Dragons are mythical creatures that appear in fairy tales and fantasy novels. Although dragon tattoos have their roots in traditional Asian designs, there has been a recent rise in popularity of dragon tattoo designs, due to books like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larrson, and the appearance of dragons in film media such as the TV series Game of Thrones. This popularization of dragon tattoos has led to a wide range of dragon tattoo designs from different cultures.
A History of Dragon Tattoos
Some form of dragon-like creature has been found in most ancient cultures across the world. Stories of dragons describe serpent-like beasts that often have wings and can breathe fire. Some are snake-like, without legs, others have two or more legs. Some Asian dragons have whiskers and beards and appear to be feathered, whereas most European dragons are scaly like lizards or snakes.
Dragon wings are generally described as being bat-like, with a layer of skin stretched between finger-like limbs. Not all flying dragons have wings; some are wingless and able to fly because of magical abilities not physical appendages. Oriental dragons are generally considered benevolent creatures but in ancient western cultures, dragons were seen as evil, demon-like creatures who were a threat to man. In the east dragons symbolized luck, wealth and happiness, while in the west dragons represented greed and evil.
Dragons have appeared in Chinese tattoos for centuries, as a symbol of strength and power. This tradition is continued today, mostly among the members of criminal organizations where different types of dragon tattoos have their own meanings.
Although it is not clear if dragons appeared in ancient European tattoos, designs of serpent-like creatures are prevalent in tribal and historic art works from Europe. The red dragon that appears on the flag of Whales is one of the earliest recorded dragon designs in the area, dating back to 829AD. It is believed that the Welsh dragon has earlier roots as the battle standard of King Arthur and other Celtic leaders.
Oriental Dragon Tattoos
In some parts of Asia, it is considered bad luck to depict a dragon facing downwards, as the dragon then can’t ascend to heaven. This is why many oriental dragon tattoos have the dragon placed on the body so that it faces upwards, towards heaven.
Chinese dragons are the most popular dragon tattoos, with their flowing bodies, whiskered faces and reaching claws. The organic curves of the Chinese dragon’s body compliments the natural curves of the human body, which means that Chinese dragon tattoos make ideal body art design subjects. Asian dragon tattoos either depict the dragon on its own or with a background of smoke, fire or other elemental designs such as stone or water.
European Dragon Tattoos
European dragons are the species that appear in fantasy novels and movies. These dragons are often depicted in a seated or standing pose in tattoo designs, unlike Oriental dragons that are usually shown to be flying. Western dragons used to be feared and regarded with dread and suspicion, but the past century has seen a change of heart towards these mythological beasts. Many European dragons are now viewed as friendly, wise and companionable. Tattoos of dragons perched atop a moon or crystal ball are mystical in nature and are symbolic of magic. In German folklore, dragons were a symbol of greed, and this connection to material wealth has remained. In many fairy tales, dragons hoarded piles of gold and jewels, making dragons a symbol of wealth and material gain. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – dragons can symbolize an abundance of anything, not just money, so they can be used to represent a satisfaction of life, a fulfilling relationship or even the feeling of completeness in a moral code or religion.
Celtic dragon tattoos use the Celtic design elements of interlocking lattice work and knots to create an image of a western dragon. Because Celtic designs and the European dragon have their origins in the British Isles, they can be used to celebrate the heritage of a person who is from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
The Cuter Side of Dragon Tattoos
Not all dragon tattoos have a serious symbolic meaning. There are some really cute dragon tattoo designs that depict baby cartoon dragons or fairy-like dragons that are a visual parody of their more serious counterparts. These are often colorful designs with friendly eye-catching silhouettes and patterns. Although traditional dragon tattoos have a deeper meaning, these modern tattoos are simply decorative and fun art works.