Forgotten Folklore & Legends That Are Downright Bizarre
Forgotten Folklore & Legends That Are Downright Bizarre

Forgotten Folklore & Legends That Are Downright Bizarre

Khalid Elhassan - January 5, 2023

Forgotten Folklore & Legends That Are Downright Bizarre
HBO dragons. HBO

The Origins of Dragon Folklore

Dragons are big in pop culture nowadays, thanks in no small part to Game of Thrones and its spinoffs. Dragons and giant serpents appear in the folklore of many cultures around the world. Albanians have wyverns and pythons; the French have the Grand’Goule; the ancient Greeks had the Hydra; the Hebrew Bible has the Leviathan; Hindus have the Vritra; Norse mythology has the beast from Beowulf; and the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians had Apophis and mushussu, respectively. Some common threads link the mythology of dragon-like creatures in such varied cultures.

The theme of a hero and monster – an archetype of the eternal war between light and darkness, good and evil – is at the heart of dragon folklore. The tales depict a reptilian creature, often big, that menaces and imperils people. It might fly and breathe fire, or slither around and spew poison. Eventually, after a nice buildup that heightens the drama and narrative tension, a hero or a god makes an entrance, challenges the beast, slays it, and sets things right. So, what are the origins of their folklore?

Forgotten Folklore & Legends That Are Downright Bizarre
A fifteenth century depiction of Saint George slaying a dragon. Wikimedia

The Origins of Dragon Folklore: Tracing the Connection to Ancient Fossils

Historian Adrienne Mayor advanced a theory that dragon folklore can be traced back to ancient discoveries of dinosaur fossils and those of huge extinct mammals. Take how the ancient Greeks depicted the Monster of Troy in vases and other artwork. The monster resembles a Samotherium, an extinct giraffe whose fossils are quite common in the Mediterranean. In parts of China were fossils of large extinct creatures are common, they are described as “dragon bones”. Similarly, dragons in the mythology of northern Indian closely resemble the extinct animals that left giant fossils strewn across the foothills of the Himalayas.

Forgotten Folklore & Legends That Are Downright Bizarre
Dragons in modern pop culture. Dragonlance

It is possible that the origins of dragon folklore are baked into us. They are traceable to before we had even evolved into humans. Anthropologist David E. Jones contends that humans have an instinctive fear of snakes, that originated with our ape ancestors millions of years ago. Snakes posed an especially high danger, and the peril was greatest for children. Evolution instilled in us a healthy fear of snakes. Children today, even in places that have no snakes at all, instinctively fear them. Such primal fears of snakes, might have given rise to dragon stories. Indeed, the earliest known dragon tales depict them as snake-like.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Atlas Obscura – When Tomatoes Were Blamed For Witchcraft and Werewolves

Bulfinch, Thomas – Bulfinch’s Mythology (1998)

Daily Beast – The Giant Space Rock That Wiped Out Biblical Sodom

Daily Beast – Was Santa Actually a Badass Who Beat Up a Priest?

Encyclopedia Britannica – Cronus

Encyclopedia Britannica – Sodom and Gomorrah

English Heritage – Dragons and Their Origins

Evslin, Bernard – Gods, Demigods and Demons: A Handbook of Greek Mythology (2006)

Fry, Stephen – Heroes: The Greek Myths Reimagined (2018)

Fry, Stephen – Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece (2019)

Gizmodo – “Blowing Smoke Up Your Ass” Used to be Literal

Greek Mythology – Hercules: The Life of the Greek Hero

Haynes, Sterling MD, British Columbia Medical Journal, December 2012 – Special Feature: Tobacco Smoke Enemas

Heritage Daily – The Origins of Dragon Mythology

History Collection – 10 of the Creepiest Stories From English Folklore

Jones, David E. – An Instinct for Dragons (2000)

Live Science – Dragons: A Brief History of the Mythical, Fire-Breathing Beasts

Live Science – Santa Claus: The Real Man Behind the Myth

Mayor, Adrienne – The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World (2014)

McClintock, Michael – Instruments of Statecraft: US Guerrilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990 (1992)

Military History Now – Operation Wandering Soul: Ghost Tape Number 10 and the Haunted Jungles of Vietnam

Nilsson, Martin P. – Greek Folk Religion (1972)

NPR – When the Supreme Court Decided Tomatoes Were Vegetables

Orthodox Church in America – Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia

Patrol Craft Fast – The Wandering Soul Psyop Tape of Vietnam

Scientific Reports, 11, Article Number: 18632 (2021) – A Tunguska Sized Airburst Destroyed Tall el-Hammam

Screen Rant – Disney’s Hercules: 10 Things That Would be Different if the Movie Was Mythologically Accurate

Smithsonian Magazine, January 23rd, 2012 – Where Did Dragons Come From?

St. Nicholas Center – Who is St. Nicholas?

US Army Center of Military History, Analysis Branch – The Hukbalahap Insurrection: A Case Study of a Successful Anti-Insurgency Operation

Washington Post, February 24th, 1987 – Edward Lansdale, Prototype For Ugly American, Dies

World History Encyclopedia – Amazon Women