The only biologically factual dragons are Komodo Dragons, which are large, very fierce lizards that we should leave alone. While these creatures are interesting from a scientific viewpoint, Komodo Dragons are not what most people think of when they encounter the subject of dragons.
It’s interesting that cultures around the world seem to have independently developed their own concepts and mythologies about these imaginary creatures. In the west, we generally think of inauspicious, fire-breathing, winged dragons that represent challenges to white knights in fairy tale like stories about the struggles between good and evil. If you look into European dragons, though, there are a great many variants. Dragons appear on many coats of arms and figure into the heroic legends of several nations.
A noteworthy dragon from the Americas, is the Amaru that is part of Incan culture. The Amaru has the body and scales of a snake, the head of a llama, the mouth of a fox, the tail of a fish, and the wings of a condor.
As a matter of fact, my interest in Asian dragons was triggered when one of my childhood friends’ mother looked up my Chinese Astrological symbol. She determined that I was born in the Year of the Water Dragon, this made me a dragon.
Dragons from the Far East generally have a similar appearance. Their physical features are blends of different earthly animals. For instance, the Chinese Lung Dragon, which is the most popular depiction, has the body of a snake, the scales of a carp, the stylized head of a camel, the horns of a stag, the eyes of a rabbit, the ears of a bovine bull, the feet of a tiger, and the claws of an eagle. In addition, most Lung Dragons grasp a “pearl of wisdom” in their right front feet.
You can generally distinguish Chinese dragons from other nations’ dragons by the number of toes they have on each foot. Japanese dragons have three toes, Korean dragons have four, and Imperial Chinese dragons have five.
Unlike malevolent western dragons, eastern dragons are thought of as benevolent, auspicious, spiritual creatures. The popular Lung Dragon is a symbol of the Sun and the Eastern direction and it has the power to generate rain.
Some of the less well-known dragons rule other aspects of nature and life. The Celestial Dragon guards the mansions of the gods. The Coiled Dragon rules bodies of water. The Spiritual Dragon oversees the weather, and the Dragon of Hidden Treasures guards precious metals, jewels, and money.
Traditionally, there is a dragon for nearly anything you can think of. Likewise dragons come in different shapes and colors. However, there are only five popularly famous types of astrological dragons. They are the Wood Dragon, the Fire Dragon, the Earth Dragon, the Metal Dragon, and the Water Dragon. These “elements” are also the variants of the rest of the Chinese Astrological animal categories. For instance, this year’s Chinese New Year will signal the start of the Year of the Earth Dog.
Today happens to be Dragon Appreciation Day. This is a good time to honor the type of dragon that fascinates you, whether it is from China, or India, or England, South America, or wherever.
We all harbor dragons in our imaginations.