Temporary Tattoo Blog

A Short History of Dragon Tattoos

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
A Short History of Dragon Tattoos

Dragons are mythical creatures that became popular and present in many cultures, due to their mystical and powerful characteristics. Dragon tattoos are very appealing to people from all categories of age and interests exactly because of these mysterious and strong attributes that they convey and also because their design can vary a lot and be very flexible for placement anywhere on the body.

The size and shape of the dragon can be very different, according to each person, some people even choosing to tattoo a dragon on their whole leg or even more than that, on their whole body.

The word “dragon” reached its actual shape after an interesting change. Its origin comes from the Greek word “derekein” which was used for snakes and meant “sharp-sighted” and after going to the Latins, the word became “draco”, meaning “huge snake”.

What do dragons symbolize?

The symbolic meanings of dragons are multiple, making it a very popular mythological character. They can have contradictory interpretations, some dragons being mystic, powerful and bringing hope, others being evil and angry and dark. There are many stories with dragons where they can be found as sacred guardians, masters of riddles and wise advisors. Also, many heroes like Hercules had missions of slaying dragons in order to gain immortality or to prove their bravery.

We can understand that dragons meant a lot throughout history by observing how they were used and are still present as important symbols for some cultures. For example, the Vikings had dragon heads carved on their ships because they believed that they will bring an acuteness of the sight and more bravery to the warriors. More than that, the Chinese emperors picture themselves as dragons and surround themselves with furniture and clothing that have dragons on them.

Dragons are also present in popular culture, through fantasy novels and movies such as Lord of the Rings, Eragon or How to Train Your Dragon and also through video games, such as the 1973 roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), which became a huge classic.

Having this multitude of symbols associated to the dragons and all the admiration of people towards this huge creatures, of course that we felt the need to have them around all the time, in the shape of tattoos on our bodies. Nowadays dragon tattoos have become very popular among people from all cultures, bringing along attitudes of courage and strength to their owners.

Where did dragons come from?

It is said that dragons first appeared in stories in Mesopotamia, an ancient territory which was then inhabited by the Sumerian civilization and now hosts the countries of Iran and Iraq. There are records of a dragon story with a main dragon character called Asag who fought Ninurta, a hero God, the character having similar abilities with the ones depicted in the stories nowadays: guardian of treasures, hero that prevented floods and wise advisor.

The Babylonians had different, higher beliefs about dragons, involving them in the genesis process along with the Gods. Some of their dragons were protectors of treasures, but most of them were shown as evil and as a source of distress for the Gods.

The only story that survived from this culture is the one of Gilgamesh and his quest to kill a dragon named Humbab, the guardian of the city of Uruk.
In the Sumerian culture there are also plenty of dragon depictions. The most famous is the dragon Zu, who stole the tablets of law from the god Enil and another famous one is Gandareva, the guardian of other dragons.

Dragons in Asia

The distinguishing mark between dragons in Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese cultures is the number of claws on the dragons’ feet. The Chinese have five claws, the Japanese four claws and the Vietnamese three claws, the Chinese proudly proclaiming their dragons as the real ones.

The dragon is a very important symbol for the Chinese people, as they consider themselves to be descended from dragons and fill up their lives with its symbol. Dragons are considered governors of rain and the Chinese have special celebrations in their honor every year, tradition dating back from the Song Dynasty in 960-1279 AD.

One of the most famous stories of dragons in the Japanese culture is the one of Ryujin, the Dragon King who lived with his wife and daughter in a palace under the sea. It is said that Ryujin made the jellyfish look like it does right now after beating it because it couldn’t manage to retrieve a monkey for Ryujin’s daughter dinner.

The Vietnamese people also have plenty of dragon stories. One of them involves Slowcoach, a man who found a fishhook in a piece of magic wood and tried to use it for fishing. When he did that, the water rose and the daughter of the dragon king appeared to Slowcoach and told him that the hook had caught her father’s mouth. The man is taken to an underwater palace into a bubble, he removes the hook from the dragon king’s mouth and is rewarded with the hand of the dragon daughter.

In India they have a dragon God called Vitra who stands for winter and is said to have absorbed the cosmic waters and coiled around a mountain. There is another Hindu story about a dragon called Apalala, who was converted to Buddhism by Buddha himself and then rejected by the other dragons, but received by humans as their teacher.

Dragons in Europe

It seems that European cultures interpret dragons as much more evil creatures than the Asians do. They are generally seen as malicious characters that bring trouble to the humans and have to be hunted and killed by a hero. A very famous dragon-slaying story is the one of Saint George and the village of Cappadocia which was threatened by a dragon to be destroyed. George saves the princess, the only maiden left alive, and slays the dragon just when it was preparing to eat her. There are many paintings that depict St. George’s dragon slaying in the orthodox culture.

The famous epic poem Beowulf has another famous representation of dragons, the hero slaying three dragons in three battles: Grendel, its mother and another fierce dragon which also brought his ending.

Dragons are also present in the rest of the world, in Australia and New Zealand they are called “taniwha” and in Africa there is a rainbow dragon called Aido-Hwedo whose feces are said to having given birth to the mountains on the previous flat ground and having helped the plants grow with its nutrients.

After finding out all these rich facts about dragons from all over the world you can sit and think about how important this creature is for humanity. Getting a dragon tattoo is not a meaningless act, there is so much symbolism behind it that you have to think well which of them represents you. Either you choose a tribal dragon, a

Chinese dragon or an African one, its design and dimensions will depend on your preferences and fantasies. Take a look at our temporary dragon tattoo gallery and see if something suits you from there. By getting a temporary tattoo you’ll be one step closer to the permanent one.  May the dragon guard you for life!

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