What with The Game of Thrones on HBO, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and a near endless seeming number of other movies, TV shows, computer games, ad infinitum, dragons are stuck in our popular cultural mind.
Dragons, of course, never existed. There were never any big, scaly lizardy, wingity, fire breathing, gold hoarding, flying snakes with legs, eating stray maidens, or killing the unwary hero.
You can speculate things like, say, Europeans, for example, would find the occasional Nile crocodile had swum across the Mediterranean and cruised into a port in southern Italy, and declared that croc to be a dragon. Nile crocodiles have done that, rarely, but really. Europeans, though, have been traveling to Africa since ancient times and certainly knew what a crocodile was. And it wasn’t a dragon.
Our word dragon comes from the Greek word drakon, which meant serpent, snake, usually a really big one. Most ancient cultures have big snakes in their mythology, sometimes they have legs, sometimes they have wings, lots of times they have more than one head. The Indo-european ones have heroes killing them and getting a prize, usually a fair maiden. Thor killed the Midgard serpent. Hercules killed the Hydra. Indra killed Vritra. Zeus killed Typhon. Jason killed the dragon of Colchis and got the Golden Fleece.
Chinese dragons are a bit different. They fly but have no wings. More importantly, they are wise and beneficent. They associate with the wise and holy, and protect those who are worthy of their aid, bringing them wisdom and good fortune.
So, killing, or otherwise dominating, a western dragon wins you good things. Becoming friends with a Chinese dragon also brings good things.
So, what is a dragon/serpent supposed to mean, mythologically speaking?
Well, myths, like dragons, can be multi-headed beasts. The head I’m going with, for now, is the one that dragons are a symbol for the mind.
The western hero fights for control over the hydra headed mess that is the mind of most of us. Get that dragon under control, and things go better for you. The eastern wise man, also a hero, makes friends with his mind and then that dragon willingly helps him.
Rather than dragging this dragon on forever, I’ll stop here and drag my ass away from my computer.
First shared on the Squatcher’s Lounge Podcast:
For the reading impaired, an audio version of this quasi theory may be found here: