legacy page  
     homeaboutessential guidepicture of the daythunderblogsnewsmultimediapredictionsproductsget involvedcontact

picture of the day

chronological archive               subject archive


A representation of Quetzalcóatl, the Feathered Serpent of Aztec tradition.
Volcanic stone (±1300-1521 CE) Philadelphia Museum of Art



Dragons—All Between The Ears?
Jul 21, 2009

There is no shortage of theories about the nature of dragon mythology, but for some reason a celestial or atmospheric origin is seldom considered.

Typical explanations range from pure, unbridled imagination to a hard-core cryptozoological insistence that dragons are real and belong in the category of "living fossils." A longtime favourite is the assumption that dragons are essentially Dinosaurs, whose existence was either inferred by traditional cultures from the accidental discovery of fossils or was mysteriously kept alive for millions of years in archaic memories hardwired in the limbic segment of the brain. The latter idea of a "brain dragon" enjoys some popularity in academe and comes very close to a stimulating thought-experiment proposed in 2000 by Florida anthropologist, David Jones, in his book An Instinct for Dragons.

In a nutshell, Jones argues that the "brain dragon" reflected in myths was not modeled on Dinosaurs, but on a compressed racial memory of the three main predators that used to prey on our primate ancestors: raptorial birds, big cats, and snakes. Jones’ fundamental observation – which he unfortunately takes little care to document in depth – is that dragons are frequently depicted with attributes taken from all three categories of vertebrates – the flexible, scaly body of a snake, the wings and talons of a bird of prey, the characteristic face of a panther or lion. It is an original and intriguing idea, presented in a very readable format, but does it work?

At first blush, Jones’ model makes much sense of the visual appearance of the dragon as well as the deep innate fear the monster has elicited around the world. Nevertheless, the match between the evolutionary psychology of primates and the content of dragon mythology is by no means as close as Jones suggests. For one thing, the emotional response to the dragon was not universally expressed in terms of fear.

In countless cases, the dragon was held in high esteem and portrayed in affectionate terms as an instrument of creation, the original receptacle of all life forms, or a benign force in the heavens. This is even the case in non-centralised societies organised in bands and tribes, that did – on Jones’ theory – not yet "tame" the dragon.

In addition, Jones’ capitalisation on birds of prey, felid carnivores and snakes is biased in its selectivity: depending on where one lived, animals such as bears, wolves, scorpions and spiders posed just as much of a threat to early primates, yet were not incorporated in the standard prosopography of the dragon. Moreover, many trademark themes associated with dragons receive no elucidation from the assumption of a "brain dragon": the cosmic dimensions of the dragon, the dragon as the primordial container or enclosure of all waters, the dragon’s egg identified as the visible cosmos, and the propensity of the dragon to form a circle, tail-in-mouth, or entwine itself in pairs.

An impressive array of traditions situate the dragon in the sky, where the creature is variously identified as the rainbow, the lightning flash, the Milky Way, the tail of a comet, auroral arcs, the ecliptic band, the morning or evening star (!), or the constellation Draco.

Throughout the entire study, Jones makes no mention of the dragon’s intricate relationship with the firmament or the fabric of the cosmos. Indeed, a closer look at the narrative of the dragon combat directly contravenes the neurological theory in strong terms: the ubiquitous mythical motif of a warrior-hero residing in the belly or the maw of the dragon prior to victory could never have arisen as a reflex of primate experiences with predators, as nature must have selected for animals that did not end up in the clutches of eagles, panthers or constricting snakes.

No monkey gobbled up by a predator could live to tell the tale and pass it on to offspring. Though Jones does devote a chapter to the theme of the dragon combat, which he explains as an expression of advanced progress in the political level of civilisation, the quintessential myth of the swallowed hero, which is at the heart of dragon mythology, does not rate a mention.

Intriguingly, Jones’ original starting point can be taken in an entirely different direction. If it may be granted that the archetype of the dragon rests on a class of conspicuous atmospheric phenomena, what can the dragon’s avian wings, leonine manes and ears, and serpentine torso tell us about its origins? The tails of comets and auroral arcs, which are the likeliest source of dragon reports in historical times, are both formed of plasma. The signature of energetic plasmas is a notable degree of filamentation.

On the rare occasions when plasma filaments present themselves to the human eye, the impression is that of "hairs," "rays," "streamers," or "spikes." If mythical dragons were really the expression of active plasma formations witnessed in the sky, the radiant "feathers" of the "feathered serpent," adding to its avian aspect, and the "whiskers" and "manes" of its catlike head, receive a natural explanation in the filamented appearance of such plasmas. As argued on these pages and elsewhere, plasma physics has the potential to illuminate many other aspects of dragon mythology, including the motifs listed above.

The image of the dragon probably originated in the external, natural world, as Jones contends, yet the prototype is more likely found in cosmic plasmas seen at times of extreme geophysical duress than in a hazy, confused memory of threatening vertebrate rivals. This is not to rule out that such predators could have left a lasting imprint on the "mindset" of primate ancestors. If they did, it is conceivable that such deeply rooted fears played a role in the mental process of mythologising the extremely violent plasmas hypothesised here.

When confronted with the extraordinary spectacle of a plasma filament in glow discharge mode, producing instability effects that are very hard to capture adequately in language, human beings may well have been reminded of the wild animals that roam the air, the forest, or the desert – and as they struggled to apply the metaphors of such animals to the complex images displayed on the celestial screen, any subconscious associations of terror would have left their marks on the coloration of the resulting "myth" and its narrative context.

Contributed by Rens Van Der Sluijs

Books by Rens Van Der Sluijs:

The Mythology of the World Axis

The World Axis as an Atmospheric Phenomenon


SPECIAL NOTE - **New Volumes Available:
We are pleased to announce a new e-book series THE UNIVERSE ELECTRIC. Available now, the first volume of this series, titled Big Bang, summarizes the failure of modern cosmology and offers a new electrical perspective on the cosmos. At over 200 pages, and designed for broadest public appeal, it combines spectacular full-color graphics with lean and readily understandable text.

**Then second and third volumes in the series are now available, respectively titled Sun and Comet, they offer the reader easy to understand explanations of how and why these bodies exist within an Electric Universe.

High school and college students--and teachers in numerous fields--will love these books. So will a large audience of general readers.

Visitors to the site have often wondered whether they could fully appreciate the Electric Universe without further formal education. The answer is given by these exquisitely designed books. Readers from virtually all backgrounds and education levels will find them easy to comprehend, from start to finish.

For the Thunderbolts Project, this series is a milestone. Please see for yourself by checking out the new Thunderbolts Project website, our leading edge in reaching new markets globally.

Please visit our Forum

  This free site search script provided by JavaScript Kit  
  FREE update -

Weekly digest of Picture of the Day, Thunderblog, Forum, Multimedia and more.
*** NEW DVD ***
  Symbols of an Alien Sky
Selections Playlist

An e-book series
for teachers, general readers and specialists alike.
(FREE viewing)
  Thunderbolts of the Gods

  Follow the stunning success of the Electric Universe in predicting the 'surprises' of the space age.  
  Our multimedia page explores many diverse topics, including a few not covered by the Thunderbolts Project.  

Authors David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill introduce the reader to an age of planetary instability and earthshaking electrical events in ancient times. If their hypothesis is correct, it could not fail to alter many paths of scientific investigation.
More info
Professor of engineering Donald Scott systematically unravels the myths of the "Big Bang" cosmology, and he does so without resorting to black holes, dark matter, dark energy, neutron stars, magnetic "reconnection", or any other fictions needed to prop up a failed theory.
More info
In language designed for scientists and non-scientists alike, authors Wallace Thornhill and David Talbott show that even the greatest surprises of the space age are predictable patterns in an electric universe.
More info

EXECUTIVE EDITORS: David Talbott, Wallace Thornhill
CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Mel Acheson, Michael Armstrong,
Dwardu Cardona, Ev Cochrane, C.J. Ransom,
Don Scott, Rens van der Sluijs,
Ian Tresman, Tom Wilson
WEBMASTER: Brian Talbott
© Copyright 2009:
top ]

home   •   picture of the day   •   thunderblogs   •   multimedia   •   resources   •   forum   •   updates   •   contact us   •   support us