Dragons: why they are present in the mythology of different cultures

Dragons are mythical creatures that appear in the myths and legends of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Although dragons never existed, a significant number of civilizations independently invented the dragon myth. The question arises: why?

The Variety of Dragons

It is a bit simplistic to assume that all dragons are the same. Dragons in medieval Europe are often fire-breathing, lizard-like beasts with strong bodies, wings, and horns like bats. They are usually thought of as evil creatures. Folktales often tell of a brave hero slaying a dragon to steal its treasure or free his kingdom from frightened townsfolk. However, even in depictions of European dragons there is great variety.

In East Asian culture, the dragon can play a slightly different role. Often taking on a more mystical aura, dragons are used as a symbol of power, strength and good luck. One well-known dragon in Chinese culture is Tianlong, the “heavenly dragon,” who is said to drift among the clouds and guard the heavens.

In Mesoamerican culture there is a god named Quetzalcoatl, which means “feathered serpent.” This dragon-like deity played a prominent role in their spiritual beliefs and was believed to have played a fundamental role in the creation of mankind.

The resemblance of mythological monsters

Differences exist, but the similarities between the mythological monsters are remarkable when you consider that these cultures were geographically separated and had little cultural exchange during myth-making.

There are several ideas about how this convergent evolution of ideas came about.

Adrienne Major’s theory

Adrienne Major, classical folklorist and historian of ancient science at Stanford University, has argued that ancient people imagined mythical creatures, primarily griffins, after misinterpreting fossils of extinct creatures. In this line of thought, it is not difficult to imagine the discovery of the prehistoric remains of a Tyrannosaurus and the certainty that they belonged to a terrifying dragon-like beast.

David E. Jones’s theory

Another theory is that dragons are an archetype hidden deep within the human mind. In his book Instinct for Dragons, University of Central Florida anthropologist Dr. David E. Jones argues that myths about dragons are so common because we have evolved to develop a mental imprint on dangerous predators.

The dragon, Jones argues, has many motivations that our ancient ancestors learned to innately fear from wild animals. This primal instinct led our imagination to create an archetypal creature that combines all the most ferocious traits of the crocodile, the snake, the bird of prey, and the big cat.


Whatever the reason for this ubiquitous myth, dragons clearly have a hold on us. They have been around for thousands of years and continue to be admired, appearing in some of the most popular works of fiction, whether it be the Hobbit and Harry Potter series or Game of Thrones and Pokémon.

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