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Some Dragon Lore

Dragon stories appear in many cultures, but there is no such creature as a dragon. Some think that dinosaur bones unearthed in ancient times may have led people to inventing the dragon to account for the awesome size of the skeletons. In the process of decoding the legend of St. George, I discovered another explanation, one that has been suspected by others decoding mythology. Our intuition was that it all has something to do with the constellation of Draco (which coils its way around the polar skies). Further more, it has everything to do with an astronomical phenomenon called 'precession of the equinoxes' which I have already covered in both my essays St. George Decoded and Precession of the Equinoxes.

Do these dragon stories have astronomical significance? I believe they do.

A fine taste for maidens.

Dragons and imprisoned or shackled maidens occur in many dragon stories and we can't escape the feeling that the story tellers are trying to tell us something important. In fact it was this conjunction of dragon and maiden that led me to discover the inner meaning of the legend of St. George and the Dragon. In St. George Decoded I show that the dragon represents the constellation Draco, and the maiden/virgin/princess represents the constellation Virgo. The significance of their relationship is that she is always in thrall to the dragon in some way, either offered for sacrifice or imprisoned. Further more, she can only be freed when some hero battles the dreaded dragon. The hero is also present in the sky, represented as the constellation Perseus.

Perseus was a mythic hero of the Greek/Roman world who figured as a beast-slaying hero in three ways:

So what is going on? Look at Figure 1 below and you'll see the path that the celestial north pole traces due to the effect of precession. It spends much of its time precessing through the constellation of Draco. Another effect of precession is to shift the spring and autumn equinoxes through the zodiac.

Path of celestial north pole crossing Draco.
Figure 1. Path of the celestial north pole crossing Draco.

Just over two thousand years ago, the spring equinox was moving into the constellation of Pisces. The spring (or vernal) equinox was important to ancient peoples of course, but we sometimes forget that marking the autumn equinox could be just as important. After all, it told our ancient farmers that autumn frosts were getting closer and the harvest should be gathered.

When the spring equinox was moving into Pisces the autumn equinox was moving into the constellation of Virgo (the virgin). Here we have the nub of the dragon/maiden stories - they commemorate the time when precession moved the celestial north pole out of Draco and toward its present position of Polaris, coincidentally moving the autumn equinox into Virgo. The stories usually feature a battle between some hero and the dragon. Only when the precessional movement (represented by the hero) pushed the celestial north pole out of Draco (thus defeating the dragon) could the maiden (Virgo) be freed (to become the queen of the autumn equinox).

Movement of the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, First Century BC
Figure 2. Movement of the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, First Century BC.

A dragon can only be killed by a blow to a particular point of its body.

This may be a metaphor for the crossing point of the path of the celestial north pole as it precesses across the constellation of Draco, close to the star Thuban (alpha Draconis), see Figure 1 above.

That crossing occurred some 4750 years ago, just before the Great Pyramid of Cheops was built in Ancient Egypt.

A dragon guards a hoard of treasure.

In some legends the dragon sleeps on a hoard of treasure in a burial mound. This was probably circulated to deter the locals from breaking into the places and stealing the grave goods. The legends, though, are right. There is indeed a great treasure to be gained by those who 'defeat' the dragon. That treasure is not gold, rather it is knowledge of the precessional mechanism that affects the starry dome above us.

Breathes fire, burns people.

Only those acolytes who are fully prepared in sky lore should think of approaching the dragon. The resulting shock of finding that the starry dome above is not so fixed after all might be deep enough to 'burn', intellectually, those unable to accept such a precept.

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