Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dragons and Magical Serpents - A few things you probably didn't know

Article by Ty Hulse

This article considers dragons to be any magical serpent, as this is the simplest and may be the only real
means of classifying them (See the Definition of Dragon) though it does lead to many concerns...

1-In Japan as well as a few other places the land was often originally owned by serpents which had to be defeated in order for people to farm or hunt on it. These serpents would later become the deities of the region, helping and protecting people, thus a defeated dragon could go from feral to domesticated. In Japan these serpents were often water spirits which could appear as beautiful women or handsome men when pacified, with their serpent form often seeming to be the form they took when they were angry. There were also serpents which had horns that would chase people away who were trying to make new farms int he wilderness. If anyone looked back at these serpents while they were being chased they would loose the ability to have children.

Among the Oroqen the serpent that controlled the land and prevented people from hunting on it had iron scales.

2-There were fire breathing dragons in the tales of Asia and water dragons in the tales of Europe. Each of these regions just had more stories about one type of dragon or another and we in the modern day have focused more on one type of dragon or another. In Japan the deity of the wind Susanoo killed two fire breathing dragons to protect a village, while in Europe the storm gods would at times kill water dragons which caused floods.

3-Dragons may be some of the first deities which is why they are deities in places as far flung as South America, Asia, and Europe.

It's even conceivable that the tales of the Loch Ness monster come from original stories about a water dragon. Indeed water dragons were some of the most important spirits throughout Eurasia, and Europe and Asia had these attested to these beings as being good and bad in legend. In Japanese lore water serpents were the more vicious and cruel form of duelistic water kami, (Japanese deities had many souls and so took different forms depending on their mood). Thus water dragons in early Japan were both sacred but murderous. Given that many of these represented the deities of early people's this may indicate something about the earliest worship in Japan. In modern Japan a serpent which is worshiped in one of the few remaining pre-modern sacred dances is made from woven straw, the spirit of which would possess one of the dancers and through them divine the future of the village.

4- Dragons often wanted human servants and slaves with picking lice of of their hair one of the things they most wanted humans to do for them. Princesses and other girls were commonly kidnapped to perform this task. In the Grimm Brother's tale "The Devil and the Soldiers" a dragon offers to save three soldiers if they agree to work for him for a number of years.

Interestingly enough the dragon in this story lives in the forest with an old woman much like the spirit lords of the forest do, meaning that as in Asia some European dragons might have at one time might have been the spirit lords of a place.

5-Those who slay dragons rarely ever get the girl. They are often the girls brother, a friend, or in one Russian tale a peasant rescues the Princess but realizes that he can't marry her because he's a peasant and she's a princess so he arranges for her to marry a Prince. In the German tale of "The Four Skillful Brothers" four brothers rescue a princess but unable to decide who should marry her they ultimately agree that none of them should have that right. Instead they each take a massive reward and a small section of the kingdom for their very own.

6-Dragons in Japan lost all their power if they became dry and so couldn't transform from snakes back into dragons. At times Tengu would snatch them up and dry them by flying them through the air really fast, then cram them in little holes so the dragon couldn't escape and would eventually starve to death.

7-Asian dragons also often sought human help. In one Japanese tale a dragon lord of a lake's children are being killed by a giant centipede and it needs a human archer to save him. (Centipedes were polluted beings and such polluted unclean things made many Japanese gods weaker, draining them of their power).

The daughter of the dragon kami of the sea was being attacked by some bullies while she was in the form of a sea turtle when a kind boy saved her.

8-Sometimes people became dragons as part of a curse, much like werewolves change from human to wolf form. In one fairy tale a princess is turned into a serpent by her jealous wicked step mother.

Of course the challenge about making too many assumptions about dragons is that there clearly are a lot of different types of them, but hopefully mentioning a few of these has helped to inspire you, or at least been an interesting read. 

Raven's Shire is dedicated to helping writers and artists learn about the strange world of fairy tales, so if you have any questions or need any help understanding the fairy realm, please contact us.


timbateson said...

I actually found this a very interesting read, from an historical point of view. It shows similarities in the mythologies from around the world, as well as the differences.
One thing I noticed that you didn't cover is the winged/non-winged separation between eastern and western mythologies. In the west non-winged dragons are usually referred to as Wyrms, while most eastern dragons are winged, and the term Wyrm is never used.

Nukiuk said...

I agree, the winged vs none-winged separation is very interesting. It was really the connections and differences in folklore across Eurasia that got me interested in the subject in the first place (I studied Cross-Cultural Psychology in School). I also find it interesting that in Europe many dragons and animals are really people trapped in that form by curse or choice, while in Asia dragons and animals take the form of people more often than people take animal form.