Human Half-Dragons and Dragonkin in Mythology

“What if a dragon (gods-forbid!) mated with a human? If there is a way, either magically or physically, you could have this happen, what would be the result?”

– The Complete Guide™ To Writing Fantasy: Volume One~Alchemy With Words

Tom Dullemond and Darin Park, Editors

The above quote is from a book about writing fantasy literature. In fact, in the realm of mythology and legend, dragons have mated with humans, and produced offspring from these unions. These progenies were generally more special than your average human.

Modern tabletop roleplaying games and fantasy has given us two useful words; “half-dragon” and “dragonkin”. “Half-dragon” designates a creature with one dragon parent and one non-dragon parent (which may be a human). “Dragonkin” designates creatures that are partially descended from dragons (which could include half-dragons).

This article concentrates on people in mythology who were the result of a human-dragon coupling; human half-dragons. A study of these myths and legends, give us the picture that these half-dragons actually tended to look quite human, and not inherit any visual aspects of their dragon parent. As a part of relating these myths, the article will also mention some “dragonkin”, in this case meaning descendants from human half-dragons.

An important thing to point out regarding the source material of this article; in mythology and legend, the terms “dragon”, “serpent” and “snake” were often used interchangeably. One account of the same myth may describe the involved creature as a snake, while another account describe it as a serpentine dragon. Multiple sources for the same myth have been read during the research for this article in order to reliably point out actual instances of human half-dragons. It is also important to note, that some stories have alternative versions that do not involve dragons, but give a different explanation for a persons heritage. There is seldom one “true” myth about something in the world of mythology.

Eastern Dragonkin

The dragons of China and Japan are quite different from the destructive western dragons known in Europe. They are symbols of wisdom, prosperity and luck, and bring rain to the land, a farmer’s boon. They were intelligent and wise. The emperors of China used them as their symbol, and was said to sometimes consult dragons.

There exists stories of male dragons mating with animals and humans, and of female dragons mating with humans. The stories generally depict that the dragons human descendants became powerful rulers, seen both in China and Japan.

Shennong

The first half-dragon accounted for here is Shennong. One day, the woman who became his mother (perhaps named Andeng or Nüdeng) played in Huayang (an ancient region of China), a divine dragon copulated with her at the place of Changyang, and she became pregnant. She later gave birth to Shennong, who may have had a dragon’s head but a human’s face, or the head of an ox. In some versions of the story, it is mentioned that after he was born Shennong could talk after three days, walk after five days, had a full set of teeth after seven days and that he learned everything about reaping and sowing in three years.

Shennong means “Divine Farmer”, and Shennong was a culture hero who teached the ancient Chinese everything about agriculture; a fitting role for the son of a chinese dragon, famous rain-bringers. Shennong also started the institution of the market, and invented many farmer tools. More famously, he created Chinese medicine. Some stories tell us that Shennong had a see-through stomach, and therefore could study the exact effects different plants and herbs had on his body, which he used to test out the effects of thousands of both beneficial and harmful plants. It is said that Shennong died when he swallowed a plant that shredded his intestines before he had the chance to use his usual antidotal tea. Shennong is counted among the Three Divine Sovereigns in China, along with Fuxi and Huang Di (Yellow Emperor), and he still functions as a farmer god.

Yao

Another probable half-dragon was the demi-god Yao, first of three succeding sage kings. His mother was named Qingdu, and was the daughter of a great god. One day besides a river, a red dragon flew to her and mated with her. After a fourteen-months pregnancy, she gave birth to Yao.

Yao was famous for initiating a system of abdicating the throne and handing over the crown to a worthy person when the time was right, as opposed to handing it down a family bloodline; he handed his crown over to the virtuous Shun rather than own cruel son Danzhu. He was said to have used his virtues and benevolence to influence peoples behaviour rather than controlling them through a system of punishment by penalties. Confucian writings praised him as a extraordinary model for emperors. Yao is considered one of the Five August Emperors.

Amasuhiko

In Japan, there was Amasuhiko. It is debateable if he himself was “half-dragon”, but he was “dragonkin”. His father was Fire Fade, an expert hunter. One day, Fire Fade swapped roles with his brother, Fire Flash, a fisherman, whose magic fishhook he borrowed. Fire Fade lost the fishhook in the sea, and when he went to the bottom to retrieve it, he met Toyo-Tama (some stories call her Otohime), who was the daughter of the Dragon-King of the Sea, Watatsumi. Fire Fade married her. When she later gave birth to Amasuhiko, Fire Fade disobeyed her order to not witness the birth, at which point she assumed the form of a sea-dragon and returned to the sea, leaving their son behind. Given that Toyo-Tama was the daughter of the Dragon-King at the same time she herself could take dragon form, it is not easy to determine if it is Toyo-Tama or her son Amasuhiko who was the “half-dragon” in this story. In any case, Toyo-Tamas sister, Tama-yori, went up to land to raise Amasuhiko. When he grew up, they got married and had four children. The youngest, Toyo-mike-nu, was later known as Jimmu Tenno, the first human emperor of Japan. Jimmu Tenno thus had dragon blood from his father and mother, and on his paternal grandfathers side, he was a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu. The Imperial House of Japan used their descent from Amaterasu as the base of their claim to the throne. Emperor Hirohito, who ruled Japan during World War II, was thus said to be a descendant of Amaterasu, which given the family history given here, should indicate he was a descendant of Toyo-Tama and Amasuhiko too. “A rule of dragons”.

Lạc Long Quân

In ancient Vietnam, there was the king Lạc Long Quân (literally “Dragon Lord of Lạc”). According to legend, his wife Âu Cơ, a mountain fairy, gave birth to an egg sac containing a hundred eggs from which a hundred children were born, the origin for the hundred Viatnamese family names. Lạc Long Quân believed that he and his wife could not live in harmony because he was descended from dragons, and she from fairies, and thus the parted. Lạc Long Quân went back to the sea with fifty of their children, while his wife went to the mountain region with their other fifty children. Maybe it can be inferred from the myth that all of Vietnamese descent are also in fact dragonkin. A further reading of the source material reveal that the grandfather of Lạc Long Quân, Emperor Ming, was the great-grandson of Shennong, who has already been described in this article.

Armenian Dragonkin

In Armenia of old, it seems that dragons were believed to live on a certain mountain, and that they, or their children (by implication dragonkin rather than dragons, even if not written like that in the research material), were in the habit of stealing children and in their stead put in a little evil spirit of their own brood, who always had a wicked character. This practice sounds a lot like the European changeling myth; for those who don’t know, in many countries it was considered common for fairies to steal babies and in their place leave one of their own offspring, a changeling (modern theories about them include the theory that the myth was used to explain babies with mental birth defects or epilepsia).

King Erwand

King Erwand seems to be a mythological version of king Orontes I, who reigned in Armenia during 401 BC – 344 BC (though there is an earlier Orontes I in Armenian history). The actual Armenian spelling of Erwand (also Ervand) is Yervand (in western Armenian Yervant), which was somehow latinized to Orontes (it is hard finding information on this because of all these different spellings and names!).

In myth, king Erwand the son of an unknown father and a royal princess (which sounds a bit like one of Merlins possible origins). He was supposedly one of the dragon changelings, or in other words, born of a serpent-father. He was “proverbially” ugly and wicked, and appearently he possessed an evil eye so potent that he could crumble rocks to pieces when he looked at them. He was  supposedly a worshipper of Devs (which I from the text guess is Armenian fey folk).

Reading a bit about Orontes I in a book, it seems like he was given the throne because he was so well-liked, but once on the throne, he took the precaution to execute all the heirs of the old king (though one young prince escaped, to return later). This behavior might serve as a basis of the wicked mythological king Erwand.

Artavazd

Once there was a king Artaxias I, who reigned in Armenia during 190/189 BC – 160/159 BC. He was the founder of the Artaxiad Dynasty, which ruled Armenia for neary 200 years. His son, Artavazd, was of a wicked character and believed to have been a dragon changeling. When Artaxias died, many of his followers commited suicide. Artavazd complained about this, having nobody to rule over. This angered the ghost of Artaxias, who cursed Artavazd, who after his accession to the throne fell down a precipice with his horse and disappeared. It was said that he was chained in a cave by dragons to prevent his escape, which would spell catastrophe. In this case, it seems Artavazd took on aspects of the monster Azdahak (a king with two serpent heads growing from his shoulders) from Zoroastrian myth, who was imprisoned to prevent the end of the world.

Additional information gives more details to this myth. Once upon a time, Artaxias married the princess Satenik (maybe spelled Sathenik). Their love story is appearently an important myth on its own, but their relationships in later times remains largely unknown. One story tells that later on, Satenik fell in love with Argavan, maybe through magic trickery (but maybe not). Argavan was described as a descendant of a race of dragons, and in other places as the chieftain of a clan of either dragons or dragon descendants. Argavan once invited Artaxias to a banquette, appearently as part of a plot to kill him. The story is incomplete, but it seems that Artaxias survived, and that he continued to live with his wife Satenik.

Now, from studying this story alongside the story of Artavazd, this writer could form two possible hypotheses. Either Artavazd was a changeling, in the sense that a real son was exchanged with one of the dragons brood at random, or Artavazd could have been the result of a love affair between dragon chieftain Argavan and queen Satenik. In both cases, Artavazd would have been “born of a serpent-father” (though a random changeling could have had a serpent-mother, I guess, but this writer have not found such an expression in Armenian mythology to date). This writer has found no timeline regarding if Artavazd was born before or after the Argavan episode, so this is purely speculation on part of this article writer; the implication can be inferred, though.

Slavic Dragonkin

“Old Slavic mythology knew of men who were born out of relationships between women and dragons. These men were endowed with prodigious strength and exceptional abilities.”

– Zduhać, Wikipedia

In Slavic folklore, the word for dragon is often a variation of the word “zmaj”, which is derived from their word for “snake” (“zmaj” and “snake” use opposite genus from each other). This type of dragon is generally thought of as intelligent, in opposition to the more animalistic dragons farther west (many old European dragons seems to have been mindless). In South Slavic folklore, the dragon is considered extremely intelligent, wise and knowledgable, proficient in magic, and, more importantly for this article, often lustful for women, with whom it is capable of making offspring. There exists many slavic legend of historical and mythical heroes that people believed were conceived by a dragon.

Dragon-heroes in general are common in Serbian history, especially in relation to their conflicts with the Turks, and many great leaders were called Dragons. Not all of these leaders (though some) seems to have been involved in “half-dragon” tales, though, so many names uncovered in the research material did not find a place in this article.

Volkh Vseslav’evich

Volkh Vseslav’evich (maybe spelled without the apostrophe) was one the most ancient Russian heroes. He was a mighty sorcerer or wizard, and a mighty hunter. He was conceived when his mother, the princess Marfa Vseslav’evna, one day stepped on a snake (in other versions called a serpent, and generally believed to be a draconic creature, given the supernatural aspects of this story). His birth is said to have been accompanied by the brightest moon ever seen and a huge earthquake that made all the animals both on land and at sea seek a safe hiding place (probably in part because a mighty hunter had been born). Volkh spoke his first words when he was one and a half hours old, and at the age of ten, Volkh was fully educated and possessed many sorcerous skills, like the ability to shift his shape at will. At the age of twelve he started to gather an army of youths, which took him three years (in the end it was either 300 youths or 7000 youths; take your pick). When the king of India for some reason threatened to invade Russia, Volkh took his army and invaded India instead. He won by using his army in combination with his skills in sorcery, and became king instead.

It has been suggested that Volkh was based on the historical prince Vseslav of Polotsk, who attacked and captured Kiev in 1068 (Volkh was apperantly from Kiev). Volkhs name is post-Christian, though it could also be pre-Christian, as Volkh means both “priest” and “sorcerer.” Volkhs story is very similar to the story of Vol’ga Buslavlevich, another hero; the only differences is the hero’s number of followers, the name of the country that they later invaded, and that Vol’gas story doesn’t seem to involve a serpent parent.

Zmag Ognjeni Vuk

Zmag Ognjeni Vuk (translated, “Fiery Dragon Wolf”), is a legendary werewolf character, and probably a legendary version of a fifteenth-century ruler, Despot Vuk, fully named Vuk Grgurević Branković (despot is here a title for a high leader; the words modern negative meaning probably evolved as a form of smear campaign), who reigned in Serbia from 1471 until his death in 1485. Some say his nickname was because of the viciousness of his reign and victorious battles he waged against the Turks.

The legendary Vuk is depicted as having been born with a special birthmark, tufted with wolf hair (or red hair on his forearms), and with the ability to breathe fire. He grew up at an amazing speed and quickly became a mighty warrior. Stories indicate that Vuk was conceived from a serpent-dragon, the regional dragon, and say that Vuk was the only person in the kingdom able to defeat his father. However, it was believed during the night and on overcast days he had the ability of therianthropy and would transform into a werewolf, terrorizing the countryside.

Stefan Lazarevic

Despot Stefan Lazarevic (1377-1427) was the son of prince Lazar, a man who led the Serbian army into battle with the Ottomans in 1389, and of princess Milica (also known as Tsaritsa, or Empress, Milica). However, the popular belief was that he was actually the son of the Dragon of Jastrebac.

The historical Stefan Lazarevic signed up with an old chivalric order renewed by the Hungarian King, Sigismund, called the “Order of the Dragon” (the Societas Draconistrarum). This may have interacted with the personal mythology of the figure Stefan Lazarevic. As we shall see, the Order of the Dragon will play a further role in this article.

Miloš Obilić

In the poem “Obilić Dragon’s Son”, Miloš Obilić (Milos Obilic) is said to be the child of a dragon to emphasize his great physical and spiritual strength. He is another Serbian hero who fought against the Turks and described with a dragon parent.

Zmajevit or “Dragon men”

Zmajevit or Zmajeviti (true spelling uncertain), means “having a dragon’s properties”. It is derived from zmaj, “dragon”. It is the name given to men who had the inborn ability to protect their village from bad weather, so named because they were believed to be the sons of dragons.

To better explain, we have to first explain the Serbian dragon, because they are unlike the more well-known west European dragons. Serbian dragons are depicted with the head of a ram and a lean snake’s body. They could turn invisible, fly and change shape, including to an eagle or a man. They were benevolent to humans, and took care that the territory they lived in (each dragon had its own territory) received the right amount of rain for good crops. In all of this, this writer thinks they overwhelmingly seem more like the dragons of China and Japan than the dragons of west Europe (where reptilian, or outright “crocodilian” traits were emphasized). Their arch-enemies were the ala, female storm-demons who brought hail and storm clouds over fields to destroy crops. The dragons fought against the ala to drive them away and thus kept crops safe. Aside from all of this, the Serbian dragon was also lustful over women, and their ability to change shape meant that they could take the form of men and have love affairs with women. From this came children who were zmajevit, also called dragon men.

Some sources claim that dragon men had various powers inherited from their dragon father, different combinations from person to person, but all of them had one common power. When an ala (storm-demon) would come to threathen the local crops, the dragon man would fall asleep, and his soul would leave his body to do battle with the ala. If he won, the ala went away. He would later wake up without any memory of the battle, sometimes with wounds. This writer would presume that these accounts of dragon men battling ala, describes the power of astral projection, the power of leaving your body as a form of spirit and travel freely. Because of the usefulness of dragon men, it was allowed, even encouraged, for women to have love affairs with dragons in Serbia, but preferably not for to long; when storms actually managed to destroy crops, it was sometimes assumed that the local dragon had been occupied with a fair lady.

The writer thinks he must point out, that the phenomenon of a man who could astral project his soul in order to fight enemies of the local crops was a common belief in the Balkans, but that the belief that they came from a dragon parent was a local belief in Serbia. In other places in the Balkans, the explanation for these mens abilities were different; as thus, they were not “dragon men” as in Serbia. The details of their powers remain similar though; they fell asleep when it was time for battle, and then their soul fought either against storm-demons who threathened the crops, or against other men with the same power from another area in order to claim the best potential for crop growth from each other (the crops in the area of the winner got the growth that should have gone to the crops in the losers area). Their names and circumstances are different depending where you are in the Balkans. It is an interesting myth in itself, and can be read on Wikipedia.

Not Dragonkin

There are stories and figures that may make one think of half-dragon and dragonkin stories, but actually does not involve any such aspects. The writer thought he could mention some of them in this article.

Dracula

No, not the vampire; the guy who inspired the vampire, Vlad III, also called Vlad the Impaler or Dracula. Dracula is sometimes taken to mean “son of a devil”, but actually means “son of a dragon”. It is not literal in Vlad III example though, not even in legends. Vlad III was the second son of Vlad II Dracul. Vlad II was a member of the Order of the Dragon (already mentioned in this article under Stefan Lazarevic), and thus was given the epithet Dracul, which means “Dragon”, as in “Vlad the Dragon”. His son Vlad III:s reputation for cruelty and his epithet inspired the name of the vampire Count Dracula in Bram Stokers famous novel Dracula.

Alexander the Great

According to some stories, Alexander the Great was the son of the Greek god Zeus. Before Alexander was conceived, his mother Olympias had a dream where her womb was struck by lightning, which was later interpreted as Alexander being the son of Zeus, the god of the sky (Zeus was famous for siring many mortal heroes). Even Alexander himself came to believe this; he certainly was impressive enough to be a demigod (child of a deity and a mortal).

According to one of these stories, one day, Olympias husband, Philip II of Macedon, saw Olympias sleeping in her bed with a snake next to her. This troubled him deeply, and he sent one of his men to consult the oracle of Delphi. Philip was told that he would one day lose the eye with which he presumed to peep through the door to see the god in the form of a serpent in the company of his wife. (Philip was actually later damaged in his right eye during a siege, supposedly by an arrow; skeptics may point out that the story with the propechy might have been invented after the eye injury, though that is not in the source material). The assumption is thus that Zeus fathered Alexander on Olympia in the form of a snake or serpent. This is not mythologically weird; in Greek mythology, Zeus fathered many children while being shapeshifted into other than human forms, like an eagle, a swan, a shower of gold, etc. It is important to remember here, that in ancient and Medieval times, snakes, serpents and dragons were used interchangeably in story and art. Thus, many later paintings and pictures which portray Olympias with Zeus variously depict Zeus as a snake or a dragon, or even a man with a snake-body instead of legs.

The shapeshifting into serpent form gives the story the vibes of a dragonkin story, but Alexander would anyway not be considered a half-dragon or dragonkin; no matter what form Zeus takes, he is a god, and thus when he have affairs with mortal women, what he fathers is a demigod (the same was true when Zeus shapeshifted into a swan or an eagle).

Afterword

This writer researched much material in the making of this article, from many mythologies. Some of it was very hard to find, so the writer assumes that there could be much more mythological and legendary “dragonkin lore” out there that has not become part of this article. The writer welcomes any authentic bits of information regarding additional “dragonkin” mythology, which can be added to this article.

Source material

Books

  • Ananikian, Mardiros H. – Armenian Mythology
  • Bane, Theresa – Encyclopedia of Beasts and Monsters in Myth, Legend and Folklore
  • Coleman, J –The Dictionary of Mythology – an A-Z of Themes, Legends and Heroes (Artcurus, 2007)
  • Dixon-Kennedy, Mike – Encyclopedia of Russian and Slavic Myth and Legend.pdf
  • Ellicott, Karen & Gall, Susan B. (editors) – Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography
  • Ingersoll, Ernest – Dragons and Dragon Lore
  • Jakobsson, Roman – Selected Writings: Slavic Epic Studies
  • Seal, Graham & Kennedy White, Kim Folk – Heroes and Heroines around the World, 2nd Edition
  • Sherman, Josepha (editor) – Storytelling An Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore
  • Yang, Lihui & An, Deming with Anderson Turner, Jessica – Handbook of Chinese Mythology

Links

Wikipedia

  • Satenik
  • Slavic dragon
  • Vseslav of Polotsk
  • Zduhać
  • and various other articles.

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