Dragon – Spirit Animal, Totem, Symbolism and Meaning

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In vast majority of world’s mythological systems, dragons are an, if not essential, than certainly a significant class of supernatural creatures.

In great number of mythologies, dragons are magical beings usually depicted as creatures that resemble giant reptiles; in most of the cases, they look like colossal snakes or lizards, while some resemble dinosaur-like animals.

The most common image of a dragon we are familiar with is a lizard-like creature with wings, capable of spitting fire and flying.

In most of Western societies’ legendary conceptualizations, dragons are dangerous creatures that burn humans’ settlements down to the ground, devour people and generally represent something extremely threatening and scary.

In some folk beliefs, dragons are actually humans with special powers; such depictions could be found in certain Slavic traditions, for example.

In Far East, dragons are conceptualized in a completely different manner; they are believed to be lucky and protective spirits. Various types of mythological creatures called dragons, probably do not originate from a single mythical source.

However, a dragon type of mythical beings is present in numerous cultures all around the world.

Dragons or dragon-like creatures occur in some of the greatest cultural, religious, spiritual and mythological systems. Cultural and spiritual background of dragons seizes back into far past and it has been developed until the day.

Dragons are depicted in different, sometimes completely opposite manner. Their symbolism is, thus, dual. As we have mentioned, in European mythological systems, dragons are usually represented as evil, dangerous beings, while those from the East are fortune bringing, auspicious symbols.

Evil dragons could be found in certain mythologies out of Europe, such as Persian tradition, for example. Sometimes, dragons are seen both good and dangerous.

These incredible mythological creatures have been playing an important spiritual role in various types of societies around the globe.

In many of Asian and Indian societies, dragons have been considered embodiments of forces of life energy and the Universe; they are seen messengers from realms far beyond human imagination.

In these spiritual depictions, dragons are imagined as beings connected with supernatural, divine forces.

While in Western societies dragons are seen scary and threatening, in many of Asian beliefs, these beings are associated with longevity, wisdom, royalty, fortune and deep knowledge.

They are seen keepers of wisdom and guardians of time. In these systems, dragons are usually believed to possess magical powers, in addition to their strength, great knowledge and that they can affect and control weather.

Dragon cultural significance

Let us talk more about the importance of dragons’ depictions in different cultural systems.

First of all, why do we talk about dragons at all? Their origins are still covered by the veil of mystery. While there are many suggestions on where dragons originate from, we still do not have concrete answers.

It is interesting to note that beliefs, legends, folktales, myths and stories about dragons are present in great majority of cultures and traditions and it seems that some of those have developed independently of one another.

The question that bothers us all is about where are dragons now? Are they only products of our imagination, our way of trying to understand certain phenomena out our comprehension? Did dragons really exist in old times?

Well, no one can tell for sure. We do associate them with reptiles, dinosaurs and some ‘real’ living beings, but, who knows…

In a way, it is inspiring and intriguing to think of dragons as beings that dwell somewhere in between our myths and our reality. Dragon symbolism is strong all around the world and it is being abundant in meanings.

In following paragraphs, we will present some of the most common dragon depictions and interpretations of their symbolical value.

The Western and the Eastern world types of dragons are what interest us the most, because the contemporary dragon symbolism is based on the mixture of such beliefs or the choice of one or another.

Contemporary dragon symbolism could be deeply personal and individual, such as in the case of getting yourself a modern dragon tattoo.

Oriental dragon

Dragons of the East are generally represented as fortunate spirits, deeply connected with nature. These creatures are often benevolent and protective; they do not see to do any harm to humans.

Dragons are worshiped in China and Japan and seen as powerful and lucky symbols. The true origin of oriental dragons is not known, although there are some assumptions that these depictions originate from ‘upgraded’ symbolic interpretations of animals such as snakes or fish.

Oriental dragons are commonly depicted as a being we could call a serpent dragon. Their bodies usually resemble a snake-like built, but they fly or are closely in touch with a water source.

Many oriental dragons are believed to live in rivers and lakes and they are guardians of sacred waters.

Certain indescribable beautiful natural spots in China and Japan are associated with dragons and their magical power and guardianship.

Chinese dragon

The origins of dragon related legends and beliefs in China are not known, but the importance of dragon symbolism has been widely present in China since ancient past.

Chinese dragons are a common motif in art, folklore and spirituality of Chinese people.

Chinese symbol for dragon is derived from Old Chinese, proving that dragon symbolism has been playing an important role in Chinese society over the centuries.

In Chinese tradition, dragons are represented as good magical spirit, mighty protectors and fortune bringers. Chinese dragon is worshiped and deeply appreciated.

This powerful majestic supernatural being is depicted as a serpent-like creature, usually flying, with colorful mane, hair and whiskers.

These dragons are colorful and they make an incredibly eye-catching decorative motif.

Chinese dragon motifs could be found on pottery, clothes, home decorative elements, on walls, pillars, all of the inventory and so on. It is believed they offer protection, bring wealth, and grant wisdom and peace.

The mighty Dragon is also believed to be the ancestor of Chinese people. One of the most popular Chinese songs, all of the people know, is titled Descendants of the Dragon or, in pinyin Chinese, Lóng de chuán rén’.

Dragon is also one of the most powerful Chinese zodiac signs and there are several types of sacred Chinese dragons. Some of them are the Celestial dragon, the Spiritual Dragon, the Underground Dragon, the Dragon of Hidden Treasures, the Horned Dragon, the Winged Dragon, the Water Dragon, the King Dragon and the Homeless Dragon.

Dragon Dance of Chinese New Year’s celebration is something that stays in mind of every visitor who had that wonderful opportunity to attend it. You definitely would not miss the giant colorful dragon dancing in the crowd.

Chinese would make an impressive structure in dragon shape and carry it all around, performing characteristic dance moves that resemble the dragon’s flight. Chinese deeply appreciate this ancient mythological creature and still consider it a national symbol.

This ceremonial dance is known as Dragon Dance and its main purpose is to provide fortune and wealth to people in the following year. The more majestic, colorful and long you make this artificial dragon, the more luck and fortune you will have in the future.

Chinese Dragon dance is a part of New Year’s holidays in Chine and it is celebrated by all Chinese people, anywhere on the planet. It is an impressive event, full of joy, fun and traditional food.

Japanese dragon

Japanese people are also in favor with dragons. Japanese dragons are mostly associated with water sources; in Japanese mythology, these magnificent serpent dragons are guardians of rivers, hidden ponds and lakes.

Dragon related beliefs in Japan have origins in, of course, Chinese folklore, but also that of Korea and India.

Japanese language features various terms used to describe a dragon or dragon-like being. In contemporary Japan, dragons still play an important symbolical role.

It is believed these wonderful mystical creatures dwell in waters and they are considered water deities. These supernatural creatures are commonly depicted in some kind of serpent form, but they are also capable of shifting shapes.

For example, some can even transform into human beings. Japanese dragons are also considered positive, good and protective spirits, which is inherited from Chinese dragon lore.

Western world dragons

In contrast to oriental dragons, in Europe, dragons are often seen as evil and scary winged reptiles that spit fire and destroy everything in front of them.

In Christianity, dragons are often portrayed as devilish creatures with destructive powers and with no hesitation of using such powers.

Probably one of the most widely known dragon-like creatures is the one that symbolizes the Satan and his fallen angels, described in John’s Revelation.

Another dreadful Biblical dragon-like being is Leviathan, the sea dragon or kraken-type of mythical creature.

In Christianity, dragons are commonly used as symbols of evil, devils, dark forces, devastating energies; in general, dragons are depicted dark, scary and threatening. However, there are certain interesting depictions of dragons in some parts of European continent.

Celtic dragon meaning is pretty much different than that of the Christian Europe. Celtic people are known to nurture special connection with both nature and spiritual realms. They believe in magical beings, spirits and have many stories about mythical creatures.

In Celtic lore, dragons are good. These fantastic beasts are believed to be mediators between the sky and the earth. They are keepers of wisdom and great knowledge.

Celtic dragons symbolize valor, royalty, power and glory and they are also believed to have powers of foreseeing and of clairvoyance. These mythical beings are also guardians of great treasures.

You know, lots of golden coins, jewels and other precious stone and metal items beyond value.

The Celtic dragon image is what actually first come to our mind when we say ‘a dragon’; a majestic, usually green reptile with scales, wings and long tail. Sometimes, it is depicted as a serpent dragon biting its tail.

Red dragon symbol is another important variation of dragons’ symbolism, present in various cultures. A red dragon takes special place in Welsh culture. This symbol appears on the flag of Wales and it has been the national symbol since far past, probably originating from the ninth century AD.

The actual Welsh term is Y Draig Goch, literally translated as ‘a red dragon’. Welsh are proud of this symbol and it is commonly used to represent all things related to Wales and its people.

Dragon symbolism in modern times

What do dragons symbolize in general? How do we actually see these mythical beings in modern times? Well, it depends on a culture you belong to, but, we could say dragons still stand for all of the things mentioned above.

However, if we talk about contemporary urban societies, dragons’ symbolism takes the form of all the mentioned mixed up together.

Dragons are particularly a popular motif in alternative cultures and movements, such as Goth subculture, for instance. It is still believed dragons are magical and powerful.

Dragon tattoo designs have been popular since old times and you could see many people, of all nationalities, wearing one.

Oriental dragon designs are probably the most common, but there are variations. Designs vary from representation of cute cartoon-like characters dragons, ‘girly’ ones, to dark, scary-looking majestic fiery ones. It all depends on a customer and their deeply personal desires.

Dragon tattoo meanings are individually shaped, but general concepts lying behind such designs include power, force, energy, tranquility, wisdom, glory, longevity, destruction, spirituality, infinity and magic.

Some of the most commonly tattooed designs are Asian dragons, tribal tattoo designs that resemble dragons, a dragon snake biting its tail and a large variety of dark magical dragons.

Dragon totem and traits of Dragon people

Dragon totem is probably one of the most powerful fantastic beings you could have as your spiritual guardian and guide. The very idea of such a mighty, strong and almost invincible protector is a true blessing.

Dragon is known to be one of the sacred beings of the Chinese zodiac, so people born in the year of Dragon definitely possess certain dragon traits and are guided by this powerful creature.

Dragon totem is impressive, but quite challenging to have. It inspires great things in you, but also awakens incredible amount of energy that could go in wrong direction. Therefore,

Dragon people have to be observant and thoughtful. Dragon people are truly fascinating individuals with great intelligence and even greater knowledge.

They dig deep and see deep, into their own being and the world around them. Dragon individuals do not take life for granted and they learn from experience. They are charismatic, charming and mysterious.

Other people are usually fascinated by these ones. Dragon people have big ideas, they are creative, proud and generally lucky in life.

However, they are true masters of being immature, spoiled and depressed. Dragon people are perfectionists, so, when things go downhill, they tend to fall into severe despair and act childishly.

They are capable of spending days and nights mourning over their own misery that is almost always exaggerated. They also do not want to ask for help, because they are too proud to do such.

They are emotionally unstable, even if they generally appear unreachable, unbeatable and strong. Their only, but sometimes debilitating flaw, is what we have mentioned; it is self-obsession, to put things simply.

On the other hand, they think good about people, but never let anyone control or manipulate them. They are too smart to let that to happen.

Dragon people could be great humanists and they do not find it hard to help those in need. They are also very creative, artistic and obscure, in a way. Dragon individuals are often reserved and introvert and others find that intriguing and inspiring.

If they let you closer and ‘allow’ you to be in their company, you could hear some amazing stories from them and learn many interesting things.

Although generally self-focused, Dragon people could be great listeners and advice-givers.

Dragon totem teaches us to stay strong, to always seek for something more, but also to nurture knowledge and appreciate experience we already have.