There are few creatures as magnificent and foreboding as the dragon. From culture to culture, dragons have helped or plagued mankind. And though dragon folklore is thousands of years old, the popularity of the dragon lives on in our modern-day culture through movies and books.
We sit mesmerized as we watch dragons like Eragon or Draco (from Dragonheart) on the big screen. What is this fascination with these giant winged beasts?
In the Orient, dragons are considered good luck. Beautiful, serpent like creatures, the oriental dragon is considered a celestial being and has a fondness for jewels (especially jade, one of the most popular stones of the Orient). They normally don’t have wings. The dragons of Chinese folklore are much more friendly to humans than the dragons of Japanese folklore.
In Japanese folklore there is told a story of a dragon who had a fondness for eating people (mostly children). The goddess Benzaiten (who was the daughter of a dragon and a goddess of music and poetry) found the dragon and became his companion so he would stop eating humans. Shrines to Benzaiten are still found throughout the country.
It is also said that the imperial sword of the emperors of Japan came from the eight-headed dragon of Izumo, a dragon that terrorized the villagers and was finally slayed by the Japanese hero, Takehaya Susanowo, who found the enchanted sword inside the dragon’s tail.
Dragons of the west can appear as similar to the dragons of the east, though they nearly always have wings. They are predatory, and prefer to eat cattle, sheep or humans. Many legends tell of sacrificing young maidens to the dragons to insure the survival of the local villages.
Inside the brain of a dragon is the sacred alchemist’s stone, which had to be removed from the dragon while it was still alive (which could be a bit tricky, and probably accounts for the preciousness of these stones).
It was also said that dragons were responsible for both lunar and solar eclipses.
In celtic legends, the great red dragon was the symbol of the lineage of King Arthur Pendragon and to this day can be seen on the flag of Wales.
Dragons were also said to guard the sacred groves of the Greek deities Apollo, Juno and Diana.
With the onset of Christianity, dragons became associated with evil and the devil, and tales of heroes slaying dragons became very popular.
Symbolically dragons represent supernatural and spiritual power; the power of good and evil, dark and light. Where we may not see dragons in the wild places, we can certainly appreciate the power of the metaphorical dragon in the choices we make and the kindnesses we show.