Look at that piercing eye! Intense right?!
So, there are generally two types of dragon, which can be roughly divided into the European dragons and the eastern dragons such as the Chinese dragons. They are generally scaled and given we have only a limited part of our dragon visible, it’s hard to say much else about this specific case. Because we don’t know which tradition this dragon comes from I’m going to look at both.
A few generalities
Dragons are generally pictured as being lizard like, snake like and crocodile like although often are much bigger. Some dragons have wings and most dragons breathe fire. There is also a blurry line between dragons and sea serpents. They are strong, intense engimas which are portrayed as both protectors and guardians as well as destroyers. They hold ancient wisdom and encourage us to reconnect with our primal energy. They are often considered courageous whilst also presented as devouring maidens and creating storms. There is a real dichotomy here. The ancient wise guardian and the raw fighting destructive force.
The dragon, for me, is an earth creature. Yes it can sometimes breathe fire, yes it can sometimes swim, yes it can sometimes fly but a lot of the dragons I’ve found are cave dwellers, preferably an underground cave. Regardless of your perspective, it’s clear that there is a little of each element in the dragon.
Here be dragons is supposed to feature on maps on unknown or uncharted land, perhaps hinting at how rare and mysterious dragons are. Apparently this wasn’t actually done that much but I like the idea which is presumably why so many people don’t question it.
A dragon is medicinally useful, if you can kill one. Eating the heart, for example, lets you understand animals, sowing the dragon’s teeth will produce new citizens for your city. There is actually a type of sap known as dragon’s blood which is anti-inflammatory, helps heal tissue and has antiviral properties.
Looking into the dragon illustrates a lot about how different cultures view themselves and nature and women…
“Many patriarchal myths tell of the world order established out of chaos through the killing of a dragon, giant snake or sea serpent. We find this especially in Greek and near Eastern mythologies. The Hebrew God kills Leviathan, Apollo kills Python by which he establishes control over the Delphic Oracle, Zeus kills Typhoeus (or Typhon) who is the last child of Gaia, the earth, and so on. Many of these tales explicitly identify the serpent/monster as female, or associate it with an archaic goddess, or with the site of female power.” – The Body of the Goddess, Rachel Pollack
The tradition of slaying dragons and other such creatures seems to be rooted in the male fear of sexuality, in particular female sexuality. If the dragon is the feminine and linked to female sexuality and menstruation then the killing of the dragon is the acting out of the instinct to destroy what we do not understand, what we fear and what we cannot control. By we of course I mean the patriarchy.
The tale of George and the dragon, other similar stories and the link between the devil and the dragon are great propaganda for the early Christian church, showing their rule over nature, women and sexuality as well as demonstrating their power. The dragon and the myths in turn help to oppress and control people during the time of Christian conversion. Look what we can do, we just saved you from a dragon and now it is only fitting that you leave your nature focused beliefs and follow us.
The European dragons are generally evil, reptile like creatures, not as intelligent as humans, have four legs and wings. They may have horns, a long and powerful tail and often guard caves of treasure. This could mean that the slaying of dragons is also representative of human greed. The dragon slaying narrative also places the dragon slayer in the role of potential sacrifice, someone who is prepared to pay the cost so that others might have a better life – sound like any biblical figure you know? Think about this image of dragons in relation to how much of the western world, actually much of the world in general, treats nature today.
Particularly interesting, given the image on the card, is the suggestion that the word dragon derives from the Greek “to see” and may mean that dragon originally meant “staring one”, “monster with the evil eye” or something along those lines. On a related note, it is said that dragons have excellent eyesight.
Just before we move on to other types of dragons I wanted to include a story from just up the road:
A dragon caught in the River Wear near Durham and was dropped in a well. It would go on to terrorise the people until several years later, the nobleman who caught it returned. He was given instructions to kill the dragon and the next thing he saw. It was arranged that a dog would be the first thing the nobleman saw after killing the dragon but in a mix up, he saw his son… What is he to do? If he doesn’t kill his son then he is cursing the next nine generations of his family… He can’t face it and thus destines his heirs to misery. (Some versions say that it was his father he saw not his son)
Where the European dragon shows dominance over nature, the Eastern dragons tend to reflect respect and reverence for nature and a desire to live in harmony.
Starting with China, we see the dragon as a symbol of good fortune, an honoured and sacred animal which is far more civilised that the western equivalent. Like them, the chinese dragon has four legs but does not have wings although they can still fly and is seen as wise and intelligent, more so than humans.
It was said that the Chinese people were descended from dragons and that dragons actually taught humans to speak, suggesting they have a higher intelligence than we do. They are primal forces which possess magic and the gift of long life and thus the wisdom which comes with that. Considered to have the status of gods, the Chinese treat their dragons very differently to the Europeans…
The Chinese dragon, an earth sign, is considered the luckiest of the birth signs and is strongly associated with the emperor, power and majesty. People born under the dragon are supposed to be self assured, proud, dignified and passionate. They are also supposed to be prone to tempers, demanding and cruel. It feels a bit like there’s a really powerful sureness and strength that comes with this sign and as with most things it can tip into good or bad or oscillate between them. With great power comes great responsibility and such things.
Where the european dragon is associated with fire, the Chinese dragon is associated with water. They are the rulers of moving water (waterfalls, waves etc) and by extension they could control the weather. There are four major Dragon Kings, each representing one of the four seas, and it was these that people would turn to to pray for rain or ask for storms to be abated. Like water itself, dragons could be consturctive but also destructive so it is wise to keep the dragon kings happy.
In my notes I wrote about a link with the tiger. As we saw previously, the tiger can represent yin and yang. The same is true for the dragon which has some yin scales and some yang scales. When we consider them together, we find the tiger and the dragon used to symbolise balance. The tiger is the yin because of its courage, patience, loyalty and it’s feminine nature. The yang of the dragon is down to it’s outgoing nature and masculine energy. Thus the two cards combined symbolise the duality of the universe.
There is a lot more to the Chinese dragon but I want to take a look at some other eastern versions and this post is already pretty long…
In Japan we see echoes of the Chinese dragon, they are large, wingless creatures associated with water however they do not fly. Dragons are often good, as in the Chinese culture.
In Vietnam, we have myths which tell of the Vietnamese people being descended from a dragon and a fairy. Hopefully not through conventional methods of reproduction… I imagine there would be some logistical challenges there! Again, the dragon represents the emperor and is said to bring rain. These dragons appear as a complicated mixture of crocodile, snake, cat, rat and bird although over time they came to resemble the Chinese dragon.
According to wikipedia, there are a number of Vietnamese sayings which include reference to dragons:
- “Rồng gặp mây”: “Dragon meets clouds” – In favourable condition.
- “Đầu rồng đuôi tôm”: “Dragon’s head, shrimp’s tail” – Good at first and bad at last; something which starts well but ends badly.
- “Rồng bay, phượng múa”: “Dragon flight, phoenix dance” – Used to praise the calligraphy of someone who writes Chinese ideograms well.
- “Rồng đến nhà tôm”: “Dragon visits shrimp’s house” – A saying used by a host to (or of) his guest: the host portrays himself as a humble shrimp and his guest as a noble dragon.
- “Ăn như rồng cuốn, nói như rồng leo, làm như mèo mửa”: “Eating as dragon scrolls, talking as dragon climbs, working as cat vomits” – A criticism of someone who eats too much and talks a lot, but is lazy.
Only one more example I promise!
The Aztec culture was founded by Quetzalcoatl, a dragon god of the wind, of the planet Venus, of the dawn, of arts and crafts and of learning and knowledge. An excellent god to be creating a civilisation I think! Imagine if our society focused on these things as the basics for its people instead of materialism and consumerism.
There are lots of different dragon myths depending on where in the world you are. If this card feels important to you, check out your local folklore.
And in conclusion…
The dragon means many many contradictory things to many people… Perhaps this is a card where the most important thing to consider is how you feel about dragons; do you find them to be friendly or fierce, helpful or frightening? And in parallel to that, how do you approach nature and sexuality? These are big things to think about and the analogy of the dragon may be a helpful tool as you explore your feelings and beliefs.