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MCotD: Japanese Dragons

as you may have noticed, Dragon Week was a critical fail. (stoopid job) Thus, we'll pick up where we left off.

the Japanese Dragon!

more images behind the cutCollapse )

it is actually quite a challenge to find dragon pictures that are neither fantasy art, tattoos or Chinese dragons

The Japanese dragon, also known as ryū or tatsu, is closely related to the Chinese lóng and the Korean ryong. They are described as having a scowling head, long straight horns, a scaly, wingless serpentine body, a bristling row of dorsal spines, four limbs armed with claws, and curious flamelike appendages on its shoulders and hips, and are associated with large bodies of water, clouds or the heavens. Japanese dragons tend to be much more slender and fly less frequently than the dragons of Vietnam, Korea, or China, which may cause the Japanese dragon to appear particularly serpentine.

The word ‘dragon' stands for a genus of which there are several species and varieties. To describe them in full, and to recount minutely the ideas held by the Japanese rustics concerning them would be to compile an octavo work on dragonology. In the carvings on tombs, temples, dwellings and shops--on the government documents--printed on the old and the new paper money, and stamped on the new coins--in pictures and books, on musical instruments, in high relief on bronzes, and cut in stone, metal and wood,--the dragon (tasu) everywhere "swings the scaly horror of his folded tail," whisks his long mustaches, or glares with his terrible eyes. The dragon is the only animal in modern Japan that wears hairy ornaments on the upper lip.

The ryū in art can generally be distinguished from other East-Asian dragons in that it has only three toes, rather than the lóng's five or the ryong's four. the Ryū originated from China and is one of the four divine beasts of Japanese mythology (the other three being the crimson bird, black turtle and white tiger).

Much like Western Dragons, Japanese dragons originally killed innocent people and forced towns to give them beautiful maidens for food. Dragons in later Japanese folklore were often much more benign, perhaps because of influence from Chinese culture. They appear in famous tales such as My Lord Bag of Rice, in which a hero must kill a giant centipede which is devouring the children of the dragon king of Lake Biwa. In Urashima Tarō, the title character rescues a turtle which turns out to be the daughter of Ryūjin, the dragon king of the ocean.

There are several different types of Japanese dragons:
Tatsu, which are a symbol of the Mikado (title of the emperor of Japan). They are also looked upon as imperial and spiritual power, and they tend to live in lakes and springs.
Sui-Riu is the Japanese Dragon King. The Dragon King was in charge of all the rain, and he was sometimes known as "the rain dragon."
Han-Riu is a multi-striped Dragon. Though the dragon is around (or over) forty feet long, this dragon can never reach heaven.
Ri-Riu, a bit of an unknown dragon, has exceptional eye sight, and can see for 100 miles.
Ka-Riu was one of the smaller dragons, being that the dragon was only seven feet long. It is said, however, that the Ka-Riu was fiery red.
Fuku Riu is a dragon of luck. (Falcor!)
Hai-riyo is a Japanese "Dragon-Bird". Said to be much like the Chinese Ying-Lung, this was the most "evolved" form of a dragon.

The Ryu are also distinguished by their color, such as the violet, the yellow, the green, the red, the white, the black and the flying-dragon. When the white dragon breathes the breath of its lungs goes into the earth and turns to gold. When the violet dragon spits, the spittle becomes balls of pure crystal, of which gems and caskets are made.

The dragons are all very lustful, and approach beasts of every sort. The fruit of a union of one of these monsters with a cow is the kirin; with a swine, an elephant; and with a mare a steed of the finest breed. The female dragon produces at every parturition nine young. The first young dragon sings, and likes all harmonious sounds, hence the tops of Japanese bells are cast in the form of this dragon; the second delights in the sound of musical instruments, hence the koto or horizontal harp, and suzumi, a girl's drum, struck by the fingers, are ornamented with the figure of this dragon; the third is fond of drinking, and likes all stimulating liquors, therefore goblets, and drinking-cups are adorned with representations of this creature; the fourth likes steep and dangerous places, hence gables, towers, and projecting beams of temples and pagodas have carved images of this dragon upon them; the fifth is a great destroyer of living things, fond of killing and bloodshed, therefore swords are decorated with golden figures of this dragon; the sixth loves learning, and delights in literature, hence on the covers and titles of books and literary works are pictures of this creature; the seventh is renowned for its power of hearing; the eighth enjoys sitting, hence the easy chairs are carved in its images; the ninth loves to bear weight, therefore the feet of tables and hibachi are shaped like this creature's feet.

The Circle of the Dragon
Japanese Dragons on wikipedia
Internet Sacred texts Archive


MCotD: Chinese Dragons

(Apologies for the late post! Hectic day...)
Welcome to Dragon week on MCotD! This week we'll be exploring dragons in mythology around the globe.
To kick the week off, we'll check out the dragon myths of China.

The people paint the dragon's shape with a horse's head and a snake's tail. Further, there are expressions as 'three joints' and 'nine resemblances' (of the dragon), to wit: from head to shoulder, from shoulder to breast, from breast to tail. These are the joints; as to the nine resemblances, they are the following: his horns resemble those of a stag, his head that of a camel, his eyes those of a demon, his neck that of a snake, his belly that of a clam (shen, 蜃), his scales those of a carp, his claws those of an eagle, his soles those of a tiger, his ears those of a cow. Upon his head he has a thing like a broad eminence (a big lump), called [chimu] (尺木). If a dragon has no [chimu], he cannot ascend to the sky. - Wang Fu via Wikipedia's Dragon entry.

"Chinese dragons are physically concise. Of the 117 scales, 81 are of the yang essence (positive) while 36 are of the yin essence (negative)." -Wikipedia

"Many pictures of oriental dragons show a flaming pearl under their chin. The pearl is associated with wealth, good luck, and prosperity." -Wikipedia

The wing thing is interesting, I'd often wandered about why they appear sometimes and not others.
"Chinese dragons are occasionally depicted with bat-like wings growing out of the front limbs, but most do not have wings, as their ability to fly (and control rain/water, etc.) are mythical and not seen as a result of their physical attributes." -Wikipedia

Unlike Western dragons which are generally considered to be evil monsters, the Chinese consider the dragon to be a potent symbol of auspicious power. Traditionally only the emperor of China was allowed to associate himself with the imagery of the Dragon, and commoners were forbidden to use the image. "The Chinese dragon is traditionally also the embodiment of the concept of yang (male) and associated with the weather as the bringer of rain and water in an agriculturally water-driven nation." - Wikipedia

A ridiculously thorough entry on Wikipedia about the Chinese Dragon.

MCotD: Centaur

wrapping up HHH week, and in honor of the tattoo i'm about to get today, today's creature is the centaur.

everything you wanted to know about centaurs, but were afraid to askCollapse )

MCotD: Harpie or Harpy / Sirin / Siren

Today we delve into the surprisingly wide world of woman/bird hybrids.
First some pictures so we know what we're talking about.

more imagesCollapse )
So the harpy was Greek, and a "winged death-spirit," who is most well known for eternally tearing food away from Phineas, the king of Thrace, because he pissed off Zeus. [ed. Note: Don't piss off Zeus.] They also appear in Dante's Inferno, hounding the spirits of the suicided. Early on in their development as a myth they were fairly nasty, brutish human/bird creatures, but as the Athenian ideals took hold of Greek mythology they softened into more of a sorrowful death angel, than ravaging demon.
Modern incarnations of harpies vary from evil bat-winged demons to temptress bird women, frequently wearing leather and/or metal bikinis or simply straps.

Symbolism: Early on they were personifications of the destructive nature of wind. Later symbols of greed, death, and punishment.

The "Sirin is a mythological creature of Russian legends, with the head and chest of a beautiful woman and the body of a bird (usually an owl). According to the myth, they lived "in Indian lands" near Eden or around the Euphrates River." -Wikipedia
Where the Harpy was an agent of punishment and death, the Sirin of Russian lore "sang beautiful songs to the saints, foretelling future joys. For mortals, however, the birds were dangerous. Men who heard them would forget everything on earth, follow them, and ultimately die." There's still the association with death, but it's in more of a 'so good it's bad' kind of way, and existed in a christian religious context associated with Saint Ephram the Syrain.

The Siren "were two or three dangerous bird-women, portrayed as seductresses, who lived on an island called Sirenum scopuli." -Wikipedia
They would lure men in passing ships to their deaths by their seductive music, which would cause them to forget themselves and smash their ships on the dangerous rocks around the island. They've become very misrepresented however, as they originally had nothing to do with the sea apart from living on an island. They were bird-women in their original incarnation, but the Romans started to alter their representation into something of a mermaid.
Also, does this image look at all familiar? No? Think coffee... That's right. The Starbucks logo was originally a somewhat lewd image of a Siren from the 15th century.

I hope this has cleared up any confusion in your minds regarding these three beings.


MCotD: Satyr/Faun

Half Human Hybrid week continues!

I waffled on whether or not to make a distinction between these, but given the abundant crossover between Greek and Roman mythology, and that we really don't need two posts on goat men, i've combined them into one entry. The only distinction between the two seems to be that originally Satyrs were considered to have human feet and a longer horse-like tail. Over time though, they took on far more goat like aspects as they became conflated with the Roman Fauns.


In Greek mythology, satyrs were woodland creatures depicted as having the pointed ears, legs, and short horns of a goat and a fondness for unrestrained revelry. They are often associated with sex drive and vase-painters often portrayed them with uncontrollable erections.(!) Mature satyrs are often depicted with goat's horns, while juveniles are often shown with bony nubs on their foreheads. Painted vases depict satyrs as being strongly built with flat noses, large pointed ears, long curly hair, and full beards, with wreaths of vine or ivy circling their heads. Satyrs often carry the thyrsus: the rod of Dionysus tipped with a pine cone. It was said they roamed the woods and mountains, and were the companions of Pan and Dionysus.

They are described as roguish but faint-hearted folk; subversive and dangerous, yet shy and cowardly. Satyrs are not immortal, and they age. As Dionysiac creatures they are lovers of wine, women and boys, and are ready for every physical pleasure. They roam to the music of pipes, cymbals, castanets, and bagpipes, and love to dance with the nymphs (with whom they are obsessed, and whom they often pursue), and dance to the rhythm of sikinnis. Because of their fondness of wine, they are often represented holding winecups, and appear often in the decorations on winecups.


In Roman mythology, fauns are place-spirits (genii) of untamed woodland, and are said to be the guardians of the woods and fields. This combined with their similar temperament caused them to be associated with the Greek satyr. They take their name from god named Faunus and a goddess Bona Dee or Fauna, who were their creators.

Christian mythology demonised all pagan nature spirits such as satyrs & fauns by associating them with demons and devils, and their resemblance to the Jewish goat-man demon Azazel caused them to be the template for popular depictions of Satan.

Depictions of fauns and satrys can be readily found in classical texts on up through modern films and literature. They are also prevalent symbols and personas throughout various internet subcultures.


MCotD: Scorpion Man

Continuing with our half human hybrid theme, today's creature is the Aqrabuamelu, or more commonly (and less creatively) known as Scorpion Men.

(sorry about the fantasy image, there's a historical one further down)

Scorpion men are featured in several Babylonian myths, including the Enûma Elish and the Babylonian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh. They were also known as aqrabuamelu or girtablilu. They were first created by the mother goddess Tiamat in order to wage war against the younger gods for the betrayal of her mate Apsu. Their heads touch the sky, their "terror is awesome" and their "glance is death". Deadly warriors, they could fight either with their scorpion tails or their bows and arrows which never missed their targets.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, they stand guard outside the gates of the sun god Shamash at the mountains of Mashu. These also give entrance to Kurnugi, the land of darkness. The scorpion men opened the gates of the Mountain of the East for Shamash as he travels out each day, and at night they shut the gates of the Mountain of the West as Shamash descended into the underworld. They also warn travelers of the danger that lies beyond their post.

This detail is from a kudurru, or boundary stone, showing Gula with feathery crown attached to her conical headdress and a scorpion-man. Found near Abu Habbah. Dated by inscription to 12th. century BCE.

This creature was most certainly the inspiration for the character of the Scorpion King as he appears at the end of The Mummy Returns.

Wikipedia on Scorpion Man
Mostropedia on Scorpion Man

MCotD: Karura / Garuda

So this week we're going to try sticking to a theme with the MCotD.
Prepare yourself for an onslaught of Human/Critter hybrids!

To kick things off we're going with the Karura/Garuda, which are the Japanese and Indian names respectively for a hindu-buddhist mythical creature. (I'm going to stick with Karura as a name except where the two diverge from eachother.)

"Garuda is depicted as having a golden body, white face, red wings, and an eagle's beak and wings but a man's body. He wears a crown on his head. He is ancient and huge, and can block out the sun." -Wikipedia
The latter Karura adds the ability to breathe fire. Early descriptions of Garuda are described as more creature like, being ridden by Vishnu as a mount. The being later evolved into more of a humanoid with an eagle's head and wings.

Karura is the enemy of all Naga (a race of intelligent serpent- or dragon-like beings), as well as dragons and serpents. It is considered to be oldest of the birds, and the flapping of its wings sounded like a clap of thunder.

There's not a lot of symbolism, as it's a fairly overt persona in the stories it's involved in. It is however invoked as a symbol of impetuous violent force, of speed, and of martial prowess.
It's also said to personify the sun.

Interesting modern trivia: Thailand and Indonesia use the garuḍa as their national symbols; the Indonesian national airline is Garuda Indonesia. One form of the garuḍa, used in Thailand as a sign of Royal family, is called Krut Pha, meaning "garuḍa acting as the vehicle (of Vishnu)." -Wikipedia


MCotD: Bonnacon

To make your Friday extra special, we're ending the week with a creature that attacks with flaming poo!

(i'm delighted at how many images there seem to be of this)
gratuitous illustrations behind the cutCollapse )

The Bonnacon is a bull/horse hybrid that inhabits the deserts and scrub lands of Asia that has curled horns and emits burning dung! Apparently medieval texts were quite fond of expounding upon this in graphic detail.

The animal was described by Pliny in his Naturalis Historia:

"There are reports of a wild animal in Paionia called the bonasus, which has the mane of a horse, but in all other respects resembles a bull; its horns are curved back in such a manner as to be of no use for fighting, and it is said that because of this it saves itself by running away, meanwhile emitting a trail of dung that sometimes covers a distance of as much as three furlongs [604 m], contact with which scorches pursuers like a sort of fire."

From the Aberdeen Bestiary:

"In Asia an animal is found which men call bonnacon. It has the head of a bull, and thereafter its whole body is of the size of a bull's with the maned neck of a horse. Its horns are convoluted, curling back on themselves in such a way that if anyone comes up against it, he is not harmed. But the protection which its forehead denies this monster is furnished by its bowels. For when it turns to flee, it discharges fumes from the excrement of its belly over a distance of three acres, the heat of which sets fire to anything it touches. In this way, it drives off its pursuers with its harmful excrement."

Three acres of deadly burning crap! This is perhaps one of the most terrifying creatures we'll ever cover.

ref. The Medieval Bestiary and
pages from the Aberdeen Bestiary

MCotD: Nue

Another Japanese part-monkey critter, the Nue is "described as having the head of a monkey, the body of a raccoon dog, the legs of a tiger, and a snake instead of a tail."
Essentially it seems to be a Japanese variant of the Chimera. It's described variously with an assortment of other critter bits, but the above seems to be the most common... set of critter bits. They also alternatively turn into black clouds or ride on black clouds. They appear a lot in anime and video games these days. A Nue also appears at the gate to the King of All Night's Dreaming's castle in Gaiman's Sandman: The Dream Hunters.

The one traditional story from which the creature seems to have sprung is summarized below:
"According to The Tale of the Heike, Emperor Konoe, the Emperor of Japan, became sick after having terrible nightmares every night, and a dark cloud appeared at two o'clock in the morning on roof of the palace in Kyoto during the summer of 1153. The story says that the samurai Minamoto no Yorimasa staked-out the roof one night and fired an arrow into the cloud, out of which fell a dead nue. Yorimasu then supposedly sank the body in the Sea of Japan." -Wikipedia

They're generally regarded as being ill omens, and bringers of misfortune and illness, and have the cry of a mountain Thrush. The bird link appears to be mostly due to the similarity in name to a variety of blackbird or thrush. "Nue is also the name of a variety of blackbird that is active at night and is regarded as a sign of ill omen." ref.


MCotD: Ahuizotl

Today we go travel in time to mesoamerica to the culture of the Aztecs to catch a glimpse of the Ahuizotl (ah-WEE-zah-tol)

The Ahuizotl is a water beast; half dog, half monkey, with a hand protruding from the end of its tail. The Ahuizotl is greatly feared due to its liking for human flesh, especially nails, eyes, and teeth, but leaving the rest of the body untouched. It generally lives in or near the water and uses the hand on the end of its tail to snatch and drown its prey. The Ahuizotl is also known to resort to making cries not unlike a human baby in order to lure its prey closer to the water.

Known as a guardian of lakes, ancient Aztecs believed that the Ahuizotl's primary function was to protect the fish therein. This task made it a natural adversary to fishermen, whose primary source of sustenance was rich aquatic stock of their homeland. Legends quickly sprang up in the fishing villages of the area regarding the Ahuizotl's attempts to sink any boat found fishing near its aquatic home. These fishermen attempted to quell this sub-aquatic predator by offering back portions of their catch. This effort met with only a modicum of success.

As if the fishermen's situation weren't dire enough, it would seem that people on land were no safer than those on boats, as it soon became apparent that the animal would not hesitate to use its claw-like tail to grasp at the ankles of those unsuspecting men, women and children who stood too close to the edge of the water. In this fashion, more than one unwary traveler was snatched from their dry perch and plunged into the brownish depths to await their horrific fate.

The Ahuizotl appears in a set of 12 ancient books collectively called the Florentine Codex. Created under the supervision of Bernardino de Sahagún somewhere between 1540 and 1585, it copies original source myths from records of conversations and interviews with indigenous sources in Tlatelolco, Texcoco, and Tenochtitlan.

In the codex, it states:Collapse )