Long before Harry Potter, dragons were part of Buddhism, Christianity. why they are attractive

Jpremiere of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ prequelDragon House” will undoubtedly bring more attention to the ferocious dragon. Two-legged or four-legged, fire-breathing or metamorphosed, scaled or feathered, dragons fascinate people around the world with their legendary power. This shouldn’t be surprising.

Long before “Harry Potter,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and other modern interpretations have increased the dragon’s notoriety in the 21st century, artifacts from ancient civilizations have indicated its importance in many religions around the world.

Like a scholar of monsters, I’ve found dragons to be an almost universal symbol for many civilizations. Scientists have tried to find explanations for the myth of dragons, but their enduring existence testifies to their narrative power and mystery.

Dragons can symbolize the chaos of the natural world.

Ancient dragons, ancient stories

Religions and cultures worldwide are prey to the tradition of the dragons. In fact, across the vast majority of religions, there is a mythical trope that some scholars call Chaoskampf, a German word that translates to struggle against chaos. This term, used by mythologistsrefers to a ubiquitous motif involving a heroic character who slays a “monster” of primordial chaos, often with serpentine or dragon-like features and a massive size that dwarfs humans.

An old example is found in the “Enūma Eliša Babylonian creation text from around 2,000 to 1,000 years ago BC.

In the text, Tiamat, the primordial female deity of salt water and matriarch of the gods, gives birth to 11 kinds of monsters, including the dragon. Although Tiamat herself is never described as a “dragon”, some of her children, or “monsters”, include several different types of dragons with explicit references to her. dragon children. The iconography then evolved so that its appearance began to take on serpentine features, linking its image to another famous mythological clawed predator, the dragon.

The dragon, lord of the scaly animals, represents one of the four animals of Chinese mythology corresponding to the directions and the seasons.

Dragons in Chinese and other cultures

The presence of the dragon in China, where it is called Long, is also ancient and an integral part of various cultural, spiritual and social traditions.

Dragons are members of the Chinese zodiac, one of the sacred guardian creatures that make up the Four benevolent animals and justify for imperial dynasties. Different kinds of these aquatic, intelligent, semi-divine beings form a hierarchy in ancient Chinese cosmology and appear in creation myths of various indigenous traditions.

When Jesuit missionaries reintroduced Christianity to China in the 16th century, the existence of the dragon has not been disputed. Instead, they have become associated with a more westernized explanation – the devil.

Today, dragons are celebrated and revered in Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian traditions as symbols of strength and enlightenment.

Dragons also appear in Anatolian religions, sumerian myths, Germanic epics, Shinto beliefs and in Abrahamic scriptures. The repeated and prominent presence of the creature across world religions and cultures raises an interesting question: why did dragons appear?

symbolic power

A long-proposed theory is that there are natural explanations for dragons. This is not to say that the beasts of myth existed in real life, but rather that the fossils, living animals, and geological features existing in the natural world inspired their creation.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and scientist Carl Sagan wrote a book on the subject, arguing that dragons evolved from a human need to merge science with myth, the rational with the irrational, as part of an evolutionary response to true predators. His thoughts are an expansion of proposed ideas from the 19th century or earlier, as newly discovered fossils were linked to depictions of dragons around the world.

Complete or partial remains of many extinct species can explain the physical attributes of dragons. In 2020, two scholarship holders, Dorothee Belle Poli and Lisa Stonemaneven proposed that the fossilized remains of Lepidodendrona plant resembling scales, could be the origin of the worldwide presence of dragons.

Fossilized scale-like bark of Lepidodendron may inform dragon mythology.

Human encounters with flying lizards, oars, crocodiles, Sahara horned vipers, large snakes and some species of lizards and birds have also been offered as possible explanations for the dragon lore, given their physical resemblance to different dragons.

Researchers have also cited natural geological processes as explanations for the lore of dragons – particularly when they are related to natural disasters. Fire-breathing dragons, for example, could be an explanation for mysterious fires that observers have tried to rationalize as a dragon’s flame. Natural gas vents, methane produced from decaying materials, and other sources of underground gas deposits can produce a fire if accidentally ignited. Before the mechanics of combustion were fully understood, such events were reputable indicators of the presence of a dragon, providing a cause for what seems implausible.

Eternal Dragons

The ancient mythology of the dragon continues to inspire art and drama.

One of the reasons why dragons keep appearing in our world could be that they represent the power of nature. Stories of people taming dragons can be viewed as stories about humans’ ability to dominate forces that cannot always be controlled.

Taking control of a dragon underscores the problematic idea that humans are superior to all other animals in nature. The dragons challenge the concept of human biological supremacy, raising questions about what it would mean if humans were forced to reposition themselves as lower members of the food chain.

More importantly, I believe, the beauty, terror, and power of the dragon evoke mystery and suggest that not all phenomena are easily explained or understood.

Emily Zarka, English teacher, Arizona State University.

The article was first published in The Conversation. Lily here.

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