Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Bronze Dragons West and Jade Dragons East
The very earliest finds of the dragon images in the shape resembling the ouroboros, the dragon or serpent who swallows his tail, are found in the steppes of Asia and along the Yellow River that spans China and borders on Mongolia. The finds were dated scientifically to around 4000 B.C. This image came from or was spread across a great distance to the area along the border of Eastern Anatolia, Northern Mesopotamia and ancient Persia. As the symbol went from West to East or vice versa, the symbol took on new meanings and new shapes.
The images shown on the plate below are images on bronze seals in ancient Northeastern Persia, on carved stone ritual objects or on royal possessions in Western Persia and finally at the bottom of this blog entry I show a modern reproduction of the Eastern version of the ouroborus ritual symbol. Even though the dates of the earliest findings of the archeological artifacts are in the Far East, there are scholars who insist that the dragon image entered into human history and spread from the West. So I will begin this blog by showing the various versions of the serpent with a face and ears that have been found in the regions of Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Persia.
after Sarianidi, 1998
The drawings in the plate above are the third millennium B.C. renditions in bronze of the serpent dragon, in which he is not swallowing his tail. In the Bactrian or ancient Persian culture, the dragon had already changed his shape and how he fit into the rituals of the ancient culture of Persia. In the West, the dragon was often shown as being a crawly, creepy thing, as in the photo above. The dragon was also shown being vanquished by sky creatures such as the eagle shown in the photo below, while in the East, the dragon was often portrayed in jade as a sky creature himself, a flying dragon. There may have been a fascinating pre-historical event that explains the dragon ornament, as we shall see in later blogs. Since blogs cannot be books, I have to limit each blog to a small part of the dragon story.
Below, the cast bronze seal from Bactria shows dragons being seized and held by the great eagle that was such a powerful iconic figure in Bactria.
after Sarianidi, 1998
The photo below is one of the small ritual columns carved in the soft chlorite stone that was the favored stone in the West, where soft stones were engraved with bone or sharpened stone points. In the East, they used agates and jade which are very hard stones that had to be shaped by grinding them. After metal saws, chisels and knives came into use, the jade and agate could be cut much easier and quicker.
The Persian chlorite stone cult object below shows a lion hero fighting against two dragons, again showing a difference in the dragon's position in the Western pantheon. On looking again at the image below, it is possible that the dragon in back of the lion is actually attaching the other dragon? In the East, the dragon is always shown as a provider and protector and is still popular as a lucky amulet.
after article in Teheran Times, shown online by Iran Chamber Society, 2011
Below is an antique but not ancient image of the Eastern dragon that does show a less creepy, crawly image, but retaining an allusion to the swallowing of the tail myth, the one that produced the ouroboros. This image is in my collection as a piece of jewelry. There are other cultural accretions in this particular dragon image, which may be discussed in later blogs. It is a complicated story of how this Eastern dragon took on a mammal's face and head, but the story will be told at which time I will have the complete piece of jewelry showing on my web site.
Read a fuller story on this particular piece HERE.
Some features that this dragon image shown above shares with some of the images in the first plate above are the mammal-like head with bulging eyes and a forked tail.
In later blogs, we will trace the development of the ouroboros as a human expression of an aurora appearing in the sky in the geologic era of the New Stone Age and therefore seen by all humanity. From there we will trace the development first to being the totem or protector and the devolution of the dragon's status from protective sky creature to terrestrial or subterranean creature that heroes must struggle against.