Dragons are mythical creatures that appear in legends and folklore around the world. They are often depicted as large, reptilian beasts with wings, horns, claws, and fiery breath. But why do so many different cultures have stories about dragons, even though they never existed in reality?
One possible explanation is that ancient people misinterpreted the fossils of extinct animals, such as dinosaurs, and imagined them as living monsters.
Adrienne Mayor, a classical folklorist and historian of ancient science at Stanford University, has argued that this is how the myth of the griffin, a lion-eagle hybrid, originated. She suggests that people in Central Asia encountered the skeletons of Protoceratops, a dinosaur with a beak and a frill, and gave them a mythical identity.
Similarly, people who found the bones of Tyrannosaurus rex or other large predators might have envisioned them as dragons. This could explain why some dragon myths feature details that resemble paleontological facts, such as the presence of scales, teeth, and claws.
Another possible explanation is that dragons are an archetype that reflects the human instinct to fear dangerous predators.
In his book An Instinct for Dragons, anthropologist David E. Jones argues that humans have evolved to recognize and avoid certain features that signal threat, such as sharp teeth, long tails, and piercing eyes. He proposes that the dragon is a composite of these features, combining elements from crocodiles, snakes, birds of prey, and big cats.
According to Jones, the dragon archetype is embedded in the human subconscious and emerges in dreams and fantasies. He claims that this is why dragon myths are so widespread and persistent across cultures and time periods.
However, not all dragon myths are the same. Different cultures have given different meanings and roles to their dragons, depending on their historical and environmental contexts.
For example, in Europe, dragons were often seen as evil creatures that hoarded treasure and terrorized people. Many stories involved heroes slaying dragons to prove their courage and virtue.
In contrast, in East Asia, dragons were often seen as benevolent beings that symbolized power, strength, and good luck. They were associated with water, rain, and fertility, and were revered as guardians of heaven and earth. Some stories involved humans befriending or even marrying dragons to gain their favor and wisdom.
In Mesoamerica, dragons were also linked to water and creation. One of the most prominent deities was Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, who was believed to have created humans from his own blood. He was also a god of wind, learning, and civilization.
These examples show that dragon myths are not only products of human imagination but also reflections of human culture. They reveal how people have tried to make sense of their world and their place in it by creating stories about fantastic creatures that embody their hopes and fears.
Is there evidence to prove that Dragons existed?
The answer to this question depends wholly on your point of view. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that dragons existed in the way they are commonly portrayed in mythology and fiction, with wings and the ability to breathe fire. However, many cultures have myths and legends about dragons, which may have been based on real animals or events that have been exaggerated over time.
Novelist Ryan S. Kinsgrove, who has been researching the subject of the dragon for 17 years, explains it this way:
“I think it’s entirely possible that some form of mythological dragon exists. This isn’t based on hard evidence so much as how little we know about the world. Only about 5% of the ocean floors have been mapped. The ocean takes up 70% of the earth’s surface. So, who’s to say there isn’t a creature that would fit the description of a mythological dragon.
“Another possibility is that they existed, but have gone extinct. Where’s the evidence? We’ve got dinosaur bones all over, but nothing that looks like a dragon. Where is the evidence? We’re looking in the wrong place. Antarctica is the fifth largest continent on the planet, covered by 1.2 miles of ice. What we know about Antarctica measures out to the same amount as the oceans. We don’t know what’s buried under the ice. We probably won’t in our lifetime, but one day we’ll find a whole other world on that continent.”
Existing in the Metaphysical
“For this one there are a couple of other things you need to believe in,” says Kinsgrove.
“The metaphysical, of course. This belief includes but isn’t limited to: God, gods and goddesses, angels, an afterlife be it heaven or hell or one of any other interpretations, reincarnation, past lives, and a multitude of other things.”
How do dragons fit it?
“Once dragons were living breathing beings, revered as gods and just as powerful. But some calamity happened, and it wiped the dragons out. Their magical essence remained. These dragon ghosts (for lack of a better term) saw humans as a way to potentially revive their race.
“They bound their essence to a human soul, and in that soul they laid an egg. They knew the eggs would never hatch in one human’s lifetime, but if it had a hundred or a thousand human lifetimes it would grow, mature, and hatch, and if that human was ready and willing then the dragon could manifest and become real again.
“So, the dragon souls remained with the humans their egg was bound to. They go through this process each time that person’s soul is reincarnated, hoping to one day find the right variation of that soul and see their children’s wings spread wide.
“A final note, when the dragons bound their souls to the humans there was a very finite number of humans. Not the roughly 9 billion souls there are now. So, the souls bearing the dragon eggs are flung far and wide, with maybe 1 in every 100,000 people gifted with the egg.
“That’s just part of my belief system anyway,” concludes Kinsgrove.
Dragons of myth and legend exist just as much today as they did in the days of yore. They exist as part of these stories that have been handed down from generation to generation, and now they’ve engrained themselves into pop culture. Try finding someone who doesn’t know what a dragon is. I bet you the task will be next to impossible.
So, that’s how dragons exist. Just like our loved ones who have passed on, dragons are eternal so long as there’s one person that can speak the word.