Coupled with its unique designs, dragons have been propelled into the spotlight in the tattoo world, becoming some of the most popular imagery tattooed today.
But, what do dragon tattoos mean? Most commonly, dragons symbolize strength, grace, and intelligence.
Dragons are legendary creatures found in civilizations throughout the world. Therefore, the symbolism behind a dragon can vary from culture to culture.
In this article, we'll dive into the different meanings for dragon tattoos in different regions. Keep reading to learn more about these mythical creatures!
The Dragon's Symbolism Throughout History and Culture
- Dragons in western cultures
Western cultures often attribute dragons to heroes. Popular culture depicts dragons as obstacles that the main protagonist needs to overcome. Dragons are found with elaborate scales and wings and are some of the most iconic creatures in the fantasy world.
Popular books like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings have brought fantasy into mainstream culture, thus popularizing dragons and the mythical world.
In European depictions, dragons are often seen breathing fire, whereas, in Chinese culture, dragons are not commonly represented with fire-breathing qualities.
- Dragons in eastern cultures
In East Asian culture, dragons are sacred creatures and symbolize good fortune.
Dragons are used as symbols that are found extensively throughout prehistoric civilizations in Asia. In China, dragons are at the top of the animal hierarchy and are believed to hold a power over rain and drought.
Several mythical stories relating to dragons are tied to deities and demigods, also serving as companions to these heroes and important figures.
Dragons were also used as a marker of the Emperor of China, where clothes and objects would be ornately designed and reserved specifically for the Emperor.
These legendary creatures are also central to popular customs like dragon dancing and dragon boat racing.
What Do Dragon Tattoos Symbolize?
The symbolism of dragon tattoos has always been incredibly rich and complex between different cultures around the world. Let's take a look into some of the most popular ones:
- Dragon tattoos meaning in Chinese folklore
Chinese conceptions of dragons are often serpent-like and with four legs, rather than the traditionally winged creatures found in Western depictions. In Chinese culture, dragons represent several ideas like strength, power, wisdom, fortune, and protection.
These noble creatures are sacred to Chinese history and date back to imperial China, where the dragon was seen as an extension of the emperor.
Dragons in Chinese culture are viewed as guidance and protectors because they are wise and bring good luck.
Chinese dragons are always depicted as ascending towards the sky because dragons pointed downwards were seen as a bad omen.
- Dragon as a symbol of masculinity in European civilizations
In Greek and Nordic mythological traditions, a dragon symbolizes heroism and masculinity. Dragons were often presented as obstacles for heroes to overcome, signifying bravery, courage, nobility, and power.
In Norse mythology, dragons appeared in legends and poems depicting the epics that mythological heroes endured.
- Representation of wisdom in Celtic cultures
Celtic dragons have appeared on flags and armor for centuries.
They are viewed as bearers of the universe’s secrets and thus regarded as all-knowing and wise. Celtic dragons symbolize wisdom and balance, where the body of the dragon is illustrated with knots to depict the ups and downs of life.
The dragon is also often drawn in a circular formation with its mouth biting its tail to depict the cyclical nature of life.
- Japan: protector of the family
Dragon tattoos in Japanese culture symbolize the protection of the family and the home, where dragons are viewed as guardians, bringing longevity and happiness.
Japanese culture regards dragons highly and they vary from other conceptions by being both aquatic and able to fly, hence why Japanese dragons are often depicted with waves or water elements. The first Japanese emperor is believed to have descended from a dragon.
Read also: 60 Most Popular Tattoo Meanings
What Does a Red Dragon Mean?
A red dragon tattoo symbolizes masculinity and strength. This color also depicts good fortune, which is why it is commonly used in weddings to represent happiness and good luck.
And a purple dragon?
Based on color theory, purple is composed of red and blue. Red symbolizes passion, while blue represents reason. When the colors are combined and depicted in the imagery of a dragon, this symbolizes balance, spiritual healing, and awareness.
In Western culture, purple is commonly associated with royalty. A purple dragon would suggest wealth. Historically, purple dye was a color that was difficult to produce, hence why it is often attributed to the rich.
Is It Offensive to Get a Dragon Tattoo?
Not necessarily, but...
In some cultures - like the Chinese - the dragon is seen as a sacred symbol. Therefore, it might be important to understand the meaning behind it.
Cultural appropriation is something you might have to consider when deciding on your next tattoo.
Cultural appropriation is a heated topic and as you research the style of the dragon that you are interested in tattooing, be sure to consider how this symbol might be important to the culture you are taking it from.
While tattoos have become mainstream in recent years, being respectful of the imagery that you tattoo on your body is very important.
This can be aspects of tattoos, but also style, music, and fashion.
Rather than simply taking an image because you like it, it might be a good idea to take the time to understand the cultural perspectives and appreciate the culture for all its elements.
Read also: What do butterfly tattoos really mean?
Dragons are beautiful creatures with a rich history attached to them in various cultures across the world.
They are a popular choice for tattoos because of their symbolism and the many variations that they appear in.
As one of the most revered mythological figures in eastern and western civilizations, these creatures are symbolic and sacred, which is why doing some research before getting tattooed is very important.