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Sunday, Feb 25, 2024

Dragons: A 4000-Year Saga of Enigma and Luck

Unravel the diverse 4,000-year saga of dragons' history, spanning dragon-like beasts, Chinese lore, and rustic English tales, reflective of the ancient dragon mythos.
With the Lunar New Year, the dragon takes the spotlight. While 'lóng' (龍) often translates as "dragon," Chinese dragons, auspicious and tied to the wind, contrast with Western fiery behemoths. In China, they're even linked linguistically to tornados – "lóng juǎn fēng" meaning "dragon-wind." Throughout cultures, dragons manifest in myriad forms, symbolizing sacredness to menace.

Common to these archetypes are their animal likenesses, offering insight into human connections with the natural world and its symbolism. This journey delves into global dragon myths, shedding light on human-nature bonds.

Is "ušum-gal" the Earliest Dragon Term?

Four millennia past, in Mesopotamia, emerged "ušum-gal" on clay, possibly Sumerian for "dragon," blending serpent and lion qualities, signifying wisdom and might. Sumerian kings saw ušum-gal as emblematic of domination, indestructible save for by supreme mortals. Although Sumerian has vanished, parallel ideas persisted in Akkadian culture, with divine creatures like "ušumgallu" and "mušhuššu."

Ancient Middle Eastern lion iconography survives, visible on Berlin's reconstructed Ishtar Gate. Yet, their living counterparts from back then remain a mystery, with few Asian lion descendants left, mostly in India.

The Evolving Chinese Dragon

Unlike the fearsome English dragons, Chinese ones epitomize sacredness, embodying luck and flux rather than destruction. Theories suggest their origins lie in ancestral totems, possibly reflecting natural elements like snakes or fearsome gators, now scarce due to habitat change. Some posit their form imitates thunder or that they're an amalgam of various natural forces.

Experts like Roel Sterckx view the Chinese dragon not as a single species but as a fusion, representing transformation.

England's Dragon Lore

AD 793 saw "fiery dragons" over Northumbria, foretelling dark times such as Viking raids. English tales teem with malevolent dragons, hoarding wealth beneath the earth. Places like Dragley Beck and Drakelow hark back to these legends, hinting at "dragon mounds/hills."

In early English, "dragon" paralleled "draco," evoking serpents or satanic images. "Wyrm," a lesser-used term, depicted a legless, lurking, venomous creature in contrast to the fiery "firedrake." With snake myths possibly imported, Britain's indigenous adder, now endangered, bears no resemblance to these indomitable emblematic dragons.

As we celebrate the Lunar New Year, it's a chance to discover dragon imprints within our cultures – a testament to our age-old fascination and homage to nature's wonders.

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