Image: "Dryad & Dragon" by Josephine Wall
Fire-breathing, treasure-loving, glitter-scaled, mighty-winged...No creature has dominated lore and legend over the centuries quite like the mighty dragon.
The dragon is our mascot here at Dragonspace, and for us, dragons are symbols of luck and protection. We like to think that the dragons on our shelves are guarding the store’s treasures and bringing us good fortune. However, dragons aren’t seen as so benevolent in other tales, where they’re depicted as fearsome beasts to be conquered. This contrast in stories is part of what makes dragon mythology so fascinating.
So where did the legend of the dragon first originate? How do different cultures around the world see the dragon? And how can you harness the elemental power of dragons in your spiritual practice? Read on to find out:
The origins of the dragon
Stories of dragon-like creatures stretch as far back as Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. In Mesopotamian legends, these creatures often resembled serpents or animal hybrids, combining snake, mammal and bird features into a fearsome chimera. Ancient Egypt mythology gives us the legend of Apep - the giant serpent deity - and Ouroboros - the familiar icon of the dragon or snake eating its own tail, which would later become a symbol of alchemy. In these old Egyptian tales, dragon figures are revered rather than feared.
Scholars have long been intrigued as to how dragons have managed to pop up in so many different cultures around the globe. Some theorise that the origin of the dragon myth might come from an inherent human aversion to snakes, common the world over. Others have linked dragon mythology with the age of the dinosaurs, noting similarities between mythical dragons and the real-life prehistoric creatures who once roamed the earth. Whatever the theory, there's definitely something universal about dragon iconography.
The Chinese dragon
One of the most well-known depictions of the dragon is from Chinese culture. The dragon is a sacred symbol in Chinese spirituality, and is actually the highest ranking animal in the Chinese animal hierarchy. Far from being a wicked beast, the Chinese dragon symbolises power, strength and good luck. The Dragon is also one of the twelve Chinese zodiac signs, and people whose birthday fall under this sign are believed to be gifted with confidence, ambition and great intellect. In fact, in Ancient China, it was believed that the Emperors were actually descended from dragons, and successful people are still sometimes referred to as 'dragons' to this day. This reverence and respect for dragons in Chinese culture is a welcome contrast to the antagonism shown towards the great beasts in much of European legend.
Dragons in European and British mythology
Dragons appear in many well-known European myths and legends. Beowulf, Saint George and the Dragon, the tales of King Arthur…these stories are iconic, and all feature dragons as enemies to be defeated. Dragons also pop up in Eastern European mythology, from the Polish Wawel dragon to the Russian Zmey Gorynych. In many of these stories, men are made heroes by slaying the dragon and saving the innocent from the clutches of the wicked beasts. In this way, dragons came to symbolise evil, greedy forces that threaten civilised society.
This legend has carried on into more modern tales, such as the wicked Smaug in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. However, in more recent times, we’ve seen the fearsome dragon shown in a more complex light in Western popular culture. George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones series depicts the traditionally fearsome dragon as more of a ‘weapon’, only as wicked as whichever side has control over it. While J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books take a more zoological approach, presenting dragons as a variety of species with different temperaments, some more pleasant than others. Dragons still continue to fascinate the masses, and it's good to see representations shifting. To read more about dragons in popular culture, see our previous blog post here - Puff, Smaug and Other Famous Dragons.
So...do dragons really exist? Almost. There are a few interesting creatures in the real-life animal kingdom that have eerie similarities to the mythical dragons of legend. There are several types of lizards referred to as ‘dragons’, such as the ‘bearded dragon’ common in Australia and the more intimidating ‘Komodo dragon’ found in Indonesia. In fact, Komodo dragons have a venomous bite, which is similar to breathing fire!
There is also a type of gliding lizard referred to as a ‘flying dragon’, as it has the capability of gliding flight thanks to ‘wings’ created by a membrane around its rib and hind limb area. Another real dragon-like animal is the ‘dragon snake’, which gets its name from the raised ridges down the back of its body – similar to dragons of legend. Perhaps these real-life creatures are where the legend of the dragon came from? It all depends what you wish to believe.
It's evident that dragons possess a powerful energy. If you follow a spiritual practice that calls on the energy of magical creatures for strength and inspiration, you can use dragon energy to guide your practice. Dragons are actually a perfect balance of all four elements – water, fire, earth and air – making them a powerful figure in elemental magic and a way of aligning the elements in your life. Dragons can also be called upon when you’re seeking success and good fortune, or when you need a burst of confidence and determination to get through life’s challenges. Their similarities to snakes and serpents also make them a strong symbol of change and transformation - a shedding of skin to make way for new life and new opportunities. If understood and summoned correctly, dragon energy definitely can be a powerful force in your life.
This is just scratching the surface of dragon mythology, which spans from the seas to the heavens across millennia. While dragon mythology is complex and varied, one trait certainly dominates all stories – dragons are figures of great power. If you want a little more ‘dragon’ in your life, check out our range of dragon giftware below, from books to jewelry to home décor.