Saturday 26 November 2011

Japanese Dragons and Lore - Urashima Taro

Japanese Dragons and Lore: Urashima Taro

Japanese dragons are huge, wingless serpentine creatures with tri-clawed feet. They are often depicted as water deities; beings associated with seas, rivers, and ponds or with storms and rainfall. Almost always the Japanese dragon myths amalgamate the native legends with imported dragon stories from China, Korea and even as far as India.

I shall endeavour the retelling of one of these folktales.

Urashima Taro

Once upon a time in a small village by the Sea there lived a good hearted young fisherman, named Urashima Taro, and his aged mother. Every morning at dawn he would follow the narrow path to the seashore, where he had moored his boat in a sheltered spot and return at dusk with the day’s catch. This day being no different, he was following the narrow goat trail down when he spotted a group of children mercilessly torturing a small turtle trapped in some reeds by the shore. Rushing to the spot, he wrenched the poor thing from the hands of the biggest bully just before he was about to subject the distressed creature to yet another cruel prank.

“Leave the poor thing along, shame on you all. How would you like it if someone did this to you? ” He berated the rowdy children who responded with curses, protesting his intrusion. Eventually they dispersed, grumbling under their breath and promising dire repercussions.

After losing the bullies Taro carried the turtle to his boat and set it down on a soft cloth. Once the brief examination ensured that the turtle was not grievously injured, he commenced rowing.

When he was bit further out from the shore he stopped at an ideal spot, picked up the turtle and, gently lowering his hand over the side of the boat, watched as the poor thing slowly slid off of his hand and dove into the safety of the sea. Smiling, Taro turned back to the business of fishing.

On the next day when he was once more out at sea a rather huge turtle stuck his head out of the ocean and addressed him in human speech. This remarkable turtle told him how the small turtle he’d saved was none other than the daughter of Ryujin, the Emperor of the Sea.

“His highness wishes to see you and to thank you in person. Are you willing?” the giant turtle asked Taro.

Taro was elated to learn that the little turtle had returned to the safety of her home. This seemed enough and he was about to decline, saying no thanks were necessary, when his curiosity got the better of him and he acquiesced.

“First, you need to get into the water.” The giant turtle directed, and Taro readily complied. Even though he was a very good swimmer, Taro hung onto the side of his boat with one hand for safety sake. “Close your eyes.” the giant turtle instructed him then, once Taro complied, the turtle began an incantation.

Opening his eyes, Taro was elated to find that he had been endowed with gills. Hanging on tight to the shell, he rode the giant turtle to the bottom of the ocean. Along the way the wonders he saw delighted his senses and immeasurably lifted his soul.

At the spectacular palace of the Ryugu-jo he was granted an audience with the Dragon King attended by all his courtiers. After the formalities he was properly introduced to the small turtle, who appeared in her true form as the beautiful Princess Otohime. So taken was Taro by the Princesses’ charm, poise and beauty that he agreed to stay for a few days as their honoured guest.

For three days he experienced such wondrous things, delectable foods, fruit, drinks, music, colours, and entertainment that he entirely forgot the human world above. Besides which, he reminded himself, there were enough reserves of dried fish, beans and rice , to last his mother until his return.

Being a conscientious boy however, his worry about the welfare of his mom soon soured all his experiences. Reluctantly he asked Princess Otohime’s permission to leave and return to his home in the village. Of course the Princess was saddened by this request; however she understood his desire and wished him well. As a parting gift she gave him a magic box called a tamtebako. He was told that the box will protect him from all harm but that he must never, under any circumstances, open it. Securing the box, Taro with tearful eyes bid the Princess farewell and climbed onto the same giant turtle to begin his swift ascent to the surface. He was carried up close to the shore and was able to swim the rest of the way to the beach.

A great shock awaited him when he finally arrived where his home had once been, for everything was completely different. The house had been reduced to rubble, and the little sapling he had once planted was now a huge tree. Making his way to the village which, in three days had grown into a sizeable town, hoping against hope, he inquired after his mother and his relatives. But no one had ever heard of her, nor did they recollect the other acquaintances he named. In his desperation, he asked dozens of people, if anyone had ever heard of a young man by the name of Urashima Taro. The response was always a baffled look and a resounding “No, no, no!”

Finally an investigation of the temple records revealed the existence of someone named Urashima Taro who had perished at sea 300 years ago. Dumbstruck, his head in a daze, he groped his way back to the seashore, collapsed on the sand and, covering his face, began to sob. As he watched the sun setting on the horizon, grief-stricken and dismayed, his hand chanced on the box. In his confused state, he withdrew it from his pocket and absentmindedly opened it. Almost immediately he began to grow old. His hair turned all white, his smooth skin began to wrinkle and sag and his back became bent. As he continued to decay, just before he felt his body turn to dust, the sweet, sad voice of the Princes reached his ears. “All is lost now; I warned you not to open the box. It held your old age.”

The End.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Dragons in Slavic Mythology

Dragons in Slavic Mythology

In Slavic mythology Dragons are either male or female. Often seen as siblings, they represent different forces of agriculture. In the Bulgarian mythologies the female dragon is always depicted as being hateful of mankind, locked into a perpetual battle with her male sibling. She represents water characteristics, adverse weather and is associated with destruction of crops. The male dragon on the other hand has a fiery nature and is depicted as being a caring, loving, shielding benefactor of men working to further their crops and their survival. In Bulgarian folklore both male and female dragons are depicted with three heads, snake bodies and have wings.

Dragons in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Serbian lore are all unvaryingly represented as being hostile. They are depicted with anywhere from one to seven or more heads, three and seven being the most favoured, and the heads always re-grow upon decapitation unless fire is used to cauterize the neck. Their Dragon blood is so poisonous that, when spilled, the Earth cannot absorb it. Always represented as being evil, these four legged, winged, fearsome monsters have few redeeming qualities. They mercilessly extract tribute from strained settlements by way of maidens, gold or food, all of which the poor inhabitants can ill afford.

Bulgarian Dragons

The Chuvash Dragons of Bulgaria reflect the myths of the Volga River before the Turkish dominance and differ from Turkic counterparts like the Zilant. The best known of the Chuvash Dragons is the Veri Selen [fire snake] which, like the Russian Gorynych, has multiple heads and flies through the air trailing fire. These dragons are said to hatch from the dead bodies of illegitimate children, killed by their mothers and discarded. At night the Veri Selen assumes human form and seeks revenge for their betrayal by seducing the men and impregnating the women.

Islamic influence on dragon myths can be seen in the account of the Bulgars who founded the town of Bilar. They discovered a big snake living nearby and resolved to kill it, but the snake begged them to leave it in peace and that night pleaded with Allah (God) to give her wings. Taking pity on her Allah granted her the gift of wings and she was able to fly away from this danger, never to be seen again.

Ibn Fadlan visited Bulgaria around the time of their conversion to Islam in the Tenth Century, and found numerous snakes in the area around the Volga, particularly in the trees. One huge tree, over a hundred feet high, had fallen and around the trunk a huge snake, as long as the tree was high, was coiled. The Bulgars allayed Ibn Fadlan’s apprehension, assuring him the snake was not dangerous. Another great snake, sometimes referred to as a Dragon, inhabited a pagan temple tower at Alabuga, and the legend of this particular reptile persisted after the Islamic period until the invasion of Tamarlane.

The Wawel Dragon

The Polish Wawel Dragon, according to lore, once lived in a cave on the Vistula River below Wavel Castle near the city of Krakow during the time of its founder, King Krakus. Every day the dragon would emerge from its cave to wreak havoc across the countryside, destroying farms and homes, killing the people it found and devouring their livestock. In many variations of the story the Wawel Dragon was particularly fond of eating young girls and could only be deterred from his destructive rampage if the townsfolk of Krakow left a young maiden outside his cave once every month. This situation continued as the King’s knights, testing their mettle against this terrible beast, one by one fell to the Dragon’s fiery breath, and eventually all the young girls of the town and the surrounding area were all sacrificed. All but one that is, and now came the turn of the beautiful daughter of King Krakus himself. He loved his daughter very much and in his desperation, he promised her hand in marriage to anyone, regardless of his station in life, who could defeat the Dragon and end this terrible carnage.

Coveting this legendary beauty, great warriors thronged to the capital from near and far to try their luck. Unfortunately the fierce Dragon destroyed all these fine knights as if they were but cattle herded to the slaughter. Finally, with all the challengers exhausted, there came the turn of a poor cobbler’s apprentice named Dratewka. The resourceful boy, undaunted by the jeers and mockery of his friends, set to work at once. He did not need to attain any fine armour or weaponry for he had his wits about him instead. He had only one night to complete the seemingly impossible task, so he quickly obtained raw sulphur and tar and concealed it in the carcass of a slaughtered lamb. He then carried it all the way up to the entrance of the dragon’s cave, left it just outside and quickly hid. Almost immediately after eating the bait the Dragon developed an unbearable thirst, so strong it was that it could not be assuaged by any amount of water. The Dragon drank and drank, swallowing almost half of the Vistula River, yet his thirst could not be quenched; meanwhile, his stomach swelled so much that suddenly, with a thunderous sound, he exploded.

The king and all the townsfolk were overjoyed and Dratewka became their most beloved hero there and then. The sovereign, honouring his word, blessed the marriage of Dratewka to his beautiful daughter and they all lived happily ever after.

A charming Play about the Wawel Dragon:

See this on YouTube at:

Sunday 13 November 2011

Dragon Lore- The Dragon's Pearl

Dragon Lore- the Dragon’s Pearl

Once upon a time in Shu province a widowed woman and her only son lived in a thatched hut by the banks of the Min River. Now they were very poor and since the mother was old and ailing the young boy from an early age was burdened with the responsibility of providing for them both. As he loved his mother very much, he worked very hard from dawn to dusk trying his best to obtain a reasonable livelihood by cutting and selling grass. Many a night he stayed awake worrying that this may not be enough to sustain them; should an unforeseen calamity strike it would surely mean certain ruin.

Then came a time when his worse fears were realized. That summer a severe drought depleted their already scant reserves and he was forced to venture farther inland each morning in search of better grass. Even this expanded effort had proved fruitless as what he harvested was not even worth taking to market. Unrelenting, he ventured ever higher into the mountain, following paths never before trod by human feet. Once more he’d scavenged most of the morning and afternoon and being disappointed, with stooped shoulders he resolved to head home when suddenly, over a small rise, he spotted a meadow of verdant grass. In disbelief he rubbed his eyes and looked on anew. It still was there. With baited breath he ran towards it. True enough, the thick luxuriant grass, flourishing on a fertile earth was ripe for the picking. Halting for a spell he breathed in the fragrance of this lush green treasure. Oh, how gently they swayed, combed by the gentle breeze.

“What am I waiting for?” He quickly put an end to his daydream and a moment later began cutting and bundling the grass. He worked well into the afternoon and it was only when the rays of the sun began to dim that he reluctantly shouldered his heavy burden and made his journey home. Not before making a mental note of the topography of the exact location however, so as to claim the remainder on the morrow.

In the drought stricken land the proceeds from the sale of the lush grass were far more than the weekly pay and that evening mother and son were able to indulge for the first time ever in a more bountiful feast that included fish, poultry and varied vegetables alongside a superior brand of rice.

The subsequent day the boy retraced his steps joyfully expecting to find the remainder of the patch. However, to his great amazement, the meadow was once more fully overgrown with verdant grass. He did not stop to wonder why but set to work at once with boundless energy and enthusiasm and this time harvested the entire field. As he loaded up the last of his bundle and headed home he consoled himself by resolving to scour the area more carefully on next occasion. There had to be a comparable field waiting to be found somewhere adjacent to this one.

You can imagine his delight the next day in finding the same patch re-grown so fully and perfectly he could swear it had never been touched at all. “The field is enchanted; there is no need to look elsewhere!”

Once more he set to work, this time fearlessly harvesting all the grass once more and returning home with his heavy burden. This he repeated day after day as their circumstances became more comfortable, then luxuriant and secure. They now lived happily. However, there was only one hitch; the long, arduous, sometimes hazardous, trek had begun to wear the boy down. Consulting with his mother on this matter the alternative suddenly presented itself. If the patch was enchanted it could perhaps deliver the same abundance if it was planted elsewhere, preferably at closer proximity.

With this in mind, he made the journey the following morning, and instead of harvesting it he dug up each segment of the turf, roots, soil and all and tied them into rolls. Midway through this toil he spotted a most magnificent, luminescent pearl resting in a tangle of root and soil as he rolled up the clod of turf. “Hah, what a pretty find. Mom will like this. ” He stopped long enough to put it in his pocket then continued on with his work, not giving it another thought.

Wrestling this heavier burden down the mountain he replanted it at closer proximity to his home. And it wasn’t until all the patches were laid down next to their cabin that he realized his fatigue and hunger. He quickly got washed up and entered the home to sit at the table already laden with food and satiate his hunger. Stomach quickly filled he leaned back for a reprieve before they cleared the dishes. Then his hand, roaming in his pocket, happened to touch the pearl. Elatedly he presented it at once to his mother. Even with her failing sight she could tell its brilliance and value, especially when it lit up the dim room with a warm glow. Fearing losing it, his mother decided to store it in the unused old rice jar that she kept as a memento from the lean years. It still contained those few grains of rice they had left before their stroke of luck, just enough of them to cover the pearl.

Following day at the crack of dawn the boy jumped out of bed and wolfed down some bread and cheese then, careful not to wake his sleeping mom, dashed outside to begin his harvest. What greeted him however, wrenched his heart. There was no lush grass, just a dried withered bald patch with a few dried brown stalks poking up from the dust. “I’ve ruined everything.” His eyes brimming with tears he turned towards the house to relay this terrible news to his mom. Just then a scream from the house hastened his steps.

“What is it mama?” He shouted the moment he entered the premise.

“Look,” She pointed at the old rice jar, “See it for yourself.”

Indeed, the moment he lifted the lid, a miracle that greeted his eyes: the jar was full of fresh white, fragrant rice and, on top, the large pearl glowed warmly.

Mother and son exchanged a knowing look. Later when the son told his mom of his failure with the patch, it became crystal clear that the pearl was the true source of magic. In order to be absolutely sure however, they now placed the the pearl in the money box that contained only few coins, then carefully hid it under the bed.

The following morning, even before breakfasting the son was asked to retrieve it, as it was too heavy and cumbersome for her to fetch. True enough, it did feel heavier. It came as no surprise to both when, after the lid was lifted, the bounty of cash was discovered, the pearl perched on top.

This being proof positive they knew how to proceed from then on. They used the magic pearl sparingly and wisely, reciprocating the kindness of neighbours that had once aided them in their time of need. Knowing what it is’s like to be poor their unstinting kindness extended to those others, even strangers that happened to be caught in dire straits. Despite all the goodwill, the mother and son’s apparent improved fortunes, in time drew unwarranted attention, curiosity and some envy from their neighbours in their small village.

The secret could no longer be contained. Through coercion and trickery the source of their wealth was eventually discovered. The word spread like wildfire and soon after a mob of villagers, some friendly, a few not so friendly, gathered by the house demanding in a loud uproar to see this phantom pearl for themselves. Goaded to prove that the reasons for their recent prosperity did not involve thievery, the boy foolishly fetched the pearl then held it up for all to see. The glow at first mesmerized all the onlookers but, far from being assuaged, the crowd grew restless and resentful.

Why should they be the sole possessors of such a gift from the Heavens? Everyone wanted a turn at possessing it. Each coveted it; and some demanded immediate ownership of the pearl for more righteous, personal reasons. Tempers flared and faces became distorted with loathing, greed and revulsion. The tumult grew increasingly uglier and the situation more volatile.

Fearing the impending assault on himself, on his mother, or the theft of the pearl, the boy impetuously popped the pearl into his mouth to keep it safe. In that pandemonium, however, the boy was shoved to and fro and, giving in to reflex, the pearl dropped through his oesophagus. All at once he was overwhelmed with the sensation of being scorched from inside the stomach; an unbearable, searing fire consumed his innards.

“Water! Water!” Screaming, he dashed to the well at the side of the house and, as fast as he could haul the buckets out, consuming the water until the well ran dry. Still burning up, he ran in a frenzy to throw his body down to the bank to the river and began to lap it up. He drank and drank, but nothing could assuage the all-consuming sensation of burning. The stunned villagers watched in horrified amazement as the once mighty river Min was diminished to a trickle, then that too disappeared. As the last drop flowed down the boy’s throat, a huge crack of thunder tore up the sky. The Earth trembled as countless forks of lightning flashed across the sky heralding the eruption of a violent storm and a deluge of rain that threatened to drown them all.

“Now you’ve done it! Heaven is angered. Flee, flee for your lives!” The shouts scattered most of the crowds. Others, with wobbling legs, fell on their knees and covered their heads and faces in terror. Amidst curses and lamentations they bewailed their ill fate in wavering voices.

Meanwhile the boy had begun to tremble uncontrollably as he grew and grew. His desperate mother, forgetting her own terror, hung on to his legs with all her strength, but he was beyond help. Horns sprouted on his forehead and his eyes grew wider and larger their red glow emitting tendrils of fire. His skin was also altered gradually but surely into scales. Now at mammoth size, his dismayed mother watched in sad resignation, as her beloved son transformed into a Dragon. Too late she remembered the legend of every water dragon possessing a treasured magic pearl, and only then grasped that the pearl had originally belonged to the dragon guarding this river.

The deluge meanwhile had filled the river once more and her darling boy, now a dragon, started to glide towards it. With courage only a mother has she clung onto his scaly foot but, with a gentle pull, he freed himself. He slithered towards the torrent as his very motion threw up mud-banks along the sides of the river. Love is a powerful bond and so, each time that she cried out to him, the dragon did turn his mammoth body to briefly gaze her. After an angst-ridden roar however, he slid beneath the torrent of the river Min. To this day the mud banks on the river Min are referred to as the “Looking Back at Mother” banks, in memory of the boy who’d swallowed the pearl and transformed into a mighty River Dragon. True to the boy’s generous nature, the Dragon of the River fed and nourished the crops of the villages along his banks from that day on, and there has never again been such a taxing drought in that province.

The End

Monday 7 November 2011

Dragons In Greek Mythology

Dragon Facts- Dragons in Greek Mythology

The very first mention of a “dragon” in Ancient Greece is derived from the classic Iliad where Agamemnon is described as having a blue dragon motif on his sword belt and a three-headed dragon emblem on his breast plate. Keep in mind however, that the Greek word used in this context could also mean a “snake.”

The English word Dragon is derived from Greek word “Drakon”, meaning dragon, and serpent of huge size or water –snake. Greek word Drakon also carried the meaning in context of, “To see” or “the one with the deadly glance.”

In “The Life of Apollonius of Tyana” (217 A.D. Flavius Philostratus ) the translation in part states: “In most respects the tusks resemble the largest swine’s, but they are slighter in build and twisted, and have a point as unbranded as sharks’ teeth.”

Now in the Greek legends of the Phoenician prince Cadmus and Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece the dragon’s teeth plays an important role. The most memorable moment in the movie version of this fable (Jason and the Argonauts 1963) is when the dragon’s teeth, thrown on the ground, convert into formidable fully armed seemingly invincible skeletal warriors. The audiences, including me were paralyzed with fear, for how can you kill that which is not made of flesh? Jason and his group eventually overcame with the aid of Medea, who provided them with the means to resist fire and steel.

Here’s a synopsis of this story:

Pelias , a king of Iolcus in Greek mythology was the son of Tyro and Poseidon. Now Tyro was married to Cretheus and had three sons by him: Aeson, Pheres and Amythaon. Unfortunately she loved not her husband but Enipeus, a river god who had refused her advances. Poseidon, who had lusted after Tyro, one day, disguised himself as Enipeus and the product of their union was Pelias and Neleus, the twin boys. One version states that Tyro left her sons to die, through exposure, but they were found by a herdsman and raised as his own. When they reached adulthood, Pelias and Neleus found Tyro and killed their stepmother, Sidero, for having mistreated her. At one point trying to escape her pursuers, Sidero had hid in a temple to Hera, but Pelias uncovered her and brought about her demise, incurring in the process Hera’s eternal wrath. Pelias was rather ambitious (power-hungry) and wished to gain dominion over all of Thessaly. To reach his goal, he had to dispose of his would be rivals. So he banished Neleus and Pheres and locked up Aeson in the Iolcus’s dangeouns. While there Aeson married and had several children, go figure, the most famous of them being Jason. Wishing to protect Jason from Pelias, she smuggled him out and Jason was trusted to the care of Chiron the centaur, on Mount Pelium. There he was well looked after and educated. Meanwhile Pelias still fearful of being overthrown, during a consultation of an oracle, was warned to be wary of a man wearing one sandal.

Some years later, Pelias was holding the Olympics and according to custom, was offering a sacrifice by the sea in honour of Poseidon. Jason, who was among the countless summoned to take part in the sacrifice, in his haste to reach Iolcus, lost one of his sandals in the flooded river Anaurus. (Hera had disguised herself as an old woman, whom Jason helped across the river, during which he came to lose his sandal.) Now when Jason entered Iolcus , he was announced as a man wearing one sandal. Asked by the king what he would do if he was confronted with the man that would be his downfall, Jason responded that he would send the man in a quest to retrieve Golden Fleece. Pelias agreeing with this sent Jason on the same quest. Now this was a seemingly impossible task, for the Golden Fleece hung on an oak tree, at Colchis, in a grove, sacred to Ares, the God of War, and further, was guarded by a fierce dragon.

A sturdy ship called The Argo was constructed to hold fifty men. These fifty men that joined Jason on this impossible quest were called the Argonauts. Reaching their destination, Jason requested the Golden Fleece from the king of Colchis, Aeetus. His majesty demanded that Jason first yoke a pair of fire-breathing bulls to a plough and sow the dragon’s mouth shut. No one has ever been successful at this prior. But the king’s daughter Medea, smitten with Jason, and possessing magical powers, aided Jason in this impossible task. She cast a potent spell to put the dragon to sleep, enabling Jason to retrieve Golden Fleece from the oak tree. Jason, Medea and the Argonauts were soon on their return journey to Thessaly.

During Jason’s absence meanwhile, Pelias disposed of Aeson and Promachus. One version is that Pelisas believing that Argo had sunk related this to Aeson and Promachus, causing them to commit suicide by drinking poison. More likely however, they were both murdered by Pelias.

When Jason, Medea and the Argonauts returned, Pelias , going back on his word, adamantly refused to relinquish the throne to Jason. Medea using her powers and trickery had Pelias’s own daughters the Peliades, murder their father. You see, Medea had told them prior to this that she could turn and old ram into young ram by cutting up the old ram and boiling it. During the demonstration, a live, young ram, proving this point had jumped out of the pot. The girls therefore were coerced to cut their father into pieces and throw them into the pot, in the same expectation that he would re-emerge young and rejuvenated. Pelias, who had been a willing participant, did not survive the ordeal however. Being an accessory to this crime, Jason was denied a kinship. Pelias’son Acastus reclaimed the throne and drove Jason and Medea to Corinth.


In the story, Cadmus (who’s supposed to be the spreader of literacy and civilization) had supposedly killed the sacred dragon that guarded the spring of Ares. The goddess Athena instructed him to sow the teeth, from which sprang a group of formidable warriors called the “Spartoi”. When it was time to get away, he threw precious jewel into the midst of the warriors, they coveting the gem and wanting the stone for themselves, turned on each other, providing the hero and the five survivors to escape and found the city of Thebes.

The classical legends of Cadmus and Jason have later still, on more serious note, have given rise to the phrase "to sow dragon's teeth." This metaphor is used in reference to – an action that would fuel disputes, or foster unintended dire consequences.

Sunday 6 November 2011

European Dragons- An Introduction

European Dragons - General introduction

Dragons in European mythology and folklore are almost always portrayed as being malevolent (with some exceptions such as The Red Dragon of Wales).

Photo by Geordie Michael

They are depicted as serpentine or reptilian, hatching from eggs and usually possessing scaled or feathered bodies. Dragons can have any number of legs: none, two, four or more. Often they have a hard, armoured hide and possess wings; though they rarely fly. They are endowed with large eyes adept at diligently watching treasures. Some myths portray them with row of dorsal spines. They live in underground lairs or inaccessible caves.

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

The word dragon entered the English language in the early 13 the century (the usage lasted till 18th Century) from Old French dragon, which in turn comes from Latin draconem (nominative draco) meaning “huge serpent”.

You may wonder what it was that inspired dragon myths in the first place? Here are some possible explanations:

It could be that the whole mythology of European dragons stemmed from a cult of snakes; as folklore and mythological accounts of dragons often shared similar traits with huge snakes inhabiting nearby rivers or the sea. Also the Nile crocodiles in ancient times enjoyed a much larger range, with some even able to swim across the Mediterranean Sea, they could have been spotted in the southern parts of Europe. These supposed wayward crocodiles could have easily been the budding source for dragon myths.

Another possibility could be that many tales about dragons, monsters and giant heroes might have been spun from the accidental discoveries of the skeletons of whales, as well as dinosaur or mammalian fossils that could very well have been mistaken for the bones of dragons and other mythological creatures. Case in point: A discovery in 300 B.C. in Wucheng, Sichuan, China, was labelled as such by Chang Qu.

In Australia, stories of such creatures may have referred to land crocodiles, Quinkana, a terrestrial crocodile which grew to 5 to 7 metres long. Today the Komodo monitor lizard Varanus Komodoensis, is known in English as the Komodo Dragon.

Anthropologist David E. Jones, in his book entitled An Instinct for Dragons explored the hypothesis that humans have inherited instinctive reactions of fear when it comes to large cats, birds of prey and most certainly, slithering snakes. Dragons have the same characteristics that are combinations of all three. This would account for similar features been attributed to dragons appearing in various cultures throughout the world. The influence of drugs used in many religious ceremonies may also have vastly contributed to the fantastic, exaggerated imagery.

In any case, in various cultures around the word, Dragons often held major spiritual significance.

Incidences of a monstrous serpent opponent always overcome by a heroic deity had its roots in the mythology of the Ancient Near East, including Canaanite (Hebrew, Ugaritic), Hittite and Mesopotamian. The Chaoskampf motif entered Greek mythology and ultimately Christian mythology, although the serpent motif may already be part of prehistoric Indo-European mythology as well, based on comparative evidence of Indic and Germanic material. Presumably the accounts of spitting cobras may have evolved into the myths of fire-breathing dragons. In the New Testament, the Devil, in his battle against Archangel Michael, takes the form of a red dragon with seven heads and ten horns.

In modern times Dragon images have evolved to depict a huge fire-breathing lizard or snake with two pairs of lizard-type legs or a huge, scaly, horned dinosaur-like creature with leathery or bat-type wings growing from its back, four legs and a long muscular tail. Sometimes they have feathered wings, crests, fiery manes, with ivory spikes running down their spine and various exotic colorations.

A dragon like creature with no front legs is known as a wyvern. This is after the discovery of pterosaurs that walked on the ground. Some Dragons have been portrayed since, without front legs and using the wings as front legs Pterosaur-like when on the ground.

More recently depictions of dragons have been a bit kinder, perhaps a result of the heightened interest in dinosaurs. Who doesn’t like dinosaurs? Their cousin the Dragons, benefiting from this popularity, now are depicted as the guardians and friends of humans, with evil dragons (for we must have them also) as a misunderstood anomaly. They are now represented as intelligent creatures who can talk and possesses (or be under the spell of) potent magic. A dragon’s blood also has magical properties, for example in the opera Siegfried dragon’s blood let Siegfried understand the language of the Forest Bird. In most fables the dragon inhabits a cavern or a castle filled with gold and treasure. The dragon is often associated with a great hero who at first tries to slay him, is eventually won over and quickly develops into reciprocal bond, with the hero often seeking help or receiving advice from the Dragon.

Though they are grouped together under the dragon label, many cultures have varying descriptions and stories about them. Bad dragons still persists in some fables. These ones not only breathe fire but they can also be poisonous, such as the one depicted in Beowulf.

Beowulf, the oldest extant heroic poem in English literature, is usually credited as being the first one to explore the concept of a dragon slayer; though in fact the legend of the dragon slayer had already existed in Norse and Icelandic sagas, such as the tale of Sigurd and Fafnir. The poet of Beowulf would have had access to similar stories from Scandinavian oral tradition. The dragon fight occurring at the end of the poem, symbolizes Beowulf’s stand against evil and destruction, and as the hero, he knows that failure will bring destruction to his people after many years of peace.

J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit has expanded on Beowulf’s dragon, clearly demonstrating the lasting impact of Beowulf poem. There is a slight variation however. The dragon fight ends Beowulf, whereas in The Hobbit Tolkien uses the same dragon motif (namely the dragon’s love for treasure), to trigger a chain of events that form the narrative of the book.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

The Eastern Dragon

The Eastern Dragon

The Eastern dragon is not the gruesome monster of European medieval imaginings. He is in fact, the very embodiment of goodness: nobility, veracity, kindness, strength, change and life itself. He wields the power of transformation, and the gift of rendering himself visible or invisible at will. He lies hidden in the deepest caverns of the most remote mountains, or lays coiled in the abysmal depths of the vast oceans. There he waits for spring when he ascends to the towering, lofty clouds to wash his golden mane in the brewing turbulence of the impending storms. HIs thundering voice is heard far and wide in the wake of rising winds that scatter debris and thrash the branches of trees newly laden with leaves. His claws are in the forks of lightening and after a good downpour his scales glisten on the myriad surfaces of the land. Thus, by the moisture that is spring, he heralds the awakening and the return of nature’s energies.

Then in the autumnal equinox he once more returns to the mountain caverns or the depths of the ocean and there he lays hidden to re-emerge once more in spring. That is why the dragon is seen as a symbol of renewal and spring.

Brief History:

In the In 200 A.D., the Shuo Wen dictionary had stated that among the 369 species of scaly reptiles, such as fishes, snakes and lizards, the dragon is considered the ruler. It could be that Chinese dragon is merely a modified form of the alligator that to the present day is infrequently spotted in the Yangtze River. The emergence of alligators from hibernation coincides with the arrival of spring, when the dragons are supposed to be exerting their influence. This fact however has not been verified.

Another possibility is that lamas and Chinese Buddhists could have incorporated the dragon (whose body seems to be distinctly serpentine, head made up of parts of various other animals, teeth of a mammalian carnivore, legs and claws those of a bird) with the mythical serpents of Indian myth.

In various parts of Northern China, fossil remains of Stegodon, Mastodon, Elephants etc., have been occasionally unearthed fostering this belief. The discovered bones are oftentimes identified as “Dragon’s bones” and the fossil ivory is called “Dragon’s Teeth”.

There are believed to be three major Eastern dragons:

· Lung, which is the most powerful and inhabits the sky.

· Li, which is hornless and lives in the ocean

· Chiao, which is scaly and resides in marshes and makes its den in the mountains.

Of the three, Lung is the only authentic species and is described as such:

It has nine resemblances: It has the head of camel, the horns of a deer, eyes of a rabbit, ears of a cow, neck of snake, belly of a frog, scales of a carp, claws of a hawk and palm of a tiger.

There is a ridge of scales along its back, eighty-one in number. The scales on the head are disposed like the ridges in a chain of mountains and those on the throat lie towards the head. It has whiskers on each side of its mouth and a beard under its chin. When a bright pearl is placed hanging under its chin, he becomes unable to hear; which is also the reason why deaf persons are sometimes called lung.

It is said that the dragon’s voice is like the jingling of copper pans; and when a breath emerges from the mouth, it resembles a cloud, sometimes changing into water or fire.

To the ancients water-spouts were thought to be a living dragon, and swelling waves were enchanted by the dragon that is said to possess the power of raising great waves to injure men and boats.

The round red object which seems to be the constant appurtenance of the dragon is variously described as the sun, the moon, the symbol of rolling thunder, the emblem of the dual influences of nature and the pearl of potentiality (the loss of which betokens deficient power). The Chinese imperial coat of arms from the Han to the Ch’ing dynasty consisted of a pair of dragons fighting for a pearl.

There is some interesting lore about this pearl:

A Minister of State-Chi Liang, Marquis of Sui- when he was visiting abroad, took a stroll one day and happened to come upon a wounded snake. Taking pity, he at once administered some medicine to the wounded creature and so saved its life. Some years later when he was again abroad, strolling in the evening he chanced on the same snake. This time the snake was holding a brilliant pearl in its mouth. When he accosted it, the snake is said to have addressed him: “I am the son of His Majesty the Dragon and, while recreating myself, I was wounded. I’m indebted to you sir, for the preservation of my life and hence brought this pearl in recompense for your kindness. “

The Minister accepted the pearl and presented it to his Sovereign, who placed it in the Palace hall where by its influence the night became as day

The End.