only two elements call Apsu and Tiamat.
Apsu was male, the spirit of fresh water and the void in which the world existed.
Tiamat was female, and a dragon, the spirit of salt water and of primeval chaos.
In Egypt there was a constant battle between the serpent dragon, Apep and the sun god Ra.
Each day, as Ra travels along the Nile with an escort of other gods, Apep attempts to obstruct the passage of the solar barge but is normally defeated and killed by Set. (Apep momentarily triumphs during an eclipse).
The Sumerian legends are filled with the dragon, Kur, committing some great wrong against the gods and one of the deities appearing to vanquish him.
The Western Dragon - The most familiar Dragon
The typical Western dragon is a large, scaly creature resembling a dinosaur or a large lizard, living in a cave in wild remote mountains, or hidden away in the deep forests guarding a cache of gold and devouring fair maidens.
This dragon is often little more than a tool, a minor accessory whose main function is to set off the bravery of a gallant knight. The dragon-slayer acquires honour, fame and wealth from the dragon's hoard. He then marries the king's daughter.
Who is slaying this dragon?
I'm sure everyone knows the story of George, a Roman soldier based in Syria in about the year 300.
George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox churches and many are the tales are told of him.
One of these tales involves a dragon.
This image of St George and the Dragon by Gustave Moreau is common enough but the man on the horse slaying a beastie was originally Bellerophon.
Bellerophon was the sometime hero who hunted down the Chimera. You can meet him in The Real Story of Pegasus, the Winged Horse. Was the Chimera a Dragon?
Dragons of Britain
Dragons are common in British legend, we see them most noticeably with St George and in King Arthur.
Arthur's father was Uther Pendragon literally "chief dragon", the prophecy of the young Merlin to Vortigern involved dragons and both Tristan and Lancelot are dragon slayers.
Viking raiders in dragon- headed ships spread the story of Nithhogr, the reptilian creature gnawing at the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. They knew how the Midgard serpent lay in the waters that circled the world, biting his own tail.
Celtic dragons are also associated with water and many are pictured as sea serpents with their tails in their mouths.
Y Ddraig Goch
The Welsh Dragon
The Red Dragon appears on the national flag of Wales (the flag itself is also called "Y Ddraig Goch").
The oldest recorded use of the dragon to symbolise Wales is from the Historia Brittonum, written around 820, but it is popularly supposed to have been the battle standard of King Arthur and other ancient Celtic leaders.
In Welsh mythology, after a long battle which is witnessed by a puzzled King Vortigern, a red dragon defeats a white dragon.
Merlin explains to Vortigern that the red dragon symbolises the Welsh, and the white dragon symbolises the Saxons - thus foretelling the ultimate defeat of the English by the Welsh.
The Eastern Dragon
You have to count the Dragon's claws
But there's no mistaking the Oriental dragon.
They rarely breathe fire, they call forth great floods instead. They tend to be wise and benevolent, but must be treated with respect as an Eastern dragon has one flaw, his immense vanity. He can cause dreadful natural disasters when offended.
To identify the origin of an Oriental dragon, look at its claws
If it has five claws per foot it probably comes from China. Three claws means Japan, and four claws means Korea.
Chinese legends tells us that dragons originated in China and lost toes as they spread further afield. That's why didn't migrate too far as they would have no toes left.
On the other hand, the Japanese tell us that dragons originated in Japan and grew toes as they travelled. If they travelled too far then they would end up with too many toes!
A Dragon in Australia?
Is the Bunyip a dragon?
In Australia the Bunyip lurked in rivers, lakes, swamps, and billabongs - former parts of rivers left behind when the course was altered.
Bunyips were malevolent towards human beings and caused nocturnal terror by uttering horrible roaring cries and jumping out of water holes to devour unwary animals and people.
In the Dreamtime these water creatures were involved in the great deluge. Some hunters caught and imprisoned a small bunyip, making its mother so angry she flooded the land until it covered everything. Those who managed to escape were turned into black swans.
Dragons of Hawaii - Two Dragons still guard Hawaii
Hawaii Dragon Boat Festival
Dragons are among the ghost-gods of the ancient Hawaiians. Known as mo-o and kupuas, they lived in pools or lakes and could appear as animals or human beings according to their wish. (Kupuas have a strange double body, say the Hawaiians).
Their ancestor was Mo-o inanea, The Self-reliant Dragon, and she figures prominently in the Hawaiian legends.
There were many dragons around Hawaii, like the two who lived in the Wailuku River near Hilo. They were called "the moving boards" and made a bridge across the river. Sometimes they accepted offerings and permitted a safe passage, and sometimes they tipped the passengers into the water and drowned them.
Two dragon-women still guard the precipice at the end of Nuuanu Valley above Honolulu today.
Dragons of Aoteora
The Taniwha is still in New Zealand
In the ocean and inland waters of New Zealand, hiding in deep pools, rivers, lakes and dark caves, is the mysterious Taniwha.
Although supernatural, in the Maori world view they are part of the natural environment. Taniwha have been described as fabulous monsters living in deep water and often referred to as dragons - many taniwha looked like reptiles, had wings and ate people.
Long relegated to the realms of folklore, these dragons have appeared in recent years as environmental guardians of sites threatened by bulldozer-oriented development.
In 2002, 550km north east of Wellington, a new highway was stopped by a taniwha who objected to the massive roadworks. Freak accidents and unfortunate deaths plagued the scheme until, on advice from the local Ngati Naho people, Transit New Zealand moved the route to higher ground.
Dragons can be seen today in old traditions and idiomatic phrases. In English we overcome our fears by 'Slaying the Dragon' and the Chinese speak of 'Love of Dragons,' which means professed love of what one really fears.
A Chinese fable tells us why.
A certain Lord Ye loved dragons deeply. He had dragons everywhere and he was thinking about dragons all the time. His love of dragons moved a real dragon, so the dragon came to visit him one day. When Ye saw the real dragon, he was literally frightened to death.
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Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten
What do you think? Were there once Dragons?
Did Dragons once exist?