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The Green Man
The Sun and the Moon

The Celts
Dragons and Serpents
Whales and Dolphins

Faerie Folk
The Knight's Templar

Are dragons and serpents merely fabrications of the boundless human imagination, or do they represent something of great spiritual significance for all cultures?

Many are the fabulous beasts created in the stories by human kind. For thousands of years, we have told of fantastic creatures of supernatural powers, some of the forces of good and others of the forces of evil. But of all these sensational monsters, none has slithered into as many of man's legends than dragons and serpents.

Dragons and serpents vary in description according to culture, although many striking features are retained throughout the written, oral and artistic traditions of the world. They are usually depicted as gigantic snake-like reptiles, with a long, sinuous body armoured in either green, blue or red scales. The head is typically massive, with a broad mouth full of enormous, sharp teeth and a long, forked tongue. The snout is long and sometimes horned; the eyes are usually very large and cold. Often, these creatures possess long ears and a frilled neck, resembling either a crest of feathers or webbed skin. The body itself is usually decorated with an array of small, triangular spines extending from the head down the back to the long, barbed tail. Dragons normally posses four, short limbs with long claws, although some serpents have no legs at all. In some cultures, dragons are also equipped with enormous, bat-like wings; in others, they have the ability to breathe fire. They can live in mountains, caves, seas, lakes and even the heavens.

Just as their appearances differ from culture to culture, dragons and serpents represent many contrasting ideas for different groups of people. Dragons are perhaps most well recognised in Chinese tradition. The Chinese recognised the dragon as one of the four sacred creatures to contain all elements of yin and yang - dark and light - in addition to the Phoenix, the Unicorn and the Turtle. The Chief of all scaly creatures, the dragon symbolised wisdom, strength, goodness and the element Water. In China, dragons were often drawn with whiskers and antlers on their heads. When depicted with five claws, it represented the Emperor and was known as the Imperial Dragon. In some traditions, dragons were attributed to controlling the weather, and ritual dances were performed to encourage the dragon to send down the rains.

The Japanese had a similar belief in dragons to the Chinese. Their traditional religion, Shinto, also tells of kingdom of serpent people under the sea, where the Dragon King, Ryu-wo, ruled in a spectacular palace of crystal and coral. He was said to have a human body, and a serpent entwined in his crown. Known for his nobility and wisdom, Ryu-wo was a guardian of the Shinto faith. People who have fallen into the sea are said to have lived on in the kingdom of Ryu-wo.

Japanese legends also tell of another serpent king, who, unlike Ryu-wo, possessed scales and a flicking tongue. He was a bringer of destruction and chaos, who would invade villages and devour innocent children. He was only hindered by the goddess of love, Benten, who was charmed by his words of love. After making him promise to end his wrath against mankind, she agreed to marry him. On the Pacific coast of Japan, a great temple was built at Kamakura to commemorate the occasion.

For Buddhists and Taoists of China and Japan, dragon sculptures were often used to decorate the exterior of temples. They represented the many obstacles that humans face throughout life that must first be overcome before true happiness and inner peace, or enlightenment, can be attained.

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Dragon brooch, available at the Spiral Online Shop

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