Ormr. Ddraig. Dreigiaw. Derkein. Derkomai. Drakon. Draca. Draco. Dragon.
Despite the language of the name given them, dragons inhabit the myth and legends of most ancient and modern cultures and have been portrayed throughout history as magical creatures possessing raw power and mystical might. This is the allure of the dragon tattoo design. No other tattoo art or tattoo design makes as distinctive and commanding an individual statement than a dragon tattoo.
Dragon tattoos also have the added advantage of being so fluid that they can conform to and flatter the contours of any part of the body. Many hardcore tattoo addicts have even gotten dragon designs whose tail begins at one ankle and winds its way up the leg and torso with the dragon’s head finally resting on the chest. Dragons can even coil themselves into intricate full and half sleeve tattoos, and a dragon in flight with its wings spread makes an excellent lower back tattoo.
Origin of the Word “Dragon”
The origin of the word “dragon” has been traced to a Greek word, “derkein,” meaning “sharp-sighted one,” which appears to describe a snake, so when it was converted to Latin, the word became “draco,” or “giant snake.”
The Popularity of Dragons
Dragons have always been the topic of fascination and mystery, as well as being a source of wonder, a symbol of hope and purity, and sometimes…jealousy, miserliness, maleficence and fierce rage.
Dragons have also been known to be notorious riddle-masters, sentinels of sacred shrines, and hoarders of treasures beyond imagining. It is even said that great philosophers would climb the highest mountains peaks or venture into the lowest caverns to seek the sage advice of dragons in secret.
When not out to slay dragons for immortality, like Sigfried, or for the golden apples of great happiness, like Hercules, we lowly mortals live under the ever-vigilant gaze of dragons. Sometimes we reside in the sphere of a dragon’s good fortune. And there are those lucky few who actually get to live under the wing of a dragon’s protection.
Dragons have even crossed over into the real world. Vikings carved dragon figureheads on the prow of their ships because they believed the dragons would endow keen sight and cunning to the Viking warriors. And in China, emperors think they are the real dragons and the sons of the heaven. They sleep on dragon beds, sit on thrones called the dragon seat, and their ceremonial dress is known as dragon robes.
Nowadays it’s quite common to hear parents tell their children bedtime stories about good and kindly dragons. For a fee you can hire the services of a dragon specialist who will tell you the name of your own personal guardian dragon and for an additional sum you may even obtain a sketch of your appointed guardian. There are even group therapy sessions that help you release the inner dragon that lies dormant in all of us.
With the success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy, interest in dragons and the magical world created by J.R.R. Tolkien has renewed, just as it had back in 1973 when Gary Gygax of TSR, Inc. created a roleplaying game named Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).
D&D also goes into great length about dragon societies and the philosophy that revolves around the ancient Ceremony of Sublimation, where dragons aspire to reach a higher level of existence and possibly immortality unique to dragonkind.
And then there are the tattoos. Dragon tattoo designs come in many forms, Celtic dragon tattoos, tribal dragon tattoos, Asian dragon tattoos, and the list goes on. When it comes to body art, dragon tattoos are among the most popular tattoo designs.
What a Dragon Tattoo Represents on a Woman
A dragon tattoo on a woman usually acknowledges “woman as the creator.” Like the dragons of many mythologies, woman’s true body form is that of life, the world and the universe. It is this superior form that allows her to be without equal. Dragon body art also represents a flowing, fluid grace that conceals a reserve of power just beneath the cool surface. Studies have shown that women who get dragon tattoos become more self-confident and assertive.
What a Dragon Tattoo Represents on a Man
A dragon tattoo design on a man typically signifies raw power. Like dragons, men are the guardians of that which is sacred, such as women and objects of great wealth. But this must be tempered with wisdom, lest the greed of dragons overpower the man’s soul and turn him into a ravenous creature with an insatiable appetite. Men who get dragon tattoos view themselves as being revered for their wisdom but feared for their tremendous power.
Why All The Sudden Interest In Dragon Tattoo Designs?
Actually, the interest isn’t all that sudden at all. Dragons have always been an archetypal choice for a traditional tattoo design. Far more popular than tribal, butterfly, Celtic, and even cross tattoos, beautifully rendered coiling dragon tattoo flash can adorn any part of both the male and female body. Not to mention that tattoo designers have begun to take traditional dragon tattoo illustration to the next level, giving the dragon body art a stylized edge that is sure to keep people staring at your personal dragon tattoo design in awe and appreciation.
But before you rush out to get your dragon tattoo, you should familiarize yourself with the history of dragons to determine which tattoo design best represents your characteristics and strengths and beliefs.
THE HISTORY OF DRAGONS
Some of the first recorded stories involving dragons date back to the Sumerian civilization, located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in an area once called Mesopotamia, which later became Persia, and is now better know as Iraq and Iran.
The earliest written dragon myth was carved onto clay tablets and depicts the story of a dragon named Asag, who battled the hero-god, Ninurta. Even in these stories, dragons guarded treasures, held back floods, and imparted great knowledge.
In Babylonian myth, a dragon was believed to have aided in the creation of the world and the gods, and although some of the dragons served as the guardians of god’s treasure and nature, most were depicted as evil creatures, who all too often angered the gods. It is believed that Asag and Ninurta, from the Mesopotamian myth, are introduced by the Babylonians as Tiamet and Marduk, though this may not be totally accurate as the preserved records are in poor condition and incomplete.
A story that did survive is the epic tale of Gilgamesh, who set out to slay Humbab, the dragon guardian of the forest, who was thought to be a threat to the nearby town.
Babylonian history also tells in the “Book of Bel and the Dragon,” that the ruler Nebuchadnezzar, kept a dragon in the temple of the god Bel, where the dragon was worshipped. When the Hebrew prophet, Daniel, began denouncing idols, Nebuchadnezzar told him of the dragon and argued that the dragon was real and Daniel must worship it. Daniel asked why the people worshipped such a creature, and when faced by the dragon, slew it.
Sumerian myth depicts several dragons, chief among them, Zu, a cunning and devious dragon who stole the Tupsimati, the tablets of law, from the god Enlil, who wore the tablets on him. Another popular dragon is Gandareva, an immense creature who was the guardian of another dragons and preyed upon humans for food.
The Differences in Asian Dragons:
The Chinese boast that their dragons are the “true dragons” and the proof of this lies in the number of claws on the dragon’s foot. The true Chinese dragons have five claws. The Japanese dragons have four claws, and the Vietnamese dragons have only three.
In Chinese culture, the dragons are considered the governors of rain, entrusted with the power to decide where and when the rain falls. Dragons also play a significant role in Chinese Festivals and the dragon dance has a long history that dates back past the Song Dynasty, circa 960-1279 AD. Chinese even consider themselves “the descendants of the dragon” and their culture is rich with the presence of dragons, which is considered to be a symbol of imperial power.
Ryujin, a Japanese Dragon King, who lived in a palace under the sea, loved his wife and daughter so much that he spoiled them both, often sending out sea creatures such as octopus and jellyfish on errands to retrieve odd things. In one version, Ryujin’s daughter, Otohime, wanted to dine on monkey liver and a handsome and strong-boned jellyfish was dispatched to retrieve the liver but was outwitted by the monkey. In rage, the dragon king beat the jellyfish to a pulp, a shape that they hold to this very day.
Tales of Korean dragon are fewer in number than their Chinese and Japanese counterparts. The most popular myth involves a poor fisherman who caught a Carp, and the Carp begged for its life so that he may return to his family. The fisherman obliged, and the Carp turned out to be one of the sons of the Dragon King, so the fisherman was rewarded greatly.
The story of Slowcoach, involves a kindly man who fashions a fishhook out of a piece of enchanted wood. When he puts the hook into the lake, the water rises and the fishing pole and line disappear into the turbulence and the waves almost drown him. Then a beautiful woman walks out of the water and tells Slowcoach that she is the daughter of the dragon king and his enchanted fishhook is caught in her father’s mouth. When Slowcoach agrees to remove the fishhook, she turns him into a bubble and takes him to the underwater dragon palace. The fishhook is removed and the dragon king rewards Slowcoach with a bottle containing a little blue fish, which later turns out to be the dragon king’s daughter.
Vitra is the dragon that comes from the Indian subcontinent. Vitra absorbed the cosmic waters from the universe and coiled around a great mountain. Vitra is sometimes described as the personification of winter.
A more fascinating Indian Dragon myth involves the only dragon ever to be converted to a human religion. The Dragon, Apalala, lived in the Swat River and was converted by Buddha himself. Apalala then set out to teach it to other dragons, who drove him away but allowed him to continue teaching the humans.
European dragons hold the honorary title of the “kings of evil.” And although these chaotic creatures have plagued mankind since the earliest remembrances with their malicious intent and insatiable battle-lust, still humans feel a strange sense of awe and respect for them.
The tale of St. George’s dragon is perhaps the most famous of the European dragons, in which a dragon appears at the village of Cappadocia and threatens to destroy the region. In fear the villagers offer sacrifices to the dragon in the form of sheep and later the village maidens. Eventually the only maiden left is the princess, who is tied to a stake. Before the dragon can devour her however, George wanders by and slays the dragon.
Another dragon can be found in the epic Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf, which chronicled the three battles of the hero of the same name. In the first battle, Beowulf slew Grendel. In the second, Beowulf battled Grendel’s larger, more fearsome mother. In the third and final battle, Beowulf fought a fierce and fiery dragon, that he managed to vanquish, but suffered wounds so lethal that he himself perished.
Greeks mythology views dragons as terrifying dark creatures, remnants of an earlier age, that needed to be slaughtered by a hero. Dragons were guardians of underground sources of power, and often guarded springs, where the watery underworld burst to the surface.
In the Vorarlbeg area of West Austria dragons were not considered supernatural but rather simply an unwanted part of nature like wolves, bears, and mountain cats. The annoying dragons occasionally took a horse, cow, or some sheep but were rather shy about confronting mankind and were thus never seriously feared or hunted.
Tarasque is a dragon of a different kind. Reputed to be the daughter of the giant serpent, Onachus, and the water dragon, Leviathan, Tarasque came from the sea up the river Rhone and decided to make her home in Southern France. She terrorized the region for many years, despite the attempt by many knights and heroes to slay her. That was until St. Martha faced the dragoness alone in a white dress and armed only with her faith and a jar of holy water. Apparently that was enough as she led Tarasque back to the town where the now docile and trusting creature was hacked to pieces.
The village of Brand in Germany hosts a dragon who appeared and began eating cattle and tormenting the villagers. Every effort to destroy the dragon ended in failure, until a traveling scholar arrived and created a tempest that completely covered the valley in a landslide of rocks, trees, giant boulders, and mud. The dragon was never spotted again and the area became known as the “dragons grave.”
Nidhogger was a famous Norse dragon, who lived at the foot of Yggdrasil, the tree of life. Nidhogger was, in reality, Fafnir whose greed for the gold he horded slowly turned him into the great dragon.
In Sussex England there is a deep cleft in the ground named after the dragon who had resided there, Knucker, who in true dragon fashion caused the usual sort of mischief. This dragon, however, wasn’t slain by a knight. It was killed by a local farmer’s son, Jim Pulk, who put poison in a pie and offered it to Knucker as a meal.
Ollipeist is the most famous Irish dragon, who fled Ireland when St. Patrick started imprisoning dragons. It is said that he left a mark with his tail in what is now called the Shannon Valley.
The historical figure St. Magnus (1698-1772), credited with founding several notable churches and monasteries, had his first encounter with a dragon at the city of Kempton, which was said to be empty of men and filled with dragons. He lured the dragons out by sleeping in the open and managed to slay the lead dragon, Boas, by calling on the power of his god.
Gorynytch, three-headed dragon with seven tails knew of the prophecy involving the hero, Dobrynja, who would slay him, but was still defeated despite having this information.
Did You Know?
Did you know that the name “Dracula” is linked with dragons” In 1410, the holy Roman Emperor, King Sigismund of Hungary, established a clandestine fraternal order of knights which he named the Order of the Dragon to advocate Christianity and protect the Empire against the Ottoman Turks. At Sigismund’s behest, an emblem was created depicting a dragon clutching a cross with its wings extended.
In 1431, Vlad Tepes II demonstrated great bravery in battling the Turks and as a result was inducted into the Order. His name became “Vlad Dracul” which translated to “Vlad the Dragon.” His son, Vlad Tepes III, inherited his father’s name as well as his lust for battle and was called “Vlad Dracula.” The Romanian word “ulea” translates as “son of the,” which means his name was meant to be “the son of the dragon,” however, “drac” has a second meaning, “devil,” which is one his enemies believed was more accurate.
OTHER DRAGONS OF NOTE
From the Island of Borneo comes the myth of a dragon named Kinabalu, who lived at the summit of a mountain of the same name, and possessed a fabled pearl of immense size. The Emperor of China heard about the pearl and sent an army to get it for him but the dragon killed all but a few. These survivors return and told the emperor about the disaster and said he could not be overcome by strength of arms. So the emperor sent his two clever sons named Wee San and Wee Ping to get the pearl.
Mo-O-Inanea is considered to be the mother of all dragons, but little is known about her since natives are very reluctant to talk about this dragon. Some speculate she may still exist and is being protected by the Hawaiians.
Australian & New Zealand Dragons
Dragons in this region are called “taniwha” and the most famous is a dragon named Hotu-puku, who is credited with the mysterious disappearances of travelers going between Rotorua and Taupo.
In West African mythology, it is said that the world was formed by the genderless one god, Nana-Buluku. Out of loneliness, Nana-Buluku created a rainbow dragon companion named Aido-Hwedo, whose dung created mountains across the flat surface of the Earth and nourished the land so that plants and life could grow. But soon, the planet became so congested with plants and animals and mountains that Nana-Buluku feared the earth would collapse.
In gratitude for being created, Aido-Hwedo offered to help remold the planet, so the great dragon traveled across the earth, its massive dragon tail writhed with so much force and fury that it created the rivers and valleys, until its body formed an immense circular ring with its tail in its mouth, and enfolding the world.
Whether you’re attracted to the history, mythology or pure fantasy of these mysterious creatures, a dragon tattoo can reveal aspects of your true character or serve as a potential warning to those who cross you. Whether you choose a solid black tribal, Asian, Celtic or any of the many other dragon designs, your tattoo will make a powerful statement for the rest of your life.
Shhh, be quiet for a moment. Do you hear that sound” It’s the call of the dragon tattoo beckoning you to take that first step toward fulfilling your destiny.
Copyright ©2005 Rhyan Scorpio Rhys