The dragon has been a creature of myth and legend for centuries throughout the world. Countless tales, legends, and stories revolve around dragons. Whether good or bad, dragons are always impactful in the story.
In his book, View Over Atlantis (1969), John Michell says, “In every continent of the world, the dragon chiefly represents the principle of fertility. The creation of earth the appearance of life came about as a result of a combination of the elements. The first living cell was born out of the earth, fertilized from the sky by wind and water. From this union of yin and yang sprang the seed, which produced the dragon. Every year the same process takes place”.
It may seem strange to speak of yin and yang, so obviously Oriental terminology, when talking about Celtic life and legend. While the terms may be from the Orient, the concepts are not uniquely so. Michell observed how the ancient practice of Feng Shui in China contributed to the harmony of the landscape and the people. He also found that geomancy had been practiced in ancient Britain.
Ley of the Land
When an ancient Celt, and especially Druids, would survey the land for any activity (i. e. building, festival celebrations, etc.) they would speak of the ley of the land. Today we use that same term, although it has a related but different meaning.
Today when we speak of the “ley of the land” we often picture precisely how the hills roll or the shape of the river as it flows; more of the concrete concept of how the land lays or actually and physically appears.
But to the ancient Celt, the ley of the land meant how the magic or cosmic forces flowed through and affected the area. Or perhaps how the area affected those forces.
The Celts believed that dragons were creatures of the parallel world, and their power and presence would affect the land’s ley. “The places associated with the dragon legend, the nerve centers of seasonal fertility, appear always to coincide with sites of ancient sanctity,” Michell adds.
The path of the dragons, called a vein, was critical to the flow of the land’s energy or ley. If there was a spot that the dragon often crossed, a spot where the veins crossed or a spot where the dragon would stop to rest, that became a spot of heightened power.
Stonehenge is thought to be one of those places. Also, some believe that the Celtic Cross, surrounded by a circle, is a symbol of the crossing ley lines. And further, how the circle of life should be centered on that power.
Dragons, Kings, and The Church
Dreams of dragons burdened King Arthur himself, although it is unclear which color he saw. He saw them precisely at the time of Sir Mordred’s conception and before his death. Dragons eat him in his final dream, and it is at the next battle that Sir Mordred kills him. It is said that when a king sees dragons, there will be much ruin to come to his kingdom and himself.
With the introduction of Christianity to the Celts came a change in the role of dragons. Some people even believe that there were no dragons in Celtic mythology until the English came, mainly because there is no record of them in the Celtic world until then.
However, it is more probable that there was simply no written record of their existence–the Celts stories surviving by oral tradition. The “sudden” appearance of dragons when the Christians invaded can be easily explained by the meticulous effort Christians gave to written records.
The Apostolic Church was very good at taking local beliefs and using that belief for its own benefit. Take, for example, the story of St. George. Here the impressive power of the Dragon is turned into the power of the Devil. Traditional symbolism holds that St. George slew the Dragon (Satan) to save the maid (Christianity). It is also very convenient that the Celtic symbol was the Dragon.
Today the dragon is continuously famous amongst the Celtic revivalist, especially storytellers and craftsmen. We must not forget that dragons have never gone out of style for the Welsh. Their flag proudly displays the Red Dragon and their motto, which reads: Y Ddraig Goch Ddyry Cychwyn, The Red Dragon Leads the Way.