Listen, we know you ALL probably have opinions on Game of Thrones but let’s focus on the important part: DRAGONS! We discuss the differences between various dragons around the world and decide we definitely want to learn magic, become a dragon, and get revenge on an ex.
This week, Amanda recommends Good Omens on Amazon Prime Video.
Content Warning: This episode contains conversations about religious conversion, death/murder, and imperialism.
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Amanda: Welcome to Spirits podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends, and folklore. Every week we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world. I'm Amanda.
Julia: And I'm Julia.
Amanda: And this is episode 133, Dragons.
Julia: Yeah, I thought with Game of Thrones wrapping up, I wanted better representation of dragons, so I decided to make my own.
Amanda: Where be dragons? Here be dragons.
Julia: Here be dragons.
Amanda: And a big old fire-breathing welcome to our newest patrons, Melissa, Vicky, Kate, Veronica, Jennifer, Rory, Michelle, Jameela, and Gina.
Julia: I like that Jameela messaged us to tell us that her name was pronounced like tequila, because I wouldn't have pronounced it right the first time.
Amanda: I very much appreciate it. You share a name with Jameela Jamil, and I think that is absolutely wonderful.
Julia: Beautiful. The best person.
Amanda: Also the best person, Jules, our supporting producer level patrons, Philip, Eeyore, Kristine, Mercedes, Samantha, Danica, Marissa, Sami, Josie, Neal, Jessica, and Phil Fresh.
Julia: I just love the bounce to that.
Amanda: It's wonderful.
Julia: There's just like a rhythm to it. It's great.
Amanda: You get to end on Phil Fresh, which is like a little skip before you walk into work. I really appreciate it.
Julia: Skip the beat. Yep.
Amanda: And thank you, as always, to our legend level patrons, who's anatomy, and wings, and horns, and feathered tums are the talk of lore. Kelly, Cody, Mr. Folk, Talia, Hailey, James, Jess, Sara, Sandra, Audra, and Jack Marie.
Julia: Oh, man, the feathered tums. I don't know if I want you talking about our patrons feathered tums, Amanda.
Amanda: It'll make sense in the episode. We talk about tums a lot.
Julia: We do. We talk about many tums.
Amanda: Not the antiacid, but the little tummy of the dragon.
Amanda: Speaking of which, Julia, what did we put in our stomachs during this episode?
Julia: So, I picked something smoky for this one, because dragons, and during the summer I love a tequila drink, so I made a mezcal version of a gin fizz, so if you're one of our recipe level patrons, you will get the recipe for this one. It's very good. I call it a smoky fizz.
Amanda: It was absolutely delicious, and I actually made one for myself when I was finishing my recommendation for this week, which is Good Omens.
Amanda: I, naturally, you and I know that we both read this book when we were maybe like 13 or 14, really early on in our middle high school days, and it was outstanding. I was so nervous for this adaptation, because I wanted it to be really good, and indeed it is. I loved it so much. They are just in love, and the first few episodes of the series, the first half, is just like a lovely cross century love story. I've been diving back into fandom, reading a lot of fic, looking at a lot of fan art, and to me, there's all kind of high art that I love, right? But a TV show, or a book, or a movie that makes me just want for the journey never to end, and to need to go back to fandom again, and again, and again to get my fix, that to me is something really special.
Julia: Yeah, I hadn't felt that way about a piece of media in a while, where I got very excited when the characters interacted, but that did it for me. Oh god. It was so good.
Amanda: And if you have an Amazon Prime Video, you can stream it.
Julia: And I mean, if you like this show, you will like this. It is about Armageddon, and an angel and a demon trying to prevent Armageddon.
Amanda: Absolutely amazing. And finally this week we want to remind everybody that we are having a live show this Friday, in two days time, as of episode posting, at the gosh darn Bell House.
Julia: Oh my god.
Amanda: I can't believe it.
Julia: I still ... it doesn't feel real to me. Like I'm going to get there, and I'll be like, what show are we seeing? Oh, ours? Oh no.
Amanda: Yeah, it's outstanding. There are still a few tickets available, so if you are in New York City, or you're able to make it at 8:00 PM on Friday, we would love to see you. Go to Multitude.productions/Live to get your tickets.
Julia: Yes, please come. I just finished putting together the slide show for the Spirits segment, and it's going to be incredible.
Amanda: Yeah, we get to use slide shows, because we're going to be in the meet space. It's going to amazing.
Julia: In the meet space. Yes. We're doing something a little different for the Spirits show, and I think it's going to be very well received.
Amanda: Wonderful. Well, until then, conspirators, please enjoy episode 133, Dragons.
Julia: So, Amanda, recently the famous dragon show, Game of Thrones, wrapped up its final season.
Amanda: The god. We've been liberated.
Julia: I know you have many thoughts.
Amanda: I do. I read books as they were coming out. As a kid, my brother, Conner, was way more nerdy credited than me, and started reading them very early, but I liked it for a long time, and then I got kind of off-putted when there's just a lot of gratuitous sexual violence, but I was around for the last season. I appreciated it being a cultural moment. It was cool to talk to everybody, and everyone was either extremely adamant about not having an opinion, or did have an opinion, and I'm glad it's over. I'm curious about what the books are going to be like. I don't think tyranny is a good response to tyranny, and don't kill all the brown people in your show.
Julia: That's ... yeah.
Amanda: So, those are main opinions.
Julia: I also know you were a part of a Game of Thrones fantasy draft. Did you end up winning this year?
Amanda: I did not. I did not. I did not. I was extremely sad.
Julia: Who'd you lose to?
Amanda: But I ... I think Kelly-
Amanda: Kelly Beckman won.
Julia: Mike's fiance.
Amanda: And in previous years ... you know, the real winner, though, was Eric Schneider's team name, The FattyBaratys.
Julia: Actually, all of your team names were very, very, very good. I took a look at the listings at the end of the season, and you all had fantastic names.
Amanda: Thank you. It was extremely fun, because you get points not just for ascending a throne or killing people in battle, but also eating and drinking on stage, boobs being out, good and cutting one-liners, so it was extremely fun. In previous years, I had had the ... there's this like grandma figure who has extremely cutting lines, and it was very fun to have her on my team.
Julia: I know that one of the biggest points one can win in the Game of Thrones fantasy draft is killing a dragon. As a key element of Game of Thrones, dragons are super important to the world-building of the show and the plot of the show. So obviously dragons are not very unique to Game of Thrones, but for a lot of fantasy fiction, especially with the typical European, Western central style of dragon, but today I want to explore a huge swath of different types of dragons and dragon mythology from around the world. It's a dragon roundup.
Amanda: Oo! I love it so much. I'm picturing all the dragons flying around in a little circle.
Julia: It's very cute. I like that a lot. I am going to say right now, there are so many dragons, and so many cultures have dragons, and I am definitely not going to hit all of them up. Maybe we'll do a follow up episode roundup of the ones that I don't mention in this episode, but for now.
Amanda: This is like an Applebee's sampler platter of dragons, and you can only fit six fried things on that platter, Julia.
Julia: Only six, but they are all fried. And it's like half portions of each one.
Amanda: I love a sampler platter. You know I do.
Julia: Me, too. Gosh. I just want mozzarella sticks right now. It's 10:00 in the morning. Okay. Let's go.
So, let's get this out of the way first. We're going to take a moment, Amanda, describe to me what a dragon looks like.
Amanda: Okay. Dragon friends are scaly, like a lizard, they often have spikes on their back, they have kind of long snouts, sort of like an alligator mixed with a lizard, clawed feet, tail, big ole wings that look like a bat. That's the normal dragon.
Julia: Okay. How many legs?
Julia: Cool, cool, cool.
Amanda: Except Chinese dragons, I know, are long, and have much more.
Julia: Are long.
Julia: And the most important part of a dragon?
Amanda: The size of the wings? Breathes fire?
Julia: Yeah. Okay, great.
Julia: All of the things that we just described come from the high Middle Ages in Western Europe. That is our fundamental idea of a what a dragon is in Western culture. So, this image is actually a combination of several different versions of dragons that can be dated back before in the Middle Ages. The serpentine dragons are based off of sort of Hellenic writing, so Greco-Roman sources. Biblical images of dragons we get kind of from a similar area. I'll go into that a little bit further, and Western European folk traditions have dragon-like creatures known as wyverns.
Amanda: Oh, right. I've heard that word before.
Julia: It is. It's basically like lesser dragon nowadays in main fantasy.
Julia: So the first image of what we think of as the Western European dragon is dated back to 1260 as part of a bestiary called the MS Harley 3244, which is obviously the name of a best seller, clearly.
Amanda: Or is it the name of a librarian who indexed it?
Julia: It's almost certainly like the name of a monk whom this bestiary ... for sure. So, according to medieval traditions, they can either be found in rivers or caves, and were typically depicted as being greedy, hence the theme of the dragon horde, and were constantly hungry and unsatisfied. Same.
Julia: The Biblical dragon blends into medieval traditions, as well, connecting dragons with demonic forces and Satan, because Satan is referred to as a dragon in the book of Revelations when it was translated into English. In some stories, dragons could be driven away by the sign of the cross, as was the case with Saint Margaret of Antioch. Another really interesting intersection of Christian and Western European dragonlore is centered around the legend of Saint George and the Dragon, which I'm probably ... I'm sure you're familiar with, Amanda.
Amanda: Yeah, as like on of the sort of English foundational myths.
Julia: Yes. So, early versions of this story were outlined around the sixth century A.D. I'm going to tell a somewhat abbreviated version of the story, because I really want this episode to focus on non-Western dragons, but it is a pretty influential story with dragon imagery as we see it today. The story goes that there was a dragon supposedly ravaging flocks of sheep in a town called Silene, which is in modern day Libya. The dragon became more and more hungry, going so far as to eat a young shepherd one day. Not great. It sucks for the shepherd. The townspeople started offering sheep up as sacrifices, but eventually the dragon devoured all the sheep, as one does. Sheep are not a unlimited source.
Julia: So people were forced to start sacrificing their own children, yeesh, with the children being selected via a lottery system. So, one day the king's own daughter is selected as a sacrifice, and while the king is trying to protest, the people still take her, and they chain her to a rock besides the lake that the dragon's supposed to reside in as a sacrifice. Very like Greco-Roman inspired kind of thing.
Amanda: For sure, yeah. I'm getting kind of very Shirley Jackson vibes.
Julia: Oh, yes. Because of the lottery. Got you.
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Julia: Very, very good. One of my favorite short stories.
Amanda: It's the best, man. I somehow ended up with like four editions of the same Shirley Jackson short story collection, and so I just give them out to people all the time.
Julia: That's great.
Amanda: I'm like, "Hi. Thanks for coming over. Here's a candle. Also, some murder."
Julia: I'll take one when you get a chance. Bye.
This, of course, the moment that the maiden is being sacrificed to the monster is when our hero, Saint George, shows up. He sees the princess, assess the situation, and when the dragon emerges from the lake, he stabs it with a lance.
Julia: Subdues it with the sign of the cross, coming back again, and then tames it by tying the princess' girdle around its neck. We've had discussions about what a girdle is in past episodes.
Amanda: Again. Luckily now I know what a girdle is. Excellent.
Julia: It is a rope belt women wore as a sign of chastity, but also protection.
Amanda: And not an ankle scrunchie.
Julia: No, not that. The ankle scrunchie, but you wear it on the top of your leg.
Julia: Got you. So Saint George takes the dragon back to the town to show them the power of Christianity, because why not.
Julia: And then tells them that he will kill the dragon if all of the people in town convert to Christianity.
Yeah. They all do, of course, because dragon, and Saint George-
Amanda: That's extortion. Yeah.
Julia: Yeah. And then Saint George slays the dragon with his sword.
Amanda: Okay. A lot of there I did not know. I just thought it was mostly the slaying with the sword part, but you know, there it is.
Julia: It ain't a saint if they don't convert a bunch of people.
Amanda: That's true.
Julia: Yeah. So, what we consider the typical dragon are also extremely important to part of medieval heraldry, which I don't know a lot about heraldry. I think it's really interesting, what I researched in my time. For example, Uther Pendragon, father of King Arthur, had a royal coat of arms that featured two dragons crowned in red standing back to back, which is very dope.
Amanda: Also, shout out to the Pendragon series of YA fantasy books, which I know some nerds out here in among the conspirators are going to know. Among my favorite books. They are right here on my bookshelf. Julia, you can see them, and I enjoy them very much.
Julia: They were good. I think I read up to the one where it was like Tron.
Julia: Okay, cool.
Amanda: That happens. There's time travel, there's different worlds, the protagonist got sexier over the course of the series as he grew up, and 10 year old me was like, hello.
Julia: I should've read more then, huh?
All right. So, this period also introduced the difference between the wyvern versus the dragon. A wyvern is a dragon, but it's got instead of front limbs, it has wings, so it only has two legs, whereas the dragon is the four-legged, but also back wings.
Julia: So, that's our difference between them. Lesser dragon versus actual dragon.
Amanda: All right.
Julia: So, a wyvern in heraldry was used as a symbol for overpowering demonic forces and clashing with Satan himself, but when not on a coat of arms, they represented viciousness, and were associated with envy, and also pestilence, because why not. That is the dragon that Western society knows all about. But let's start at the beginning, as early to the beginning we can get here.
Julia: So, how did we get to that Western dragon?
The first place we're going to look, obviously, is going to be Mesopotamia. They actually had several types of creatures that could be considered dragons in the vague sense. There's the ushumgallu, which is a three-horned serpentine monster that had the front legs of a lion, as well as the back legs, tail, and wings of a bird.
Amanda: Okay. You know what? I think that look kind of adorable. It's like a bird that can hug you. Or kill you.
Julia: It's like a griffin, but also longer, and has three horns. And kind of serpentine.
Amanda: Sort of adorable. I love it. Heck pupper artists, I think it's time to come through with an illustration of this adorable lion-legged creature.
Julia: It's name translates to the roaring weather beast, which is a very good name. Love that. There's also a version of a similar creature where it is a horned lion/dragon hybrid with a scorpion tail, thought this is typically associated with the Assyrians.
Julia: Scarier because tail. The bird tail cute, scorpion tail bad.
Amanda: If the tail can independent of the body reach out and get you, no-
Julia: Don't like that?
Julia: According to some stories, the Babylonian goddess Tiamat was described as being a dragon rather than our traditional anthropomorphic goddess, so she was described as a giant serpent with horns and a long tail, and with skin that no weapon could break through.
Julia: Love her. Great.
Amanda: My first thought was, are there boobs? But, Amanda, we're going to move past that thought.
Julia: I mean, probably. Honestly, probably. It just be like that sometimes.
So, we actually get two instances of dragon-like creatures when we look at Egyptian mythology. The most recognizable one in modern society is the ouroboros, which is the serpent swallowing its own tail.
Amanda: Oh, really? I never would've put that in the dragon family.
Amanda: Is it often depicted as just a snake, which I think is how we see it these days?
Julia: So, it is often depicted as just a snake, but the original creature that we now know as the ouroboros was called the many faced, and it was a five-headed serpent that would coil around the corpse of the sun god, Ra, in the Book of the Afterlife.
Julia: Yeah, so it was five-headed. Later on it would get the wings and more dragon-like features, because it would be adopted by the Gnostic Christians, and then was used as a prominent symbol by alchemists during medieval period.
Amanda: I love it.
Julia: And by the medieval period, we had gotten our classical dragon look, so they transformed it more into a classical dragon.
Amanda: Julia, this is completely non sequitur, but I have to tell you that our friend, Gretchen McCulloch, from our names episode, recently did a talk in which she revealed that there is a glyph, like a character, called a multiocular O, which is included in the ... I don't know what it's called. Not Unicode, but some standardized alphabet on the internet, and it's just a bunch of little O's smooshed together, seven of them, based on the seraphim.
Julia: I love that.
Amanda: It's supposed to represent the many-eyed scariest of angels.
Julia: Oh my gosh. I love that so much.
Amanda: Yeah, and you can make it on a keyboard if you know the proper cut. Anyway, this reminded me of it, and I wanted to tell you.
Julia: That's very good. Thank you so much for that.
Amanda: Welcome. Thank you, Gretchen.
Julia: All right. So the other dragon of Egyptian mythology is Apep, which is a serpent that would reside in Duat, which is the underworld, as we've talked about in our past episodes. Apep was constantly at battle with Ra, and this is what caused the setting of the sun each day. Apep was said to be the length of eight men, like tall wise, not eight men standing next to each other, and his head was made of flint, which I think is a really interesting addition, because when you think about it, flint is the thing that helps you light fires, and maybe this is where we get some of the fire-breathing aspects of our dragon from.
Amanda: That's fascinating, and also reminds me of the very Hades version of the underworld as being rich with resources. Flint, it looks very much like you just excavate it from the ground, and it's craggy, and it's gray. I really like that.
Julia: I like that, too. Yeah, interesting. Apep could bring chaos to the world, so his roars could cause thunderstorms and earthquakes, and solar eclipses were blamed on when Apep would attack Ra during the daytime, eclipsing his light.
Julia: Into that, right? Very, very, cool.
Amanda: I'm seeing a lot of ties between dragons and vampires, too, and that just struck me as the daylight related thing.
Julia: Ah, interesting. I did not make that connection, but I think it's really, really cool that you did.
Amanda: Yeah, I've heard a couple of things so far that reminded me of a parallel, so I'm going to keep that as like a hypothesis as we continue through and see if there's any other parallels.
Julia: I love it. All right.
Amanda: In this essay I will.
Julia: In this essay I will.
I feel bad now, because I was going to include Slavic dragons as a part of this episode, and we probably would've seen a lot more comparisons to dragons if I had done that, but for next time for sure.
Amanda: For next time.
Julia: I vaguely mentioned Biblical dragons earlier, and for the most part, this refers to the leviathan, which is a beast that was destroyed by God in Isaiah 27:1. Here's the quote from it. I never thought I'd be quoting the Bible too much on this show, but here we go. "On that day the Lord shall punish with his sharp, great, and strong sword leviathan the fleeing serpent, leviathan the twisting serpent. He will slay the dragon that is in the sea."
Julia: So again, we're getting another interesting imagery between dragons and water, which is-
Amanda: Yeah, totally.
Julia: ... almost ... we'll talk about this later, because modern dragons we kind of consider fire elementals, right?
Julia: But almost globally dragons are associated with water.
Amanda: I wonder, I'm trying to think here. I mean, I guess a cave dwelling dragon, you can see how they would have fire and the horde, kind of the Tolkien-esque dragon, but it makes way more sense that a serpent-like creature would be primarily water based.
Julia: Yeah. Gosh, I love when you do that. Okay, so let's finish this one. In Job, the leviathan is described in greater detail. It states that it exhales fire and smoke, even though it lives in the sea, so interesting. We're seeing this kind of dichotomy of the creature here.
Amanda: Also, kind of scariest as possible, right? They are completely kind of unmatched in the water, and also when they jump up or come out, and they're amphibious maybe. Whoops. Wait, there's fire there.
Julia: Yeah, bad. Don't like that.
Amanda: Like very scary.
Julia: So depending on translations, there are other instances of dragons in the Bible. Ezekiel 29:3 and the apocryphal additions to Daniel include a story of Daniel encountering a dragon that is being worshiped by the Babylonians, which he then slays.
Amanda: Classic Babylonians, worshiping something against God.
Julia: Oh, gosh. God dang Babylonians. Got to kill all your false gods.
Amanda: They do. They do. They say dang God.
Julia: Dang God.
Amanda: And then all the Hebrew prophets are like, "Goddammit one more time."
Julia: So, there are various other precursors to the traditional Western dragon that came out of the West. The Slavic dragons, which are known as the zmei, the Germanic ones like ... Oh god. I can never pronounce this one's name. The Jormungand. I think that's right.
Amanda: Sounds right.
Julia: Yeah, sure.
Amanda: Sounds right.
Julia: And even of course, the Greco-Roman ones, like the Hydra, or the dragon that's guarding the Golden Fleece that's sought after by the hero, Jason.
Amanda: There it is.
Julia: But this would be a very, very, very, long roundup if we decided to go into all of them, so, like I said, we'll probably do another dragon roundup at some point in the future. But in the meantime, we're going to shift out of the West and head East to discuss their very distinct version of dragons. But first, let's get a refill.
Amanda: I'm going to need it.
We are sponsored this week, Julia, by HoneyBook. This is the online business management tool that helps me to organize our client communications, bookings, contracts, and invoices all in one place. As you know, we do this because we love podcasts, and we love making them, and talking to people about them, but there is so much behind the scenes that's necessary to run business, and I love that HoneyBook helps me to save time on all that administrative stuff, and do more of what we love.
Julia: Yeah. Surprise, podcasting's hard.
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Julia: Yep. That's HoneyBook.com, promo code spirits.
So, Amanda recently I've taken over the Multitude Instagram.
Amanda: Hell yeah, you have.
Julia: Instagram's never been like my super specialty. I much prefer Twitter, so I really wanted to learn how to better master and better use our Instagram to kind of promote our live shows and our regular shows, and all of the new things that we're doing here at Multitude.
I ended up going to Skillshare, because I was like, hey, Skillshare, you've given us great stuff in the past. Teach me about marketing and Instagram stories for business, and so I found a class literally called Instagram Stories for Business.
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Julia: Yep. That's Skillshare.com/Spirits2. You get two free months, and you can learn so many things in two months.
Amanda: Absolutely. That's Skillshare.com/Spirits and then the number two.
Julia: Amanda, again, I'm going to talk about 20 fighteen real quick, because sometimes I get real stinky after I do a big workout.
Amanda: Also, it's summer, and I am sweating from every place all the time.
Julia: And I've noticed that my underarms get really sensitive when I use kind of the drugstore deodorant. They're very sensitive to the aluminum, so I was so excited when we got approached by Myro, who is making deodorant better.
Amanda: Yeah. They are naturally effective, which I've tried lots of natural deodorants over the years. I also, I want to be more Earth conscious, and Myro is the first plant powered deodorant that actually works. We said to our advertising partners like, "Listen, we would love to do this, but only if we like it." And we genuinely like it.
Julia: Yeah, and they have a vegan formula. It is hardworking, long lasting. It's no toxic anything.
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Julia: And I really, really loved the scent that they sent me. The scent that they sent me. Ha, ha. It smelled incredible. I think it was pillow talk, and it was divine. My underarms have never smelt better, which is saying something.
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Julia: So, we'll start with Hindu traditions as we start to head East. The first one is going to be the fact that Indra, the god of storms, does battle against a giant serpent associated with drought in the Ayurveda, which is a collection of a 1,028 hymns, and one of the four Vedas which are the sacred canonical texts of Hinduism. Indra slays the giant serpent with a thunderbolt, and with the death of the dragon, rain comes to the land, because dragon associated with drought, and Indra, being rain god, brings the rain.
Amanda: Yeah, and when you think about drought, you think about cracked clay, right, and super arid conditions, and forest fires and stuff, so to have the opposite of a dragon being rain, is like a curious kind of data point in the middle of the rain to fire spectrum.
Julia: Yeah, for sure, and it'll become more interesting as I tell you more about Chinese, and Japanese, and other Eastern dragons.
Amanda: Oh yeah.
Julia: So, another story from the same source features a three-headed serpent that guards a large amount of cows and horses. Indra slays this serpent, as well, and takes the cattle for his own, and the cattle are, in some sources, used as a metaphor or representation for rain and water, so like a flood of cows being like water storming through an area.
Julia: Isn't that cool? I love that.
Amanda: That is really cool. Yeah.
Julia: I love metaphorical imagery. Thank you. Thank you for that.
Amanda: Thank you.
Julia: So all of this kind of really leads up to one my favorite examples of a dragon, which is the dragon of Chinese tradition.
Amanda: All right. Now, I know them being very long with many feet from the Chinese New Year celebrations.
Julia: Yes, that is fair. So I actually, I honestly could probably do a whole episode on just the Chinese dragon, but we're going to condense down to the basics here, and the stuff that I find the most interesting, because I'm the researcher, and I get to pick what I want to teach about.
Amanda: Yeah, and as always, an invitation to more learning.
Amanda: So if folks find this really interesting, there is a whole internet and bunches of local libraries for you to peruse.
Julia: So, the typical Chinese dragon is depicted as snake like with four legs, and is interchangeable with other animal characteristics, depending on the type of dragon. For instance, there's the shen lung, which is literally translates to the god dragon, who is a thunder god who controls the weather, and appears to have a dragon's body, a human head, and a stomach resembling a drum, because thunder.
Amanda: Okay, cute.
Julia: But it's got a human face.
Amanda: I'm going to move past that part and just focus on the drum tum, which is extremely adorable. I picture it like ... do you know those tools that percussionists use that looks like, I don't know, like a tiny, little broom, but it's metal, and you move it across the drum, and it makes a like a little rain sound? I'm picturing that, only it makes the dragon ... it's a good tum scritch, and they writhe adorably.
Julia: It's a good tum scritch, and it also brings just like a misting of rain instead of like a full blown storm. I like that.
Amanda: Love that. Love that.
Julia: It's very, very cute.
Amanda: Aw, now whenever it's foggy, I'm going to picture a dragon getting its tum rubbed.
Julia: It's very cute.
Most Chinese dragons don't have wings. That is actually a very specific type of dragon known as feilong, which is a winged dragon usually depicted riding on clouds and mist.
Julia: One of my favorites is the Zhulong, which is known as the torch dragon, or illuminating darkness.
Amanda: Oo, does he breathe fire?
Julia: He is a great red solar deity that has a human face and a snake's body. He was said to create day and night just by opening and closing his eyes, and the seasons change whenever he inhaled and exhaled.
Amanda: Whoa! That's pretty amazing, though.
Julia: That's really cool.
Amanda: I love that a lot.
Julia: I love it.
Julia: He's my fav.
Amanda: Also, it must have a really large lung capacity if he does like 90 blinks, if you think about it that way, in between each breath.
Julia: Yeah. I think one, just big ole lungs.
Julia: And two, if you think about it, I think it's like an inhale and exhale creates one season.
Amanda: Oh, I see.
Julia: You know?
Amanda: Yeah, yeah.
Julia: So when you inhale you're bringing one season closer, and then when you exhale, so it's probably only like half the three month period that we think of.
Amanda: That's beautiful, thought, because it really does feel that way. Like we're getting close here to the summer solstice where the days have gone from getting much, much longer to starting to get shorter again, and thinking about it as like a gentle exhale to me is a lot less depressing than like wow, we are starting our slow slide toward the darkest part of the year.
Julia: Oh god, don't. Please. I'm so happy about the sun.
Amanda: I know.
Julia: So the word for dragon in Cantonese is loong, which according to an archeologist Zhou Chong Fa is onomatopoeia for the sound of thunder, which is very cool.
Amanda: I love that.
Julia: Dragons in Chinese tradition are considered the kings of the animals in the animal hierarchy, and historically the dragon is also associated with the power and role of the emperor of China, so the founder of the Han dynasty even claimed that he was conceived after his mother dreamt of a dragon.
Julia: I don't know if the dragon was the daddy. Who can say, but it might've been like a Virgin Mary kind of thing.
Amanda: I mean, dragons just strike me as inherently royal. Maybe it's the association that we've grown up with over time, but that completely checks out to me as sort of top of the animal hierarchy.
Julia: Yeah, heck yeah, because it's this creature that we don't see in real life that is larger than life in a lot of ways, and it's really, really fascinating to think of just how we conceived of this dragon being so much bigger than what we know it to be.
Julia: So whereas the Western dragon has these negative connotations of greed and power, the Chinese dragon represents good luck, prosperity, and harmony. There are many instances of unearthed dinosaur bones in China being referred to as dragon bones with documentation of these discoveries dating back to 300 B.C. Isn't that cool?
Julia: And I love the idea of dinosaur fossils being these precursors for dragons, and human understanding being wow, there's these huge creatures that we haven't seen in real life, but oh my god, they existed, and they lived among us at one point.
Amanda: Yeah. I mean, I'm sure some anthropologists have talked about perhaps the cultural memory or somewhat evidence of dinosaurs maybe informing the myths that we tell now, or like you said, the sort of backward compatibility of these things, and being like, oh wow. Look at like as our understanding of fossils grew, being like clearly that's a dragon, or clearly dragons are smaller versions of dinosaurs, because so much of what we understand about both of those things seem really compatible.
Julia: Yeah, seriously. I love how the human brain works to figure things out backwards and create myths to explain phenomenon that we otherwise can't explain.
Amanda: I know. We really are so good at coming up with unified theories of the world.
Julia: I know. It's so good.
So, according to a Han dynasty scholar, Wang Fu, he documented that Chinese dragons typically had nine aspects that were the same across the board, so all dragons had these nine aspects. So here's his statement on that.
"The people paint the dragon's shape with a horse's head and a snake's tail. Further, there are expressions as three joints and nine resemblances of the dragon to wit from head to shoulder, from shoulder to breast, from breast to tail. These the are the joints. As to the nine resemblances they are the following: his antlers resemble those of a stag, his head that of a camel, his eyes those of a demon, his neck that of a snake, his belly that of a clam, his scales those of a carp, his claws those of an eagle, his soles those of a tiger, his ears those of a cow. Upon his head, he has a thing like a broad eminence known as chimu. If a dragon has no chimu, he cannot ascend to the sky."
Amanda: Clam belly.
Julia: Clam belly, yo.
Amanda: Clam tum. Oh my god, so cute.
Julia: I'm trying to think of what that would look like, because you know. I'm picturing it as the drum belly of the-
Amanda: I'm picturing like the belly of a snake. You know how clams have kind of like gentle lines that kind of have that pattern?
Amanda: I'm picturing kind of like an ombre tum.
Julia: That's what I was thinking of, too. I think it's a little bit extended, like a clam belly, and then it has that rippling effect that clams have on their shells.
Amanda: Yeah. Oh my gosh.
Julia: It's very, very cute.
Amanda: Amazing. I also love this idea kind of segmenting the dragon and looking at the characteristics of each, because it does seem like, I don't know. Like a LEGO figure, where you can kind of take off the head and the pants, and figure out how those things go together, and there are kind of very subtle variances that kind of approach each of those segments.
Julia: Yeah, and depending on other scholars, there are different combinations that make up a dragon. This is just Wang Fu's idea of what it is, but there are other combinations such as the head of a crocodile, or rabbit's ears, or a frog's belly, but they all have the same general shape and vibe that the Chinese dragon can be seen throughout the history in art and depictions.
Julia: Another important note is that dragons are typically represented as ruling over weather and/or water, specifically moving bodies of water like rivers, seas, oceans, and waterfalls. I love the idea of a waterfall dragons. Very cute.
Amanda: I know. Just like poke their head out from behind the waterfall, the cave back there, a little pool for them to swim in. It's so good.
Julia: I just had the image of the T-Rex in Lost World Jurassic Park when it pokes its head through the waterfall, and just picks up the guy, eats him, and then just slowly brings it back out again. I'm like, aw, beautiful. Love it.
Amanda: Listen, that sounds great. If I have a Baba Yaga house, I would totally park it next to like a waterfall lagoon.
Julia: Heck yeah.
So the dragon god, Shen-Loong, is also said to be the one that controls the rain, and thus determines the type of bounty that would be received by the people during harvest season. So again, this idea of the dragon being this prosperous figure.
Julia: There are even four dragon kings, each residing over one of the four seas in Chinese tradition. In times of drought or flooding, Chinese villages near these bodies of water would offer sacrifices to these dragons in order to appease them and either invite rain or ask for it to cease, depending on the circumstances.
Julia: There's also plenty more we can talk about with Chinese dragons, but I would love to shift to some more other Eastern dragon stories, as well. I don't want to spend the whole time on our sweet, sweet Chinese dragons.
Amanda: Love it.
Julia: The Japanese dragons are another obvious choice to discuss as they are really heavily influenced by Chinese dragon tradition. Like in China, Japanese dragons are associated with rainfall and bodies of water, and are typically depicted as wingless, serpentine creatures that have clawed feet. One of the most well-known dragon stories from Japanese tradition is that of Yamata no Orochi, which is the eight branched giant snake that eight heads and eight tails, and was slain by Susanoo, the god of wind and sea.
Julia: There's also Watatsumi, who is the dragon god or sea god, who ruled over the seas and oceans, and was capable of switching between dragon form and human form. You might remember him from the fact that he is the father of Toyotama-hime, who we discussed before, and-
Amanda: Oh, I sure do.
Julia: ... and they lived in that-
Julia: ... sweet undersea palace.
Amanda: Yeah, extremely good.
Julia: Very, very good. I love it. There's like a whole section on Watatsumi who he's just like the bounty of the sea, all of the riches of the sea are all his and his domain, and that's why his undersea palace is so fricking nice.
Amanda: So good.
Julia: So tight. Such a delightful thing.
There are also several yokai and folklore stories focused around dragons, as well. One is the wet woman, who is nure-onna, who is a dragon with a woman's head and a snake's body. Love that combo. Very good.
Julia: Who will be found washing her hair by a river bank, and will kill any humans who disturb her.
Amanda: Beautiful. Leave her alone. Let her have this one thing.
Julia: Do not interrupt her self-care routine. Please.
Amanda: Growing up that was the one hard boundary my mom had. She was like, "You do not knock on the door when I'm in the bathroom. You wait."
Julia: Yes, you wait. Do it.
There is also Kiyohime, who is the purity princess, who was a woman who worked in a tea house who fell in love with a young Buddhist priest who would come by the shop.
Julia: He spurned her advances.
Amanda: Oh no.
Julia: And she studied magic, transformed into a dragon, and killed him. Love that one.
Amanda: Oh man, so good.
Julia: Very good.
Amanda: So Fleabag. Such Fleabag vibes.
Julia: It's very excellent. I really appreciate it. Don't lead women on. Don't do it. They'll learn magic, turn into dragons, and kill you.
Oh man, just the general vibe of that is so good.
Amanda: It's kind of the ultimate breakup glow up, right, where you spend a breakup getting yourself in order. You clean your house, you get a cool hair cut, you buy a caftan, you get swol, whatever it is that you're doing, and in her case she's going to learn magic and do whatever I want with it.
Julia: Maybe turn into a dragon. Who knows? Who can say?
Amanda: Who knows?
Julia: Don't hit me up again when you're drunk, because I'll kill you. All right. So, we'll wrap up with-
Amanda: Oh, yeah. No, no, no. How's Maria doing? Is she all right? Dude, she's a high priestess now.
Julia: She's a high priestess who can turn into a dragon, so maybe don't bother her anymore. She doesn't want to hear from you.
Amanda: I love it.
Julia: All right, so with that we'll wrap up with Japanese dragons, and move onto Korean dragons, because they also have a fascinating background. While it shares the association with water and rain, as well as being benevolent creatures, there's a focus on the fact that Korean dragons are often mentioned to be sentient, and have the capacity for speech, even understanding complex emotions.
Julia: So there are even several examples of humans becoming dragons and retaining their human minds and emotions, as was the case with King Munmu, who on his deathbed, had his wish granted that he would become quote, "a dragon of the East Sea in order to protect Korea." Which dude, so choice. Good ruler there.
Amanda: Thank you.
Julia: Thank you for that.
Julia: Typically Korean dragons are depicted with long beards, as well, and they carry around an orb that is carried in their claws or mouths, which is supposed to give them omnipotence and the ability to create things at will.
Amanda: What is the orb made of? Do we know, or it's just kind of like extraplanetary?
Julia: It's extraplanetary. It usually drops from the heavens, so I'll get to that point. You're always asking the right questions.
Amanda: Oh, all right, all right.
Julia: So the Korean dragon is said to evolve out of the Imugis, which are these giant serpents. An Imugi can become a true dragon only if it were to catch one of the orbs that I mentioned after it fell from heaven.
Amanda: Oh, nice.
Julia: So it's a celestial orb that can fall from the sky, and if the Imugi gets it, then he becomes a dragon, and he grows a big beard.
Amanda: That's extremely interesting. I love that, and I feel like I've seen in a lot of like anime and like children's shows, Chinese dragons depicted as having beards, and also I feel orbs.
Amanda: So maybe it's a conflating of traditions that's happened.
Julia: Yeah, there's a lot of cross pollination when it comes to dragon traditions in Korea, Vietnam, China, and Japan.
An Imugi, also, could transform into a dragon if it managed to survive to become a thousand years old, which we saw when we talked about the Pokemon yokai episode when we were talking about the kitsune.
Julia: If a fox spirit becomes old enough, it transforms into a kitsune, or for example, the snail. If the snail grows to 30 years, it becomes a sweet mermaid creature.
Amanda: It's so good. It's the ultimate reward, and truly don't we need more milestones in between renting a car and retirement?
Julia: Yes, yes we do. God, that just made me so sad.
Amanda: I know, though I feel like ... I read this profile of Helen Mirren, and she's like, yeah, you get older, and then you stop giving a shit. It's great. I feel like maybe that's the dragon transformation that we all deserve.
Julia: I mean, we talked about that, too, in our cannibalism episode.
Julia: Which was very, very cool, but the idea that as we grow older, maybe we get our super powers because we just stopped giving a fuck, and society does not hold us down as much.
Amanda: I will take the bullet. I will try to do that, and see how it goes.
So, as I've said, there's definitely some dragons that we didn't include in this roundup, but it's definitely a topic that I do want to revisit again at some point, because there are so many stories without even getting into modern depictions of dragons, because there are plenty of really cool and versatile modern depictions of dragons, but for now, that is my roundup for you, my friend.
Amanda: Julia, such a good roundup. I liked it so much.
Julia: Oh, thank you. Do you have any thoughts on dragons? Any theses that we can wrap us up with?
Amanda: You know, I always thought of dragons somewhat as the ultimate human conception of a predator, and like an animal that ... we think of ourselves as being the top of the food chain, and yes, there are lions, yes, there are bears, yes there are these things that we know, like wolves or something can kill us, even snakes and scorpions, right? Tiny, but mighty with their power of poison, but the dragon has always seemed like the king of us all, like someone that you have to slay it, and the reason that it's significant in folklore is because it's such an impossible task.
Amanda: And it's fascinating that there are so many kind of strands of kinds of power here, like we talked about water and fire, but also there are the dragons that ride on clouds, and can fly, and the kind of Western Game of Thrones conception, and there are dragons that burrow into the Earth with the flint and the cave, and so it just feels like, depending on the society, depending on what is particularly significant, or scary, or threatening, or valuable, there are so many ways to kind of morph this creature into a version of what feels the most significant to you in your place.
Julia: I think there's a lot to say, too, about the fact that Western society there is this huge creature that has powers that we can't comprehend, and thus it's evil, or represents a power source, whereas in Eastern society with our Chinese dragons and our Japanese dragons, and those traditions, this is a creature that has more power than humans do, and will always have more power than humans do, but it's something that brings peace, and brings prosperity, and brings just good to the society, and I think that says a lot about kind of what we value, and kind of where we place ourself in the world.
Amanda: Yeah, this is obviously painting with a broad brush, but there are a lot of ways in which a conqueror mindset has come to shape the folklore that remains in, at least, our background growing up.
Julia: For sure. We are definitely more familiar with the Western idea of the dragon as a sort of terrifying creature when I quite like the idea of the peaceful, powerful form of prosperity that the Eastern dragon is.
Amanda: I just love that lizards and things, and snakes, and little scaly friends are sort of, in the way that the chicken is the modern dinosaur, right, and you look at chicken feet, dinosaur feet and you're like, yep, nope. That's the same. I like to think of the little creepy crawlies as being our tiny, daily, quotidian dragons.
Julia: I love our tiny danger noodles who probably were bigger danger noodles at some point in mythology.
Amanda: So sweet. So sweet.
Julia: Oh man. Like our danger noodles, friends, remember to stay creepy.
Amanda: And stay cool.