What do dragons symbolize in different cultures?

by | Sep 7, 2021 | Symbolisms | 0 comments

The dragon and its symbolism: what spiritual and alchemical significance? How to interpret the dragon? What hidden meaning?

The dragon is a legendary creature found in many cultures and spiritual and esoteric traditions, both in the West and East.

The dragon is, first of all, an “augmented” reptile, endowed with wings, legs, and claws, which may make one think of dinosaurs. But quite often, the dragon is made up of members from other animals (dogs, deer, tigers, eagles…) as if to show that it carries within itself all the forces of Nature.

See our collection of dragon rings

Inspiring terror, the dragon is a monster with far-reaching powers who rule over all elements:

  • the earth (world of reptiles … and men),
  • water (dragons are born in water, which can symbolize the soul ),
  • the air (the dragonflies, he masters the sky),
  • fire (the flames it spits out evoke a higher power, of divine nature).

The meaning of the dragon varies from one civilization to another: symbol of life and power in China, demonic monster to be slain in Celtic and Nordic mythology as well as in medieval Europe, it can be beneficial or evil, protective or despot.

In Greek mythology, the dragon is almost always the guardian of a treasure or a sacred place: it must be defeated to gain access to it. We guess that this treasure is that of wisdom and immortality.

In alchemy, the dragon represents a chaotic world with a certain potential for order; the dragon symbolizes primordial energy.

Note: The word “dragon” comes from Indo-European taken up by the Greek drakon and the Latin draco (“see clearly,” “piercing gaze”).

Let’s get into the symbolism of the dragon and its spiritual significance.

The dragon and its spiritual symbolism.

dragon silouette

Dragons are the heirs of the chthonian creatures of Indo-European mythologies, which most often presented the features of monstrous snakes: Apophis (Egypt), Python (Greece), Kaliya (India) …

We find the dragon in many myths and legends:

  • In Greek mythology, Ladon is the hundred-headed dragon who guards the golden apples of the garden of the Hesperides nymphs. It is found in the eleventh of the labors of Hercules,
  • Still, in Greek mythology, the dragon of Colchis guards the Golden Fleece: Jason must kill it to steal the Fleece, a solar and heroic talisman. Note that this dragon is the brother of Cerberus (who guards the gate of the Underworld), of the Sphinx (who ravages and subdues Thebes), of the Chimera (a creature with a serpent’s tail which ravages the province of Lycia), and of the Hydra of Lerne (the reptilian monster that Hercules must defeat during the second of his Twelve Labors),
  • in Christianity, the dragon is the symbol of evil and the devil: it is associated with the Beast of the Apocalypse, slain by the Messiah,
  • Christian legends from the Middle Ages describe many saints fighting dragons: this is the case of Saint Michael or Saint George, patron saint of knights, who slays the dragon with his lance “Ascalon,” symbolizing the victory of good over bad,
  • in Asia (especially in China), the dragon is thinner and longer than in the West; he is bearded, rarely winged but moves easily in space. Dragons represent the power of nature, the climate, and the elements, or vegetation cycles. They symbolize a form of power that can be dangerous but not necessarily negative. They are worshiped and regularly associated with emperor power and immortality. Their lucky number is 9, which has a positive value. The dragon can also be a messenger of the gods or a guardian of earthly riches (see below),
  • in America, the Quetzalcoatl is the feathered serpent, god of vegetation, earth, and water: his power is reminiscent of the Asiatic dragons.

In the end, the symbolism of the dragon mainly refers to the following elements:

  • celestial power,
  • natural forces: the raw energy to be mastered,
  • the cycles and the power transformation,
  • the mystery, the hidden, the darkness,
  • anger,
  • evil (Christian approach),
  • ignorance or rather the knowledge,
  • the ordeal: the dragon must be fought to restore order to the world,
  • heroism: defeating the dragon, or riding it like a horse, is to become a hero, it is to access the mysteries of life and immortality, it is to become wise,
  • combat and war: the dragon is present on many coats of arms and military emblems,
  • the duality: quite often, dragons come in pairs, turning around, entredévorant, symbolizing the positive and the negative, or the yin and yang that intermingle.

The dragon pearl and its symbolism.

In China, the dragon hides a pearl under the folds of its goiter. This pearl symbolizes the extent of his power. Whoever has the chance to recover it will experience happiness, fullness, and wisdom: he will have access to the knowledge of higher things.

Note that the “dragon pearl” also designates the wisdom of the emperor and the perfection of his actions.

Different types of dragons.

green dragon
The dragon is often red or green, more rarely black or dark blue. According to the different legends, his blood can be black, yellow, red, or green.

Here are some famous types of dragons:

  • the asp: little deadly dragon,
  • the basil: serpent with deadly venom, or dragon with the head of a rooster, he is the “king of snakes,”
  • the cockatrice: a kind of dragon with the head of a rooster, with the wings of a bat and the body of a snake,
    draconic: from basil and a dragon,
  • the Bahamut: winged dragon of Arab mythology

In Japan, there are usually 4 species of dragons: celestial, pluvial, underground, and terrestrial-aquatic.

Likewise, in China, we find:

  • the “celestial” dragon, protector of Heaven and the gods, symbol of awakening,
  • the “spiritual” dragon, which makes the rainfall and fertilizes the earth,
  • the “terrestrial” dragon, who reigns over the rivers,
  • the dragon “guardian of treasures,” who watches over metals and precious stones forbidden to men.

The dragon: an alchemical symbol.

dragon 3d

In alchemy, the dragon (or “Philosophical Basilisk”) has a meaning equivalent to that of the ouroboros, the serpent god who eats himself.

The two dragons circling represent the forces emerging from One-the-All, namely the Sun and the Moon, the active and the passive, the ordered and the chaotic, the fixed and the volatile. Here we neutralize the adverse tendencies (the alchemical sulfur and mercury ) in the cosmic unity.

Therefore, the dragon is the Creative Principle, which includes the positive and negative self-destructive forces. It links as much with the spirit as with the matter: the Word, the active principle, evolutionary, registered in the manifested world. There is duality in unity.

Unleashed, the dragon represents Nature which devours itself, which covets, and which desires. But regulated, harmonized by himself or his double, the dragon expresses cosmic harmony and balance.

Thus, the dragon is conscious and unconscious, the key to knowledge and the obstacle to knowledge. The dragon is the very material of the alchemical work.

The symbolism of the dragon in psychoanalysis.

In psychology, the dragon can refer to the dark and negative side of the human psyche, including instincts, fear, hatred, and selfishness. A heroic effort of self-knowledge must overcome this unconscious.

In reality, the dragons are in us: knowing them and recognizing them is already taming them and making them powerful allies.

Also, please read our article on the symbolism of the snake.


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