Dragon Gods and Goddesses: Fuxi, Veles, Cailleach and More
The gods of the ancient were intimiately connected to animals. Our ancient ancestors were animistic so to find an image of a god or goddess in the likeness of an animal was commonplace. In many ancient cultures all over the world, the “mythical” dragon was both feared and honored. Dragon gods and goddesses sprang up from the belief in the dragon or perhaps vice versa. Claude Lecouteux, a french folklorist, theorizes that dragons were guardians of sacred places in nature – caves, rivers, and mountains. Here we meet the dragon god Fuxi, the Dragon King and Slavic god Veles. As well as ancient and Medieval dragon goddesses Melusine, Medea, Hecate, Cailleach and Nuwa.
Fuxi: The Chinese Dragon God
Fuxi is a figure and dragon god in Chinese mythology. Born to a powerful being Hua Hsu, Fuxi was a half-man half-serpent creature that came to be known as the “first human being”. Fuxi was born beside the Yellow River, with his twin sister Nuwa, who he would marry and establish the marital ritual for the Chinese culture. Fuxi’s mythology is complex – there are also Chinese tales featuring Fuxi as one of the first Chinese emperors.
Fuxi taught the Chinese how to hunt with bone and bamboo weapons, how to fish with nets, and how to cook. He was also creator of the I Ching. Because of his close ties to the rivers in China, this may be why he is associated with the dragon. Further, Fuxi has a connection with the element of fire, as do dragons.
Nuwa: Sister of the Dragon God
Nuwa was the twin sister of Fuxi, the serpentine dragon god mentioned previously in this article. She is a creator goddess with the head of a woman and the lower body of a serpent. In the Songs of Chu (circa 340 BC), Nuwa created human beings from yellow clay and then worked to repair damages to the pillars of heaven. Nuwa was known as the “snake goddess”, but as we have seen in many other tales, the serpentine deities were also associated with dragons. Dragon and serpent were often interchangeable terms. Just like with her brother Fuxi, Nuwa is associated with fire and snakes and is one of the dragon goddesses.
Veles: The Slavic Dragon God
Veles, also known as Volos, is a Slavic dragon god of the earth, water, and underworld. He is similar to Mitra and Loki. Veles was a Slavic god composed of different animal parts (the head of a bear and tail of a snake) and so he is a chimeric being. Veles’ nemesis was Perun, the thunder god. Their worship and sacred places were kept separate. Veles was worshiped in the valleys, close to the water and earth, while Perun was worshiped on hills and mountainsides, close to the heavens.
Veles the War Dragon
When Perun and Veles battle, Veles first takes the form of a dragon. When fleeing from the thunder god’s retaliation, Veles hides among the earth creatures later to be found by Perun, killed, and his treasures bleed out of him in the form of rain. Because of this death ritual, Veles is a dragon god of the underworld. The tale of Perun and Veles is a representation of the wheel of the year (the changing of the seasons).
Melusine: Serpentine Woman in the Well
Melusine is a fascinating and complex dragon goddess and mythical figure in French folklore. All of the research I’ve done on her nearly always suggests she was a spirit, but I’ll guarantee at one point she wasn’t just a spirit but a dragon or serpentine goddess. In French lore, she’s found in sacred holy wells and rivers and serves as a sort of guardian of place. In this regard, we could consider her a part of the genius loci. Which, again, the lines between the gods and the land guardians are often very blurry.
In addition to being a guardian of wells and rivers in North and Western France, Melusine is also believed to be an ancestral deity of multiple royal lines in England, France and Jerusalem. Some tales claim she’s nothing more than a mermaid, siren, or succubus. Yes, sometimes she’s depicted as a woman with the lower half of a fish, sometimes with two tails, and sometimes as a serpentine creature. And yet also as part dragon of sorts. Perhaps she’s all of these and can shapeshift into any form she chooses?
Cailleach: A Celtic Dragon Goddess
What do a Celtic crone goddess and dragons have in common? Apparently something, according to folklorist Donald Alexander McKenzie in his work Scottish Folklore and Folk Life 1935. First, the Cailleach is already frequently associated with multiple animals and spirits. So, o me, it’s no wonder someone added dragon to the list. This specific dragon is known as a Beithir in Scottish lore, and it’s said in order to kill it, you have to cut off its head and take it far away from its body. Otherwise it’ll piece itself back together and continue on living. In the story recorded by McKenzie, the Cailleach has this exact ability. And thus McKenzie links the Cailleach and a beithir that haunts a loch in Scotland.
Hecate: Witch Goddess of Dragons
Information detailing the dragons of Hecate is hard to come by. Yet, nearly every online resource links the Greek witch goddess to these winged creatures. After some digging, I discovered it has to do with her priestess Medea. Medea, the daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis, was also known to be a sorceress and a priestess of Hecate. When Medea rode into battle, she drove a gold chariot pulled by two dragons. These dragons were called Drakones (Greek) and were given to her as a gift by Helios, her grandfather and the sun personified. In addition to this connection, we know Hecate is also a goddess who’s connection to the animal world is palpable.
The Dragon King
Another dragon king of antiquity is the Dragon King of China. He’s also called the Dragon God. I don’t think you can get any clearer than that. As you might guess, being a dragon god made this deity incredibly important in ancient China. The Dragon King is a shapeshifter and takes on many forms, according to his mood and the season. The forms he chooses are mostly representative of the water element, weather, and of the Underworld.