The Green Man
The Sun and the Moon
Dragons and Serpents
Whales and Dolphins
The Knight's Templar
The Celtic peoples often showed great reverence for dragons and serpents, depicting them by the side of their gods. They came to represent wisdom and nobility, in a similar way to the dragons of the Orients. Even today, the red dragon can still be seen on the national flag of Wales, one claw raised as a warning of its power and its neck arched in readiness. This respect clashed with the beliefs of the new religion, Christianity. According to both Christian and Jewish texts, dragons and serpents were incarnations of evil. The dragon was said to bring destruction during the end of the world, as read in the Revelations, while the serpent was blamed for bringing sin to man kind by tempting Eve into eating the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. The legend of St. George, in which he defeats a dragon, perhaps represents Christianity overpowering the Celtic religion. The image St. George crushing a struggling serpent or dragon under his feet was widely used in Christian art, and again may symbolise Christianity's dominance over paganism.
Stories are told of serpents so unimaginably vast that they encircled the world itself! Jormungand the Midgard Serpent was one such a monster, said by the Norse cultures such as the Vikings to live deep under the sea. The West African Fon tribe speak of Aido-Hwedo the Rainbow Serpent, who lies coiled in the ocean under the land to prevent it from sinking. In both cultures, the serpent plays an important part at the end of the world.
The most reverential of cultures towards snakes were the Aztecs of pre-Columbia. One of their principal gods was the Feathered Serpent, Quetzalcoatl. One of the most enigmatic and fascinating figures in ancient religion and mythology, Quetzalcoatl was most often portrayed as a green serpent with a feather-crested head, similar in many ways to the Chinese dragon. He came to represent water, rain, the wind, human sustenance, penitent, self-sacrifice, re-birth, the morning star of Venus and butterflies. Unlike most other Aztec deities, Quetzalcoatl was said to oppose all forms of sacrifice apart from self-bleeding. However, his brother Tezcatlipoca was jealous of the god's purity and goodness, and cast an evil spell to transform Quetzalcoatl into a pale-skinned, bearded human. Shortly afterward, Quetzalcoatl sacrificed himself in order to return again, with the bones from the Underworld which would be made into human beings. Quetzalcoatl taught his creation all he knew, and bestowed gifts of fire and maize. He could also heal the sick. Once satisfied, Quetzalcoatl was said to have sailed into the West on a raft of serpents, with the promise that he would one day return.
Myths involving sea serpents are numerous, and are found throughout the oceans of the world. These creatures, thought to be bigger than any boat, were reported to sink ships sailing into unknown waters and consume everyone on board. Many historical maps show sea serpents in areas of the ocean where they were thought to dwell. Even in modern times there have been a high number of reported sea serpents. This is also true of the serpentine monsters thought to dwell in many lakes all over the world. The most famous of these is the Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie, whose immense body is usually seen as three humps above the surface of the water. Similar lake serpents have been reported in every continent of the world, excluding Antarctica.
So why have so many different cultures on Earth told stories of these giant, wonderful reptiles?
A common explanation is that the ancient peoples were so inspired by the deadliness and beauty of reptiles such as snakes, lizards and crocodiles, they began to imagine them as giant, magical beings with supernatural powers. Indeed, we have named several species of reptile with their mythological persona in mind: the Komodo Dragon, the Bearded Dragon, the Water Dragon and the Flying Dragon are all living lizards who bare dragon-like characteristics. But all of these creatures are much smaller than the dragons of legend - even the largest lizard, the Komodo Dragon, only measures a few metres in length. Additionally, these "dragons" have a very restricted habitat, many only inhabiting remote islands or forests. They cannot be fully responsible for spawning the vast widespread beliefs in dragons and serpents.
It is widely suggested that Sea Serpents and Lake Serpents are just ordinary aquatic animals, such as eels, whales, seals or sharks. However, this theory also has a severe short-coming, in that a large majority of precise descriptions of aquatic serpents do not resemble any of these creatures in shape, behaviour or movement. It must also be noted that there are far more reported observations of sea serpents than there are of known existing sea animals, like beaked whales and giant squid.
Dragons and serpents have come to represent a huge variety of different ideas, but perhaps the one prevailing symbolism that unites them all is man's fascination and fear of the unknown. As long as mankind is plagued by mystery, our lakes, skies, seas and even our souls will never be freed from the clutches of dragons and serpents.
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