For those of you unaware, I have stepped away from everyday life and, like a hermit, locked myself in a room to do nothing but edit my manuscript for five days straight. The only thing I can think of that’s better than that is MORE DAYS! While I’m away the kids have been enjoying some wonderful bonding time with their grandmas and the husband has been catching up on some necessary work.
Oh, wait. Things didn’t go down exactly that way.
Last week I brought home the entire first season of Game of Thrones on DVD. Now… said husband had not given in to watching the show up until this point. He’s a busy guy and already has a few select shows he likes to tune into. Do you know what he did Saturday morning while eating breakfast? You guessed it! He popped the first episode in. Needless to say his butt was glued to the sofa for the rest of the day.
The text he sent me : “This show is f#@&ing awesome.” Damn straight!
[Turn your eyes away NOW hubby as you have not seen the last episode!]
In honor of Game of Thrones Immortal Monday is visiting a land of myth and legend to take a closer look at where dragons came from. Why dragons? If you watch the show then you shouldn’t have to ask. If you don’t watch the show, you should.
We’ve all seen them in the movies or on television. We’ve read about them in books that have taken our imagination on incredible journeys. Dragons are practically universal and they’ve captured our fancy. They’ve been a part of our history in the form of folklore and art quite possibly from the start of human existence.
The word “dragon” is derived from Greek, meaning “dragon, serpent of huge size, water-snake”. That pretty much describes the two most distinct cultural dragons celebrated. The European dragon is what we traditionally see as the large armored reptile type creature. They are often depicted with wings but rarely described as flying. Sometimes they don’t have front legs, but use their wings as legs much like a pterosaurs. They are often described as living in rivers, caves or large underground dwellings.
In contrast, the Chinese dragon resembles large snakes (no wings). Their legs may vary from none, to four, or more. The dragon is recognized and revered as the highest ranking animal in the Chinese animal hierarchy. Many of the Asian cultures believed them to represent the primal forces of nature, religion, and the universe. Often associated with wisdom, they were said to be wiser than humans, with the gift of longevity. And let’s not forget the magic. It’s hard to see a picture of a dragon and not think of magic. Dragons have long been associated with magic or some other form of supernatural power.
Images thanks to Wikipedia and Wikia
But all these cultures – continents apart – how did they all create myths, legends and folklore so similar?
World mass delusions? Highly unlikely.
It is speculated that original myths may have been born from the discovery of dinosaur fossils. That’s one very plausible theory. Adrienne Mayor wrote a book on the subject titled The First Fossil Hunters. Imagine these early excavators unearthing massive dinosaur bones without any knowledge of a dinosaur? What were they to think? Likewise, without such knowledge, where did the idea of a dragon come from to apply to the discovery of the bones?
The anthropologist David E. Jones would argue in his book An Instinct for Dragons that humans have inherent reactions to creatures such as large cats, snakes and birds of prey. Note that dragons are often made up of features from these creatures. His hypothesis is we, as a people, created a beast to include all these things out of fear. In other words – a creation of the mind.
But globally? Possibly – when you look at it coming from a source such as say… the Bible.
Dragons are mentioned approximately 22 times in the old testament. The majority of these are easily discounted when we see how it is used. For example, comparing cities to waste or dwellings for dragons. Egypt was commonly referred to as the mighty creature Rahab (also a dragon?) (Isaiah 51:9), adding to confusion for today’s reader attempting to root out the dragon’s origin. But in Isaiah 27:1 when see the Lord slaying the mighty sea dragon. Is this our one and only reference to a true dragon? Or does it refer to something else? Job is considered the oldest book of the Bible and there you may find references that sound similar to dinosaurs. It depends on your take.
In 1977, when Carl Sagan published his Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, he suggests that dinosaurs weren’t completely wiped out by the great ice age and for a period the survivors co-existed with humans. Actual visual sightings of pre-historic dinosaurs spawns the birthing of the dragon. He is not alone in thinking this way.
We were raised schooled in the notion that dinosaurs were long since extinct before man walked the earth. But if Carl has his facts correct, he makes a very interesting point…
“The most recent dinosaur fossil is dated at about sixty million years ago. The family of man (but not the genus Homo) is some tens of millions of years old. Could there have been manlike creatures who actually encountered Tyrannosaurus Rex? Could there have been dinosaurs that escaped the extinctions in the late Cretaceous Period?” – The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence
What do you think? Where did the original myths and legends begin and what inspiration sparked their creation?