Native American Dragons
1. The Piasa, a Mississippi dragon
a. The Original Cahokia Painting
The mysterious Native American Dragon, also known as the Giant Bird Piasa, is depicted in one of two murals on the side of a limestone cliff overlooking the Mississippi River. This painting was done long before the arrival of European explorers in the area. This sublime work of art probably dates back to 1200 BC.
It may have originated in the highly cultural Mississippi city of Cahokia. It was at its peak in 1200 BC, with a population of between 20,000 and 30,000. It was one of the largest prehistoric cities in what is now known as North America.
Indeed, representations of animals, such as falcons, birdmen, thunderbirds and other terrifying snakes, were commonplace in Cahokia.
The Piasa, Native American Dragon, may have been painted to signal to outsiders traveling down the Mississippi River that they were entering Cahokia.
b. The European discovery of these paintings
It was in 1673 that Frenchmen Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet were overwhelmed by the discovery of these sumptuous masterpieces, during their exploration of the region. Here is what Mr. Marquette said about them:
"While walking around some rocks which, by their height and length, inspired us with admiration, we saw on one of them two painted monsters. At first they frightened us, and even the most wild and bold did not dare to rest their eyes on them for long. They are as big as a calf, they have horns on their heads like those of a deer, a horrible look, red eyes, a beard like that of a tiger, a face a little like that of a man, a body covered with scales, and a tail so long that it winds all around the body, passing over the head and returning between the legs, ending in a fish tail. Green, red and black are the three colors that make up the image. Moreover, these two monsters are so well painted that one cannot believe that a savage is the author of them: indeed, even good French painters would have difficulty to go to this place to paint them conveniently. Here is approximately the form of these monsters, as we have faithfully copied it."
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This description is very similar to that of many other dragons around the world. However, the horns and beard are unique to the Native American dragon.
Some years later, French explorers, such as Saint Cosme, testified that these paintings were damaged because of the habit of the local Indians to "unload their weapons" on them. Indeed, the latter were so terrified by this bird dragon that they threw arrows and bullets every time they passed in front of this monster's portrait.
Father Marquette, in company of Amerindians
c. Strong similarities with the Japanese Dragon
Nobuhiro Yoshida, professor of languages and president of the Japanese Society of Petrography (the science that describes rocks), compared the paintings of the Piasa bird with representations of ancient Japanese dragons. He found striking similarities.
According to him, this giant bird resembles the dragon painted by Seikoh Kano, for the ceiling of the Hachi-Rai shrine in Yukuhashi. Here are the similarities between the American Piasu and the Japanese dragon:
- They both have claws,
- They fly,
- They are bearded,
- They are horned,
- And are multicolored.
A Japanese Dragon
All this is perhaps only the fruit of chance, but it is all the same very interesting to point out, especially when one knows the geographical distance between Japan and North America.
However, there are some differences. Indeed, unlike the murderous bird Piasa, Japanese dragons are benevolent creatures, which are the personification of storms putting an end to drought.
d. The legend of the Piasa bird
This giant Native American bird was first called Piasa's bird, in an article by John Russel, in 1836.
Mr. Russel was a professor at a college in Illinois. In his article, entitled "The Piasa Tradition," he claims that the origin of this word comes from the nearby creek, the Piasa. This name is Indian and means, in Illini, "the bird that devours men".
That said, it has been proven that the word Piasa probably came more from the word Páyiihsa. This word is used by Native Americans in Miami-Illinois, to mean "little people". This word also describes another Amerindian creature, namely the small magical dwarfs who like to attack lost travelers.
Still according to John Russel, this creature was a gigantic bird, living in the cliffs. This Amerindian dragon would have attacked and devoured the Indians of the region, just after the corpses of a war had given him a taste for human flesh.
In the 19th century, explorers would have found a nearby cave filled with human bones. Moreover, presences of giant birds in the area were observed. All this tends to confirm the existence of a terrible flying creature in the region.
Legend has it that Ouatoga, a local Indian chief, was able to kill this Native American monster with a strategy that was communicated to him in a dream by the Great Spirit.
A Native American invoking the Great Spirit
According to this mythology, Ouatoga ordered his most reckless warriors to hide near the entrance of the monster's famous cave. Ouatoga served as a lure to get the Amerindian dragon outside. The monster flew towards the Indian chief to attack him, when suddenly his faithful warriors killed him with a flurry of poisoned arrows. The painting would have been made to commemorate this triumph.
Some say that this story is invented by Mr. Russell... It's true that it's very similar to various tales and stories of dragons told throughout the world for thousands of years. That said, maybe all these stories really did exist, and they were just a bit romanticized! It's up to you to make up your own mind!
e. The date of appearance of this Amerindian Dragon
Measuring 9 meters long and 3.5 meters high, these masterful works are the largest cliff paintings ever documented in Native America. These miraculous sculptures were made on the steep face of the cliff. The Native Americans said that it is so steep and vertical, that no man could climb it!
The researchers, having inquired of the Illini Indians, learned that the Piasa bird had existed here for several thousand moons before the arrival of the palefaces. The Miami Indians said something quite similar.
f. The Reconstruction
It is important to note that the original location was at the end of the limestone cliffs in Madison County, Illinois. Where Alton is today. Unfortunately, this original work, painted by Native Americans, no longer exists. It was moved several hundred yards upstream.
There was therefore a reconstruction, dating from the 20th century, based on sketches, old stories and lithographs of the 19th century. The quality of this wall is not suitable for an optimal conservation of the painting, so it must be regularly restored.
The original cliff had a high quality lithographic limestone layer of 1.8 to 2.8 meters thick.
2. Latin American Dragons
In Maya culture, dragons often took the form of winged snakes and were considered major deities. They include:
- Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, god of the crops and the sky,
- Mixcoatl, the serpent of the clouds, god of the hunt, the north and the war,
- Coatlicue, the serpent woman, goddess of maternity and fertility.
a. Quetzalcoatl is deeper than a Mayan legend or myth
The god Quetzalcoatl and his twin brother were born from the virgin birth of the Goddess Coatlicue.
This Meso-American deity has been worshipped at least since the time of the Olmecs.
When did this deity come into existence?
The first known record of the feathered serpent Quetzalcoath is depicted on Stele 19 at the Olmec site of La Venta built in 900 BC.
Trade routes spread the popularity of this deity throughout Meso-America. Each culture took the original myth and transformed it to fit their culture.
The God of the Morning Star
Although the story varies in different Meso-American cultures, Quetzalcoatl was considered the god of the morning star, and his twin brother Xoloti was the evening star (Venus).
Quetzalcoatl was considered :
- as the inventor of books,
- of the calendars,
- and sometimes the symbol of death and resurrection.
Related to the gods of the wind, of the dawn, of the merchants, of the arts, he was the god of the Aztec priesthood and knowledge.
These myths were transmitted from generation to generation by means of metaphors or symbols or by oral means.
Quetzalcoatl represents much more than a simple explanation of the Pleiades.
Quetzalcoatl was a god worshipped throughout Mesoamerica before Cortez. He symbolizes the life energy within us.
The Maya were very aware of this energy. They symbolized it as their feathered serpent.
Feathers represent the freedom to move from one world to another.
Birds are the only animals that have the freedom to move between all the elements, air, earth, and for some, water as well.
"To be Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcan is to know the seven forces that govern our bodies - not only to know them, but to use them and to understand their intimate relationship with natural and cosmic laws. We must understand the long and short cycles and solar laws that sustain our lives. We must know how to die, and how to be born."
What does the winged serpent mean to the Maya?
Quetzalcoatl means "feathered or plumed serpent". For many ancient religions, the snake represents the Kundalini energy coiled at the base of our spine.
This energy is called Coyopa or "lightning in the blood", which allows us to perceive messages from the outer worlds - natural and supernatural - inside the body called "spirit life force".
Why was Quetzalcoatl so important to the Maya?
When one considers that planetary spiritual ascension mattered most to the Maya, it is not difficult to see why they would have embraced a metaphorical deity like Quetzalcoatl. This deity represents the life energy that lies at the base of our spines. It also metaphorically shows duality, with the representation of the morning and evening star with the brothers of the twin deity.
Quetzalcoatl represents only the awakening of this life force... this Shakti energy... Coyopa or lightning in the blood of the Maya. But the Mayans did not see this as just a personal awakening. The whole planet is going to undergo this massive shift to a higher consciousness, and we would follow suit because we are part of the whole.
b. Mixcoatl the Cloud Serpent.
This is a Meso-American god associated with the Milky Way, the stars and the heavens in general.
In mythology, he is the father of the southern constellations and the great Meso-American god Quetzalcoatl.
Mixcoatl was the son of the world-creating gods Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl in some traditions; in others, he was the son of the earth goddess Itzpapalotl ("Obsidian Butterfly").
Also, he is the husband of Coatlicue ('Snake Skirt'), goddess of fertility.
Festivals and cults
Mixcoatl is associated with the 14th Aztec month.
Festivals and hunts were organized in honor of the Quecholli (a kind of bird) on Mount Zacatepetl.
The hunters dressed up as gods, made arrows and lit ritual fires.
It was during this festival that women took their young children to dance with the priestesses of Mixcoatl, to whom human sacrifices were offered.
Mixcoatl and Tezcatlipoca are also honored during the 5th month of Toxcatl ("Drought") with a festival that included another series of animal hunts.
Is Mixcoatl mortal?
Like Hercules in Greek mythology, Mixcoatl may have originally been an ordinary mortal who made a name for himself, and as a great hunter, warrior, and leader, he thus earned his deification.
Mixcoatl, a Legendary Leader
The Toltec civilization flourished between the tenth and mid-twelfth centuries AD in central Mexico. According to tradition, their legendary leader Tecpatl Mixcoatl ("A Flint Snake") led them from the northwestern deserts to Culhuacan in the Valley of Mexico.
Mixcoatl, by impregnating his wife, a local Nahua woman named Chimalman, with an arrow, had a son, Acatl Topiltzin, born on Reed Day, in 935 or 947.
Topiltzin took the honorary title of Quetzalcoatl and gained great fame in consolidating and expanding the Toltec-Chichimeca empire with its impressive capital at Tollan.
Representation in art
The god is depicted on the gilded handle of an Aztec hardwood dart thrower (atl-atl) now in the British Museum, London. Here he wears a five-sided mask, deer hoof earpieces and an eagle feather headdress as he fights a rattlesnake.
Mixcoatl appears in the codices wearing red and white stripes, a black mask on his upper face, and eagle feathers. As with other gods associated with stars, he may have stars on his face. He typically carries a bow, a bunch of arrows, a net or a hunting basket and is sometimes seen killing a jaguar, reminding him of his role as patron of hunters.
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