If you are reading this, then, like me, you are a bit ‘Dragon crazy.’
It doesn’t even matter what culture these spell-binding mythical creatures are birthed from. Some believe dragons are to be feared and destroyed, while others worship dragons and consider them an entity that will protect them. I personally neither fear nor worship dragons, I just simply love them.
Lóng is a Chinese dragon that is definitely the most popular of all cultures, at least it sure seems like it to me. Lóng is depicted as a long, snake-like creature with four legs, it has forever been a potent symbol of auspicious power in Chinese folklore and art. In most well-known Asian festivals this is the dragon that we are all familiar with.
For fantasy authors, such as myself, dragons open up an entirely new world for our writing. There are no limits to what they can do, or what they can look like. They can have wings, or no wings, one head, or multiple heads. They can shift into humans (such as Sárkány and Věri Şělen) or share a hybrid body with other animals (such as the Amaru, Hydra, and Teju Jagua).
As with each appearance, each dragon is commonly lord of an element, most unbeknownst to us as breathing fire. Others are known as sea or water dragons (such as the Japanese dragons, Ryu and Tatsu), earth dragons (such as the South American dragon, Ten-Ten Vilu), even volcanic (such as the Chinese dragon, Fucanglong), thunder (the Tibetan dragon, Druk) and lightning dragons (Draco electricae). Interestingly enough there is even such a thing as a rainbow dragon in the African culture, known as Aido-Wedo.
The vast range of folklore told is all so interesting. In Welsh mythology a long battle took place between a red dragon and a white dragon. The Welsh king, Vortigern, witnessed the red dragon’s victory over the white dragon. Merlin explained to king Vortigern that the red dragon symbolized the Welsh, while the white dragon symbolized the Saxons, thus foretelling the ultimate defeat of the English by the Welsh.
The dragon, Ddraig Goch, appears on the Welsh flag. Talk about an awesome story of how a symbol on a flag came to be!!
In European/American culture there is a terrifying tentacled dragon, known as Snallygaster, of Appalachian Maryland that is said to be a cycloptic beast that was a hunter of black slaves. Honestly, this myth is one of the more ‘disturbing’ to learn of. As a lover of these mythical creatures, even as scary as most people portray them, Snallygaster is one I can easily despise, because of the ‘racism’ behind what this dragon stands for.
Legend has it, in a time before China had any lakes or rivers, there were four sea dragons. These dragons loved the people and were sad to see mankind struggling to feed themselves due to a lack of rainfall for their crops. The dragons tried to convince the gods to bring rain to the earth and even tried spraying seawater over the crops themselves. However, the gods were not happy with their efforts and imprisoned the dragons within the mountains. The dragons eventually turned themselves into rivers that flowed from the mountains, back to the sea.
This story, in particular, gives me a huge ‘Spirited Away’ vibe. Haku is one of the dragons from anime that I love the most, and how Haku is a ‘river dragon’ is so amazing. This tale also shows just how keenly the Chinese culture believes that dragons are seen as protectors to mankind. Unlike the European culture that dominantly views dragons as terrifying beasts that should be killed.
One such tale is of a man known as Saint George. As a soldier and officer in the Roman army, he refused to denounce his faith and persecute fellow Christians, leading to his martyrdom in 303 AD.
The myth of Saint George slaying the dragon originated in stories of his valiance and bravery brought back by the Crusaders who learned of him during the middle ages.
Legend has it that George arrived upon a village where a dragon was terrorizing the local people. To appease the creature, they had begun to sacrifice a sheep per day to feed its hunger until they no longer had any sheep. The king then decreed that they must sacrifice the local children to keep the dragon at bay.
Each day, the sacrifice was chosen until the King’s daughter was selected. As she was being led to the dragon, George happened by. Horrified by what he discovered, he offered to slay the dragon. During his battle with the dragon, George noticed a vulnerable patch of skin under its arm and charged forward with his sword, slaying the beast.
I recently found out that my youngest niece and nephew are actually related to Saint George, according to the genealogy that my mother did on their mother’s side of the family. Their mom’s maiden name just so happens to be ‘Dragon’ (Lucky I know, lol) and my mom was able to date her ancestry back to Saint George. Rather he actually slew a dragon, that’s for you to decide. I’m certainly not opposed to the idea that the dragon could be referred to other cruel ‘demonic’ beings. In Christianity, Satan is often referred to as being a dragon.
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn. Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth.
This image Job gives of this creature sure makes me think of a dragon.
No matter the Culture, or even Religion, you are sure to hear plenty of interesting dragon tales surfacing. For those who aren’t able to actually envision these mythical entities, you can just turn on the TV and watch a WIDE number of movies that are dragon centered. DragonHeart has so many movies you can enjoy. Reign of Fire is a personal favorite of mine, the Hobbit has the treasure obsessed Smaug, The Lord of the Rings has Wyverns (similar to dragons, but still different). How to Train your Dragon is a great one for kids to enjoy, Toothless is such a fun-loving dragon. If you are into anime, like I am, Spirited Away. Or if you have a taste for darker shows, Game of Thrones, Drogon is a force to be reckoned with. I never followed the series faithfully, but my brother always shared the amazing dragon scenes with me. The details of the dragons in Game of Thrones are some of the best I have seen on the big screen.
I can go on and on, however, I must conclude with this.
If you don’t already love dragons as I do, I hope after reading this, and searching more in detail to the different cultured dragon legends and myths, you have found a new understanding, and maybe even fascination, for these magical beings.
Jamie Gandy, Author