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This is a mythic being of Aboriginal Australian lore, and a striking symbol to bridge past with present. The Rainbow Serpent is held in common by numerous Aboriginal tribes. Because of this, it has many names. Some of these are Wanamangura, Goorialla, Numereji, Yurlunggur, Taipan, Ungur, and Ngalyod. Its legend takes many forms. So the Rainbow Serpent may be an individual deity, or it may be a family of related deities who moved across the Earth. It may be male, female, or androgynous. It can be cruel and proud, or gentle and helpful. As god/dess of water in parched Australia, its power was never to be taken lightly.

What frustrates me in exploring this ancient dragon is how much information comes from scientists and settlers who weren’t part of the Aboriginal world. The Aborigines themselves seem to be left out of the telling. Perhaps this is their choice, to maintain their cultural privacy. Most likely, it’s a function of how the Aborigines were marginalized by colonial rule. Yet they still live on, and their faith is a living religion.

Most accounts say the Rainbow Serpent is a great snake with scales of many colors — a literal personification of the rainbow. As it arched across the sky, folk believed the Rainbow Serpent was traveling from one watering hole to another. Australia has been arid though most of recorded history, and any pool that held water during the dry season was a vital resource. Perhaps it isn’t surprising the tribal members thought these must be the dwellings of a god.

The legends also agree that the Rainbow Serpent came from the Dreamtime, a mystical neverworld that exists both together and apart from the earthly world. It is eternal, where mortal creatures may perish. The Rainbow Serpent came from the Dreamtime deep underground. In its struggle toward the surface, it raised mountains and carved valleys. At last it made its home in deep pools where the water never dried out, even during droughts. This cemented the Rainbow Serpent’s connection with the vital element of water.

On Saturday, I’ll recount some of the Rainbow Serpent’s legends.

Among the many amazing visuals of 2012’s The Avengers was an enormous, dragonlike creature. These leviathans were part of the Chitauri invasion, which the evil god Loki commanded after his alliance with Thanos. Although technically not dragons, the levianthans certainly were powerful enough to qualify for this category.

Due to the action-packed plot, viewers didn’t learn much about the Chitauri themselves. However, information can be gleaned from sources on the Internet. According to the Marvel Universe Wiki, the Chitauri were originally a reptilian species from another dimension, which became cybernetic beings. A single intelligence unites them, allowing the individuals to act as one. (They sound rather like the Borg of Star Trek: Next Gen.)

Leviathans were mighty beasts of that same dimension that were tamed and/or enslaved as servants for the smaller, humanoid Chitauri. In appearance, they are a combination of whale and turtle, with heavy armor on the upper back, prominent spines or bones down the lower back, and rows of side fins sturdy enough to slash buildings without suffering visible damage. These behemoths are truly huge, of a size with New York skyscrapers. And did I mention they can fly?

In the invasion of New York, the leviathans acted as troop carriers, allowing Chitauri warriors to leap from their backs and assail the populace. Their great size also allowed them to act as very effective engines of destruction. Fortunately for the denizens of Earth, Iron Man destroyed the Chitauri mother ship. This caused the leviathans to crash from the sky and perish along with their smaller comrades.

In the aftermath, detailed as part of Agents of Shield on TV, various remnants of the Chitauri and their equipment became objects of contention among governments and criminal organizations. I won’t give spoilers, but keep an eye open during Age of Ultron. The Chitauri leviathan makes an extended cameo!

To close this thread, I can’t pass up the chance to tout my own book. Masters of Air & Fire is a fantasy for middle graders featuring a trio of young wyrmlings who are cast adrift due to the sudden death of their parent.

My wyrmlings have chameleon-like patches of skin in their crests and underwings. These change colors and patterns to show emotions. Their crests may turn black (fear), striped black/yellow or black/white (anger, aggression), and green or blue (friendship, affection, humor). When Wrotha is lost, all of their scales show gray and white, and their crests droop with despair.

Each of the wyrmlings have a different emotional reaction, as well. Romik, the gentlest of the three, holds onto Wrotha’s memory and insists on searching for her even when there’s no hope. When they encounter humans, Romik cultivates a surrogate-parent relationship with an older woman, Hanani. Yazka, the aggressive one, tries to take leadership of the group. It’s her way to regain a sense of control, and also plays out a sibling rivalry with Orlik. She also makes friends with a human, the village chief Taksepu. However, her motives for this are suspect. Finally, Orlik is the responsible one. He becomes so focused on taking care of the others that he sometimes seems to feel nothing at all.

If you’re interested, please check out Masters of Air & Fire for Kindle or Nook.

I think we’ve established a consensus that most literary and mythical dragons are intelligent creatures capable of mourning for lost friends and family. Perhaps more interesting is how dragons would show their grief.

Since dragons are often depicted as powerful beings, you could have dragons taking part in human or similar funerals in some capacity. Perhaps to show diplomatic honor for allies, a dragon might stand as honor guard for the fallen. Dragons might fly over ceremonies in tribute, or even simply attend the funeral if space allowed.

A few books show a different approach to the passing of dragons: cannibalism! In some of Robin Hobb’s books, a dragon that dies will be eaten by other dragons. This is because dragons are so magical, anyone who consumes the dragon’s flesh will gain great power. The dragon’s flesh also contains their memories and insights of past generations. Dragons eat their dead in order to maintain draconic power and heritage.

There’s another book I recall from about 15 years ago, where cannibalism was the basis of draconic society. It was much like a Regency romance, except all the characters were dragons. Eating other dragons was essential to a dragon’s healthy growth, and there was a lot of intrigue by powerful and upwardly mobile dragons creating excuses to devour the young and weak of their own kind. When a dragon died, there was a strict hierarchy of who could eat what parts of the deceased. Major plot points revolved around a greedy relative who took more than his share.

That sounds really bizarre, now that I think about it! I’ve searched high and low and can’t find this book, so if you’ve ever heard of it, I’d love for you to share the information.

Actually, there’s been a lot of sharing on this topic. I want to thank all of you for your comments. So, how do you think dragons would mourn?

Certainly, in some cases, authors create good dragons who would grieve the passing of their own or a human friend. One of the best cases is Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series.

Now, these dragons are quite a bit different from the mythical sort. They are genetically created by scientists and “impress” upon hatching with human companions. Indeed, Pernese dragons require this mental bond and cannot survive without it; there are no wild Pernese dragons. Still, the books show numerous instances where dragons mourn.

Because of the mental bond, if a dragon’s rider is killed, the dragon immediately commits suicide by going between forever. When this happens, the other dragons show grief by “keening,” an eerie wailing that echoes throughout their weyrs. They are also shown to lose color, eat less, and behave as if depressed. Most riders also commit suicide if their dragon is killed, although a few manage to survive through the torment. Dragons don’t mourn these riders, unless they were significant leaders such as queenriders.

Believe it or not, there also is mention in the Bible of dragons mourning. In the Book of Micah, Chapter 1, Verse 8, it states:

Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls.

This is a pretty definitive statement that dragons can mourn. Check back Tuesday for more on this topic.

First, let me thank all of you for your condolences. You all know our pets are so much more than mere animals. This particular cat actually was my son’s pet. In some ways, Ganja saved Shane’s sanity at a time when adolescent trauma seemed to be tearing our family apart. What happens without him? That remains to be seen.

But I mentioned dragons mourning for Ganja, and of course that got me on a riff about whether dragons mourn and how they would show it.

In so many iterations, dragons represent something wholly evil. They’re more like a force of nature, or inscrutable fate. Earthquakes, tsunami, that sort of thing. Dragons are uncaring at best, malicious at worst. They destroy lives and property for little reason or no reason at all.

So, would such a creature ever grieve for any loss? If so, what beings or possessions would a dragon consider worthy of mourning? I’ll explore that more over my next few posts, but I’d welcome any thoughts from those of you reading.

Do you think dragons can or would mourn?

Sad Day

The dragons are mourning. I had to euthanize a pet this morning and there’s no writing in me right now. I will return on Tuesday.

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