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In Search of Dragons: The History Behind the Mythology


Dragons are often featured in mythology and fairytales. Hercules went to battle with them in Greece. Medieval virgin maidens were offered to them to appease their anger. They leveled entire villages with one fiery breath. They were obviously not your typical harmless reptile. There is nothing cuddly or endearing about a dragon. Still there is something about this creature that we humans continue to find intriguing.
Many assume that dragons were nothing but myth; that they never really existed. But are these unusual creatures really just a figment of our imaginations or do they have real roots in reality?

One issue that critics use to discount the existence of dragons is that no two of them seem to be alike. Different parts of the world and different cultures have very different types of dragons attached to them.

However, not everything about these various creatures truly is different. While they weren't always be the same in size, shape, or color, most agree that they had scaly skin, wings reminiscent of a bat, and long sharp, eagle like talons.

According to those who claim to have seen a dragon they also possessed the tail of a serpent. Still others insist that they had magical powers like telekinesis shift shaping and invisibility or close ties to the elements of earth, wind, water, and of course fire.

There is huge disagreement about the temperament of dragons. Some insist they were a force for good, while others considered them undeniably evil. The debate on that subject remains pretty much a "toss up" overall.

The dragon with which most of us are familiar was huge in size; anywhere from about thirty to one hundred feet in length. They, of course, had the typical thick, scaly skin attributed to all dragons. They could fly but also had the capability of walking on all fours when it suited them to do so. They had large heads supported by long necks. Their teeth were long and sharp; making them capable of gutting an animal in a matter of seconds.

A handful of these so-called western dragons, however, didn't have the power of flight or to breathe fire. They were carnivorous in nature and would attack small animals, sheep, and cattle at will. They also ate fish when the urge suited them.

Dragons were an intricate part of Medieval Times. The stories of knights off to slay the dragon and rescue their lady fair were numerous. Others simply hunted dragons for sport. Still others, however, claimed that dragons often hid treasures of gold and jewels in their caves. Many a man went to his death in pursuit of that treasure.

In contrast, the dragons of the Orient are quite different from their counterparts. While they too are large in size, but their bodies were longer and more snake-like than their western cousins. Some had wings, but not all of of them did. They came in many different colors from an emerald green to a bright red, much like the multi-hues of earth itself. Their heads were large and often sported horns.

Eastern dragons fell into three categories; those with two, four, and five toes; representing different areas of the Orient. Japan is the home of the three-toed dragon while their five-toed brothers lived in China. The rest of Asia Minor was home to the four-toed variety.

While the eastern dragon may look fierce, he was believe to be highly intelligent and, in some cases, down right benevolent. Because of that, the dragon still remains a major focus in Oriental clothing, jewelry, and décor.

The Chinese considered their dragon to be above all others. For that reason, they named them the "Imperial Dragons." For many years, the only person who was allowed to have a dragon amulet, ring, or dragon decorated clothing was the Emperor himself.

While most dragons were considered to be large and fearsome, the fairy dragons of the Emerald Isle were much smaller. Their wings, in contrast to other dragons, were shaped more like that of of a bird rather than a bat. They were herbivors, although they didn't mind nipping at an animal or human that got in their way or threatened them.

Water dragons, sometimes referred to as Sea Serpents, may well have been an evolutionized version of a prehistoric creature. They sported no wings or legs; instead moving across the ground much in the same manner as snakes. They were most at home in the water. Many believe that the so-called Loch Ness Monster may, in fact, be a water dragon. Water dragons enjoy a diet from the sea although some believe they will take a bite or two out man if given the opportunity.

Some cultures believed that two-headed dragons also exist. But why stop at two? Hercules did battle with the Hydra - - part dragon and part snake - - with a lot more heads than just two. Still, the description of this dragon is unique; with a head located both in front and back.

Native American tribes even have their own version of dragons. In some instances, however, they more closely resembled serpents than dragons. Some tribes believed that the creatures had mystical religious connotations. Many considered them to be guardians of the earth and sky.

Unlike the dragons of Europe and Asia, Native American dragons seemed willing to co-exist with mankind. Their diet was adjustable to whatever was available. Although they weren't meat eaters in the strictest sense, they would eat the bodies of human dead if they ran across one during their travels.

The Australian dragons, according to the Aborigines, were responsible for the creation of land and sea, animals, and mankind. They possessed the power to control the water; perhaps because they best match the description of a water dragon.

The one thing that most dragons had in common was their ability to breathe fire. But how? Science has delivered what would seem to be a logical answer to that question. They theorize that the creatures naturally formed gases as a part of their digestive system. These were stored in an excess organ until such time as they are needed. Then, when a dragon was ready to use his gift, the gases mixed with the creature's salvia, making their breath flammable.

Some cultures believed that dragons were loathe to use their fire unless they were attacked and needed to defend themselves. Others used their ability at will to level anything and everything in their path.

Dragons were considered magical by many races, possessing mystical gifts that mankind wanted. Many believed that a dragon's blood could be used as a cure for common illnesses. Others say it acted like a fountain of youth on those willing to drink it. Still others believed it could grant extraordinary strength as well as great wisdom.

There are a lot of different theories as to why dragons can no longer be found. Of course many cling to the theory that these creatures never really existed. Others believe that dragons moved into the same realm as elves, fairies, and other magical creatures. Still others believe they became extinct like dinosaurs.

I have no theory of my own on the subject. I actually doubt that dragons, at least in the strictest sense, ever really existed. I believe that other creatures with similar characteristics were blended together to create the mythical creature. Personally, I don't care to ever see a dragon up close and personal. They are one myth I'm willing to do without.