Whispering Woods Dragon Lore course
A history of Oriental Dragons
The dragon is considered to be a mythological animal of Chinese origin, and a member of the NAGA (Sanskrit) family of serpentine creatures who protected Buddhism. It was by his subtle but powerful charms that the Naga Apalala was able to keep the wicked dragons in check.
Japan’s dragon lore comes predominantly from China. Images of the reptilian dragon are found throughout Asia, and the pictorial form most widely recognized today was already prevalent in Chinese ink painting in the Tang period (9th century CE). Chinese Dragons are believed to decide where rain fell, to affect river flows and wind conditions. They breathed out heavy mists which create rain, and not fire like their Western counterparts. Chinese Dragons are associated with rivers. Folktales often have them carving out major rivers with their sinuous bodies. They are also associated with other water sources such as wells and springs.
According to the Chinese, the reason their Dragon has five toes, the Japanese dragon has four toes and the Korean dragon has three toes is because the further away from China a dragon goes the more toes that it loses. The Japanese believe just the opposite, believing that they grow more toes so that they eventually cannot walk very well.
The mortal enemy of the dragon is the Phoenix, as well as the bird-man creature known as Karura. In contrast to Western mythology, Asian dragons are rarely depicted as malevolent. Although fearsome and powerful, dragons are equally considered just, benevolent, as well as the bringers of wealth and good fortune. The dragon is also considered a shape shifter who can assume human form and mate with humans. The Chinese call the dragon ‘lung’ (long) because it is considered to be deaf.
In China, however, dragon lore existed independently for centuries before the introduction of Buddhism. Bronze and jade pieces from the Shang and Zhou dynasties (16th – 9th centuries BCE) depict dragon-like creatures. By at least the 2nd century BCE, images of the dragon are found painted frequently on tomb walls to dispel evil. Buddhism was introduced to China sometime in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE.
By the 9th century CE, the Chinese had incorporated the dragon into Buddhist thought and iconography as a protector of the various Buddha and the Buddhist law. These traditions were adopted by the Japanese (Buddhism did not arrive in Japan until the mid- 6th century CE).
In both China and Japan, the character for “dragon” is used often in temple names, and dragon carvings adorn many temple structures. Most Japanese Zen temples, have a dragon painted on the ceiling of their assembly halls.
In both Chinese and Japanese mythology, the dragon is one of four legendary creatures guarding the four cosmic directions (Red Bird – S, Dragon – E, Tortoise – N, and the Tiger – W). The four, known as the Four Celestial Emblems, appear during China’s Warring States period (476 BCE – 221 BCE), and were frequently painted on the walls of early Chinese and Korean tombs to ward off evil spirits.
The Dragon is the Guardian of the East, and is identified with the season spring, the color green/blue, the element wood (sometimes also water), the virtue propriety, the Yang male energy; supports and maintains the country (controls rain, symbol of the Emperor’s power). The Guardian of the South, the Red Bird (aka Suzaku, Ho-oo, Phoenix), is the enemy of the dragon, as is the bird-man Karura. Actually, the Phoenix is the mythological enemy of all Naga, a Sanskrit term covering all types of serpentine creatures, including snakes and dragons. The Dragon (East) and Phoenix (South) both represent Yang energy, but they are often depicted as enemies, for the Dragon represents the element wood, while the Phoenix signifies the element fire. However, they’re also often depicted together in artwork as partners. The Dragon is the male counterpart to the female Phoenix, and together they symbolize both conflict and wedded bliss; the emperor (dragon) and the empress (phoenix).
The oriental Dragon has the head of a camel, horns or a deer, eyes of a hare, scales of a carp, paws of a tiger, and claws resembling those of an eagle. In addition it has whiskers, a bright jewel under its chin, and on the top of its head the “poh shan” or foot rule, without which it cannot ascend to heaven. This is merely a general description and does not apply to all dragons, some of which have heads of so extraordinary a kind that they cannot be compared with anything in the animal kingdom.
The breath of the Dragon changes into clouds from which is emitted either rain or fire. It is able to expand or contract its body, and in addition it has the power of transformation and invisibility.
The ancient Chinese Emperor Yao was said to be the son of a dragon, and many rulers of that country were metaphorically referred to as dragon-faced.”
The heavenly or celestial dragon (tian-long) was the celestial guardian who protected the heavens, supporting the mansions of the gods and shielded them from decay. The Tian-long could fly and are depicted with or without wings they are always drawn with five toes while all other dragons are shown with four or three toes.
The spiritual dragons (shen-long) were the weather makers. These giants floated across the sky and due to their blue color that changed constantly were difficult to see clearly. Shen- long governed the wind, clouds and rain on which all agrarian life depended. Chinese people took great care to avoid offending them for if they grew angry or felt neglected, the result was bad weather, drought of flood
Dragons that ruled the rivers, springs and lakes were called Earth dragons (di-long). They hide in the depths of deep watercourses in grand palaces. Many Chinese fairy tales spin yarns of men and women taken into these submarine castles to be granted special favors or gifts. Some of the di-long even mated with women to produce half-human dragon children.
Believed to live in caves deep in the earth the (fu-can-long) or treasure dragon had charge of all the precious jewels and metals buried in the earth. Each of these dragons had a magical pearl that was reputed to multiply if it was touched. This pearl was as symbol of the most valuable treasure, wisdom.
From Japanese lore we have;
The Origin of the Sword of Heaven, one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan
Susano-O-no-Mikoto descends to the mountain Torikamiyama in Izumo, where he comes upon an old couple weeping beside their daughter. The man says that he’s a god of the land (kunitsukami) and that each year the eight-headed, eight-tailed serpent, the dragon-prince Yamata no Orochi has devoured one of his daughters (some versions say 12 most say 8 daughters), and that the time has come for him to claim the last.
Susano-o-no-Mikoto transforms the girl, Kushinada Hime, into a comb, which he puts in his hair, and orders that a special wine (The first gift of Saki to mortal men) be brewed and barrels of it placed along a fence with eight apertures or gates.
When the serpent drinks the potion and falls into a drunken sleep, Susano-O-no-Mikoto severs each of the heads with his sword.
As Susano-o-no-Mikoto is dismembering the dragons body to dispel the dragon-prince’s strong magic’s in one of the tails he discovers a sword, which he presents to Amaterasu. This is the sword that is later known as Kusanagi (Mower of Grass).
It is given to Ninigi no Mikoto by Amaterasu as one of the three symbols of his authority over Ashihara no Nakatsukuni.
And these three symbols become the Three Sacred Treasures of the Imperial Family of Japan, “Kenji (sacred Kusanagi sword called “Grasscutter”and Magatama, coma shaped beads (supposedly a jade and/or splendid jewels) and Yata no Kagami (mirror), thus begins the Story or Legend of Imperial Japans beginnings.
While Japanese Dragons are also weather elementals, they are more associated with the sea (the Tatsu) and wells and lakes rather than with rivers.
Perhaps because China has more great rivers and Japan is surrounded by seas. Nevertheless, Japanese Dragons are closely associated with the beginning of life and fertility. Japanese myths also include the Hai Riyo, a dragon-bird with scaly body and clawed feet but gilded feathered wings and tails.
The Japanese see their dragons as kings of the land.
There are the Tatsu, which are Japanese dragons. They are a symbol of the Mikado. They are also looked upon as imperial and spiritual power, and they like to live in lakes and springs.
Sui-Riu is the Japanese Dragon King. The Dragon King was in charge of all the rain, and he was sometimes known as “the rain dragon.”
Han-Riu is a multi-striped Japanese Dragon. Though the dragon is around forty feet long, this dragon can never reach heaven.
Ri-Riu, A bit of an unknown dragon, it is said that he has exceptional eye sight. And that he could see more than 100 miles away.
Ka-Riu was one of the smaller dragons, being that he was only seven feet long. It is said, however, that the Ka-Riu was fiery red.
Fuku Riu is a dragon of luck.
Hai-riyo is Japanese “Dragon-Bird”. Said to be much like the Chinese Ying-Lung, this was the most “evolved” form of a dragon.
Sui Riu–a rain-dragon, which when in pain causes reddish rain, colored by its blood.
From Korean Lore:
The Korean dragon was said to have certain specific traits: no wings, for example, in addition to a long beard.
The Korean dragon was said to have three toes. They are generally viewed as benevolent beings related to water and agriculture, often considered as bringers of rain and clouds. Many Korean dragons are said to have resided in rivers, lakes, oceans or even deep ponds up within the mountains.
The Koreans believe that all eastern dragons originated from Korea. When the dragons leave Korea and go toward China, they gain toes. When the dragons leave Korea and go toward Japan, they lose toes.
The Korean dragon is usually described as having a camel’s head with rabbit eyes, a serpentine neck, the belly of a frog and tiger feet.
As with Chinese dragons, the number nine is significant with Korean dragons and they are said to have 81 (9×9) scales on their backs.
Main Korean Dragons:
Yong – The powerful sky dragon
Yo – The hornless ocean dragon
Kyo – The mountain dragon
Korean dragons are said to have long beards and bear no wings. They prefer to spend most of their time in water such as rivers, or deep lakes away in the mountains. Korean dragons are considered to be benevolent and strongly tied to agriculture.
1. The mortal enemy of the dragon is the _____________.
2. The Dragon is the male counterpart to the female _________.
3. What type of a dragon is a “di long”?
4. Han-Riu–striped with ________ different colors.
5. Chinese and Korean dragons are said to have ____ scales on their back.
6. The dragon is one of _____ legendary creatures guarding the four cosmic directions
7. The oriental dragon has the paws of a ______.
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