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Of all the folklore creatures, Dragons are by far my favourite.
They are depicted in folklore, mythology, legends and modern culture in diverse and interesting ways. Though there are a few key features that never change, there is so much room for them to grow.
There are two distinct types of Dragons: Eastern and Western. There are many important differences between the two. The biggest difference, besides their anatomy, is how they are viewed. In the East, Dragons are revered for their magic and beauty. In the West, Dragons are seen as monsters. For more insight into the cultural divide, read Dragons Across Cultures.
Dragons in Eastern Folklore and Mythology
(Click on image to enlarge.)
In China, the Dragon is a revered and important symbol.
Chinese dragons have serpentine bodies, four legs, and are usually without wings. They are said to be a composite of various other animals-the body of a snake, the antlers of a deer, the talons of an eagle, the soles of a tiger, the scales of a carp, and the eyes of a demon. It is said that Chinese dragons have 117 scales.
According to draconika.com there are nine types of Chinese Dragons:
- Lóng Wáng.
Go to the site for more fascinating facts about the different types of Eastern Dragons. You’ll stay there for hours…
Chinese dragons are legendary creatures in Chinese mythology and Chinese folklore. The dragons have many animal-like forms such as turtles, fish, and imaginary creatures, but they are most commonly depicted as snake-like with four legs. In yin and yang terminology, a dragon is yang and complements a yin fenghuang (“Chinese phoenix”).
Chinese dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers, particularly control over water, rainfall, typhoons, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people who are worthy of it. With this, the Emperor of China usually used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial power and strength.
In some circles, it is considered bad luck to depict a dragon facing downwards, as it is seen as disrespectful to place a dragon in such manner that it cannot ascend to the sky. Also, depictions of dragons in tattoos are prevalent as they are symbols of strength and power, especially criminal organisations where dragons hold a meaning all on their own. As such, it is believed that one must be fierce and strong enough, hence earning the right to wear the dragon on his skin, lest his luck be consumed by the dragons.
A lot more about this fascinating creature can be found on Wikipedia.
Dragons in Western Folklore and Mythology
In myths and legends of the world, dragons are often fire-breathing, reptile-like creatures with wings, huge claws, and a long tail. They are usually portrayed as frightening and destructive monsters. Gods and heroes must slay them in symbolic battles of good over evil.
In ancient times, dragons often represented evil, destruction, and death. The dragon Apophis in Egyptian mythology was the enemy of Ra, the sun god. Babylonian creation myths describe the dragonlike monster Tiamat, who was associated with chaos. Dragons also play a role in the Bible, where they are frequently identified with Satan.
Dragons appeared in various Greek and Roman myths. For example, Apollo * fought the dragon Python, which guarded the oracle at Delphi. In Greece and Rome, dragons were thought to understand the secrets of the earth. They had both protective and fearsome qualities. As a result, the dragon came to be used as a military symbol. Roman soldiers of the first century A . D . inscribed dragons on the standards that they carried into battle. The ancient Celts * also used the dragon symbol on their battle gear, and to this day a red dragon appears on the flag of Wales.
In the modern period, the European dragon is typically depicted as a large, fire-breathing, scaly, horned, lizard-like creature; the creature also has leathery, bat-like wings, four legs, and a long, muscular prehensile tail. Some depictions show dragons with feathered wings, crests, ear frills, fiery manes, ivory spikes running down its spine, and various exotic decorations.
In folktales, dragon’s blood often contains magical properties. For example, in the opera Siegfried, dragon’s blood allows Siegfried to understand the language of the Forest Bird. The typical dragon protects a cavern or castle filled with gold and treasure and is often associated with a great hero who tries to slay it.
Though a winged creature, the dragon is generally to be found in its underground lair, a cave that identifies it as an ancient creature of earth.
The most famous dragons in Norse and Germanic mythology are:
- Níðhöggr, who gnaws at the roots of Yggdrasil, the World tree;
- Jörmungandr, Miðgarðsormurinn (Icelandic), Midgårdsormen (Swedish and Danish), Midgardsormen (Norwegian), the giant sea serpent which surrounds Miðgarð, the world of mortal men;
- Fafnir, which had turned into a dragon because of his greed, and was killed by Sigurd;
- Lindworms, monstrous serpents of Germanic myth and lore, often interchangeable with dragons;
- Landvættur, the benevolent dragon with whom King Harald Bluetooth‘s servant met in Vopnafjörður according to Heimskringla, and also depicted on the Icelandic Coat of Arms;
- The dragon encountered by Beowulf.
The legend of Saint George and the dragon is well known in Italy, but other saints are also depicted fighting dragons. For instance, the first bishop of the city of Forlì, Saint Mercurialis, was said to have killed a dragon and saved Forlì, so he is often depicted killing a dragon. Likewise, the first patron saint of Venice, Saint Theodore of Tyro, was a dragon-slayer, and a statue representing his slaying of the dragon still tops one of the two columns in St. Mark’s square. St. Michael, the patron saint of paratroopers, is also frequently depicted slaying a dragon. Many dragons of the European Middle Ages were thought to be demonic or of evil status.
Dragons have a rich heritage in the mythology and symbolism of Western culture.
Western dragons have traditionally been a symbol of evil. A typical Western dragon can fly and breathe fire. Many legends describe dragons as greedy, keeping hordes of gold and other precious treasure. In myths and folklore, dragons were monsters to be conquered. As dragons may be seen to represent the dark side of humanity, including greed, lust, and violence, the conquest of a dragon represents the confrontation and extinguishment of those evil instincts.
Different Western Dragons are discussed on draconika.com. Be warned: you’ll stay there for hours…
Dragons have been popular as the subject of many a story. Here is draconika.com’s curated list of Dragon legends from around the globe.
- The Bride of the Lindorm King
- Childe Wynde
- The Cooper and the two Dragons
- The Cuelebre
- The Dragon Prince
- Eglė the Queen of Serpents
- The Gypsy and the Dragon
- The Legend of Krakus and Smok
- Maud and the Wyvern
- The Peasant and the Dragon
- A Stay at the Waters Kingdom
- St. George and the Dragon
- Tannin and the Prophet Daniel
- The Legend of Yofune-Nushi, a Japanese folk tale of danger, love, sacrifice, and adventure in the Oki Islands
- Yorimasa the Dragon-Slayer
Dragons of the World
The following are extracts from Dr. Ernest Drake’s DRAGONOLOGY. The complete book of Dragons. Edited by Dugald A. Steer, B.A. (Brist). S.A.S.D.
Dragons in Modern Culture
Western Dragons have four proper legs, a tail, wings, sharp claws and feet. (Aw, you know what they look like.)
In BBC’s Merlin the Great Dragon advises young Merlin on his destiny (to protect Arthur and make him a great king). The Great Dragon is also the last Dragon – Uther Pendragon (Arthur’s father) had hunted them to extinction.
In Universal Pictures’s Dragonheart a Dragon saves a prince by giving him part of his own heart. Of course, this prince turns out to be a monster. The knight who had trained the prince blamed the Dragon for this. So he set out to kill the Dragon. All Dragons are slain except for the one the knight is truly after. And then an unlikely friendship is born.
In DreamWorks’s Shrek the Dragon guards a princess in a castle and is portrayed as a horrible beast befitting the stereotype. Of course, this story being what it is, the Dragon is in fact really a gentle creature and joins Shrek and Donkey in saving the princess from an ill-matched marriage.
Eastern Dragons have long wormy bodies, short legs that are more feet and claws than legs, sharp teeth, and huge heads. (You know what they look like.)
In Nickelodeon’s Avatar – The Last Airbender, Dragons are the original firebenders. They were hunted for glory (and to extinction) by the Fire Nation. Though two Dragons have survived in secret – they taught Prince Zuko and Avatar Aang the truth of fire-bending.
In Dragon Ball Z [originally written by Akira Toriyama; produced by Fuji Television and Toei Animation], the Dragon can be called forth if all seven dragon balls are collected. The Dragon will then grant a wish.
In Warner Bros. Pictures’s The Hobbit [originally written by J.R.R. Tolkien] the Dragon is a nasty creature who lives up to the stereotype of Dragons being evil.
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” – G.K. Chesterton
Dragons are such magnificent creatures. One cannot help but want to write about them.
Dragons [From my page Origin of the Fae]
Not strictly Fae, they do belong to the same Realm.
Dragons are the most magical and wondrous of all the creatures found in any Realm.
They have four legs, large wings with thorns on the tips, huge head with horns and thorns, massive teeth – all sharp like a shark’s.
Each Dragon is the colour of a gemstone. Their eyes, though, are the same amber as the Cù Sìth’s.
Their blood, scales and even meat have powerful magical uses. Though it is an atrocity to kill a Dragon for any reason.
All Dragons collect different things that they keep in their hoard. Some collect glassware, others stained glass windows, even shoes are collected. The Dragon of Caledonian Forest collects books.
Dragons know things – the past, the present and the future. If they deem someone worthy, they will share their knowledge. At a price; usually an addition to their collection.
Inferno, the fourth story in Tales of the Onyx Labyrinth, was prompted by a competition on Wattpad about “a dragon and your problem”.
– I got the idea for how dragons are in this story from this pic I used during the #AtoZChallenge post for Nymphs.
“Actions that predate living memory had started to affect the Onyx Labyrinth. Alright, the Commander of the Guardians and the Healer were the oldest Fae there – and they’re only thirty-five. Still, the Dragon Court was stretching; testing the strength of the other Courts before the fifty years of peace would finally be over.” – Inferno, Tales of the Onyx Labyrinth, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I love Dragons so much, I could write a whole book on the subject. 😉
I hope you enjoy reading the fourth tale in the series. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. Which kind of Dragon is your favourite: the four-legged Western kind or the Eastern worm kind? Do you use Dragons in your writing? Do you like to read stories with Dragons in it?