If You Are a Dragon… Stand Up!

I rarely post anything like this. However, I have the feeling this may bring comfort to readers feeling “too different” in a world that not only seems to aspire to conformity, but also dictate (often impossible) standards. That is a social virus that’s borne of — and spawns — deep self-hatred. It can strip us of our innate sense of faith, power and goodness.

In this world, we have so much in common. Focusing on the differences — in ways that divide rather than bond us — is so very sad.

If you are a monster, stand up.
….If you have been broken, stand up.
If you have been broken, abandoned, alone
If you have been starving, a creature of bone
If you live in a tower, a dungeon, a throne
If you weep for wanting, to be held, to be known,
Come stand by me.
.
If you are a savage, stand up.
If you are a witch, a dark queen, a black knight,
If you are a mummer, a pixie, a sprite,
If you are a pirate, a tomcat, a wright,
If you swear by the moon and you fight the hard fight,
Come stand by me.
.
If you are a devil, stand up.
If you are a villain, a madman, a beast,
If you are a strowler, a prowler, a priest,
If you are a dragon come sit at our feast,
For we all have stripes, and we all have horns,
We all have scales, tails, manes, claws and thorns
And here in the dark is where new worlds are born.
Come stand by me.
Catherynne Valente (author)

It’s time to revel in what makes us each as unique and beautiful as snowflakes. It’s time to find other outliers — those who will (perhaps quietly, at first) build and share our dreams. Dreams that inspire us to live better, happier, and more connected lives.

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
Arthur O’Shaughnessy (poet)

Believe - fog and castle in background

image modified from and courtesy of GraphicStock.com

A brief history of dragons

The history of dragons is not an easy subject. Frankly, dragons appear in earliest recorded history. Nobody ever thought about where they came from, just as few people research where frogs come from. They just are.

However, there are few current stories about dragons, unless you include the Loch Ness Monster. Today, many people think that dragons are just legends and fairy tales. Until the early 20th century, people took dragons very seriously.

The earliest written tale of dragons may be the Sumerian/Babylonian/Mesopotamian creation legend, Enuma Elish, in which Mummu-Tiamat is sometimes represented as a dragon/goddess of the ocean or waters.

This story corresponds to the Bible account in Genesis 1:12 (NRSV) which mentions “sea monsters.” Dragons appear throughout the Bible, first as literal beasts in the Old Testament, and then as symbols of evil forces in the New Testament.

Dragons are mentioned steadily throughout written history, through the 20th century. In AD 67, Roman historian Octavus Livy described a battle that he had witnessed, involving a “leviathan” or dragon. Pliny the Elder mentioned dragons in his histories, too.

In the Dark Ages, generally prior to the 12th century, a dragon tormented Drachenfels, Germany and another was seen at Isle St. Marguerite in France. The latter dragon reportedly killed over 3000 people. He may be the same dragon as Drac, who lived in a cave near Beaucaire, France on the Rhone River.

The leading tale claims that St. Patrick banished both snakes and dragons from Ireland. However, in the 11th century, Tristan reportedly killed a dragon to win the hand of Isolde in marriage, perhaps for his uncle Mark. During that same time, yet another dragon terrorized Kiev, Russia.

In 1222, two years after Henry III’s coronation, dragons were seen over London, England. At the time, the dragons were blamed for ravaging thunderstorms and the flooding which resulted. That is the same year that St. George’s Day became a National Holiday in England, named for the famous dragonslayer.

(Although St. George probably lived in the third and fourth centuries, his dragon tales were popularized far later, in 14th century England. According to a leading legend, he killed a dragon in Pagan Libya, and the entire town immediately converted to Christianity.)

We can find many dragons as we casually browse history:

  • Two dragons fought near Canterbury, England, with many witnesses in 1449.
  • A dragon was killed on Vatican Hill in Rome in 1669.
  • In 1942, the German U-boat Reichland reported a dragon-like sea serpent.
  • These accounts continue, far more than could be catalogued here. However, these tales follow one after another in steady succession, many with credible witnesses.

    The most recent dragon lore may be the 1966 story of a British military unit practicing survival techniques in the Atlantic Ocean. According to this story–which may be urban legend–paratrooper John Ridgeway saw a huge, dragon-like sea serpent rise about him from the ocean.

    However, this account may borrow from a more documented story from the VietNam war, involving an exchange between a soldier named Ridgeway and a helicopter called “Dragon.”

    Regardless of the accuracy of individual dragon stories, the preponderance of evidence is surprising and almost overwhelming.

    In the face of so much history, the bigger question is: Why don’t we believe in dragons today?

    Learn more about dragons at our next article, Kinds of dragons

    Dragon trivia

    The study of dragons is an immense subject, and could easily fill an encyclopedia. However, in the course of my research, I collected several bits of trivia which may interest dragon enthusiasts:

    For example, dragons provide significant words to our language, and tales to our folklore.

    Dragon terminology

    A female dragon is a dragoness, a word used since the early 17th century.

    A small or young dragon is a dragonet.

    Anything pertaining to a dragon is dracontine.

    Garguiyle was originally the name of an 8th century dragon in Rouen, France who was killed by St. Romanus. The word gargoyle comes from the name of this dragon.At least one dragon was killed by a woman, Tarasque, the dragon of Isle. St. Marguerite. This dragon was conquered by St. Martha.

    A dragon’s environment

    There are few natural enemies of dragons. Some are the stork, stag, and ichneumon. The latter is a relative of the mongoose, which is known to destroy crocodile eggs in Egypt. According to legend, dragons are terrified of the ichneumon and will cover themselves in mud and try to close their nostrils to avoid attack by the weasel-like animal.

    Flora and fauna

    In zoology, draco describes an animal’s characteristic of wing-like membranes on its flanks.

    Other sciences

    In alchemy, caput dragonis, or the “dragon’s head” is the term for the poisonous breath of the winged dragon.

    As late as the 16th century, draconite stone was believed to come from the head of a dragon.

    Draco, which is the Latin word for dragon, is also the name of a famous constellation, best seen in July. About 4000 years ago, Thuban, the fourth star from the end of the tail, used to be our North Star.

    More dragon lore

    There are many astronomy terms which relate the moon to dragons. Likewise, in Western and Oriental lore, dragons are supposed to participate in eclipses.

    In mythology, Cadmus planted dragon’s teeth and from the ground, armed warriors sprouted.

    Kinds of dragons

    When we say dragon, we usually have one idea in mind: We think of a huge green scaled creature, usually with wings. In most cases, he breathes fire. That’s a fine definition for most dragons.

    Oh, there are differences. For example, Western dragons tend to be evil, whereas Oriental dragons are usually related with good fortune. Dragons also vary in appearance.

    Winged dragons

    At one extreme, the cockatrice, sometimes called a basilisk, has the feet of a cock. A wyvern has the feet of an eagle. They all have wings and usually a barbed tail. The head of this cockatrice is like a cock, but a wyvern may have a more lizardlike head. On top of his head, he may have a rooster-like comb, a crown, or a coronet-type decoration.

    The poet, Shelley, refers to “the green and golden basilisk.” This dragon often breathes fire, and his glance can kill.

    In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, he refers to “The death-darting eye of Cockatrice.” This is the classic dragon of heraldry, and is often called a heraldic dragon.

    Snake-like dragons

    At the other extreme, there is the amphiptere, which used to be a term for a massive, snakelike creature with no legs and — in some traditions — no wings.

    As recently as the late 17th century, these were discovered in England. There has been speculation that the amphiptere is actually a reticulated python which, in India, can reach a length of 30 feet.

    But, as popular terminology changes, “amphiptere” now seems to include snake-like creatures with wings. And sometimes legs. But that blurs the distinctions, so I like to look at the roots of each category.

    The main difference that remains is: amphipteres seem to be more snake-like.

    Between these two extremes, there are many varieties of dragons.

    Even more dragons

    Drakes have legs and breathe fire (or snow/ice), but most of them don’t have wings.

    A lindworm, lindworm snake, or lindwyrm has a head like a large snake or lizard, and often has no legs. He’s just a huge, snakelike creature. Sometimes he has wings, sometimes he doesn’t. Generally, the lindworm is considered an amphiptere.

    Likewise, the Irish peist dragon is often described as a huge snake. In the Irish language, the word peist means worm, monster, or sometimes reptile.

    There are dragons who fit neither category, and seem quite unrelated. One of these is the chimera, which comes from the Latin, chimaera, meaning she-goat or monster. The chimera is fire-breathing, with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail.

    Sea-dwellers

    The earliest references to dragons suggest that the live in or near the water. In the Bible, in Psalms 74:13, “Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength; thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.” Similarly, in Isaiah 27:1, the Bible refers to “the dragon that is in the sea.”

    New Testament references to dragons are almost always figurative, not literal.

    Today, the Irish peist or ollipeist lives in the sea, where St. Patrick confined this dragon while banishing the snakes from Ireland. As one peist fled to the sea, he cut a path through the landscape which is now the Shannon Valley. In general, the peist–often associated with Co. Clare–is generally regarded as a sort of watchdog for some of the fae.

    There has been speculation that the Loch Ness Monster is actually a water-dwelling dragon.

    Sea serpents may be dragons, too. We don’t have enough information to be certain.

    Land dragons

    Many dragons live on or under the land. In the Arthurian legends of Merlin, we learn about two dragons, one red and one white, which live in a hill where Vortigern attempts to build a castle.

    In England, several hills are famous because dragons used to curl around them as they slept.

    In Oriental lore, many dragons live in caves or under hills, as well as on land. However, there are also dragons who live in wells and waterways, and some that begin as a fish and later become dragons on land.

    The Jabberwocky story suggests that the Sockburn Worm started life as a small worm in a nearby fishing area. However, in later years he traveled on land, terrorizing the area.

    So some dragons live in both the water and on land at different times during their lives. We can’t use habitat as a clearly defining characteristic.

    However, it’s safe to guess that water-dwelling dragons are more likely to be the snake variety, without legs.

    Learn more about the history of dragons
    (and 20th century sightings) in our article,
    A brief history of dragons