Originally published November 2001
The dragon has been a creature of myth and legend for centuries throughout the world. In his book, View Over Atlantis (1969), John Michell says, “In every continent of the world, the dragon chiefly represents the principle of fertility. The creation of the earth and the appearance of life came about as a result of a combination of the elements. The first living cell was born out of the earth, fertilized from the sky by wind and water. From this union of yin and yang sprang the seed which produced the dragon. Every year the same process takes place“.
It may seem strange to speak of yin and yang, so obviously Oriental terminology, when speaking about Celtic life and legend. While the terms may be from the Orient, the concepts are not uniquely so. Michell observed how the ancient practice of Feng Shui in China contributed to the harmony of the landscape and the people. He also observed that geomancy had been practiced in ancient Britain. When an ancient Celt, and especially Druids, would survey the land for any activity (i. e. building, festival celebrations, etc.) they would speak of the ley of the land. Today we use that same term, although it has a related, but different meaning. Today when we speak of the “ley of the land” we often picture exactly how the hills roll or the shape of the river as it flows; more of the concrete concept of how the land lays or actually and physically appears.
But to the ancient Celt, the ley of the land meant how the magic or cosmic forces flowed through and affected the area, or how the area affected those forces. The Celts believed that dragons were creatures of the parallel world and their power and presence would affect the ley of the land. “The places associated with the dragon legend, the nerve centers of seasonal fertility, appear always to coincide with sites of ancient sanctity“, Michell adds.
The path of the dragons, called a vein, was critical to the flow of energy or ley of the land. IF there was a spot that the dragon crossed often, a spot where the veins crossed or a spot where the dragon would stop to rest, that became a spot of heightened power. Stonehenge is thought to be one of those places. In addition, some believe that the Celtic Cross surrounded by a circle is a symbol of the crossing ley lines and how the circle of life should be centered on that power.
King Arthur himself was burdened by dreams of dragons; although it is unclear which color he saw. He saw them specifically at the time of Sir Mordred’s conception and before his death. He is eaten by dragons in his final dream and it is at his next battle that Sir Mordred kills him. It is said that when a king sees dragons there will be much ruin come to his kingdom and himself.
With the introduction of Christianity to the Celts came a change in the role of dragons. Some people even believe that there were no dragons in Celtic mythology until the English came, mainly because there is no record of them in the Celtic world until then. However, it is more probable that there was simply no written record of their existence–the Celts stories surviving by oral tradition. The “sudden” appearance of dragons when the Christians invaded can be easily explained by the meticulous effort Christians gave to written records.
The Apostolic Church was very good at taking local beliefs and using that belief for its own benefit. Take, for example, the story of St. George. Here the great power of the Dragon is turned into the power of the Devil. Traditional symbolism holds that St. George slayed the Dragon (Satan) to save the maid (Christianity). It is also very convenient that the Celtic symbol was the Dragon.
Today the dragon is continuously popular among the Celtic revivalist, especially story tellers and craftsmen; and we must not forget that dragons have never gone out of style for the Welsh, for it is their flag which proudly displays the Red Dragon and their motto which reads: Y Ddraig Goch Ddyry Cychwyn, “The Red Dragon Leads the Way”.