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Dragonflies In Myth And Legend

  Author:  50864  Category:(Ancient Beliefs) Created:(8/31/2002 7:26:00 PM)
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Menacing and marvelous, the dragonfly has for centuries captivated human imaginations with its daredevil flying maneuvers, vibrant colors and bullish disposition.

Predating the dinosaur, this fascinating insect of the order Odonata (meaning "toothed") has long been the subject of chilling myths and legends. In fact, the dragonfly's terrifying syringe-like appearance earned it a laundry list of dastardly names in world-wide folklore including "Devil's Darner," "Water Witch" and "Snake Doctor."

In European and early-American myths, children were told that if they misbehaved, a dragonfly would sew shut their eyes and ears as they slept. Another myth warned that dragonflies were in cahoots with snakes and were able to wake them from the dead or warn them of impending danger. And in Swedish folklore, dragonflies were called "Blindsticka" or "Blind Stingers," and rumored to have had a penchant for picking out human eyes. The Swedes also believed that dragonflies were used by the Devil to weigh people's souls, and that if a dragonfly swarmed around someone's head weighing his or her soul, that person could expect great injury.

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Modern science and communications have debunked these unnerving myths, noted Hennepin Parks Senior Naturalist Kathy Heidel, who pointed out that dragonflies cannot even sting or bite (save for a slight pinch). In fact, many are coming to realize the long-misunderstood insect's beauty and contributions as a water-quality indicator and mosquito-eater.

"They were myths and legends that were based on ignorance," Heidel said. "People were fairly uneducated, plus the dragonflies had such horrible-looking eyes and faces. They looked so dangerous that people thought they could sting and bite, and the old legends were created to discourage people from getting near them, like we now discourage people from getting near bees."

Of course, not all dragonfly myths and legends are so unnerving. In fact, the Swedes who called the dragonflies the "Devil's Steelyards" also recognized the dragonfly as a holy animal, and to one Swedish cult, it symbolized the love goddess Freya. The Chinese and Japanese also have long revered dragonflies as holy animals. In Japan, dragonflies symbolize victory in battle. Legend has it that the Emperor of Japan was once bitten by a horsefly that was later eaten by a dragonfly. To honor the dragonfly, he named Japan "Akitsushima," or "the Isles of the Dragonfly." Today, Japan is a global leader in the study of dragonflies. It even has a scientific journal dedicated solely to the dragonfly. In Japan and other parts of Asia and the East Indies, dragonflies are considered a delicacy.

According to "Life on a Little-known Planet" by Howard Ensign Evans, children of the island of Lombok catch dragonflies on long polls that are smeared with a sticky substance. The insects are then fried with onions. In Bali, dragonflies are fried with coconut oil and vegetables and spices. And in Thailand, Laos and other parts of eastern Asia, dragonfly larvae are served roasted.

The myths and legends of the dragonfly differ from East to West and many different cultures used dragonflies as symbols of both good and evil.

In China the dragonfly was not regarded highly, only as a symbol for summer and also for instability and feebleness. In Japan, however, the dragonfly is symbolic of success, victory, happiness, strength and courage. During the 11th century noble Japanese families used the dragonfly as ornamentation on everything from furnishings to textiles. The dragonfly was chosen as a part of the Samurai family crest. Japan was not always named Japan. Japanese legend has it that an Emperor was bitten by a horsefly which, in turn, was eaten by a dragonfly. The Emperor honored the dragonfly by naming what is now Japan “Akitsushima” which, during that time, translated to “Isle of the Dragonfly”.

The reputation of odonatas may have been tarnished a bit in 15th-century Europe when the insects were associated with snakes and the devil and actually feared to be dangerous. The English today call them “hos-stingers” and Australians call them “horse-stingers”. It is believed that these names came about because it appeared that dragonflies were swarming around horses who were kicking and jumping as they were being bit when, in reality, the dragonflies were feasting on other flying insects that truly were the ones biting the horses. The Italians believed that Satan sent dragonflies up from hell to cause mischief in the world.

Dragonfly myths and folklore spread from Europe to the Americas. The dragonfly was given the name of “Devil’s Darning Needle” because of an almost comical superstition about the dragonfly sewing the mouths shut of lying children, scolding women and cursing men as they slept. The Navaho Indians believe the dragonfly to be symbolic of water purity and reflect it in many of the textiles and jewelry they design. One of most delightful stories about the dragonfly is a Zuni myth about two children who were left behind by the villagers when the corn crop failed. The little boy constructed a toy dragonfly from corn husks to cheer up his sister. The dragonfly eventually came to life and appeased the corn maidens who created a bountiful harvest of corn to welcome the villagers back.

Dragonfly--Flighty, carefree. Dragonflies symbolize whirlwind, swiftness and activity. The dragonfly is an important insect in Zuni legend, where they are shamanistic creatures with supernatural powers. In Hopi rock art, the dragonfly is symbolized by a vertical line with two or sometimes one, horizontal cross line.

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Halloween is Right around the corner.. .

Date: 8/31/2002 7:41:00 PM  From Authorid: 21137    verry kewl.. know anything about hunny bees?  
Date: 8/31/2002 8:26:00 PM  From Authorid: 3835    Interesting! It has been discovered last year that we have three dragonfly and damselfly nestings near the home. About this time of year, my back porch area just swarms with literately hundreds of dragon and damselflies. It is spectacular to watch them fly, and I must say, that my woods area around the home is not as mosquito infected as the few years before when there were no dragon or damselflies around !!  
Date: 8/31/2002 10:19:00 PM  From Authorid: 15157    I love Dragonflies!....I have a Jeweled Dragonfly made of copper standing in one of my plants...and I have a welcome black iron dragonfly...I have also a Dragonfly wind chime!...Now today we bought a Dragonfly vase...it is sooo cute!...There is something magical about those beautiful little creatures!...So beautiful and Free!!  
Date: 8/31/2002 10:23:00 PM  From Authorid: 55689    very interesting! I used to be told that dragonflies were good luck   
Date: 8/31/2002 11:26:00 PM  From Authorid: 43336    Dragonflies are my favorite insects. When my daughter was young I would tell her fairies ride on the back of them. I told her you have to look quickly because the are so fast. To this day she still believes that. And she believes she saw a fairy once on the back of one.  
Date: 9/1/2002 4:55:00 PM  From Authorid: 177    Thanks for another in your fascinating series of Creatures in Myth & Legend. Dragonflies (along with beetles & centipedes are my favorite insects). Dragonflies have such a primordial look about them that it is easy to believe that they are older than the dinosaur. I also like marshes and swamps, where dragonflies are often found. I love to imagine myself transported backward in time millions of years to the Devonian Era  

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