Here there be dragons: Amphiptere

In European heraldry, a certain type of legless winged serpent is called an “amphiptere.”

For a great story of about a terrifying amphiptere that appeared in England in the 1660s, check this out.


Here there be dragons: The Wantley Dragon

The most famous dragonslayer in all England was St. George, of course (Though the dragon-killer has been de-canonized. Kind of like the de-planetization of Pluto).

But perhaps the most interesting dragonslayer is More of More Hall, who did away with a dire creature threatening the village of Wantley in the time of Queen Elizabeth the First. The horrible dragon just consumed more and more of the village resources until the villagers could take no more.

So they went to their local knight, More of More Hall and begged him to take on the dragon.

More agreed, on the condition that before he went out, he a damsel with dark hair and fair skin would oil him up and, er, help him with his armor.

He might have needed help with his armor because he had it made specially for the purpose, with 6 inch long spikes covering it.

The battle raged on for three days, with dragon and knight equally matched. With one sweep of his mighty claws, the dragon knocked away the knight’s sword, leaving him with no weapon. As a desperate last message, Sir More kicked out, aiming for the dragon’s, er, uh, ‘throat’. His aim was true and the dragon collapsed in pain, for the knight had found the creature’s one vulnerable spot. The dragon was vanquished and Sir More (and the damsel, presumably) retired to More Hall.

Good story? It’s just a story. Well, a ballad, in fact. And it doesn’t date from the time of good Queen Bess. Instead it’s from the 1600’s.

The ‘dragon’ of the story is a satire of Sir Francis Wortley, the diocese ecclesiastic of Wharncliffe at the time. He had a disagreement with his parish about what the tithe should be. ‘Sir More’ was a lawyer who ‘rescued’ the townspeople by bringing a suit against Wortley–kicking him in the ‘throat.’

Here there be dragons: Medieval UFOs

Mount Pilatus

Mount Pilatus

1421, Lucerne, Switzerland.

You’re a farmer, walking home over Mount Pilatus. Your name, specifically, is Stempflin.

Suddenly, you hear a disturbing noise. The flapping of great leathery wings. The ground explodes in front of you. In a shower of dirt and sod, you’re overwhelmed and faint dead away.

When you wake up, there’s nothing left of the dragon–’cause it must have been one of the many dragons that live in the caves atop the mountain. But is there… You examine the scene and find a red-colored stone. Ha! It’s the congealed blood of a dragon with many healing properties!


Here there be dragons: Kitch-at’husis vs weewilmekq: Battle of the North American water serpent thingies

Native American legends based in Maine tell the legend of two powerful shamans who met for a magical shape-shifting duel. When they met at the agreed time, one of them took the shape of the kitch-at’husis, a 40-foot long water serpent thingie with poisonous fangs.

The other shaman turned into a weewilmekq. He knew the only thing with a chance of beating the kitch-at’husis was the giant leech.

The leech won, sucking the life out of the dragon.

Here there be dragons: Piasa

Father Jacques Marquette with Indians.

Father Marquette

I’m putting the piasa in with dragons because I’m too lazy to start a category for feathered serpent birds of the Western Hemisphere and put in the piasa and Quetzacoatl.

As far as we know, the first white guy to see the frightening dragon bird was Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit priest who came to Illinois in 1673. His Illini tribe guides explained that the creature he saw portrayed as a petroglyph on a cliff face above the Mississippi was called a ‘piasa.’ The name means ‘bird that devours humans.’

Apparently, the bird was a gentle neighbour of the Illini tribe, preying on deer and other mammals. It lived in the cliff while and the Illini lived on the plains below. The red, black, and green piasa was at least 30 feet long, with a wingspan of 16-18 feet. It also had the antlers of a deer–and the face of a man, but twisted and deformed.

Unfortunately, another tribe invaded the Illini and they went to war. The good guys won, but the piasa ended up scavenging the battlefield.

“Yum,” thought the piasa when it tasted human flesh. “Gotta get me some more of this.”

So it started to prey upon the Illini.

A brave group of 21 warriors decided to take on the piasa before it ate the entire tribe. The bravest of them all was Massatoga, who had to serve as bait for the bird. Under Massatoga’s command, the warriors defeated their enemy and the Illini were safe once more.

The piasa hasn’t been seen since 1856. That’s when work in a nearby quarry shattered the cliff face and the petroglyphs fell into the Mississippi.

Here there be dragons: Fafnir

Captioned as "The Death of Fafnir". ...

Siegfried kills the dragon Fafnir

Ah, if there’s trouble in the Norse legends, you can probably guess that Loki, the god of mischief is involved. We’ve already seen Loki connected to one dragon, and here’s another.

Ótr (aka Óttar, and a few other spellings) was a shapeshifter who could turn into, appropriately, an otter. Ótr just hung out most of the time, eating fish, but one day Loki wandered by and killed the otter for sport. The legend is pretty adamant that the whole thing was an accident.

What wasn’t an accident was that Ótr’s dad demanded an enormous fine for his son’s death, far more than Ótr’s life was legally worth. Specifically, he asked for Loki to fill the inside of Ótr’s skin with yellow gold, then cover the outside of the skin with red gold. When one inch of whisker still showed, he greedily insisted Loki cover that inch, too.

Loki did it with a smile because the only gold Loki had left was the cursed ring Andvarinaut, destined to bring disaster to anyone who possessed it.

Ótr had two brothers, Fafnir and Regin. They saw their dad’s gold and the curse made them crazy for it. Together they plotted to kill their dad, but Fafnir double-crossed Regin before Regin could double-cross him, and stole the gold.

The cursed gold transformed Fafnir into a dragon and he spent his days just laying on his treasure to guard it (Dragon who lays on gold… Cursed ring… Anyone getting a Tolkien vibe here? You should be. Tolkien’s inspiration for the Lord of the Rings partially came from Norse legend).

Regin, pissed off, hired Sigurd the great warrior to kill Fafnir and bring him the treasure, intending to kill Sigurd after. Armed with a magic sword, Sigurd did the job. But he got some of the dragon’s blood on his fingers, and for some reason Sigurd licked his fingers instead of using a Wet Nap. The blood enabled him to understand the language of birds. He heard from these birds that his employer planned to kill him.

Sigurd then killed Regin and took the gold himself (some hero). He gave the ring to his love, the valkyrie Brunnhilde. Things kind of get complicated after that and there’s no more dragons so I’ll stop here.

Here’s a hint: everyone dies. If you’re listening to Wagner, they do it while singing.

Here there be dragons: The serpent of Carthage

Marcus Atilius Regulus leaves for Carthage, re...

Marcus Atilius Regulus Leaving for Carthage

Imperial Rome had the most amazing war machine of its time. But even Rome had to face its dragons.

During the Punic War, (264-241 BC) the Roman General Marcus Atilius Regulus was leading Roman battalions against troops from the city of Carthage. Regulus came to the River Bagradas and encountered something he wasn’t quite expecting. A hundred feet of giant serpent rose up out the river, its eyes glowing like lanterns.

The thing must have been scary because a Roman general with legions of the best army in the world behind him opted for a strategic re-alignment of priorities. That is, he thought it best to try to ford the river at another place. Before they headed off to find a better spot, the snake disappeared.

But when they sent the first guy over, the soldier vanished under the water with a scream. Sneaky bastard.

The snake ate five or six soldiers, armor included, before Regulus decided to treat a snake the size of a city like a city. He hauled out the ballistae, catapults, and started hurling rocks at it. Once the thing was dead, he had the soldiers pull it out of the water. 120 feet, this thing was.

Regulus had it skinned and presented the skin to the city of Rome, where it was displayed in a temple on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, it disappeared around 133 B.C.

Here there be Dragons: Gargouilles — The dragon that turned to stone

Like guivres, gargouilles prowled medieval France. You can tell the difference between the two species because guivres are the ones with the poison breath, and gargouilles are the ones that spew water.

Gargouilles are big enough to swallow rivers, which they then expel through massive jaws, drowning villages and crops under great waves. Gargouilles also ate sailors and capsized boats on the Seine.

The archbishop of Rouen, later St. Romain, had had enough. He decided to go talk to his local gargouille, to make it see reason. Unsurprisingly, no one volunteered to go with him, except for a condemned murderer, in exchange for his freedom if he lived.

When the guys got to the dragon’s lair, it appeared. The monster seemed more likely to eat them to talk, and Romain reacted instinctively, holding up two fingers in the sign of the cross.

The gargouille laid down, subdued by sacred symbol. The murderer could then bind the monster using the archbishop’s stole and together they lead it back to the town (for some reason). The townspeople then burned the dragon alive.

To commemorate the occasion, the archbishop of Rouen is allowed to pardon one prisoner every year on Ascension Day.

And the monstrous stone waterspouts put on medieval French buildings are named ‘Gargoyles,’ which comes from the same root word as gargouilles–both of them mean ‘gargler.’

Here there be dragons — Guivre: The Embarrassed Dragon

Lots of towns in medieval France were bedevilled with a particularly nasty species of wingless, serpent-like dragon called ‘Guivre.’ But now they’re extinct. So what happened?

Guivres had toxic breath that poisoned everything, devastating entire villages, taking out fields, costing farmers their crops. They also carried disease. One breath could cause a plague that could kill thousands.

As it turns out, guivres have a fatal flaw. Which one young farmer discovered in a unique way. By taking a swim.

It was a hot day and no one was around, so our hero stripped off his clothes and jumped in the nearest river to cool off. When he stepped out of the river, naked as the day he was born, he heard something big coming through the woods. He froze in terror; normally a fatal mistake, this time it saved his life.

The huge ugly head of a guivre popped out from between the trees.

The dragon took one look at the naked human and, amazingly, blushed. Instead of attacking, the guivre drew back and slithered away.

The astonished farmer dressed quickly and got back to his village, where he spread the news of his adventure. At last, the people knew how to defeat their worst enemy–the guivre, for all its poison breath, was embarrassed by humans without their clothes on… which lead to some very interesting fights between humans and guivres. In the end, naked humans extinct-ifed the guivres.

Here there be dragons: The Lambton Worm

In Germanic countries, and in England (because the English just took everything from everywhere), there was a kind of dragon called a ‘worm’ or ‘wurm.’

On Easter Sunday, 1420, John Lambton, the degenerate heir of Lambton Castle, skipped church to go fishing in the River Weir. He didn’t catch anything for a long time, so just to add to his wickedness, he started to swear.

Now, at this point, some versions of the legend include an old man passing by warning John he’d better watch himself. This seems unlikely, since any old man who could warn John without being a bit of a hypocrite would be in church himself. It’s a good addition to the legend, though, since it forms a nice parallel with the witch that comes later.

After spewing some good curses, he felt a tug on the line. Not a fish. The slimy black thing, three feet long, had nine sets of gills, huge eyes, and the face of a devil. Suddenly not so hungry for seafood, Lambton threw it down the nearest well. And off he went to the crusades, some say to make up for his rebellious youth.

A few years later, the locals started to notice their chickens going missing. Then their pigs. Then their cattle. Then, one day, some observant fellow said, “Hey, what’s that big black thing wrapped around that hill over there?” (The hill was either Penshaw Hill or the more aptly named Worm Hill.)

Well, as it turns out, the worm had grown, Jörmungandr-like, big enough to wrap around the hill seven times.

Some brave local youths try their luck at slaying the thing, but the worm is luckier. The only thing the locals can do to save their sheep is offer the worm a troughful of milk every morning in the courtyard of Lambton Castle.

When John Lambton gets back from the crusades, he recognizes the leech he pulled out of the river. Horrified, he also recognizes his responsibility. His sin created it. He’s got to deal with it. But before he does, he consults the local wise woman (See how he’s grown as a person? Before he ignored the old man, now he seeks out aged advice.). She tells him if he has to win, he must wear a suit of spiky armor and confront the worm while standing in the river.

If he does succeed, she tells him, he’s got to kill the first living thing he encounters after the fight or his family will be cursed for nine generations.

After a truly epic battle, John kills the worm. But instead of heading out to the nearest field and slaughtering the first bull that walks up to him, like a sensible person would have done, the moron heads home. His own father comes running out to meet him.

Now soft-hearted John can’t kill his own dad, so he puts the family dog to death hoping it’ll be a good substitute.

Of course this didn’t work. The next nine generations of Lambtons die tragic deaths. Thanks, Grandpa John!

But the Lambton family outlived the curse, and four hundred years later, John’s namesake John George (The name of another famous dragonslayer) Lambton became the first Governor of the Province of Canada. What’s really interesting is where they built the monument to the second John Lambton.

Penshaw Hill.