Colourful Celtic and Medieval-inspired dragon art - Fire Dragon - with a look at fire dragon myth and folklore...
This post is part of a series about dragons and their myths, meanings & symbolism - you can get started at part I in the main dragon section here and then loop back to this page - or if you prefer, just keep reading and then I'll give you all the rest of the dragon links at the end of the post so that you can explore further at your own pace...
Fire dragons are one of our most fearsome dragons – fiery, powerful and destructive, fire dragons can easily lay waste to miles of land as they scorch farmland and burn all villages and villagers in their path… just because they’re there, or sometimes as revenge for stolen treasure!
One such dragon is the dragon that the hero Beowulf battles at the end of his life. We met Beowulf’s dragon in the main dragon post – recap here… One of Beowulf’s servants discovered a barrow (burial mound) filled with gold and treasure and stole a single golden goblet.
Unfortunately, a sleeping fire dragon was guarding the hoard. When the dragon awoke and discovered that some of the treasure was missing, it was angry and burned farmland, towns and villages the whole length and breadth of Geatland.
As the brave King Beowulf battles the fire dragon, his hair is singed and his face is blistered by the dragon’s fiery attack. Beowulf and his faithful retainer Wiglaf do eventually manage to overcome the dragon – but not before the dragon’s poison also ends the king’s life.
Many dragons have fire as an aspect, but there are some dragons where the element seems more over-riding. Fire is a powerful and all-encompassing energy – hard to control – which is why fire dragons can be so terrifying and powerful.
This enormous power of the fire dragon is associated with the power of kingship and leadership…
The 12th century chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth in his ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ wrote of a blazing comet that appeared in the sky as a fiery comet to Uther (who we know became King Arthur’s father).
The wizard Merlin interprets this vision as a sign that the ruler Aurelius Ambrosius (said to be Uther’s brother) had died and that Uther will become king. Uther adopts the name ‘Pendragon’, meaning ‘head of the dragon’ or ‘head of the warriors’, taking as his emblem a gold dragon which appeared on his battle standard – and his son King Arthur also adopted the golden dragon and wore it on his helmet.
The Dragon of Krakow
We see another example of royalty connected to the energy of the dragon in this story of the hero Krak battling a fire dragon whose very body is filled with fire…
The young hero Krak also uses his cunning to defeat the dragon that was terrorising the land around Wawel Hill near the Vistula River, in the Carpathian mountains, in the south of modern Poland.
Krak was the simple son of a shoemaker with no weapon, armour, or horse, but just a single knife he used for working the leather for the shoes he helped his father make.
Krak cut open the stomach of a dead sheep and filled it with sulphur. He took the sheep to a cave at nightfall and hid. When the dragon emerged from the cave, he immediately swallowed the sheep…
The sulphur ignited inside the fiery belly of the dragon and then exploded, killing the dragon.
Krak took the treasures from the dragon’s lair and the king gave him the hand of his daughter in marriage. Krak became king in his turn and built his castle on top of Wawel Hill - and the city that developed around the castle became known as Krakow in honour of the young dragon slayer, and was the castle of Poland’s royalty for many years - a further example of royalty deriving their authority from the dragon’s life force.
For some fire dragons, their power relates to the power of the elements…
The people of Kiev in the Ukraine were terrorised by a huge fire dragon called Tugarin – he was slain by a folk hero, a priest called Alyosha, who was neither big nor strong, but he was clever.
Alyosha duels with the dragon but cannot kill him. The dragon Tugarin flies up into the air to swoop down on Alyosha, but a sudden rainstorm drenches the fire dragon and destroys his delicate wings. Tugarin crashes to the ground, where Alyosha can now cut him into pieces.
The dragon symbolises the perils of the forces of nature which were a constant danger to life on the wild and open steppes.
Sometimes, the fire dragons can cause great winds, lightnings and storms. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records that in the first few months of the year 793AD:
“In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of the Northumbrians, and the wretched people shook; there were excessive whirlwinds, lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky.”
Later in that year (believed to be 8th June) the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northumbria, where a peaceful community of monks lived and worked at Lindisfarne Priory, was attacked by Vikings arriving in ‘dragonships’ (dragon-headed longboats) – their attack on the community of monks was brutal and terrifying and many of the monks were killed or captured.
The scholar Alcuin wrote of the “terror …. suffered from a pagan race …. the heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God.”
Once again, the fiery dragons, as well as being connected to the natural elements of storm and lightning, perhaps fiery thunderbolts, are being associated with the pagan religion ‘at war’ with the Christian faith (read more about this in the main section on dragons).
Fire Dragon Folklore
British folklore tells of several fire dragons in the south and west areas of Britain…
The Wyvern of Newcastle Emlyn (Gwiber Castell Newydd Emlyn) tells of a fire dragon in the ruins of the castle at Newcastle Emlyn in Wales. Legend says that this was the last dragon in Wales and was killed by a soldier.
The dragon swooped down on a summer fair when the town was busy with townsfolk – the dragon settled down to sleep on the castle turret. The soldier floated a red cape in the river and the dragon awoke to attack it. The brave soldier shot and killed the dragon and it floated away down the river – to the tremendous joy of all the townsfolk.
It’s said that fire-breathing dragons have been seen on the area around Challacombe in Devon. The dragons are ‘said to have an interest in Bronze Age burial mounds’ in this environ.
In an area known as Dragon Fields at Bisterne in Hampshire, a fire-breathing dragon terrorised the area, demanding a pail of milk each day. A brave knight duelled with the dragon and killed it – but sadly lost his own life too.
At Aller in Somerset, a fiery dragon lived in a hillside cave and burned all the surrounding land to destruction. A peasant called John Aller covered himself in pitch and donned a mask – he battled the dragon and finally killed him with a spear. But the poor man is burnt to death by the fiery breath of the dragon. The village is named after the hero.
So fire dragons are frequently seen as destructive – but they are all-powerful too and associated with leadership.
It’s likely that the red colouring of the Welsh dragon , believed to be based on the red dragon that the young wizard Merlin found battling a white dragon beneath the foundations of a tower at Dinas Emrys was a fire dragon – because of its fiery colour and its subsequent association with the nation of Brits/Wales, through its power – the red dragon won the battle. But I’ll talk more about the red and white dragons in the sections on air dragons and earth dragons.
In my artwork, I took the colouring for my fire dragon from the Welsh red dragon – I’ve created a huge, strong, powerful dragon, breathing fire and flames coming off his body and tail…
Creating my Fire Dragon Artwork
I created my fire dragon artwork from pen and pencil drawings that I scan into the computer and put together digitally...
How to Buy
My 'Celtic-Medieval Fire Dragon' artwork is available as cushions, T-shirts, mugs, phonecases, shower curtains, journals, notebooks, bags, clocks and much more in my Redbubble store.
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You might also like to read more about dragon meaning, myth, legend and symbolism in my main dragon blog posts - read part I here and then move onto part II here
You might also like some of my other dragon artworks, below - they also include more dragonlore on each blog post!
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