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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

Dragons and serpents are often viewed as guardians of sacred places and objects. The ancient Greeks and Romans, who revered dragons for their wisdom but feared them for their tremendous powers, both shared this belief. One of the twelve tasks of the legendary hero Hercules (or Heracles) had to perform was to pick three golden apples from a sacred tree, protected by a fearsome dragon or Serpent. A similar story tells of a nymph named Psyche, who was ordered by the goddess Venus to fetch sacred water from mountain stream guarded by dragons.

One of the most feared monsters of the Greeks and Romans was the Hydra, a dragon with multiple heads and poisonous breath. Another task of Hercules was to slay a Hydra which inhabited a dangerous marsh. However, every time Hercules cut off one of the heads of the beast, more grew back in place. Only by burning the necks with fire, and crushing the body with a boulder, was Hercules able to defeat the Hydra.

Serpents and dragons are abound in Mediterranean mythology. Legend speaks of a brave knight known as de Gozon, who sought to slay a fearsome dragon which roamed the island of Rhodes in the Mediterranean. This dragon had scales which were as tough as steel, and were yellow and red in colour. It flew with two great blue wings and breathed poison. However, de Gozon discovered the creature's one weak spot - its neck, which was not protected with scales. After a great battle, de Gozon stabbed the dragon in its neck and ended the terror of the inhabitants of the island.

Throughout Europe, tales of dragons and serpents grew far and wide. Most of these stories were written in Medieval times, when dragons and serpents were said to live in caves or lakes where they hoarded huge riches. Occasionally, the monsters would wander into villages, and cause great destruction and death. This lead to many brave knights attempting to hunt down and slay dragons, as recounted in many medieval writings. In some cases, the knights were successful, but in others they were defeated by the dragon's immense power

The most terrifying monster of all in European mythology was not, however, the great fire-breathing dragon but a tiny black serpent called the basilisk. Only one foot long and crowned with a white crest, the basilisk, also known as the cockatrice since it hatched from a cockerel's egg, was so deadly that the poison if its spit could split rocks in two, and it could kill a man merely by looking at him. The only things which could kill a basilisk were weasels, which overpowered the monster with their powerful jaws and smell, and crystals. A man could look at a basilisk through the crystal, and the creature's own deadly power would be reflected back, killing it instantly.

We do, however, occasionally read of friendly dragons in European myths. The town of Lucerne in Switzerland was famed for its winged dragons which were said to look like flying crocodiles. A tale is told there of a man who once fell into an underground cave from which he could not escape. To his horror, he realised that this was the home of two dragons. However, the dragons did not see this strange visitor as an intruder or as food; instead, they were intrigued, and rubbed themselves against his body, like domestic cats. The man lived in the cave for five months, so the legend says, living on nothing but a trickle of water which oozed through the rocks. When the spring came, the dragons decided to leave their home, and took off into the air. The man realised that this was his only chance to escape, and, clasped to the tail of one of the creatures, let himself be carried out of the cave. Sadly, the legend goes on to tell us that he had been without food for too long, and he died shortly after returning to his home village.


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Celtic serpent pendant, available at the Spiral Online Shop

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