Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Did Dragons Walk Among Us? (Do They Still?) Part 3

Virtually every culture on earth has an oral tradition of encounters with large, strange beasts—creatures different from those we know. Were they dragons? Why don’t we still have dragons among us? Or do we? Will we ever know for sure?

Part 3

Dragon slayers become saints

In the Western world, where dragons were “evil,” dragon killers have been celebrated, and several made into saints. The western church had no fewer than 40 dragon-slaying saints, the best known being Saints George, Michael, Catherine, and Margaret.

St. George died circa 303 AD, was first identified as the patron saint of England in the 14th century, and is thought to have been martyred for his Christian faith.

He was a popular saint in many parts of Europe. About 20 countries, provinces, and cultural groups have claimed him as a patron saint. Nearly 100 wall paintings are known, invariably depicting him in combat with a dragon.

St. George allegedly killed more than one dragon. Of particular note is one he battled in Libya. It ate from flocks of sheep until the sheep population was depleted; then children were sacrificed, two per day, chosen by lottery. In time, the lot fell upon the king’s daughter. As she went to her fate, George happened by, saved her, and told the village his faith in God had helped him defeat the dragon. The village converted to Christianity.

In Medieval times, the dragon was considered a symbol of paganism and non-Christian beliefs, even of evil or the Devil. Often places associated with the killing of a dragon have become sanctified; sometimes a church is built on the spot.

The gargoyle—gargouille in French—began as a dragon that “gargled” (spouted water) in an attempt to flood a French city. An archbishop disempowered the beast using the sign of the cross, and the gargoyle became a sign of protection that has adorned churches and other buildings since the Middle Ages.

It is possible that George’s connection with the dragon, which seems to have appeared long after his lifetime, is a metaphorical depiction of the defeat of the heathen emperor. Hero rescuing maiden from dragon could symbolically represent a Christian hero rescuing the Church from the Devil.

Dragon tales sometimes stretch credibility

Many dragon stories defy probability. Of these, many have Christian themes blended with magic. The influence of the contemporary belief system is also evident.

In Brent Pelham, England, the Devil demanded the soul of a knight who had killed a dragon, but the knight was saved by being buried half in, half out of holy ground. In Wormesgay, England, St. Guthlac intervened to help a knight kill a dragon by blinding the monster with a lightning flash, enabling the knight to reach a vulnerable spot (a wart).

St. Margaret of Antioch, daughter of a pagan priest, was thrown out of her father’s house for embracing Christianity. She was imprisoned for refusing to marry the prefect and devoured by a dragon in her cell, but the cross she held punctured it from the inside and she emerged unharmed. (She was later beheaded.)

France’s aquatic dragon, Tarasque, lived near the Rhone River and sank boats in order to feast upon their passengers. St. Martha used her cross and holy water to lead it to a nearby village where it was put to death.

At Spindleston Heugh in England was a maiden transformed by sorcery into a dragon. Her brother came to kill her, but she persuaded him to kiss her; thus the spell was broken. At Long Witten, an invisible dragon lurked near a well; a knight used magic ointment to see it, and killed it with his lance. In Penmynnedd, Wales, a dragon was lured into a pit containing a bronze mirror, and it exhausted itself to death by fighting its reflection.

Many dragons are said to have guarded treasure. Since only humans use currency, it’s a curious attribute for a dragon to value precious metals and gems.

Modern dragons

In January of 1909, over 100 witnesses in at least 30 towns in the New Jersey-Pennsylvania area reported seeing the “flying devil.” Various witnesses claimed it had a piercing scream and glowing red eyes.

In the 1950s through the 1970s, a bipedal reptilian creature, nicknamed the Loveland Frog or Lizard Man, was reported in Ohio, New Jersey, Kentucky, and South Carolina. Witnesses say it was over seven feet long and ran at speeds up to 40 miles per hour. At about that time appeared Mothman, a creature resembling a bird, but missing its head, with red eyes where its shoulders should be. This one flew after the fleeing witnesses at up to 100 miles per hour. (Mothman became the inspiration for the 2002 movie The Mothman Prophecies.)

Mexico and Puerto Rico have Chupracabra—“goat sucker.” Mongolia has the Death Worm, which is two to four feet long and kills its victims with venom or electric shock.

And of course, Nessie sightings continue to appear up to the present.

Recent Nessie developments

In the early 1930s, a new road was built around Loch Ness; thereafter the frequency of sightings increased. There have been about 3,000 sightings since 1933. Until that time, stories of the monster had circulated mostly locally.

In 1933, 50 sightings of Nessie were reported. On 22 July, 1933, a London couple was driving down the road when a large, cumbersome animal crossed the road in front of them, perhaps 20 yards from the water. This incident was unusual because it was the first recorded sighting of Nessie on land. The report appeared in the Inverness Courier, and then in the Scottish national newspapers. After this, interest in Nessie grew internationally. Three more important sightings occurred in 1934. One of these produced a photograph taken along the new road by a London surgeon, and a privately funded investigation led by Sir Edward Mountain resulted in five shots of Nessie.

During World War II, the Navy secured the Loch area. In May 1943, a member of the Royal Observer Corps saw a monster raise its head from the water and then submerge again.

A huge underwater cavern has been discovered in the Loch and named “Nessie’s Lair.” George Edwards, a local tour boat operator and member of the Auxiliary Coastguard, has seen many strange shapes on the loch over the years; he believes there must be more than one creature, and that this “new” cavern could lead to a network of caves. Experts call his findings “the most significant in years.”

The number of sightings has decreased recently, despite that the loch has been watched more closely and that increasingly more people carry cameras and video recorders. This does not necessarily suggest that Nessie is less likely to be real. It more likely suggests that the population of creatures is declining.

Conclusion

Whatever their identity, dragons have undeniably secured their place in our cultural history. Are they real or not? Arguably, the truth about dragons is inextricably intertwined with the fate of the dinosaurs. Virtually no reasonable doubt exists that dinosaurs once lived—only whether or not they coexisted with humans.

But the fact that so many tales of human-dragon interactions have endured through the ages is too compelling to ignore. I propose this as a definition of dragons: dinosaurs that have co-existed with humans. As such, either they are real, or they are not. But, since one can never prove a universal negative, we can say with certainty only one of two things—either they are real, or they might not be.

The fact that no dragon has ever lent itself to modern scientific examination means little. Obviously, these relics from antiquity are not well suited to 21st-century life. If we accept that most of the dinosaurs died in a flood, or the Great Flood, it is not surprising that the numbers of those few survivors are dwindling.

And of course people feared and hated them. Antediluvian dinosaurs of the carnivorous persuasion ate each other. Postdiluvian ones, having fewer menu selections, naturally resorted to eating livestock—and, when necessary, humans. Flying dragons? Why not? Arhchaeopteryx and Pterosaurs flew.

Why were dragons of the Far East revered instead of feared and hated? Perhaps, by fluke of geography or some other factor, herbivorous dragons tended to settle there. The fact that dragon tales overlap with fantasy makes them no less likely to be true, just as the certainty that reindeer don’t fly and fat guys can’t go down chimneys doesn’t mean that there was never a real person named St. Nicholas who gave gifts to children.

Why in particular are Medieval and Renaissance times linked with dragon activity? Maybe dragons were enjoying a resurgence in population at that time; maybe, because of the prevailing social-cultural-religious climate, humans in Western civilization needed something big and bad to conquer.

To believe, or not to believe? Given the evidence, we have ample reason to believe in dragons.

About The Author

Lisa J. Lehr is a freelance writer with a specialty in business and marketing communications. She holds a biology degree and has worked in a variety of fields, including the pharmaceutical industry and teaching, and has a particular interest in Christian tradition. She is also a graduate of American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI), America’s leading course on copywriting. Contact Lisa J. Lehr Copywriting www.ljlcopywriting.com, Lisa@ljlcopywriting.com for help with your business writing needs.

Did Dragons Walk Among Us? (Do They Still?) Part 2

Virtually every culture on earth has an oral tradition of encounters with large, strange beasts—creatures different from those we know. Were they dragons? Why don’t we still have dragons among us? Or do we? Will we ever know for sure?

Part 2

What the Bible says about monsters, and why it’s probably true

The Bible makes reference to several types of animals that are known to be departed, but that co-existed with humans in antediluvian (before the Flood) times. Job mentions Behemoth, who some say is our modern hippo or elephant. But a closer look reveals it’s not a good match—Behemoth “moves its tail like a cedar” (Job 40:17). (Does that sound like a hippo or elephant tail?) Also, v.20 says, “the mountains yield food for him.” Present-day hippos and elephants do not live in mountainous habitats. Leviathan, dragons, and sea monsters are named as water-dwelling creatures.

People living thousands of years ago described what they saw with their own eyes.

Many of the world’s cultures have an oral history of dragons. It would be hard to believe that these stories are mere fabrications, as preliterate societies used storytelling as a means of passing down information from one generation to the next. On more than one continent, cave drawings have been found depicting dinosaur-like animals, and human footprints have been found alongside and overlapping dinosaur footprints.

Many large extinct animals have been determined to have died in a flood. Hundreds of thousands of drowned mammoths have been discovered on high ground in Siberia, northern Alaska and Canada, and other far northern places. So have saber-toothed tigers, giant elk, cave bears, and musk ox. They were buried alive—they did not starve—and the food found in their stomachs was tree matter. Trees no longer grow at these latitudes, and a mammoth could not survive on the stunted flora that does—and for a very short growing period at that. (In fact, evidence of an “ice age,” which supposedly occurred about 10,000 years ago, can be explained more easily by a sudden, one-time freezing at the time of the Great Flood, or as the flood waters receded, when the earth underwent enormous physical changes.)

What this tells us is that many huge mammals that co-existed with our ancestors were unable to survive the Flood. Any swimming creature, however, might have been spared.

How Nessie et al. might have arrived in their respective bodies of fresh water

If the earth was at one time covered with water, swimming creatures would have had the freedom to travel anywhere. According to the book of Genesis, an aquatic environment prevailed for over a year; this is more than enough time for a whale to complete its annual migration cycle. (Migrating whales can cover 2,000 nautical miles at an average speed of nine knots.) As the waters receded, some of these swimmers could have become stranded in relatively small bodies of water far from where they began.

Millions of salmon migrate from the North Sea to Loch Ness, apparently notwithstanding that the North Sea is saltwater and the loch is fresh. People have even claimed to see dolphins in Loch Ness! It is noteworthy that all of the allegedly monster-inhabited lakes are relatively close to major saltwater bodies. Of course, after thousands of years, it would not be Flood survivors who now dwell in these lakes, but their descendants.

What happened to the land-based dinosaurs?

Supposing a Noah’s ark-type scenario, where the huge, roaming dinosaurs all drowned in the Flood, only aquatic dinosaurs would have survived—hence, Nessie and her international cousins.

Yet, some species not strictly aquatic may have had opportunity to survive the Great Flood. Amphibious creatures, perhaps, and smaller mammals and reptiles, as well as flying species, may have been able to rest on floating debris until the flood waters receded. Babies and eggs of larger species may have made it by this means as well. Often, the dragons of stories inhabit places near water—not surprising, given the adaptive advantage of swimming skills.

Perhaps some terrestrial species survived the Flood but were wiped out by hunting when the flood waters receded and everyone struggled to survive on a planet devoid of vegetation. Another possibility is that…they did not entirely disappear.

To be continued….

About The Author

Lisa J. Lehr is a freelance writer with a specialty in business and marketing communications. She holds a biology degree and has worked in a variety of fields, including the pharmaceutical industry and teaching, and has a particular interest in Christian tradition. She is also a graduate of American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI), America’s leading course on copyrighting. Contact Lisa J. Lehr Copy writing www.ljlcopywriting.com, Lisa@ljlcopywriting.com for help with your business writing needs.

Did Dragons Walk Among Us? (Do They Still?) Part 1

Virtually every culture on earth has an oral tradition of encounters with large, strange beasts—creatures different from those we know. Were they dragons? Why don’t we still have dragons among us? Or do we? Will we ever know for sure?

Part 1

What are dragons?

From the fossil record, we have a sizable body of knowledge about huge animals that are no longer represented in the animal kingdom. Though these creatures varied greatly in terms of size, shape, diet, habitat, mode of motility, and probably every other characteristic, we collectively call all such anciently extinct species “dinosaurs.”

As to what ended their presence on earth, we have only speculation, with people of differing opinions being equally adamant about their points of view. Standard evolutionary theory favors the explanation that a devastating meteorite hit the earth about 65 million years ago, causing extended darkness from dust and debris thrown into the atmosphere, thus snuffing out many life forms.

The creationist perspective, however, tends toward a much more recent time frame for the collective demise of the large ancient animals. How recent is a subject of debate, even among those who share the same basic Biblical philosophy, with “old-earth” creationists occupying something of a middle ground between the evolutionists and the “new-earth” creationists, who date the earth at somewhere around 10,000 years. These two groups agree that the death of the dinosaurs was caused by the Genesis Flood and/or the global geological and climatic changes that transpired thereafter.

Those who would like to believe that dragons really lived (and who wouldn’t?) might seriously consider a possible link between dinosaurs, the Loch Ness monster, and a great flood (or the Great Flood).

Dragons around the world

Both Old and New Testaments talk about monsters—the books of Job, Psalms, Isaiah, and Revelation. Dragons appear in the Babylonian creation story; Nebuchadnezzar built the city of Babylon with carvings of dragons all over the walls, and put a dragon on his seal. Ancient Egyptians used images of dragons to protect their palaces. Both ancient Greeks and Romans had dragon mythologies, as do China and Japan, Mesopotamia and India.

Europe has an especially rich tradition of dragons. The Vikings carved dragons on their ships. Celtic kings in Britain were called “dragons.” Pendragon means “chief dragon,” or head of all chiefs among the ancient Britons. Scotland and France have dragon connections. Wales has the dragon as its national symbol. Britain alone has nearly 200 sites identified with dragon lore.

As a land comprised of islands, Great Britain has an obvious appeal to creatures that thrive in or near water, which may explain its particularly strong association with dragons—an association that makes sense in the Flood scenario. Several local festivals of ancient origin continue to re-enact the killing of the resident dragon. All over England are places named for dragon slayings. Dragon Hill is where St. George, patron saint of England, is said to have killed a dragon. Legend says that grass has never since grown where the dragon’s blood was spilled.

North America has its share of dragons. Mexican history has Quetzalcoatl—part serpent and part beautiful bird—the god of wind, wisdom, and life. The Algonquin Indians of North America worshipped a dragon named Piasa; the Apache tribe had one called Chiricahua.

According to dragon lore, many and varied types of dragons once graced the earth. Some have two legs, some have four, some none. Some have wings. Some breathe fire, some have poisonous stingers on their tails. Some have body parts of another animal or of a human. Some have scales; some have smooth, leathery skin. They come in all colors and a range of sizes. Oral history is important here, as features like color and skin texture cannot be determined from fossil examination. These descriptions could be superimposed upon those of dinosaurs without taxing the imagination.

Interestingly, while Western dragons are portrayed as man-eating and evil, Eastern dragons are considered good, kind, and intelligent.

How does Nessie fit in?

Much as the traditional land-based dragon, the swimming monster also enjoys a worldwide reputation. Of these, the Loch Ness monster is arguably the most famous.

Reports of Loch Ness monster sightings pretty much agree on what Nessie looks like. She (I’m going to call it “she” for simplicity’s sake) is a large animal, 20-60 feet long, with a thick, rounded back and a muscular-looking tail. She has a small head with large eyes and a long neck, a little thicker than an elephant’s trunk, forming a number of arches. She has elephant-like skin and two very short forelegs or flippers. Her body may have a fin as well, and is grayish-black. She is reportedly a fast swimmer.

Nessie has been spotted periodically for over 1400 years. The first recorded sighting was by St. Columba in 565 AD.

Loch Lochy, Loch Lomond, and Loch Shiel all have been sites of possible monster presence. Ireland has a lake beast they call Plasts; Wales has one called Afanc. Britain’s deepest body of fresh water, Lake Morar, over 1,000 feet deep, has Morag.

Sweden has the Great Lake Monster. Russia has several lakes with long-necked creatures. A lake in Japan now claims a lake monster, as does Lake Van, a saltwater lake in southeastern Turkey.

Lake Okanagan in British Columbia is home to Ogopogo. In the United States, Lake Champlain has Champ, Wallowa Lake in Oregon has Wally, and California-Nevada’s Lake Tahoe has had a number of sightings of strange water creatures.

What Nessie et al. might be

Most arguments against Nessie being any known species of creature begin with an assumption of the evolutionary scenario. It has been suggested that Nessie might be a member of the supposedly extinct group archaeoceti, a suborder of Cetacea, the order including whales, porpoises, and dolphins.

It is not uncommon for animals believed to have gone extinct to turn up alive and well. One example is the coelacanth, a fish of the order crossopterygii, the order that includes a fish thought to have been the ancestor of land vertebrates. The discovery of a live coelacanth necessitated a rearrangement of the “family tree.”

In addition, the animal species we have do not always fall into neat groupings. The platypus and the spiny anteater (both mammals) lay eggs. Bats (also mammals) fly. The lungfish and the mudskipper (both fish) walk, and the walking perch can live for a day without water because of a supplemental respiratory chamber that enables the fish to use air. Some snakes lay eggs, others give birth to live young, yet all are reptiles. Indeed, the basic problem with taxonomy (the classification of organisms in an ordered system) is that it presupposes a correlation between the various levels of classification and the geological time periods at which they differentiated from one another.

Nessie could be an aquatic animal like a hippo or crocodile that breathes with just her nostrils above the waterline, or an amphibian with gills, or any other unique creature.

While many descriptions of Nessie are similar, differing photographs taken of her might suggest different species of lake creatures. The presence of more than one species is not unlikely.

To be continued….

About The Author

Lisa J. Lehr is a freelance writer with a specialty in business and marketing communications. She holds a biology degree and has worked in a variety of fields, including the pharmaceutical industry and teaching, and has a particular interest in Christian tradition. She is also a graduate of American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI), America’s leading course on copywriting. Contact Lisa J. Lehr Copywriting www.ljlcopywriting.com, Lisa@ljlcopywriting.com for help with your business writing needs.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dragons are real

Dragons are commonly portrayed as serpentine or reptilian, hatching from eggs and possessing extremely large, typically scaly, bodies; they are sometimes portrayed as having large eyes, a feature that is the origin for the word for dragon in many cultures, and are often (but not always) portrayed with wings and a fiery breath.

Some dragons do not have wings at all, but look more like long snakes. Dragons can have a variable number of legs: none, two, four, or more when it comes to early European literature.

Modern depictions of dragons are very large in size, but some early European depictions of dragons were only the size of bears, or, in some cases, even smaller, around the size of a butterfly.