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Mythical Dragons & Serpents

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  • Papa
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 31, 2003
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      > Mythical Dragons & Serpents
      >
      >
      > by Marilyn Cameron
      >
      > Many are the fabulous beasts created in the stories by human kind. For
      > thousands of years, we have told of fantastic creatures of supernatural
      > powers,
      > some of the forces of good and others of the forces of evil. But of all
      > these
      > sensational monsters, none has slithered into as many of man's legends
      > than
      > dragons and serpents.
      >
      > Dragons and serpents vary in description according to culture, although
      > many
      > striking features are retained throughout the written, oral and artistic
      > traditions of the world. They are usually depicted as gigantic snake-like
      > reptiles, with a long, sinuous body armoured in either green, blue or red
      > scales. The head is typically massive, with a broad mouth full of
      > enormous,
      > sharp teeth and a long, forked tongue. The snout is long and sometimes
      > horned;
      > the eyes are usually very large and cold. Often, these creatures possess
      > long
      > ears and a frilled neck, resembling either a crest of feathers or webbed
      > skin.
      > The body itself is usually decorated with an array of small, triangular
      > spines
      > extending from the head down the back to the long, barbed tail.
      >
      > Dragons normally posses four, short limbs with long claws, although some
      > serpents have no legs at all. In some cultures, dragons are also equipped
      > with
      > enormous, bat-like wings; in others, they have the ability to breathe
      > fire.
      > They can live in mountains, caves, seas, lakes and even the heavens.
      >
      > Just as their appearances differ from culture to culture, dragons and
      > serpents
      > represent many contrasting ideas for different groups of people. Dragons
      > are
      > perhaps most well recognised in Chinese tradition. The Chinese recognised
      > the
      > dragon as one of the four sacred creatures to contain all elements of yin
      > and
      > yang - dark and light - in addition to the Phoenix, the Unicorn and the
      > Turtle.
      > The Chief of all scaly creatures, the dragon symbolised wisdom, strength,
      > goodness and the element Water. In China, dragons were often drawn with
      > whiskers and antlers on their heads. When depicted with five claws, it
      > represented the Emperor and was known as the Imperial Dragon. In some
      > traditions, dragons were attributed to controlling the weather, and ritual
      > dances were performed to encourage the dragon to send down the rains.
      >
      > The Japanese had a similar belief in dragons to the Chinese. Their
      > traditional
      > religion, Shinto, also tells of kingdom of serpent people under the sea,
      > where
      > the Dragon King, Ryu-wo, ruled in a spectacular palace of crystal and
      > coral. He
      > was said to have a human body, and a serpent entwined in his crown. Known
      > for
      > his nobility and wisdom, Ryu-wo was a guardian of the Shinto faith. People
      > who
      > have fallen into the sea are said to have lived on in the kingdom of
      > Ryu-wo.
      >
      > Japanese legends also tell of another serpent king, who, unlike Ryu-wo,
      > possessed scales and a flicking tongue. He was a bringer of destruction
      > and
      > chaos, who would invade villages and devour innocent children. He was only
      > hindered by the goddess of love, Benten, who was charmed by his words of
      > love.
      > After making him promise to end his wrath against mankind, she agreed to
      > marry
      > him. On the Pacific coast of Japan, a great temple was built at Kamakura
      > to
      > commemorate the occasion.
      >
      > For Buddhists and Taoists of China and Japan, dragon sculptures were often
      > used
      > to decorate the exterior of temples. They represented the many obstacles
      > that
      > humans face throughout life that must first be overcome before true
      > happiness
      > and inner peace, or enlightenment, can be attained.
      >
      > Dragons and serpents are often viewed as guardians of sacred places and
      > objects. The ancient Greeks and Romans, who revered dragons for their
      > wisdom
      > but feared them for their tremendous powers, both shared this belief. One
      > of
      > the twelve tasks of the legendary hero Hercules (or Heracles) had to
      > perform
      > was to pick three golden apples from a sacred tree, protected by a
      > fearsome
      > dragon or Serpent. A similar story tells of a nymph named Psyche, who was
      > ordered by the goddess Venus to fetch sacred water from mountain stream
      > guarded
      > by dragons.
      >
      > One of the most feared monsters of the Greeks and Romans was the Hydra, a
      > dragon with multiple heads and poisonous breath. Another task of Hercules
      > was
      > to slay a Hydra which inhabited a dangerous marsh. However, every time
      > Hercules
      > cut off one of the heads of the beast, more grew back in place. Only by
      > burning
      > the necks with fire, and crushing the body with a boulder, was Hercules
      > able to
      > defeat the Hydra.
      >
      > Throughout Europe, tales of dragons and serpents grew far and wide. Most
      > of
      > these stories were written in Medieval times, when dragons and serpents
      > were
      > said to live in caves or lakes where they hoarded huge riches.
      > Occasionally,
      > the monsters would wander into villages, and cause great destruction and
      > death.
      > This lead to many brave knights attempting to hunt down and slay dragons,
      > as
      > recounted in many medieval writings. In some cases, the knights were
      > successful, but in others they were defeated by the dragon's immense
      > power.
      >
      > The most terrifying monster of all in European mythology was not, however,
      > the
      > great fire-breathing dragon but a tiny black serpent called the basilisk.
      > Only
      > one foot long and crowned with a white crest, the basilisk, also known as
      > the
      > cockatrice since it hatched from a cockerel's egg, was so deadly that the
      > poison from its spit could split rocks in two, and it could kill a man
      > merely
      > by looking at him. The only things which could kill a basilisk were
      > weasels,
      > which overpowered the monster with their powerful jaws and smell, and
      > crystals.
      > A man could look at a basilisk through the crystal, and the creature's own
      > deadly power would be reflected back, killing it instantly.
      >
      > We do, however, occasionally read of friendly dragons in European myths.
      > The
      > town of Lucerne in Switzerland was famed for its winged dragons which were
      > said
      > to look like flying crocodiles. A tale is told there of a man who once
      > fell
      > into an underground cave from which he could not escape. To his horror, he
      > realised that this was the home of two dragons. However, the dragons did
      > not
      > see this strange visitor as an intruder or as food; instead, they were
      > intrigued, and rubbed themselves against his body, like domestic cats.
      >
      > The man lived in the cave for five months, so the legend says, living on
      > nothing but a trickle of water which oozed through the rocks. When the
      > spring
      > came, the dragons decided to leave their home, and took off into the air.
      > The
      > man realised that this was his only chance to escape, and, clasped to the
      > tail
      > of one of the creatures, let himself be carried out of the cave. Sadly,
      > the
      > legend goes on to tell us that he had been without food for too long, and
      > he
      > died shortly after returning to his home village.
      >
      > The Celtic peoples often showed great reverence for dragons and serpents,
      > depicting them by the side of their gods. They came to represent wisdom
      > and
      > nobility, in a similar way to the dragons of the Orients. Even today, the
      > red
      > dragon can still be seen on the national flag of Wales, one claw raised as
      > a
      > warning of its power and its neck arched in readiness. This respect
      > clashed
      > with the beliefs of the new religion, Christianity. According to both
      > Christian
      > and Jewish texts, dragons and serpents were incarnations of evil.
      >
      > The dragon was said to bring destruction during the end of the world, as
      > read
      > in the Revelations, while the serpent was blamed for bringing sin to man
      > kind
      > by tempting Eve into eating the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. The
      > legend of St. George, in which he defeats a dragon, perhaps represents
      > Christianity overpowering the Celtic religion. The image St. George
      > crushing a
      > struggling serpent or dragon under his feet was widely used in Christian
      > art,
      > and again may symbolise Christianity's dominance over paganism.
      >
      > Stories are told of serpents so unimaginably vast that they encircled the
      > world
      > itself! Jormungand the Midgard Serpent was one such a monster, said by the
      > Norse cultures such as the Vikings to live deep under the sea. The West
      > African
      > Fon tribe speak of Aido-Hwedo the Rainbow Serpent, who lies coiled in the
      > ocean
      > under the land to prevent it from sinking. In both cultures, the serpent
      > plays
      > an important part at the end of the world.
      >
      > The most reverential of cultures towards snakes were the Aztecs of
      > pre-Columbia. One of their principal gods was the Feathered Serpent,
      > Quetzalcoatl. One of the most enigmatic and fascinating figures in ancient
      > religion and mythology, Quetzalcoatl was most often portrayed as a green
      > serpent with a feather-crested head, similar in many ways to the Chinese
      > dragon. He came to represent water, rain, the wind, human sustenance,
      > penitent,
      > self-sacrifice, re-birth, the morning star of Venus and butterflies.
      >
      > Unlike most other Aztec deities, Quetzalcoatl was said to oppose all forms
      > of
      > sacrifice apart from self-bleeding. However, his brother Tezcatlipoca was
      > jealous of the god's purity and goodness, and cast an evil spell to
      > transform
      > Quetzalcoatl into a pale-skinned, bearded human. Shortly afterward,
      > Quetzalcoatl sacrificed himself in order to return again, with the bones
      > from
      > the Underworld which would be made into human beings. Quetzalcoatl taught
      > his
      > creation all he knew, and bestowed gifts of fire and maize. He could also
      > heal
      > the sick. Once satisfied, Quetzalcoatl was said to have sailed into the
      > West on
      > a raft of serpents, with the promise that he would one day return.
      >
      > Many historical maps show sea serpents in areas of the ocean where they
      > were
      > thought to dwell. Even in modern times there have been a high number of
      > reported sea serpents. This is also true of the serpentine monsters
      > thought to
      > dwell in many lakes all over the world. The most famous of these is the
      > Loch
      > Ness Monster, or Nessie, whose immense body is usually seen as three humps
      > above the surface of the water. Similar lake serpents have been reported
      > in
      > every continent of the world, excluding Antarctica.
      >
      > So why have so many different cultures on Earth told stories of these
      > giant,
      > wonderful reptiles? A common explanation is that the ancient peoples were
      > so
      > inspired by the deadliness and beauty of reptiles such as snakes, lizards
      > and
      > crocodiles, they began to imagine them as giant, magical beings with
      > supernatural powers.
      >
      > Indeed, we have named several species of reptile with their mythological
      > persona in mind: the Komodo Dragon, the Bearded Dragon, the Water Dragon
      > and
      > the Flying Dragon are all living lizards who bare dragon-like
      > characteristics.
      > But all of these creatures are much smaller than the dragons of legend -
      > even
      > the largest lizard, the Komodo Dragon, only measures a few metres in
      > length.
      > Additionally, these "dragons" have a very restricted habitat, many only
      > inhabiting remote islands or forests. They cannot be fully responsible for
      > spawning the vast widespread beliefs in dragons and serpents.
      >
      > It is widely suggested that Sea Serpents and Lake Serpents are just
      > ordinary
      > aquatic animals, such as eels, whales, seals or sharks. However, this
      > theory
      > also has a severe short-coming, in that a large majority of precise
      > descriptions of aquatic serpents do not resemble any of these creatures in
      > shape, behaviour or movement. It must also be noted that there are far
      > more
      > reported observations of sea serpents than there are of known existing sea
      > animals, like beaked whales and giant squid.
      >
      > Dragons and serpents have come to represent a huge variety of different
      > ideas,
      > but perhaps the one prevailing symbolism that unites them all is man's
      > fascination and fear of the unknown. As long as mankind is plagued by
      > mystery,
      > our lakes, skies, seas and even our souls will never be freed from the
      > clutches
      > of dragons and serpents.
      >
      > Folklore & Legends/ EARTH MAGICK/ PDN
      >
      >
      >
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