Archive for the ‘Dragon Folklore’ Category

Back in 2007, the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, featured a group of linked events around legendary and mythical beasts. Collectively known as Mythic Creatures, the exhibit included beasts of the sea (mermaids, sea serpents), earth (giants, griffins), sky (phoenix and roc) and of course, many tales of dragons!

Though the exhibits are long over, you can still see a great overview on their web site. Check it out!

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We might not think of dragons as medical miracle-workers, but scientists have announced a breakthrough in the search for new antibiotics. The source? Komodo dragons!

Biologists have long known that Komodo dragons have some really nasty bacteria in their mouths. If these big lizards can’t overpower their prey, they use a long-acting bacterial weapon as their fall-back. Any animal bitten by a Komodo dragon will develop a serious infection known as sepsis. It might take a few days, but the dragon follows its prey until the infection kills it. Then, it’s dinner time.

However deadly their mouth bacteria are, Komodo dragons themselves never seem to suffer from sepsis. Scientists decided to study them and figure out why. A team at George Mason Univerisity, led by Monique van Hoek, recently announced they had isolated a blood protein called DRGN-1. In laboratory tests, DRGN-1 was highly effective against some of the most notorious drug-resistant bacteria. Not even MRSA could stand against the dragon’s cure.

Although these are preliminary results, and much work remains to be done, van Hoek’s team hopes to develop a new antibiotic weapon for the ongoing battle against resistant diseases.

Our hero… the dragon?


Just a few of my books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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The Zuni tribe of New Mexico honors many spirits, including the ocean spirit, Kolowisi. This great serpent lived in a sacred spring at the foot of a mountain. There was a village nearby called Home of the Eagles. It was a thriving community led by a chief who had a lovely daughter. Her only flaw was that she couldn’t stand to be dirty. She was so focused on staying clean that she insisted on having her own room, away from her family.

When she couldn’t stand feeling dirty any more, she would go to Kolowisi’s spring to wash her clothes and bathe. She did this so often that Kolowisi got tired of having his spring fouled with soap and silt. He thought of a way to punish her.

The next time the maiden returned to the spring, she found a small baby, all alone in the water. At once she felt a powerful attachment to the child. She took it with her when she returned home. She went straight to her room to care for it.

Imagine the surprise when an unmarried maiden turned up with a baby! The daughter explained everything to her father, and wouldn’t be parted with the child for any reason. The chief was very confused, for he knew no mother would just leave her baby in the middle of a spring. But he was also a wise man. He decided to wait and see what would happen.

That night, the maiden put the baby down to sleep. Then she lay down, too, after such an exciting day. Once she fell asleep, the baby began to transform. He stretched out his legs, and then his arms, longer and longer until they became the coils of a serpent. It was Kolowisi, serpent of the sea! All that night, he rested his giant head near hers as she slept. When the dawn came, he stole her away to the spring.

Although Kolowisi was irritated by having his spring disturbed, he had become fond of the maiden. He asked her to be his wife. And since the spring was her favorite place, she gladly agreed.

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Draconian — something very harsh or cruel. I’ve always thought this word was a comparison to dragons, because they are thought to be such vicious creatures. Turns out, there actually was a person named Draco. He is the first political figure identified by name in the history of Athens, Greece.

Draco must have been a trusted leader. He was elected by the citizens around 620 B.C.E. with the explicit goal of reforming their legal code. Previously, Athens operated on the basis of oral tradition and the Greek religion. These customs were subject to personal interpretation, and when citizens sought justice the results could vary widely.

Draco made a great contribution to establishing consistent laws that were written down and displayed in public. Every citizen who could read was able to see these laws and know what to expect. Draco also established a council of judges to administer the laws. This meant that justice was more consistent for all citizens.

Only thing was, the penalties Draco set down were pretty harsh. Like his predecessors, Draco was an individual who made his own interpretation. His interpretation was that there were no minor crimes. Draco seemed to believe that having severe penalties for the little things would stop people from committing more serious crimes. Yes, even in the 7th Century B.C.E, politicians were vowing to “get tough on crime.”

Thus, under Draco’s rule, people could be executed for things like stealing a cabbage. If you couldn’t pay your debts, you would be enslaved. He did make the important distinction between murder and manslaughter; murderers were executed, while those who accidentally killed someone were merely exiled.

Soon, the Athenian citizens got buyer’s remorse. Draco himself was exiled to the island of Aegina and died there around 600 B.C.E. The Athenian code of justice was later reformed with softer penalties. However, the committee of judges and some other parts of Draco’s constitution remained a foundational part of Athenian democracy.

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About 100 years ago, a little town called Spoonville stood on the shore of Lake Michigan. Business came and went with the seasons, and times were often hard. Then a clever businessman thought of a plan to draw more tourists.

Moe Kopple was his name, and he ran a nice restaurant and bar right near the shore. When business got too slow, he would get one of his buddies to row out on the lake and then come back with outrageous stories of a water dragon! These stories would run in the local newspaper, and then in the larger papers, and soon a horde of tourists would show up to try and catch a glimpse.

Every year or three, there would be another sighting. Moe always asked a different friend to row out there, so it wouldn’t look too suspicious. Besides, the business was good for everyone, so it became the town’s secret.

One year, Moe asked his friend Sam McGeever to go lake-monster hunting, and he readily agreed. But Sam came back greatly excited. No more mysterious waves or vague shapes — Sam was full of details about the horrible lake monster. Moe scoffed at first, but Sam was totally convinced of what he’d seen. Eventually Moe went out with him to see for himself.

The two men set off in Sam’s boat, Moe teasing that this must be a hoax because everyone knew lake monsters weren’t real. Sam set off straight for a particular spot, and soon Moe saw a commotion ahead of them. To his shock, a terrifying creature erupted from the water. It was huge, with green scales, blazing red eyes, and billows of smoke from a fanged maw. The monster swam toward them. Yelling with fear, both men seized the oars and rowed back to Spoonville as fast as they could.

Now Moe was worried. He told Sam not to talk about the monster any more, for fear of the consequences. If a tourist got eaten, they might never come back again! Sam brooded angrily. He enjoyed the attention from telling his amazing stories, and wanted to show  that he wasn’t a liar. A few days later, he told a friend he was going back out to find some sort of proof. Moe rushed to the dock, trying to dissuade his friend, but it was too late. Sam had already rowed away.

Neither he nor his boat were ever seen again.


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Here’s another Irish dragon legend for you.

Lig-Na-Paiste was a dragon who dwelt in a forest pool near the headwaters of the Owenreagh River. He managed to keep his head down when Saint Patrick banished all the serpents from Ireland, and so he lingered and waited. Eventually the saint died, and Lig-Na-Paiste figured this was his chance. He took up his evil ways and marauded across the countryside once again.

Of course, people cried out their woes when he ravaged their herds. Word of their troubles reached another holy man, Saint Murrough. After fasting and praying for nine days, Murrough received a divine message. He gathered three rods made out of green reeds and sought out the lair of Lig-Na-Paiste. The dragon thought he must be a sacrifice sent by the local people, and readily came out of his den.

Legends differ as to the details, but Murrough tricked Lig-Na-Paiste  into wearing the reed bands. He then prayed, and the reeds transformed into iron. The dragon struggled mightily, but he could not get free. He then tried his own trickery, begging Saint Murrough to put him in the water, where his power would be greater. He claimed, also, that humans had no power over him. The saint held steadfast and asserted that God had power over all living things, even a dragon.

By Saint Murrough’s prayer, Lig-Na-Paiste was banished downstream to farthest depth of Lough Foyle. He is still bound with iron bands. The people who live nearby often tell of strange forebodings when they are near the water. If there are waves without a source or flooding on the lake shore, it is thought that Lig-Na-Paiste is struggling to get free.

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The dragons of Irish legend were more associated with water than those of other lands. Ireland was dotted with peat bogs, right into modern times. Though no snakes were native to the island, the peat bogs were home to other wiggly creatures like eels. In addition, Ireland was surrounded by ocean, which is a mysterious realm ripe for magical beings. Thus the dragons of Irish imagination resembled gigantic, malevolent eels more than the winged, flying dragons we picture today.

In pre-historic spirituality, dragons were a force of decay and the underworld. The bubbling stink of a peat bog would have fit right into this legend. The Irish word for dragon was piast or peist (anglicized as pest or beast). If you listened to every story, you might believe that piasts were very widespread in Ireland. Nearly every major hero fought one. Some legends, such as that of Fionn mac Cumhaill (anglicized as Finn MacCool) include lengthy boasts of the piasts and other hauntings he had put an end to.

More recent legends tell that Saint Patrick came to Ireland and banished all serpents in the name of God. It is thought by modern scholars that this reflects the change from the traditional folk religion to that of Christianity. This was probably a gradual process, and that is reflected in a few tales of piasts who lingered after the expulsion.

I’ll share one such folktale next Wednesday.



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