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Posts Tagged ‘asia’

Damn, it’s been a busy week.  I had a convention this weekend, made and put up some new jewelry, even did two days of heavy editing before submitting to a publisher briefly open to unrequested manuscripts.   Finally, it’s Wednesday, a day when I don’t have to do a damn thing. A rest before I go back to my day job on Bourbon Street Thursday.  Maybe I’ll take a nice long bubble bath.

 

… Shite, I’m forgetting about the blog again aren’t I?

 

All right!  First blog, then bubbles.   Wouldn’t want things to slither on by me, so today I’m going to just play for scale.  Today I’m going to talk about a creature both fearsome, and sacred.   Let’s look at the naga.

 

From Indian mythology, naga are often depicted as female, but the male versions definitely exist.  At essence, they are snake people, cobra people most traditionally.  Shapeshifters who can be human formed, snake formed, or anything in between.  I mean anything.  Giant snakes, little snakes, lots of snakes.  Snakes with just human heads, humans with snake bottom halves done mermaid style.  In some of the more Eastern varieties (Naga will show up in Cambodia and the Philippines and many other places where Hinduism is spread) they take the form of a great serpent with multiple heads, hydra style.  Pretty much you name it, this lot can do it, and unlike a lot of more western creatures, the variants are not seen as separate monsters or species, just the naga trying on new forms.

 

Why such versatility?  Because in most texts the naga are semi-divine beings.  They are often considered immortal.  True immortal too, not Greek god immortal where you can still one with a sword.  They are outside of the Wheel, and have connections to the many gods and often step into the role of priests or intermediaries between humans and the divine. Besides their immortality, they can heal wounds and poisons, predict the future, and kill with venom or just a powerful glare. In some tales they are just a step less powerful than the devata and right on par with the apsara.

 

The exception comes with Garuda, the big eagle-god of the son.  Big surprise, eagles and snakes don’t get along.  In Garuda oriented texts, the naga get all the negative attributes of snakes.  Venomous, untrustworthy, preying on the week and helpless.  They are still useful and powerful, with naga able to do everything from control the whether to bring fertility to lands and women.  But damn it, don’t you side with those lousy snakes or eagle will claw your eyes out!

 

As usual, I’m highly biased.   Both sides probably have lots of ass holes to choose from, and the occasional good ones.  That is true for Every damn critter on my blog.  The proportion of good ones to ass-hats is one of my qualifiers for if I like a beastie.

 

Traditionally naga are often represented with a jewel or pearl for their bindi or third eye.  This is a symbol of their power, and yes there are a few stories of people hunting them for the pearl.  It’s a great tool for divination and may be their source of immortality.  Of course, you’ve got to overcome a literal den of vipers, will probably piss off a few gods, and there is always the karmic backlash on the next turn of the wheel.  But hey, if you really manage immortality, you don’t have to worry about that last one do you?

 

Like many creatures, there are similar beings in most cultures.  There is a particularly nasty legend in China of a snake with a woman’s head, and it is both an old story and a modern urban legend, which yells immortal to me.  There are snake people of the Amazon, and of course a host of medieval demons associated with snakes that have that half-and-half look of the naga.  Not to mention Greek variants like the lamia.

 

Most of those stories lean a lot more to the nightmare version than anything define.   Often it depends on how a particular culture views snakes, some seeing them as deadly and dangerous, some seeing them as a source of wisdom. The (insert name) of South America are just like any other tribe, keep out of their way and respect the customs and you should be fine.   Screw up and it’s fangs for the memories.

 

I’m also seeing a shift over time as cultures blend.  A Chinese concept seems to be filtering West to India, in which new naga are made by snakes getting curious and turning themselves human.  This shows up with a lot of animal types in Asia, including kitsune and tanuki in Japan.  I’m not sure how much traditional roots the concept has, but it’s actually a fun idea to play with.  The original naga were obviously just their own species, but big surprise, not many mythologies out there on exactly how they go about breeding. If they leave their clutches out in the wild like a lot of snakes, maybe it takes the wee little buggers some time to grow intelligent and ‘curious’ enough to sprout legs.

 

Of course, the young, curious sorts are bound to cause trouble.  Young curious sorts always do.

 

Writing Prompts

No… I won’t suggest naga breeding programs.   I will however suggest a story where a snake and eagle are in marriage counseling.

 

So want an Indiana Jones story where his current girl is actually a naga, but we’ll never get the rights.

 

Am I the only one who wants a pair of naga skin boots?  Hey, they’re immortal, they’ll heal won’t they?

 

 

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All right, week three here we go.  I started out with a beastie I felt neutral about, went to one I’m pretty fond of, and now it’s time for one of those critters that I just can’t stand.

So, which to choose?  I was sore tempted to do vampires, and the rebel rouser in me wanted to tackle angels just because I knew I’d get shouts of objection.  Instead, I settled on one of the biggest and most predominant symbols of magic and myth.  Let’s talk about those scaly, fire breathing, matched-luggage waiting to happen bastards, the dragons.

Dragons are one of the foremost symbols of magic and power for a reason, the damned things show up everywhere.  Every culture, every continent where there are men, you’ll find stories of the overgrown lizards with the power of flight and a variety of other gifts.  In my studies and obsessions I’ve found only a handful of creatures that show up everywhere, and I’ve used the dragon as one of my top three for ages.

But wait, I hear someone object, the Asian dragons are so different from the Western concept.  And those specimens from Australian and South American myth vary as well, I know.  However, maybe not as much as you’d think.

There are great serpent style dragons in the west.  Usually classified as wyrms, they usually lived underground, in wells, and rivers.  For the record, most of the serpent dragons of Asia are associated with water and the underground as well.   Then again, there are winged dragons in the East, though they are rare.  In some cultures they are a different breed of dragon.  In some cultures the dragon metamorphoses through its life cycle. They form wings, usually feathered not leather, only at the very height of their physical and spiritual growth.   These dragons tend to breath fire, granted spiritual fire, and are assumed to have great powers and wisdom, from the ability to shapeshift to knowing the secrets to immortality.

Wait a second though, the winged dragons in the West are rare as well.  They are the oldest and the most dangerous because they have powers and knowledge that the lesser wyrms and wyverns don’t possess.   See my point? Yes, the creatures are different, just as big cats vary greatly depending on their species and environment.  The biggest difference though is not in the animal, but in how the cultures responded to their traits.

Let’s try an example. A big lizard kills anything that treads into a certain mountain valley, and the Medieval approach was mostly to saddle up and kill the fucker.  An Eastern approach is more prone to respect the territorial nature of the beast.  Then it becomes not a monster, but a guardian of that particular mountain pass, and should be respected and avoided if possible.

Granted, I’m stereotyping and painting with a wide, wide brush.  I’m trying to condense a fairly large topic into an interesting and coherent ramble.  There are stories in the West of dragons acting as guardians of places, castles, and even family lines.  There are stories in the East of people falling afoul of the wrong serpent’s temper and paying the price.  The differences are largely cultural.  Usually in the East the power of the dragons is creative, fixing imbalances and preying occasionally on wicked men.  Usually the dragons of the West are hitting at random. People saw the loss in peasants and livestock and weren’t really bothered looking for a bigger picture.

In other cultures the approaches vary accordingly.  Even in Europe, go a few  centuries before the medieval period and you find Greek and Roman tales that range the gamut.  Sometimes serpents and dragons needed to be bumped off by great heroes.  Sometimes they were servants of various gods and served a purpose. The winged and feathered serpents of South America were prayed to or feared depending on which type of serpent and which civilization interacted with it.  The indigenous legends of New Zealand and Australia treat dragon-like creatures as just another wild animal, though ones with great powers and cunning.

Since I try to include a nod to different explanations, there has been a long standing theory that dinosaur bones are the source for dragon myths.  That natives world-wide saw the great lizard bones and extrapolated their legends from there.  It’d be more fun if the occasional unidentifiable dinosaur bone were actually a dragon’s but whatever.  There aren’t many stories about men finding the bones of a dragon. The stories all start with the dragon finding the men, and often snacking.

Where the first dragon, as we know dragons, came from is a source of fascination for many myth makers and story tellers. Interestingly, there are some spiritual traditions who think that the dragons we know are actually an off shoot of an older dragon race.  That there were some creatures that were around first, before man, and the dragons mankind has dealt with are only poor descendants, baser creatures.  You get a few echoes of this in Greek mythology, where dragons and serpents were often created from the blood of gods or produced by the mother of monsters.  Likewise in Javanese myth and even some of the Australian, dragons came from the World Serpent or the Dream Snake, and hold their power as only a shadow of their maker.  Some people even think dragons were created by God as guardians for the first Garden of Eden.

I believe that if dragons were assumed to be fact, one would have to admit there are lots of types of dragons.  A variety of species fitting in different environments and with different appearances and personalities.   That applies to most mythological beasts.  There are more types of werewolves than you can shake a silver tipped cane at.

In a lot of ways, for a lot of spiritual matters, I have more liking for the Eastern approach.  A viewpoint of respect and trying to look at the larger balance could have done Medieval Europe a hell of a lot of good.  Except… dragons are often such wankers!  Most I wouldn’t share a drink with, even if they were buying. They are big, don’t have many weaknesses, and usually just smart enough to be arrogant sods.  They are convinced of their own superiority, or they’d be a lot better at keeping a low profile and not getting chased down by every lad wrapped in tin.  If dragons were around today, they’d be the subjects of a reality show, and they’d come off about as likable as those poor people on Hoarders.

And let’s talk about that little bit of OCD shall we?  Do you think dragons really have a need for gold or gems, or even virgins?  (Another thing that branches through more cultures than you’d think. Much like the unicorn, dragons seem attracted to purity.  If only because they like their food fresh.)  No, they just seem to have about the same scruples and instincts of a magpie.  They’ll claw their way through a mountain, or a village, for a shiny bauble that has caught their attention.  Anyone objects and the dragon will be the one to take offense. Because of course the world’s riches are their right.

There is something alluring about pure arrogance.  Confidence is an aphrodisiac, and when you are that big and bad, there is just too thin a line between confidence and arrogance.  A tyrannosaurus is big and scaly and confident. Would you want to revere one?  Although in certain cultures I’m sure one would.  Personally, I think I’d look great in some dragon skin boots.

So there you have it, round three of my blog experiment.  Each article so far has been purposefully different because I’m listening to various responses and seeing what people are finding most helpful and entertaining.  I want a good balance between both, so give me a shout.

And anyone who has any dragon problems, lets us talk.  You bring the lance, I’ll bring the marshmallows.

 

Writing Prompts

Dragons adapting to modern society.  It’s been done before I know, but give it a shot.

Natural predators, is a dragon an apex predator or would you think that there might be something else that could prey on them?

New origin myths, dragon or the egg, which came first?

Antarctica dragons.  They are everywhere else, why not there?  Have fun.

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