When we think of dragons in Western culture, we think of scary mythical beasts that breathe fire and jealously guard treasure. But not all dragons are bad news. In fact, they appear in many cultures across the world, from China to Greece to Central America, and some bring luck and good fortune. There may be as many as 50 types of dragon in global mythology, but here are the most common ones.
Said to bring power and good luck, Chinese dragons are usually associated with water, controlling rivers, lakes and seas. They have long, serpentine bodies and claws like a hawk, but they don’t tend to have wings. In China, being born in the year of the dragon is considered to be very lucky indeed.
This fearsome, four-legged creature is likely the one you think of when you hear the word ‘dragon’. These mythical flying beasts have large wings, a long tail and a tendency to breathe fire. You’ll find this kind of dragon in everything from mediaeval stories to modern family theatre, with the dragon show, Dragons and Mythical Beasts, being a popular production today.
The Wyvern differs from many Western dragons in that it has only two legs. It’s typically smaller in size, and has a poisonous dart at the end of its tail. Unlike four-legged dragons, Wyverns don’t breathe fire. They also represent both protection and strength as well as being a sign of vengeance.
This notorious creature from Greek mythology is famous for its ability to grow multiple heads. The hero Heracles is tasked with killing the Hydra as one of his 12 Labours. He soon discovers that when one head is cut off, two more grow in its place. He enlists his nephew’s help to finally defeat the beast.
Like Chinese dragons, Japanese dragons have long, wingless bodies and are typically associated with water and rainfall. They also have the ability to take human form. Japanese dragons aren’t always kind and helpful - they can sometimes be mean like Western dragons.
A dragon of Tibetan and Bhutanese origin, the Druk is a thunder dragon. It is portrayed with a brightly coloured body and four legs, each with five toes on the foot. It’s said to live on snowy mountains and is able to instinctively tell the difference between truth and lies.
These dragons are the most serpent-like in appearance, often being depicted with no legs. In some creation myths, two dragons helped to create the world. After it was populated with all the plants and animals, one dragon looped its body around the earth, while the other now lives in the ocean.
The Quetzalcóatl is one of the most celebrated dragon gods of central America, taking the form of a feathered serpent. It was associated with wind, rain and dawn, as well as being the bringer of maize to the Aztec civilisation. This dragon can be considered both benevolent and fierce, protecting craftsmen and knowledge.
Discover dragons live on stage with the Dragons and Mythical Beasts theatre show, which is touring the UK now.