Monday, May 28, 2012

"DRAGON": A Mass of Confusion, part four.

I've been looking for Dragons and not finding many. That's at least half my own fault, of course, as this blog series has insisted on trying to limit the term "dragon" to the classic European winged fire-breather, and those critters seem rare at best.

So, here in table form is my "problem". I know that almost everyone else wants to include almost any old large reptilian as a "dragon" but to me that has just muddied all the discussion of whether certain kinds of anomalous creatures have any actual evidence going for them. This table is in its way "logical". It's trying to lay out in the abstract the possible array of creatures which contend for the dragon label. The "Water" category are things which would be seen in the water [ocean, lake, river] but not flying about in the air. When I looked into the old stories, there are large numbers of tales of great sea serpents, of lake and river monsters, but the historical/cultural base for such beasts does not put wings on them, and in only one case [Leviathan] is there a fire-breather. Even though I therefore see no dragons there [in my way of defining them], I find quite a lot of evidence supporting the idea that the water monster and sea serpent are realities, even if not textbook biologically-evolved ones.

As we've looked at the old tales, the land-based things are a little different. There are great snakes, often crouching in caves in mountains, or other such land-living dangerous reptilians, and these usually get the name dragons, but not here. If there is a fine dinosaur lumbering about the Congo, it's a dinosaur. If there's a Tatzelwurm skulking in the Alps, it's a Tatzelwurm. If there's a monstrous snake, it's a great big snake. If you add some wings to these critters, then I'll give you "dragon". If it doesn't breathe fire, well ... a "minor" form of dragon. If it does: Dragon it is. Our trouble is, then, of course, that we only found one of these: Beowulf's Bane.

In the air, we have more confusion. The elongated serpents with the wings [The Chinese-type dragons] I'd still rather call something else: and their own word "Long" or "Lung" seems fine to me. If the big reptilian has wings, then it's a dragon unless we recognize it as something else. That is to say, Pterodactyls et al are pterodactyls et al, not dragons. It is in this cluster of possibilities that the "best" dragon resides: big, reptilian, legged, winged, and fire-breathing as it flies about. Our problem then is: there might not be any.

We are constantly getting comments [above in map form] that dragon myths occur all over the world. Well, no, they don't. Myths of big anomalous reptilians occur all over the world, but things close to dragons do not. This does not mean that there are no dragons anymore than it would mean that there are no leprechauns. It just means that leprechauns and dragons have to make their case without some form of universal encounters sort of argument.

Babylonian sirrush is very interesting --- no dragon.

Gosforth Cross monster is impressive --- no dragon.

Some sea serpent tales are great --- but they aren't about dragons.

I NEED A DRAGON!! Well, if Olaus Magnus can't find me one, nobody can. His Carta Marina is full of the most wonderful things, all of which he put out there as if he believed that they were true.

I just about thought that even Olaus had failed me, when WAY to the north in Lapland, there was a fine proper dragon. Sea serpents, sea monsters, river monsters, mountain great snakes, all of these inhabit this map of wonders [and much else], but the Lapland Dragon stands alone.

And here it is, daintily goggling up a rodent of some kind. Poor fare for a dragon.

And there's more. At Maeshowe in the Orkneys the vikings carved a dragon-protector on the tomb when they invaded and broke into the ancient monument in the twelfth century. Those locals and those vikings thought that something like dragons were "around" in some way. Maybe I'm on the scent.

This Moche culture pot from Peru has a dragon on it , as far as I can see. There seems even a feathered wing sticking out. I have no idea how old this particular pottery vessel is, and it would help to know. Still, it's hopeful.

The illuminated prayer book of Charles the Bold [15th century, I think] is littered with proper dragons. Now we are in synch with that explosion of interest and iconography about such beasts. But why??

Carved into old churches --- true proper dragons. What's inspiring it??

And the dragonhunter's best friend, Beowulf's-Bane glorious in illumination of the text. Now in the late Middle Ages, Europe has gone Dragon-Bonkers. Before the high Middle Ages, shreds of hints; afterwards, an explosion of "belief"??

By the 1500s and 1600s there seems to be little doubt in the minds of wonder-seekers such as Gesner, Faber, Aldrovandi, Kircher, or Olaus Magnus that dragons or things very much like them were about. Claims were made of captured and killed dragon-like beasts, and of dragons still on the loose in certain parts of the globe. Was this "new" publicity simply because these tales [and realities?] were only now able to be gathered up and promulgated, and were in fact always abundantly there? Or did the mish-mash biology of the "proper dragon" just then coalesce from bits and pieces of other legends? Again, only Beowulf's Bane gives me any real strong hope up to now.

As a sideissue, since we're on iconography: some have used the Ica stones [the "Cabrera Rocks"] or the Acambaro figurines as evidences of dragons. The Ica stones are irrelevant regardless what they portray. I visited Dr. Cabrera and the surrounding vicinity myself and saw that they are faked [unfortunately]. I bought two examples from the guy who was making them to sell to Cabrera and they were worth the sols. The Acambaro figurines may be another matter. I have not yet read a good dismissal of the radiocarbon dates that were done/published, and so think that their genuineness stays an open question. But even then, they look to show large reptiles but not dragons.

So, although there's some smell of dragon all over these icons, like the beast itself, it's hard to tie down. The next, I think last, post in this series will look into my measly files on potential dragon encounter cases [a little over 50 of them] and try to see if any of them are any good at all. After that Fool's Errand, I'll walk Out Proctor for a while --- always something to see out there.

Here's looking at you, kid.


  1. Prof I nearly missed this because your google said you hadn't posted for five days and just as I was about to go elsewhere (hoping everything's okay with you) I thought - what the hell: I'll reread Part Three because I'm still not sure what exactly he's getting at...

    Reading Part Four I now have the sense you're looking for an explanation why the Beowulf form of the Dragon took off and developed a life all of its own?

    Apart from noting it occurred almost in perfect tandem with the arising of both early Western Civilization in general and the dragon's literary point of origin ENGland in particular (which I strongly suspect you've already long ago noticed yourself) and suggesting the possibility of connections to the ARK and ARGo I look forward to the denouement of where your own unique mental lucubrations've taken you.

    You call it a Fool's Errand but one of the meanings of the Sufic term Wali for a wiseman is 'fool'.

  2. Actually I went into this with no agenda/direction whatsoever except to go on an adventure to see if it would lead me to any real dragons. When I found to my surprise just one [up to now anyway], that gave rise to the natural curiosity-driven thought : Why Beowulf's Bane? Where did it come from? Because if there was no strong folk culture based tradition of the classic winged fire-breathing dragon, MAYBE there was no objective reality anywhere to have gotten all the iconography of the high Middle Ages [and all the way to today] other than the imagination of the Beowulf poet. And that to me would be a shame, but I'd accept it just as I once had to accept certain views about Easter Bunnies and The Big Fat Man in the Long White Beard who gives presents at Xmas.

    So, since dragons are too interesting a [paranormal] concept to give up on easily, I'm trying my best to salvage them. I'm not puzzled as to how Beowulf could inspire a cascade of imitators in European culture. All it needed to be was great dramatic writing, which it was. It then persevered and people like Chaucer got hold of it, Layamon perhaps, Chretien de Troyes, all the way to Shakespeare. And Dragons fly immortal. But I search still for my dragons. Out Proctor I will go if I can't find them anywhere else.

  3. Dear Professor
    I'm sorry if I'm a bother going about commenting on old posts but I recently discovered you blog here and am slowly digesting it backwards. I want to thank you for the Laplandic dragon there, I have the Olaus Magnus map on my toilet wall (perfect meditative setting) and although I was born in the southern parts of (Magnusian) Lapland I hadn't acctualy noticed the dragon. I shudder to think how a gigantic reptile, however magical, would feel in that cold climate.
    On the topic of scandinavian dragons it is very true that the classic, legged and firebreathing kind is very rare. I didn't acctualy realize that it was such uncommon characteristics as you've shown but it doesn't really suprise me. Dragons in the form of basically Great Snakes, sometimes flying and firebreathing but not commonly with wings or other limbs, are closely knit to burial mounds which could help explain the Orkney Island carving. This type of "not-dragon" is called Lindorm. Maybe there is a connection with the viking, and pre-viking, tradition of burying ships. The ships often carry the dragon head in the front and many of the famous legendary ships are also known as dragons. Such as Olav Tryggvasson's "Ormen Långe"

  4. I don't mind revisiting any of the older posts one bit; so welcome to it. Also, digesting larger portions of the blog is the only way to get the full feeling of our world of mysteries anyway. [which has been the whole point of this].

    As to the Vikings burial of ships and Dragon legends: I know nothing of that specifically, and thank you for the information. I will make a guess that the influence goes in the opposite direction --- that is to say, the dragon symbol is first chosen as a power and protection symbol for the ships [much like the Pacific NW Coast Amerindians did with the Wasgo/Sisuiutl on their canoes], and when the ship was to be "laid to rest" it was buried as an honored Dragon.

    It is the association of the Dragon with mounds and caves and old megalithic thinking which lures me into believing that the Dragon beings may be real but not biological [of course] and therefore manifestations of the paranormal --- leading to the general concept of Faerie, or something like this. Loch Ness' situation looks like this to me as well, as you will read when you get to posts on Nessie and Mhorag.