I have a number of interests, many of which I have shared on this blog. Yet I have one secret passion which has lasted for many years
The real dragon. The one which was able to travel from Wales to Japan, slaying knights, stealing maidens and sowing fear and evil from the Basque country to the Isles of Japan. Except that the Dragons of the Far East suddenly appeared to be quite benign. Something had happened during their journey. Just where had their travels begun?
After a decade away from tracing their paths I am again drawn back to the search. The initial questions were asked four decades ago. During my research I found a need to ask further questions. Dragons are still a passion yet the other questions seem to take up more of my time because they need to be answered before I can make definite statements about the Origins of the Dragons.
How Old Can A Myth Be?
By its very nature a myth has its origins in the times before writing. In the oral traditions of pre-literate peoples.
One such story is from what is now the Port Philip Bay area of Victoria.
As told on the blog “Wilddogroad” comes a tale of the last major sea rise some 10,000 years ago and handed down in an unbroken oral tradition.
Bunjil is an Aboriginal god of creation
“Many years ago this land that we now call Melbourne extended right out to the ocean. Port Phillip Bay was then a large flat plain where Boonerwrung hunted kangaroos and cultivated their yam daisy.
But one day there came a time of chaos and crises. The Boonerwrung and the other Kulin nations were in conflict. They argued and fought. They neglected their children. They neglected their land. The native yam was neglected. The animals were killed but not always eaten. The fish were caught during their spawning season. As this chaos grew the sea became angry and began to rise until it covered their plain and threatened to flood the whole of their country.
The people went to Bunjil, their creator and spiritual leader. They asked Bunjil to stop the sea from rising. Bunjil told his people that they would have to change their ways if they wanted to save their land. The people thought about what they had been doing and made a promise to follow Bunjil. Bunjil walked out to the sea, raised his spear and directed the sea to stop rising. Bunjil then made the Boonerwrung promise that they would respect the laws.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology, on its website, tells of the climate of Australia in the time of human habitation.
“During the time-span of Aboriginal settlement in Australia, there have been great changes in the climate of the continent.
The main weather event of this era consisted of an ice age which arrived about 20,000 years ago and lasted for some 5,000 years, during which time the average temperatures fell by some 10 degrees, rainfall decreased, and cold, dry winds blew across the land.
What was previously a place of plenty, with ample water supplies and bountiful game, became a stark and inhospitable countryside which threatened the very survival of the Aboriginal people. It has been suggested that up to 80% of the entire population may have perished during this extended period of cold and dry weather.”
The Bureau’s website goes on to say;
“The Bibbulum people of the southwest Western Australia talk of a far off time when it was not as warm and congenial as it is today. Stories of this time begin with “In the nyitting times…” which translated means “In the icy cold times of long, long ago….”.
The implications are interesting. Aboriginal society was completely non-literate until European settlement yet they were able to keep folk memories of the Ice Age and its ending alive for around 10,000 to 15,000 years. Australia’s indigenous people keep much of their mythology hidden within “Secret Men’s Business” and “Secret Women’s Business”. Information which is reserved for initiated elders. With the loss of Indigenous culture, most, if not all, of these myths will disappear.
Elsewhere in the world, there have been similar situations where the myths and stories of cultures have been destroyed along with the culture. Where there was no form of literature then the loss is irretrievable.
There is one obvious culture which was able to leave its myths and legends behind in a written form. Mesopotamia. The early Middle-Eastern cultures. Ranging through the Euphrates/Tigris valleys a series of villages transformed into towns and cities with rulers, agriculture, secondary industry and record keeping. The record keeping gradually developed into a written language and for the first time the oral history of the people living in those towns and cities were written down.
Some of those stories have been saved, either through the original stone tablet or a translation into another written language. Some of those stories have been returned to the oral tradition and rewritten. The tales they tell seem to be confusing, sometimes contradictory and down-right impossible. Yet beneath the stories of Gods and world-changing or creating events I believe there is a core of reality.
Not only a core of reality but a core of history stretching back into the unknown reaches of pre-history. History is only possible with written permanency. Anything which happened before writing is, by definition, pre-history. Just how far back can this oral, mythological form of history extend? In the instance of the Australian Aboriginal we can see a time line back to the end of the last ice age. A time of at least 15,000 years.
In the case of the early Middle Eastern civilizations, where writing was invented around 3,000bce, if we take 15,000 years as a reasonable time for an event to be handed down in an oral tradition, then we can add 5,000 years to the Australian example.
What events could we reasonably expect to find in the written myths of Mesopotamia? Possibly the entire human history of the Eurasian landmass. From before the beginning of the Holocene at the end of the last Ice Age some 13,000 years ago. Perhaps it may be possible to find traces of life during the last Ice Age in Europe and Asia. The cave paintings of Lascaux date to between 15 and 17,000 years before the present while Chauvet is dated at 32,000 years old.
Could a study of myth and legend take us back to the people who painted those caves? Could those tales take us back even further, to the humans who lived at the end of the middle palaeolithic? Is this all simply a pipe dream?
I have researched some myths and will write more as I assemble it into an approachable form. Somewhere in that mass of information are my dragons.