Sunday, June 27, 2010


Southwest Native American Myth
"The speed in which the wings of a dragonfly moved would open up doorways to other realms and dimensions."

Dragonflies are one of my favorite insects. A pet sitting client of mine has a condominium with a dragonfly populated pond directly behind it. A couple of days ago, I stood watching as the swooping creatures chased one another from place to place. They looked like tiny helicopters. When I returned home, I googled dragonfly folklore and found quite a lot of information.  

Someone's going to get nipped!

Dragonflies are an old (predating the dinosaurs) and very successful species. They belong to the order Odonata, a name that means "toothed." Though no dragonfly has a stinger, they do have tiny jaws used to catch mosquitoes, flies, and other nasty bugs that live to cause trouble. If you catch a dragonfly with your hands, it may nip you. This is treatment you'd richly deserve. Leave them alone!  

In Europe and early America, the dragonfly had a fearsome reputation, due to its habit of darting around, and its scary needle-like appearance. If a dragonfly wasn't out to get you, nothing was! Here's a short list of dragonfly nicknames common in Europe and America:
America - Devil's Darner, Water Witch.
England - Devil's Darning Needle, Ear Cutter.
Wales - Adder's Servent
Norway - Oyenstikker (Eye Poker)
Sweden - Blindsticka (Blind Stingers)
Germany - Wasserhexe (Water Witch)
Portugal - Tiraolhos (Eye Snatcher) 

The dragonflies will get you!

Misbehaving children were told if they didn't behave, dragonflies would sneak in late at night and sew up their eyes and ears while they slept. The Swedes believed dragonflies could poke out peoples' eyes with their long pointy bodies. They also believed the Devil used dragonflies to weigh souls. Remember this the next time a dragonfly hovers around your head. You may be in big trouble.

The English and Australians called dragonflies "Horse Stingers." It was thought horses twitched and kicked due to the fiercely biting dragonflies darting around them. In reality, the dragonflies weren't bothering the horses, but instead eating the mosquitoes and horseflies making the poor animals' lives miserable.

Freya's looking very fetching!
Artist: J. Penrose  c. 1890

But the situation wasn't all bad. There was one Swedish cult who believed the dragonfly was a holy animal that symbolized Freya, the goddess of love and fertility.  

Chinese Brocade

What about the dragonfly in cultures other than Europe and America? In China, notwithstanding some lovely textiles, the dragonfly was not highly regarded. Though they did symbolize summer, they also stood for instability and feebleness. The poor dragonfly couldn't seem to win. But wait! There's some good news in Japan! 

Bell-Flower and Dragonfly by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

In Japan, the dragonfly was symbolic of many noble ideals. These ideals included success, happiness, courage and victory in battle.There's an old legend about an Emperor from Japan who was bitten by a horsefly. After snacking on the unfortunate Emperor, the nasty horsefly found itself consumed by a hungry dragonfly. In honor of the brave (and hungry) dragonfly, the Emperor named his country Akitsushima, or Isle of the Dragonfly.  

Highborn Japanese families loved the dragonfly. They pictured it on everything from jewery to furnishings to textiles. Dragonflies were far and wide!

But don't get too excited. There's more bad news to come.

What a delightful little shirt! Yuck! Cafepress.

They were (and still are) found digesting in some peoples' stomachs. In Bali, dragonflies are fried with coconut and vegetables. Meanwhile, in Thailand and Laos, dragonfly larvae are roasted and gobbled up. Yum! 

Painted Gourd by Brad Hawiyeh-ehi

At least Native-Americans valued the dragonfly. The Navahos believed dragonflies were symbolic of water purity. I guess if the water was pure enough for dragonflies, it was pure enough for the Navahos. There's also a wonderful Zuni myth about two children left behind when a corn crop failed to grow. The boy made a corn husk doll to coax a smile from his sister. Miraculously, the doll came to life, and so amazed the corn maidens, they produced a huge crop of corn luring the child abandoning family back home. That story is both wonderful and disturbing at the same time. Why were the children abandoned? 

Dragonfly crop circle

One last thing before I finish this long and time consuming post. This was a crop circle found in Wiltshire, England in the year 2009. It was 150 feet long, and very beautiful.

Rainbow Dragonfly by Marlene Page

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