Probably the greatest of Northern dragons was Nidhogg (Dread Biter) who lived in Niflheim and was constantly gnawing at the World Tree. Nidhogg would be classified as a chaos dragon, one who destroys in order to re-create. This idea of destruction-resurrection extended to the Norse belief that Nidhogg stripped all corpses of their flesh.
In the Northern regions, dragons were said to live in cold seas or misty lakes, storms and fogs. When these were not available, dragons lurked in deep underground caverns, coming out when hungry or when there was a thunderstorm. Even after conversion to Christianity, the Scandinavians, especially the Norwegians, placed carved dragon heads on the gables of their churches to guard against the elements, as for years they had guarded their ships with dragon-headed prows.
In the original legends of Scotland, Scandinavia, and northern Germany, dragons were not winged, nor were they totally evil. Up until the early Middle Ages, it was reported that flights of dragons were as common as migrating birds. By the Middle Ages when the Christians had grabbed control of nearby everything and were fanatically persecuting Pagans, they changed the ideas of dragons into winged monsters, always menacing and evil, some with multiple heads. They described some of them as having the throat and legs of an eagle, the body of a huge serpent, the wings of the bat, and a tail with a arrow tip; we now call these two-legged dragons wyverns. Christianity was quick to equate dragons with their Devil and their Hell. The Christians also portrayed all non-Christian rulers as evil, destructive dragons.
There are many Christian references to dragons, all of them negative, which generally speaking meant “down with Pagan ideas.” One such tale is told in the book of Bel and the Dragon in the Apocrypha: another is described in the book of Daniel. Christian tales of saints and dragons always picture the dragon losing. The Christians want you to believe that they have killed dragon power, but this is not so. They have not, and never will destroy magick or the wily, elusive dragon.
Christianity and its admonition to hunt down and destroy dragons brought about the end of common dragon sightings, for these great and knowledgeable beasts withdrew from the physical plane, especially in Britain, and Europe. In the Orient dragons were never subjected to the malicious hunting practices of Europe and so continued to involve themselves in human and cosmic affairs. Oriental dragons, being as a whole gregarious extroverts, having generally been treated with much more respect and honor than other dragons.
In Mexico the dragons of the Olmecs were pictured with the body of a rattlesnake, the eyebrows of a jaguar, and feathers. This combination of serpent-jaguar-dragon was common among the civilizations of Mexico, Central America, and certain portions of South America. This combined sinuous and hungry form symbolized the ambiguities of the universe, the process of destruction and re-creation, subconsciously understood by even the most primitive people. Although these cultures were primitive by our standards, they were certainly not without knowledge, cultural advancements, and scientific studies. After their own fashion, they were very spiritual people, who would have been perfectly capable of discovering dragon power; their strange half-dragon, half-jaguar carvings represent their understanding and acknowledgement of the dragons of their continent. Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, a dragon serpent figure known and revered over much of the area, bore many of the same characteristics as Oriental dragons.
“Dancing with Dragons”
D. J. Conway