Dragons in Slavic Mythology
In Slavic mythology Dragons are either male or female. Often seen as siblings, they represent different forces of agriculture. In the Bulgarian mythologies the female dragon is always depicted as being hateful of mankind, locked into a perpetual battle with her male sibling. She represents water characteristics, adverse weather and is associated with destruction of crops. The male dragon on the other hand has a fiery nature and is depicted as being a caring, loving, shielding benefactor of men working to further their crops and their survival. In Bulgarian folklore both male and female dragons are depicted with three heads, snake bodies and have wings.
Dragons in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Serbian lore are all unvaryingly represented as being hostile. They are depicted with anywhere from one to seven or more heads, three and seven being the most favoured, and the heads always re-grow upon decapitation unless fire is used to cauterize the neck. Their Dragon blood is so poisonous that, when spilled, the Earth cannot absorb it. Always represented as being evil, these four legged, winged, fearsome monsters have few redeeming qualities. They mercilessly extract tribute from strained settlements by way of maidens, gold or food, all of which the poor inhabitants can ill afford.
The Chuvash Dragons of Bulgaria reflect the myths of the Volga River before the Turkish dominance and differ from Turkic counterparts like the Zilant. The best known of the Chuvash Dragons is the Veri Selen [fire snake] which, like the Russian Gorynych, has multiple heads and flies through the air trailing fire. These dragons are said to hatch from the dead bodies of illegitimate children, killed by their mothers and discarded. At night the Veri Selen assumes human form and seeks revenge for their betrayal by seducing the men and impregnating the women.
Islamic influence on dragon myths can be seen in the account of the Bulgars who founded the town of Bilar. They discovered a big snake living nearby and resolved to kill it, but the snake begged them to leave it in peace and that night pleaded with Allah (God) to give her wings. Taking pity on her Allah granted her the gift of wings and she was able to fly away from this danger, never to be seen again.
Ibn Fadlan visited Bulgaria around the time of their conversion to Islam in the Tenth Century, and found numerous snakes in the area around the Volga, particularly in the trees. One huge tree, over a hundred feet high, had fallen and around the trunk a huge snake, as long as the tree was high, was coiled. The Bulgars allayed Ibn Fadlan’s apprehension, assuring him the snake was not dangerous. Another great snake, sometimes referred to as a Dragon, inhabited a pagan temple tower at Alabuga, and the legend of this particular reptile persisted after the Islamic period until the invasion of Tamarlane.
The Wawel Dragon
The Polish Wawel Dragon, according to lore, once lived in a cave on the Vistula River below Wavel Castle near the city of Krakow during the time of its founder, King Krakus. Every day the dragon would emerge from its cave to wreak havoc across the countryside, destroying farms and homes, killing the people it found and devouring their livestock. In many variations of the story the Wawel Dragon was particularly fond of eating young girls and could only be deterred from his destructive rampage if the townsfolk of Krakow left a young maiden outside his cave once every month. This situation continued as the King’s knights, testing their mettle against this terrible beast, one by one fell to the Dragon’s fiery breath, and eventually all the young girls of the town and the surrounding area were all sacrificed. All but one that is, and now came the turn of the beautiful daughter of King Krakus himself. He loved his daughter very much and in his desperation, he promised her hand in marriage to anyone, regardless of his station in life, who could defeat the Dragon and end this terrible carnage.
Coveting this legendary beauty, great warriors thronged to the capital from near and far to try their luck. Unfortunately the fierce Dragon destroyed all these fine knights as if they were but cattle herded to the slaughter. Finally, with all the challengers exhausted, there came the turn of a poor cobbler’s apprentice named Dratewka. The resourceful boy, undaunted by the jeers and mockery of his friends, set to work at once. He did not need to attain any fine armour or weaponry for he had his wits about him instead. He had only one night to complete the seemingly impossible task, so he quickly obtained raw sulphur and tar and concealed it in the carcass of a slaughtered lamb. He then carried it all the way up to the entrance of the dragon’s cave, left it just outside and quickly hid. Almost immediately after eating the bait the Dragon developed an unbearable thirst, so strong it was that it could not be assuaged by any amount of water. The Dragon drank and drank, swallowing almost half of the Vistula River, yet his thirst could not be quenched; meanwhile, his stomach swelled so much that suddenly, with a thunderous sound, he exploded.
The king and all the townsfolk were overjoyed and Dratewka became their most beloved hero there and then. The sovereign, honouring his word, blessed the marriage of Dratewka to his beautiful daughter and they all lived happily ever after.
A charming Play about the Wawel Dragon:
See this on YouTube at: http://youtu.be/ExhaY9lEA-8