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By: xger, Xger
Oct 24 2013 4:39am
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 Welcome to Dragon Week!

 

In the beginning...

Magic has had dragons in nearly every set (the most notable exclusion being Dragon's Maze...) and those dragons have all had their flavor influences from throughout the world. There are a handful of groups that dragons are usually placed in: European, Asian, and Slavic. The majority of Magic dragons are of European influence. 

Similarities of Dragon Myths:

Many different versions of dragon mythology are grouped together in the general concept of a dragon. Some cultures had them breathing fire or being poisonous (Beowulf), others are winged (European Dragons) or have different numbers of legs. The most common similarities is being somewhat serpentine, having scales or feathers, hatching from an egg, and being defeated by a hero (though this is not commonly the case with Asian dragons). Some cultures have dragons capable of speech, and some even believe it was dragons who gave speech to humans. Dragon Egg
Often dragons are depicted as very wise, often wiser than humans as well. Usually they are considered long-lived. Dragons often have magical or supernatural powers as well. Niv-Mizzet is considered the wisest and smartest being on Ravnica and his age is known as ancient (at least 15,000 years old). Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius Dragon Blood is commonly referenced in dragon mythology. Sometimes it is poisonous, occasionally to the point of being deadly. Other times it is acidic enough to seep through iron (Beowulf). Some myths see it as beneficial, granting impervious skin or armor (Siegfried's skin and Ortnit respectively). In Slavic myth it is so vile that Mother Earth rejected it, leaving it on the surface for all eternity.  Dragon Blood

European Dragons:

As stated earlier, Magic Dragons are primarily influenced by the European Dragon. European Dragons are recognizable by their more lizard like bodies, bat like wings, and generally evil nature. European tradition has dragons with 4 legs, the same creature with 2 legs is considered a Wyvern. Singular dragons in myths are usually known by association with the heroes that defeated them. In this tradition they often live in lairs and fervently guard treasures they have collected. In Germanic mythology the word for dragon was worm, wyrm, or wurm (Germanic, Old English, and Old High German respectively) which are often used currently for dragons or creatures similar to dragons. Here are two of the prominent European dragon myths:

  • Saint George and the Dragon: There was a town in Silene that was located near a dragon that ravaged the countryside and attacked the town. To appease the dragon the town gave him two sheep each day, though that was not always enough and they had to send children. The children were chosen by lottery and one fateful day the king's daughter Sabra was chosen. The king offered all his gold and silver and half his kingdom to allow Sabra to live but the people refused. As Sabra later approached the location of the dragon Saint George was on approach as well. She tried to warn Saint George off but upon hearing her story he resolved to stay and fight the dragon. When the dragon appeared he attacked and viciously wounded the animal. With Sabra's help he subdued the dragon and brought back to town where he told the townspeople and king he would slay the dragon in front of them if they converted to Christianity. They agreed and Saint George killed the dragon. The king built a church to the Blessed Virgin and to Saint George. (There is another similar story that less involves the town and has George slaying the dragon close to the dragon's lair).
     
  • Fafnir: Fafnir was son of the dwarf king Hreidmar and had two brothers, Ótr and Regin. Three gods, Odin, Loki and Hœnir, were travelling on a road when they saw an otter, who was really Ótr during the day. Loki threw a stone and killed the otter and the three then skinned the creature. As they continued on they went to Hreidmar's camp and showed him the skin. Hreidmar and his two remaining sons recognized the skin and then trapped the gods, forcing Loki to find a ransom. They demanded the skin be filled with gold and covered in red gold. Loki found cursed gold for the ransom, whoever possessed it was destined to die. After returning with the gold the gods were freed. Fafnir eventually grew extremely greedy and killed his father, stole all his treasures and went into the wilderness. His greed grew so strong and he became so ill-natured that he turned into a dragon who breathed poison, corrupting the land surrounding the treasure. Regin commanded his son, Sigurd, to go into the wilderness and kill the dragon. He explained to dig a trench on the path to the stream and hide in it so that when Fafnir passed over it he could stab him in the heart. After telling Sigurd this Regin ran in fear. Sigurd followed the directions and subdued Fafnir. While dying Fafnir discovers Sigurd is Regin's son and is satisfied to know the curse will kill Regin. After returning with the gold and Fafnir's heart Regin becomes corrupt and plots to kill Sigurd. Sigurd prepares Fafnir's heart for Regin to eat and in the process consumes some of Fafnir's dragon blood. This gives him the ability to speak with birds and he learns of the plot by Regin to kill him. Sigurd then kills Regin first.

Another common trend with European dragons is being on crests and heraldry. Often a local story of a dragon slayer becomes incorporated into the crest and heraldry of the family or area.

As for the 4 cards on the side, the first two (Moltensteel Dragon and Archwing Dragon) overall represent the European dragon feel quite well, more so when the flavor text is included. Another good example is the early versions of Shivan Dragon. Covetous Dragon displays the hoarding treasure aspect of European dragons very well. Fafnir can be similar to the flavor of Form of the Dragon - taking the form at a high cost and high potential.

Archwing Dragon

Moltensteel Dragon

Covetous Dragon

Form of the Dragon

Asian Dragons:

There's only a few Asian influenced dragons in magic at this point. Zodiac Dragon and the cycle of rare Kamigawa dragons are the prime examples. In Asian myth dragons are often wise, benevolent, and bringers of good luck and fortune. They are generally are associated with water, rainfall, hurricanes and floods. The symbol of the dragon also represents power and strength, and thus the emperor of China usually used the dragon as his symbol. During various periods of time in Chinese history the number of toes on a dragon was symbolic of ones status with only the highest royalty able to display 5, and only the emperor himself to display 5 in gold. Not following the rules was tantamount to treason. It is said that the legendary first Emperor of China, Huangdi, was immortalized into a dragon similar to his emblem upon the end of his rein. Huangdi's brother, Yandi, was said to have been born of his mother by telepathy with a dragon. The physical specifics of Chinese dragons are quite precise in most cases - they have 117 scales, 81 of which are yang essence (positive) and 36 of which are yen (negative). For a dragon to take flight they must  have a chimu (a broad eminence on their head). Dragons are also somewhat similar to a Chimera, they have multiple animal parts, and often very specific ones. The origin for this is sometimes attributed to Huangdi: as he conquered his enemies he would incorporate part of their crest into his - it began as a snake. In Vietnamese myth, the Vietnamese people were born of a dragon and a fairy. Vietnamese dragons also represented water based aspects of life as well as the power of the nation.

Zodiac Dragon

 

Slavic Dragons:

Slavic dragons are more rare in Magic than Asian, and the only one I found that somewhat fits is still a stretch. Slavic dragons are generally distinguished by having more than 1 head (most commonly 3) and walking upright on their back paws (with smaller front paws). Slavic dragons had more variation in the malevolence or benevolence than either European or Asian. Slavic dragons were considered wise, strong, magically proficient, and wealthy. They also lusted after women and were capable of conceiving. Many great heroes were said to be conceived by a dragon. Two-Headed Dragon

Possible inspirations for dragons:

Crocodiles and snakes are among the foremost in likely inspirations. The poison and fire breathing abilities of dragons are speculated to come from spitting cobras. Nile crocodiles in ancient times could occasionally be found in southern Europe. Any number of skeletons and bones of large animals (whales or large mammals for instance) were often thought to be of dragons or other mystical creatures. It is also conceivable that crocodiles played a role in developing the Asian dragon mythology. Some Asian traditions dictated that the head of a dragon be a crocodile. The salt water crocodile in the area also has been shown to accurately sense changes in air pressure and know when the rain is coming - leading to the dragons tie in with rain and other water related weather and environment.

Another theory advanced in effort to explain why dragons appeared in myth all over the world is our instinctual fears. Similar to monkeys, humans have a natural aversion to snakes, large cats, and birds of prey, all of which can be seen in a dragon.

Well I hope you enjoyed a trip through dragon mythology!

As always, I appreciate comments and feedback!

xger21

1 Comments

I like this a lot, because by Leviathan at Fri, 10/25/2013 - 11:34
Leviathan's picture
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I like this a lot, because the links provide a ton of info. Good stuff!

One of the things I like about Kamigawa is the different way they depicted dragons. It would be awesome to see something like the Slavic dragons in Magic, but I just can't see that happening.