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Myths about dragons come from all over the world and have been found in the cultures of all the major continents except Antarctica (due to the lack of an indigenous human population). Stories of dragons date back to the ancient civilizations of China, Mesopotamia, India, Hebrew, Native American and Norse to name just a few. Many of these legends and myths developed completely independent of each other. So, did these mighty creatures once walk the Earth and fly the skies above it – more importantly do they still?
Dragons still infect the culture of our modern life. Their influence can be seen in literature in the books of JRR Tolkien (The Hobbit), Anne McCaffrey (the Pern Series) and JK Rowling (Harry Potter) to name just a few; the hugely popular role playing and computer games based on TSR’s original “Dungeons and Dragons” which became and remains a worldwide phenomena and films including “Reign Of Fire” and “Dragonslayer”. Dragons can easily be found in other forms of art not covered above and, in fact, date back to the earliest form of human expression – the art of story-telling.
So, what are these fantastic creatures really? Are they just a figment of the human imagination and myths? Are they just a product of the innate human fear of the dark and the unknown? Many say dragons date back to the primate’s fear of snakes, feline predators and birds of prey all wrapped up into one fearsome creature – essentially that dragons were born from the instinctual fears of our earliest ancestors as we evolved from monkeys and apes. Another accepted theory is that dragons were born when early humans found the fossilized skeletons of dinosaurs.
Yet if dragons were born purely of our fear of the unknown, what of the myths that give dragons the credit for giving us speech or of creating the very world we live on in more Eastern influenced legends? The fear of dragons seems to be a more Western influenced myth with the rise of Christianity and the legends of the serpent of Eden – the Devil.
This is not to say that Christianity vilified the dragon as examples of that can be found much earlier in human history – the story of Beowolf being the best example. Rather (like many other mythologies) they took an accepted monster and used it to create a creature of ultimate evil. This merely provides a possible explanation of the differences between the Western and Eastern views of the dragon.
The Western European dragon is most often depicted as a reptilian creature with bat wings that breathes fire, hoards treasure (greed) and is the spoiler of purity and innocence – for example their taste for virginal young maidens. The Eastern Chinese dragon is more serpent like and is revered for their wisdom and longevity of life; both far exceeding humans. This is best seen in “Dungeons and Dragons” creation of the Red (Chaotic Evil) Dragon who is more Westernized and is rightly identified as a demon or devil and the Gold (Lawful Good) Dragon who is more Easternized and passes on its great wisdom to the human race.
In the end though, this article is written from a cryptozoological point of view rather than a theological one. The question remains (as with other animals covered in this section), did dragons ever truly exist? And, more importantly perhaps, do they still exist now? The best argument against this is the lack of proof in the fossil record. Although new species of dinosaurs are discovered every year so perhaps a fossil of a dragon has yet to be discovered. Another explanation is that dragons have long been rumored to possess magical or sorcery skills that may allow them to hide from humanity merely because they wish it to be so – putting them in the category of elves or angels and demons.
Every year there new sightings of dragons all over the world – although in modern days these sightings are contained usually in the Far East or Europe. Could these wondrous creatures of fantasy and legend still exist on Earth or are they mere descendants of the dinosaurs that died out sometime near the beginning of the last Ice Age? Or are they mere creations of human fear of darkness and the unknown? Or do they have access to dimensions we only theorize about? You decide.