The Cultural Significance of the Dragon in Different Countries

Dragons usually appear as reptilian creatures.
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The mythical dragon features in international art, literature and lore. Many cultures use the dragon to represent power and war, while others view the dragon as a symbol of good fortune and success. Dragons, both warlike and beneficent, are a perennial favorite in popular culture. and of national traditions from China to the British Isles.

1 The Pendragons of Wales

The Prince of Wales uses rampant dragons on his banner and the Welsh flag features a red dragon. Although “Prince of Wales” is now the title of the heir apparent to the English throne, the dragon symbol has a long history in Wales. Today’s Welsh are the descendants of the early Britons. The old British word “draig,” meant leader, and the word, “pen,” meant head. The two words combined to form Pendragon or Pen Draig, a noble surname in early Britain as early as the fifth century. The dragon symbol continued to be used by the last native Welsh princes of Wales, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd and Owain Glyndwr, during their struggles against English occupation in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Pendragon name in Welsh literature includes Uther Pendragon, father of the legendary King Arthur.

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2 Vikings and Norse Dragons

The sight of a Viking longship, with its huge dragon figurehead, struck terror in the hearts of northwestern Europeans for centuries. The Vikings from the Norse countries of Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, sailed along the coasts of the British Isles and the European continent, exploring, raiding and colonizing from around 800 to 1066. They called their longships “drakkar” or dragon ships and the dragon was a powerful symbol of war. The dragon symbol may have represented the Midgard Serpent, a mythical sea creature who fought with the Norse god, Thor. Much of current knowledge about dragons and their place in Norse mythology is from the Eddas and Sagas, tales from Norse oral literature. These poems describe the heroic deeds of Norse gods and human men and women warriors, and echoes of these tales occur in literature from Richard Wagner’s operas to 21st century fantasy fiction. In the Yule Feast tale, the god, Frey, ruled under various names, and rescued Freygerda from a dragon.

3 Auspicious Dragons of China

China is home to hundreds of temples, large and small, where the dragon is venerated. Unlike the evil dragons of Western culture, Chinese dragons symbolize good fortune, health and success. Dragons have appeared in Chinese history for at least 6,000 years, thoroughly permeating Chinese culture. In fact, legend has it that the Chinese are "descendants of the dragon." Emperors used the dragon as symbols of power, nobility and divine descent for centuries, referring to their thrones as “dragon seats” and sleeping on “dragon beds.” For those who follow the 12-year cycle of Chinese astrology, a person born in a “year of the dragon” is said to be strong, decisive but impulsive. The familiar happy Chinese New Year dragon is only one of the many ways that dragons can be represented. They may be carved on the screws of fiddles since dragons love music, or on the beams of bridges because dragons are fond of water.

4 Dragons Rising with Vietnam

According to Vietnamese tradition, the first emperor of the Ly Dynasty, Emperor Ly Thai To, dreamed that he saw a dragon rising from the ground into heaven. In 1010, he established his capital in the city of his dream, Thang Long, which was later named Hanoi. Vietnam is sometimes known as “The Land of the Rising Dragon.”

Dee Shneiderman, former librarian and paralegal, has been writing for 40+ years. Published in Compute! Magazine, she helped found The Crescent Review literary magazine. Owner of Frugal-Foto Photography, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Master of Library Science and a North Carolina Truck Driver Training certificate.