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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 12:13 pm    Post subject: Dragons Are Real?         Reply with quote

I think this has martial relevance because of the popularity of dragon imagery in martial contexts throughout the medieval and renaissance period of European history. I mean, when we see the words, "St. George," many of us immediately get a mental picture involving arms and armour, right? And, of course, the dragon is common in heraldry and national symbolism, right?

So, here's the point. Some scholars have theorized that the dragon, which appears in diverse and unassociated cultures, is an assemblage from our common monkey-brain. The idea is that the dragon--part predatory mammal, part predatory reptile, part predatory bird--represents the primary, primitive, animal-world threats rolled into one. So, in a sense, dragons are real. How cool is that? This explanation has appealed to me greatly since I first read about it, but I was always a bit iffy about the avian component. But I just saw this article:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060112/ap_on_sc/...nt_mystery

So now I'm even more enamored of the theory. And think what it means, psychologically, in the European martial context. To adopt the dragon as a personal symbol is to claim for yourself the power of your combined enemies, with all the implied threat that brings with it. To claim defeat of a dragon, as in the case of St. George, is to claim defeat of the ultimate enemy, which has profound implications in a religious context.

Keep this stuff in mind when you put a dragon on your personal standard, armour or weapon. It's not just cool-looking--it may actually be broadcasting a message from the dawn of human conciousness.

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Ralph Rudolph




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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 1:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean,

I recently watched a documentary about indigenous animals on New Zealand at the time the first humans arrived there.
There was a huge eagle, now called Haast's Eagle, which attacked humans at high speed and killed them. The first immigrants were extremely afraid and treated him like a god, making him sacrifice. Being extinct now, it still has a name in Maori language.

This again is a good example of the dragon symbolism, and it also shows that if you cannot kill your worst enemy, you worship it!


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haast%27s_eagle
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 1:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ralph Rudolph wrote:
This again is a good example of the dragon symbolism, and it also shows that if you cannot kill your worst enemy, you worship it!


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haast%27s_eagle


As in Mesoamerica, where lots of folks worshipped Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent.

Deep stuff!

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Eric Nower




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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 1:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hey Sean,

Thats pretty neat. I think I like that idea better than the one I saw about a week ago on animal planet( I was flipping channels,ok I can hear some of you laughing Eek! ) It was a program on about crocadiles and their history. I can't remember all of it but it goes somthing like ...dragons first showed up in medival texts and such around the time the crusaders were coming home.
Some people belive the croc. was the great-jawed, long-tailed plated beats in the legends. An animal really alien to a crusader from Europe, I can see but the stuff of legends....ehhhh.

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Shawn Shaw




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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 1:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nah, I don't buy that Animal Planet explanation....dragon symbolism is much older than that and, more importantly, more universal. The dragon exists in practically every culture around the world, with very distinct similarities. I don't think the crocodile gets all the credit, even for just the western european dragons.
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 2:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can see how crocs might have reinforced the preexisting beliefs. Also, it is sometimes noted that ancient quarries and mines likely yielded fossil dinosaur bones that would put flesh, so to speak, on the monkey-brain fears. I wonder if all this helps explain why the dragon retains such a powerful hold on the human imagination--and is incorporated into the design of more than a few cheap swords (many of which are made in China, Dragon Capitol of the World).

I wonder, too, if folks made any conscious connection between the scales of the dragon and the "scales" of the armoured warrior. So that in putting on plate armour, one was consciously adopting a characteristic of the dragon. That would help explain the popular association of dragons and armoured knights. Gothic armour does have kind of a reptilian or dragon-like look to it, now that I think of it. Put the man on a horse and you have an armoured, two-headed monster with sharp "claws". If I remember correctly, the Americans saw this in the mounted Spanish invaders. They were predisposed, perhaps.

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Alexander Hinman




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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 3:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If I could only remember the name of the fellow, there was (I think) one of the grandmasters of the Hospitaller's whose nickname, if you will, was the Dragon Slayer or something like that.. He had killed a dragon on Cyprus after the beast had eaten a villager or two. Most likely, though, it was a giant snake or even a Nile crocodile.

He's mentioned in the book The Shield and the Sword by Ernle Bradford. Interesting stuff, it is. Mind, considering how the Animal Planet seems intent on making predators as terrifying as they can be, that puts those animals into their place.
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Ruel A. Macaraeg





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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 3:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Cf. these reconstructions from Mayor's First Fossil Hunters:



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Steve Maly




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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 4:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I watched a program specifically about dragons (I was channel surfing..I can't remember if it was on History Channel, Discovery, Animal Planet...) that was consistent with Ruel's scans. It described the dragon through the ages and across the world. It certainly mentioned the collective unconsciousness notions noted by Sean as well. I found it interesting that in the "pre-scientific" world, people still found the same fossils we find today, and had to explain them somehow. The concept of "millions of years" or extinction was unknown, so these "bones" must have come from contemporary creatures--and dragons were very convenient explanations. It gave a face to our fears and explained phenomenon to include earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The point about the gold-guarding griffins was interesting due to the fact that extensive gold deposits are found in the Mongolian deserts, in the same regions where fossils are found in abundance. And as fossils are rarely found in the whole-skeleton form, the parts could be put together to make whatever you wanted it to be. The program also noted that the "dragon bones" found in modern Chinese apothecaries are in fact pulverized fossilized dinosaur bones. The concept of the Dragon is certainly ingrained in the human psyche, regardless of the source and holds great strength, fear, and power--perfect for heraldry (and unfortunately cheap dime-store swords too!).

Now, what St. George and other brave knights were really "fighting" in the wilds is anybody's guess--maybe the medieval equivalent of the alligator in the sewer! Big Grin

"When the only tool you own is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail." ~A. Maslow
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 5:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steve Maly wrote:
Now, what St. George and other brave knights were really "fighting" in the wilds is anybody's guess--maybe the medieval equivalent of the alligator in the sewer! Big Grin


No, no, that's a true story! I knew this guy whose cousin in Wales had a baby dragon? and he dropped it in the garderobe as a joke? and a year later the cousin went swimming in the moat? and like, dude, the full-grown dragon bit his head off!.

This stuff all just gets more and more fascinating to me. I'm thinking, too, that if fossils were brought out of mines and quarries, that could account for the assocation with caves (apart from the mythical symbolism of the entrance to the underworld, etc.) Very interesting about the Templar, and that brings us back to the arms & armour context. You know, I think I remember seeing some armour that makes specific reference to dragons. I'll see if I can dig that up.

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 5:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here we go! A burgonet and breastplate for Guidobaldo II Della Rovere, Duke of Urbino. Made by Filippo Negroli. Milan, ca. 1532-35. The description simply refers to the form as that of a "monster", but for the purposes of this thread I will sub-categorize it as a dragon Big Grin Maybe we should open the discussion to the intersection of cryptozoology and armour in general. You know, Savoyard (totenkopf) helmets look like the Sleestacks from the old Land of the Lost television series. Laughing Out Loud


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-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)


Last edited by Sean Flynt on Thu 12 Jan, 2006 6:01 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Shawn Shaw




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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 5:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wow...I want that armor!!!!

I love the wings on the breastplate....perfect for catching a spear point but just plain cool from a style perspective!
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 6:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

See? Tell me I'm wrong! Bear with me now, because I'm only half-joking here. Many people consider this type of helmet to be "brutish" and scary, supposedly because it resembles a human skull. O.K., I'll buy that. But consider the truly creepy Sleestacks or, better still, the stereotypical extraterrestrial type called a "grey" by folks who follow such things. As with dragons, I think there may be something going on here as well, something from our collective subconscious. In fact, I vaguely recall reading some article debunking alien abduction claims on the basis of the typical description of aliens being just such an archetypal image. Are there any other armour forms that might reveal more about our primal fears? And, no, I'm not suggesting that humans were planted here by aliens and we all share a distant memory of the experience. Rather, I'm suggesting that the strong response this particular helmet type elicits (positive or negative) may be conditioned by some common fear of/respect for creatures with big eyes (predators, especially big cats...bigger than mine, I mean, although mine can inflict quite a lot of damage as well).


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-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)


Last edited by Sean Flynt on Fri 13 Jan, 2006 6:57 am; edited 1 time in total
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jan, 2006 7:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That Negroli harness has been my favorite harness for a while now, even cooler than the Siggy suit (which is hard to top!).

I wish I could remember where I saw it, but I recall someone somewhere (on a forum?) showing a medieval image that had the bones of a monster. It had always been assumed it was just medieval mythology, until a paleontologist glanced at it and realized that the bones appeared to be very accurate depictions of a particular pre-historic creature (I believe a dinosaur), but they were put together incorrectly! The jaw bones should have been the leg bones, and so on. So it is quite possible that much of the medieval mindset for certain creatures was very real to these people because they had "evidence" (just as we once had "evidence" of the brontosaurus, which, as it turns out, was actually two different sets of dinosaur bones combined).

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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Jan, 2006 6:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I dimly recall that some horse armour is intentionally dragon-like.
-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Merv Cannon




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PostPosted: Sun 12 Feb, 2006 3:42 am    Post subject: Ever heard of the Chinese Alligator ?         Reply with quote

About 18 mths ago I returned from living and working in central-north China. Just before I went to China I saw a Documentary (National Geographic I think ) on the Chinese Alligator which I'd never heard of. As soon as I saw one I thought....." that's where they get their Dragons from ! " Now, if you do a quick Google picture search you'll see plenty of the critters....very ugly too......short lumpy heads. Even many of the Chinese had not heard of them as they were nearlly extinct. But the Government has re-bred about 4,000 of them at the top of the Yangtse river. To my suprise, there are several websites that research the comparason between the Alligator and the Dragon.
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Wolfgang Armbruster





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PostPosted: Sun 12 Feb, 2006 4:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another interesting story:
In the 12th century the skull of a prehistoric elephant was found in Heidelberg, Germany. Of course the people back then thought they had discovered the skull of a lindworm Big Grin

Concerning armour: Lately I saw the horse-armour used by Maximilian I. on display. The back of the horse is protected by two large steel.plates in the shape of dragon wings. In fact, it looks like a dragon is sitting on the horse. Very gothic, that is Cool
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Chuck Russell




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PostPosted: Sun 12 Feb, 2006 7:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

hehe man, i'd love to see horse armour that makes the horse look like a dragon.
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Kirk Lee Spencer




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PostPosted: Sun 12 Feb, 2006 10:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Flynt wrote:


...better still, the stereotypical extraterrestrial type called a "grey" by folks who follow such things. As with dragons, I think there may be something going on here as well, something from our collective subconscious. In fact, I vaguely recall reading some article debunking alien abduction claims on the basis of the typical description of aliens being just such an archetypal image...




Very interesting thread!

Hey Sean...

I had always thought that the reason we seem to know what an extra-terrestrial would look like was because of their common depiction is all the sci-fi we have watched. I read a few years ago that one possible reason that science fiction has depicted them this way is because of a belief among evolutionists of something called "neoteny" (I think that is the term). Neoteny proposes that humans have evolved, at least on the outside, by a progressive arresting of development from child to adult forms. So humans today look like juvenile Australopithicines. The conclusion would be that a creature more highly evolved than Homo sapien would look like baby humans or even fetuses. So the skull of extra-terrestrials, as more highly evolved creatures, looks much like the skulls of a fetus (big bulbous head, big dark eyes and little triangular jaw).

ks

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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Sun 12 Feb, 2006 10:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Indeed Kirk - and one the major 'dings' against UFO sightings is that they really date only from the days of the earliest popular science fiction.

Now, as for dragons, one thing I've always found compelling is the existence of large monitor lizards, such as the Komodo Dragon. Medieval depictions of dragons look remarkably like these beasties - about a dozen feet in length, and quite unlike the large, bat-winged fantasy dragons of later fantasy writers. If you had to wear armour and take out one of these critters (which are extremely dangerous), you would indeed be the local St. George for your village.

Much larger versions - around 7m in length - survived into early prehistory, in Australia. Could there be some knowledge of these animals that survived in some fashion for Europeans? Who knows...but it an interesting notion.

All the best,

CHT

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