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The History and Origin of Dragons: A Look at Different Cultures and Mythologies


Dragons are very popular among different mythologies and cultures. Wherever we go – Asia, South America or Africa – we always find ancient sources which refer to dragons. This reference still exists today in the form of films and books.

We do not exactly know what the origin of dragons is: but it is certain that some stories talk about them as positive beings which protect people, and other stories talk about them as negative beings which kill people and bring about fear and devastation. The thing is, dragons became sinister beings with the rise of Christianity: Christians referred to them as evil monsters. There is also a reference to them in the Bible, in the Book of Job where the dragon is identified with Satan.

The role of dragons

Some dragons also have parts similar to other animals: elephant or lion head or serpent-like tail. The body colour also varied from the range of brown to green and yellow. Another variant, the basilisk also appeared throughout history. The word dragon comes from the greek word draconian. It means “to watch”. Based on an explanation, dragons had to watch for treasure in mountains. Here is a contradiction though: if dragons are so strong and powerful creatures, why do they need money? This treasure rather has a symbolic meaning: those brave knights who enter the mountain and overcome the beast, get the treasure as an award for their bravery. You see, they gave a challenge to people: winning the fight against them was a privilege and these heroes were respected. Other creatures like trolls or elves had other roles but dragons were connected to combats.

Dragons in Europe and in Christian stories are definitely evil. They lurked around towns and their satanic plan was to attack people, bringing havoc and devastation. There are stories that Christianity took and converted into its own belief system. For instance, Saint George was a famous dragon slayer who once saved the town and a maiden from the beast. He used a cross to slay the dragon and people were rescued.

By the time, killing a dragon was not a big challenge anymore. Instead, dragons became beings that people can take advantage of: according to a legend, the teeth of a dragon could help to increase an army. The first person who tried this method was Cadmus, King of Thebes.

Not all dragons were the symbol of evil though. For example, the oriental dragon in China was the symbol of luck which brings good fortune. Emperors also used the symbol of the oriental dragons to express their power.

Theories on dragons

There is an interesting thing here. It seems that stories of dragons developed independently. Each continent developed its own mythology linked to dragons. It means that the base of dragons could not be rumours and tales but the same thing that people saw in different places on Earth. So what was this thing?

Dinosaur fossils which were interpreted as dragons? Extraterrestrial animals visiting Earth? Or were they real dragons?

One of the most convincing theories blames dinosaurs. Some physical evidence contributed to the spreading of such belief: huge bones were unearthed time by time, and people discovered remains of giant beings while they were all astonished. They may have thought that these remains belonged to such evil creatures as dragons. It is understandable because they did not know about dinosaurs. They needed some kind of explanation for these giant bones. The look and the habit of dragons also varied: some people believed that they had huge wings and they could fly. Others do not. Dragons could breathe fire, but others could not.

Some dragons lived in a cave, others lived in swampy areas. However, it is also possible that some types of dinosaurs still exist and people mistook them for dragons. Think about Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot or Mokele Mbembe. They might not be monsters but animals believed to be extinct millions of years ago. There is actually a documented case when people misinterpreted dinosaur fossils. Chang Qu was a Chinese historian who found dinosaur fossils in the 4th century BC. The fossils were found in Sichuan Province. If we take a look at some fossils like a stegosaurus, its armoured plates and spikes can easily be interpreted as body parts of a dragon.

Another animal that could have been the reason for dragon sightings is the Nile crocodile. People used to swim across the Mediterranean to reach Italy and Greece. Areas around the Nile and the coastline of North Africa are the habitat of this giant crocodile. Is it possible that this reptile is behind the scenes?

There are other possible explanations for dragons which blame other animals like the goanna which is a predatory lizard and lives in Australia. Goannas may produce venom and have deadly bites on its preys. Whales are also blamed for dragons. These animals leave enormous bones behind after they die. When people found them they could believed that it had belonged to a demonic animal.

Not all theories focus on animals though. According to anthropologist David E. Jones, dragons are the result of our fear of predators. Our ancestors stayed away from dangerous animals and this fear was programmed into our genes which appeared in folklore in the form of stories, presenting dragons as evil, cruel and fearsome animals just like the ones people were afraid of.

The origin of the fire

You could ask where the fire comes from. According to the belief, the dragon – Satan – comes from hell. Since this place is associated with fire, blowing fire became a trait. The dragon’s mouth was the mouth of hell, the entrance to this place. It was also depicted by several painters: Hieronymus Bosch was one of the painters who emphasized the connection between the dragon’s fire and hell. It was also a reference to dragons as being evil or satanic.

Do they exist today?

So do dragons exist? If they exist, we should have already taken photos of them, in the era of smart gadgets and satellites, shouldn’t we?

The statement that dragons do not exist today is not completely true. There is a certain type of dragon that does exist: sailors returning from Indonesia have reported a mysterious, reptile-like animal. It is no other than the Komodo dragon -which cannot blow fire though, it can be deadly and dangerous. There was also a belief that the Komodo dragon’s bite is lethal as it contains toxic bacteria but this belief was debunked in 2013: research showed that the mouth of the Komodo dragon is not dirtier than any other reptile. This animal might make up for real dragons.

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