Is it even possible to have a fairy tale without one?
Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White…
It seems that nearly every fairy tale has at least one cursed person (usually a princess) and that there’s always another person (usually a prince) that must come, break the curse, save the princess, then rule the kingdom with justice and wisdom. But where did the idea of the curse come from?
The Cambridge dictionary defines cursing (paraphrased) either as saying rather naughty things to someone else, or, “to say magic words intended to bring bad luck to someone.” The idea of the malevolent curse is ancient. Egyptian tombs had curses chiseled into their entryways and on tablets scattered throughout their winding passageways (www.ancient-origins.net). When Howard Carter found the tomb of King Tut, of all the original excavators, Carter was the only survivor. Everyone else bit the dust. Even Lord Caernarvon, the benefactor of the dig, perished at the hands of mysterious ailments after visiting Tut’s resting place. Many chalked it up to the Curse of the Mummy.
Many cultures world-wide have beliefs in magic—both good and bad. Sometimes it’s the same magic and it’s the wielder who causes the good or the bad, other times it’s the magic itself. Even the Bible mentions curses. In Exodus (chapter 20), it talks about generational curses—that the LORD will visit the sins of the fathers upon the children for multiple generations. But the next verse also offers the way to “break the curse.” Repentance and turning to the same LORD breaks the curse and brings restoration (www.bible.net).
On an excavated 1,600-year-old Italian lead tablet, an inscribed curse was found wishing for the destruction of a man and his wife. The curse specifically asked for their hearts, livers, and buttocks to be destroyed. Yes, please destroy the rear ends of my enemies. That will show them (www.ancient-origins.net).
Curses seem to have changed over time (and really, don’t most things?). They’ve gone through the changes of the medieval-type fairy tale, enacted by vengeful stepmothers or nasty witches. Today they’re still most closely associated with witchcraft or superstition.
What do you think? Are curses real then and/or now? Pop up to the grey “comments” button and let me know what you think. Also, make sure no one gives you the evil eye!
The sun glinted off George’s helmet as he readied his spear. Aiming at the dragon’s heart, he spurred his horse forward. The princess screamed and flames engulfed George as the dragon reared back its head. Armor heating, George flung a prayer heavenward and plunged his spear into the dragon’s breast, rescuing the princess and defeating his mighty foe once and for all.
St. George is arguably the most famous of all medieval saints associated with a dragon. He is the patron saint of England (also of Portugal, Greece, Georgia, and Lithuania!), credited with slaying the mighty dragon, and in Christian terms, he slew the devil, freeing England from the clutches of Satan, turning the country to the true religion and saving it from eternal peril (https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/exploring-famous-legend-st-george-and-dragon-005794).
This story is recorded in infamy, but what if it’s not just a story? What if there really was a knight named George and he really did slay a dragon? Is it possible that dragons didn’t all die out millions of years ago as modern science tells us? There are an awful lot of depictions of St. George killing the dragon that match up superbly well with known dinosaurs from the fossil record. How could these medieval artists have matched these animals so completely unless they’d seen them for themselves? It’s only been in the past century or so that dinosaur skeletons have been recreated with any amount of accuracy with the further knowledge anatomy. Let’s take a closer examination.
In the middle ages, it is important to note that when the word “dragon” was mentioned, everyone knew what the storyteller was speaking about—without description. This ideal of a dragon was prevalent enough, that even when crucial to a story or legend, often very little description is spent on the beast itself, as everyone was already familiar with this phenomenon (https://www.medievalists.net/2017/04/seven-things-didnt-know-medieval-dragons/). How do multiple societies become so familiar with this central idea without ever seeing such a creature?
Let’s take a momentary rabbit trail. Did you know that the word “dinosaur” was first invented in 1842? Sir Richard Owen, an English paleontologist who was part of Darwin’s well-known Beagle expedition, discovered giant fossil remains of what he called “terrible lizards.” He called them dinosaurs (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-lancashire-31623397). Any guesses as to what these creatures were previously termed? Ah, yes. Dragons. Do you think the world’s dinosaurs, proven in the earth’s fossil records could be the same creatures that roamed the earth and terrorized villages and were called dragons? Could they have lived alongside humans? We’ll look at this more in a later post.
Did you know that a bone belonging to a Tyrannosaurus Rex was found in Montana—and that there were blood vessels and soft tissues preserved inside it??? If these bones were millions of years old, these tissues wouldn’t be present. It stands to reason that these giant beasts may have actually walked the earth with humans. And given rise to the world-wide phenomenon of the dragon (https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2013/08/17/dragons-everywhere/).
By the time of the medieval age, these giant lizard-like beasts seem to have faded largely into symbolism to show good defeating evil. But what about Bishop Bell’s tomb? He died just before 1500, and his tomb clearly depicts dinosaurs (www.creation.com/bishop-bells-brass-behemoths). Or what about the newly discovered temple remains of Ta Prohm deep in the Cambodian jungle (not quite European, but still compelling)? With a coinciding date of 1186 and a clear depiction of a stegosaur, as well as carvings of swans, monkeys, a water buffalo—all clearly known animals. Was the stegosaur a contemporary of this temple and the people who built it (www.icr.org/article/jungle-covered-ruins-may-hold-surprising/)?
Regardless, the European dragon has reached far and wide and still shows itself in modern fantasy and imagination world over.
Let’s have some fun in the comments (go to the top of the article, click the grey “Comments” button)! What’s your dragon name?
Smoke curled from the beast’s nostrils, floating up and turning the air acrid. I readied my sword.
Sir Reginald III, Earl of Facts, Fantasy, & Fascinations was the most genteel dragon I’d ever had the pleasure of meeting. He sat opposite me; his steaming cup of tea held delicately in his claws. “What do you think of my proposition?” he asked me. I gulped.
Why do you think European dragons have achieved such wide-spread popularity?
All these things describe the age-old King of Mythology, the Dragon. Nearly every country in the world (yes, dragons are a world-wide phenomenon!) has legends of dragons going back to time before memory. These great beasts of the air and creatures of the deep crevices populate legends and myths from practically every major recognized culture (https://www.dragon-history.com).
Most people picture a large, flying reptile spouting flames, ravaging towns and sacking castles when they hear the word “dragon” (Smaug, anyone?). However, many dragons seem to have their roots in a more serpentine nature. The English word for dragon derives from drakon—a Greek word originally meaning large serpent (www.britanica.com). Many legends, particularly in Asian cultures, still show dragons with snake-like bodies and benevolent attitudes.
Additionally interesting regarding the serpentine-ness of early dragons are the medieval Christian associations of dragons with the devil (more on European dragons coming soon!). In Genesis, it is Satan masquerading as a serpent that tricks Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, thus causing pretty much all of humanity’s issues thereafter. Is it possible that dragons and serpents have this common ancestor and that there may be more authentic cause for the similarities between the two?
So, the big question…were dragons real? There seems to be a lot of world-wide hype about a purely mythical creature. What about ancient texts that refer specifically (and in most cases, give very vivid descriptions!) to giant serpents, great beasts, Leviathan, and Behemoth? Some of these texts include the Bible, the Babylonian epic Gilgamesh, pieces written by Aristotle, Beowulf (what if Grendel and the Great Dragon were real, not just depictions of a pagan society recorded by Christian monks?), as well as several other solid historical sources (www.answersingenesis.org). Ancient historians and the earliest writers don’t seem to have any problem with a staunch belief in dragons.
Tell me, what other creatures do we know for certain existed that may seem like dragons?
Join me next week and we’ll look more into this phenomenon that swept Europe in the middle ages…the dragon-slaying knight.
Tell me in the comments, do you think dragons were/are real? Why or why not? Go to the top of the article, click the grey “Comments” and you’re good to go!
Smoke drifted from the beast’s nostrils as I stood, frozen in time and place. Giant orange eyes gazed balefully at me.
Dragons were/were not real. Here’s why:
The dragon motioned with its scaly arm. “You may take one item from my treasure horde. But be wise in what you choose.” I stared at the vast pile of riches before me. What would best aide me in my quest?
Trailer for I Am Dragon–the original is in Russian. And it’s on Prime. I highly recommend watching in the original language with subtitles. 😉
Mythological Bestiary: Dragons
And no self-respecting blogger would do a post on dragons without including Smaug. 😉
Urquhart Castle sits a silent stone sentinel, guarding the vast waters before it. Waiting, watching, for a glimpse of its most famous inhabitant. The Loch Ness Monster.
Nessie, possibly the most famous mythological marine creature in the world, is said to exist deep in the murky waters of Loch Ness near Inverness, Scotland. Many people claim to have seen this large, long necked, flippered friend. Some sightings date as far back as Pictish stone carvings (think back before Rome invaded England! That’s old!). A 565 AD biography of St. Columba contains the first written mentions of Nessie. It’s said that our mysterious beastie chomped a swimmer and was poised to go after another, but St. Columba commanded it back, and the creature obeyed (www.britanica.com).
Loch Ness, with a depth of close to 800 feet, and a length of nearly 23 miles, has plenty of places for a giant marine creature to hide. The loch is filled with fresh water and holds a larger volume of fresh water than any other lake in Great Britain (www.history.com). What if Nessie really has been hiding for centuries? Could it be possible?
Let’s look for just one minute at a real creature that has indisputable proof of existence in the fossil record. Meet the plesiosaur. Plesiosaurs had a small head, long willowy neck, a plump, rounded body, and four flippers (www.britanica.com). Sound a bit like the common description of our favorite loch-loving friend?
What if dinosaurs didn’t all die out however many years ago? What if some of them survived? Maybe even secretly thrived? Could Nessie be one such creature? Scientists are still discovering new land and marine animals every year. Why couldn’t Nessie have escaped notice? Especially in the deep shadowy waters of a giant lake, or if the Nessie population is small.
The most famous Nessie photograph, captured in the early 1930’s, was proved to be a hoax in 1993. However, it’s important to note that of the three men who concocted the toy submarine-based photo, one of them claims to have seen the Loch Ness Monster and remains a believer (http://www.unmuseum.org/nesshoax.htm).
What do you think? Is Nessie real, or has she always just been a hoax? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Go to the top of the post, click the grey “Comments” and it’ll take you right there.
Did you know that there are hundreds of different types of fairies? And most of them are not the cute, sassy Tinkerbell variety, though most are considered magical (rest assured, I’ll be featuring many of them in future posts)! Fairies throughout history have been so feared that at one time, people wouldn’t even mention their names, referring to them only as The Little People, Hidden People, or sometimes The Gentry (https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/The-Origins-of-Fairies/, https://fiveminutehistory.com/the-history-of-fairies/). All that aside, I’d still sign myself up for a Fairy Godmother given the chance.
Because fairies encompass so many different forms, there seems to be a fairy for literally every shape, size, occasion, and country (Tinkerbell, Lucky Charms, Cupid, jinnis/genies, anyone?). And fairies are a lot older than you might expect—the earliest fairies are featured in Greek mythology (https://www.timelessmyths.com/celtic/faeries.html)! While not on par with the gods and goddesses, think of fairies as spiritual beings one rung down the ladder—more like a demi-god.
Most dismiss any Fae creature (anything belonging to the realm of the fairies) as purely imagination, though there are many (and several current) accounts of run-ins with the Wee People. Do please share your story in the comments if you’ve had such an experience! I’ve not yet been so lucky myself (although I do have friends who have found fairy rings—places fairies are said to dance). Historically, these tiny creatures transcend the corporeal realm into the spiritual one. Many stories associate the Fae with angels, or their equivalents in other religions (https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Fairy).
Fairy lore seems especially prevalent in Britain and Ireland (which probably accounts for most of my fascination). In Ireland, some buildings had their corners cut off so they wouldn’t be in the middle of fairy paths. And in some houses, front and back doors were built perfectly aligned and left open certain times of the year so the fairies could traipse through undisturbed (https://fiveminutehistory.com/the-history-of-fairies/). All legends aside, the word fairy didn’t appear until the middle ages in Europe. The word probably comes from the Latin word fata—The Fates (https://www.etymonline.com/word/fairy). Regardless of the origin, fairies continue to fascinate people on a global level. Why are we so preoccupied with these tiny magical beings?
Do we long for a simpler time of childhood when all fairy tales were real? Do we catch glimpses of them from time to time that give us that strange feeling in the pit of our stomachs? Are they simply figments of human imagination created to explain the misunderstood? Or are they perhaps real, waiting just beyond our realm?
Do you believe in fairies?
Creative Writing Prompts:
If you were a fairy, what’s the first thing you’d do with your magic?
The wind whispered through the grass, ruffling my wings like shimmering gossamer. Spring was coming, the time we fairies danced on the lawn, sprinkled the grass with dew, and opened the flowers each morning. But this year, there was a problem.
I am the reason humans fear the Fae folk. It all started as an accident…
(Ya’ll, I LOVE a good Fae read, please leave any other book suggestions in the comments! Go to the top of the post, in the grey text above the title, click “Comments” and you’re good to go!)