29.11.10

Western Dragon Myths and Legends

Article

Dragons have always been mythical figures, capturing the imaginations of cultures all around the world. Traditionally they combined the powers of all four elements, in their ability to fly (air), breathe fire (fire), swim (water) and live in caves or underground (earth). Western dragons appear in a number of early literary classics for noble heroes to overcome.

Usually depicted as being very large reptilian creatures with huge claws, they sometimes also possessed anywhere from one to three horns on their heads. They were notoriously solitary, extremely intelligent with very acute eye sight, and normally spoke all languages. Some of the western world’s best known dragons and mythological characters include those listed below.

Arthurian Legend Dragons
Even though dragons are rarely mentioned in Arthurian legend, their symbolic presence was powerful. This is particularly the case since Arthur, like his father Uther, was sometimes called ‘Pendragon’, which means ‘head or chief dragon’. Additionally, Merlin was reputed to have been able to control dragons with his magical abilities, (one of his prophecies involved dragons), and both Tristan and Lancelot were known as ‘dragon slayers’.

Fire Drake
The fire drake is the classic European dragon, found in Celtic and Germanic mythology and folklore. Fire drakes normally lived in caves or fissures in the ground leading to somewhere hot. Adventurers were often drawn to the fire drake’s lair because it was believed these creatures hoarded great treasures. Depicted as having four legs and the ability to breathe fire, fire drakes were almost impossible to kill. Known heroes that succeeded were Beowulf against the dragon Grendel, and Sigurd against the dragon Fafnir.

The Saint George Dragon
The most famous dragon of British folklore was the one slain by Saint George, patron saint of England (even though the incident took place in Libya). A travelling soldier of the army of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, Saint George rescued the town of Silene from a dangerous dragon living in a lake nearby. He managed to slay the dragon by making the sign of the cross, driving his spear through its jaws and stomach, and eventually severing its head.

Wyrm Dragons
A wyrm was an early form of dragon, both wingless and legless. It was a serpentine creature associated with water. ‘Nessie, the Lock Ness monster’, is perhaps the best known of the British wyrms. The first recorded sighting of Nessie dates back to 565 by Saint Columba, who was an Irish priest touring the Highlands, teaching Christianity to the Picts. The wyrm was used as a symbol to depict eternity, in the form of an Ouroboros, (a circle in the form of a serpent, with its tail in its mouth).

Wyvern Dragons
Wyverns were small winged dragons with a serpents head, bat wings, two hind legs and a barbed tail. They are common in British legend, and are often found on heraldic blazons. In heraldry a wyvern is normally pictured standing. Wyverns symbolise envy, pestilence, viciousness and war. Some stories also give them poisonous breath and a poisonous tail. In France the wyvern is portrayed as having a woman’s torso, arms and head, with a ruby set between her eyes.
© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.