Apr 28, 2006
Ossified Dragon Theories
If there is a prevailing theory about dragons, perhaps it is the
oft-repeated claim that reptilian species –alive or extinct–lurk behind
the mythical image. But closer scrutiny casts doubt on such theories,
while pointing to the similarities between the
dragon and the life-like forms of plasma discharge.
The idea of a reptilian 'prototype' of the fabulous dragon comes in
various forms, all of which have their proponents. Many students of
dragon lore have suggested that the instinctive fear of snakes led to
irrational, exaggerated accounts of a harmful serpent of mythical
proportions; or perhaps the confrontation of prehistoric people with
snakes triggered archaic, deeply-rooted and genetically-encoded memories
of a time when distant Mammalian ancestors were on top of the
Alternatively, some propose that the ancient myth-makers inferred the
existence of these monsters from the fossilized bones of dinosaurs they
happened upon (see pictured above); or 'living fossils', the rare
survivors of a once more widespread kind, could have provided the
impetus; or so-called 'cryptids', reported but officially undiscovered
animals, may have formed the inspiration behind the fantastic stories.
In reality, all such interpretations do little justice to the elaborate
profile of the mythical dragon as consistently provided in scores of
age-old traditions around the world.
The only rational way to answer the question of the dragon's origins is
to start with a comparative analysis of the recurrent themes in dragon
mythology. This approach, no matter how rudimentary, immediately reveals
a number of archetypal traits that grow in clarity and intensity as you
go further back in time, drawing closer to an extraordinary pan-human
experience that may have provoked dragon mythology:
• Within each culture, the dragon, whether celebrated or feared, tends
to be one of a kind. Although it may have relatives or offspring, or be
accompanied by a like-minded brood, the myth centers on a particular
monster with a unique name, such as the Greek Typhon or Python, the
Indian Vritra, or the Babylonian Tiamat. If serpents and dinosaurs
informed the image, it is hard to see how the collective features of a
thousand specimens could have fused into a single, personified
character. Indeed, the detailed agreements between the descriptions of
the dragon in multifarious cultures strongly suggest that a single
prototype—or certainly no more than a handful—spawned the many
traditions. Theories suggesting parallel, incidental mythologizations of
snakes and palaeontological finds fail to account for the unity of the
• In mythology, the dragon's natural habitat is not the surface of the
earth, but the sky. It is a monster of cosmic dimensions. That some
species of snakes have the ability to 'leap' seems hardly relevant. On
the other hand, if long-extinct species, such as Pterodactyls, had
provoked the image, one ought to be consistent and derive all other
aspects of the flying dragon from this particular class of dinosaur.
• The dragons populating the world of myth have a universal and as yet
unexplained relationship with fire. Apart from the dragon’s notorious
propensity to spew forth flames, numerous reports stress the fiery
composition of the entire creature. Once again, the natural behavior of
reptiles does not even begin to illuminate this aspect of the myths.
• Paradoxically, the mythical dragon is also at home in water, and
although many types of snake populate seas and rivers, the astute
scholar recognizes that the aquatic abode of the mythical serpent is the
primordial abyss out of which the world was said to have been created.
In fact, specialists have often noted that the dragon in some archaic
traditions—including those concerning the Babylonian monster Tiamat, the
Ugaritic Yamm, and Gaulcovang of the Kogi people of Colombia—embodies
these primordial waters.
• Converging traditions from far-flung cultures identify the dragon or
serpent as the first entity to appear in the primeval chaos and the
creative genius that shaped the cosmos. Needless to say, ordinary
reptiles do nothing to justify this extraordinary claim.
• Myths, notably accounts of the 'creation' of the world, emphasize
specific forms taken by the dragon, such as a concentric spiral, a helix
or a double helix, or the ouroboros. Snakes, of course, are capable to
produce all those forms, and certain fossils – like Sinohydrosaurus
lingyuanensis, shown above – remind us of the circular serpent, but
explain neither the significance of the mythical forms, especially in
connection with the acts of creation, nor the ancient insistence on
seven or nine coils.
• Over and over again, traditional societies have recognized the
mythical dragon in the
lightning, comets, meteors, the auroras, and even the Milky Way.
This common thread suggests glowing formations or streaks of light
across the sky, a nuance that can only underscore the contrast between
the dragon and the most obvious features of earthbound reptiles.
The list above is not complete, but suffices to demonstrate that the
mythical dragon cannot have originated in response to 'primitive'
people's observation of a local animal species. The reverse, however, is
difficult to deny: the appearance and behavior of certain reptiles often
reminded ancient storytellers of the great dragon so central to their
cultural heritage, and this association may indeed have colored their
descriptions of that creature. But the archetype of the dragon—one of
the most profound influences on early cultures the world over—clearly
preceded the secondary links with particular reptilian species.
Visible plasma is the common denominator in lightning, comet tails, and
auroras. In its filamentary, toroidal, spiraling, and helical
formations, high energy plasma discharge does in fact replicate the
morphology of the dragon. So it is not surprising to discover that
comparative study also finds similarities between the sequential order
of the dragon myth and well-documented sequences of plasma discharge.
Researchers interested in the connection between plasma discharge and
ancient mythology are now suggesting that the earth’s plasma
environment has been considerably more active in the past, characterized
by something akin to today’s auroral activity, but far more intense, and
perhaps associated with such atmospheric and climatological
extremes—even earthshaking events—as would seem to have concluded a
geological 'era'. The idea, though radical, would go a long way towards
explaining the dragon’s archetypal link with the destruction of an old
world or the creation of a new one.
Like the reptilian paradigm, the plasma interpretation draws on a
symbolical representation of the elements of nature and therefore
belongs in the 'naturalist' school of myth, though the plasma
explanation looks to forces of a much more
impressive magnitude than an ancient encounter with a snake or a
Contributed by Rens van der Sluijs
Please visit our new "Thunderblog" page
Through the initiative of managing
editor Dave Smith, we’ve begun the launch of a new
presentations of fact and opinion, with emphasis on
and the explanatory power of the Electric Universe."
new: online video page
The Electric Sky and The Electric Universe