Origins of Pokemon: Dragon Mythology
It’s no secret that dragons in the Pokemon world are some of the most coveted travelling companions. I remember making that trek through Meteor Falls in my Sapphire game to find those 8 small spaces where you could potentially run into a Bagon. It’s no coincidence that some of the most intriguing Pokemon have some very interesting real-world counterparts, and dragons have been idolized by people all around the world for millennia. Let’s start with the country of origin of Pokemon. Japan.
The Japanese Dragons
This sticky friend gives away its origin because of its evolutionary line. Starting off as the weakest of all Dragon types, Goomy, Goodra represents the journey of the trumpet snail to ascending into a yokai known as the Shussebora. It is said that a trumpet snail living 1000 years in the plains, 1000 years in the mountains, and 1000 years at sea will essentially become a dragon. While, Goodra’s ascension process seems a bit… er… expedited, I have no doubt that this is its humble origin.
On the less obscure end, we have the spawn of the Eight-Forked (Headed) Serpent, otherwise known as Yamata no Orochi. When looking into the origin of Hydreigon, I started in the wrong place altogether. Based on the Germanic sound of its name, I was busy looking for accounts of hydra-like dragon creatures in Germanic folklore, but nothing with the likeness of our three-headed friend. While some would say Hydreigon is more similar to the Lenean Hydra of Greek mythology, I dare say the Dark-typing of Hydreigon, albeit in addition to its multiple heads. gives it away. The two men of the land in Japanese mythology were forced to feed one of their daughters to this beast every year for 7 years until Susanoo came along to slay it. What’s more sinister than that?
Western European Dragons (Medieval to Colonialism)
Basically any winged dragon could be said to be stemming from the Medieval Ages, so I’m going to focus on the big ones here.
Along the Western coast of Europe, the symbol of the Wyvern adorns more than just a few flags, and has even become a semi-mascot of some major universities. Technically, a wyvern is a subclass of dragons that denotes dragons with wings that function similarly to arms, rather than being mounted on the back. Often, Wyverns are said to have some sort of secondary defensive tactic other than fire. While this is usually poison or ice breath, Noivern’s is, well, noise. The Wyvern is interesting due to its presence in more than just one locale around the world. By that, I mean the Wyvern has actually transmuted itself to become part of the folklore of Southern Africa: abducting African Elephants and ferrying them back to the Drakensberg Mountains, hence their name. I dare say this comes from the Dutch immigrants who settled in Southern Africa and the Transvaal during colonialism.
At first glance, Salamence seems to be the most archetypal of all the Dragon Pokemon. Big wings, breathes fire on a consistent basis, sharp teeth, you get the gist of it. However, its origin, like many of these, lies right in its name. Salamanders. Mythological lizards that could breathe fire, not the aquatic ones with slimy skin. Traditionally, these creatures didn’t have wings, but the Pokemon Company appears to have taken some creative liberty there. The mythology of salamanders dates back even to the Classical era, being mentioned even by Aristotle and the Ancient Egyptians. In all cases, the salamander is made to be an elemental of sorts, cleansing its natural frigid scales in fire when the flames die out. Although I cannot entirely prove it, I’d venture to say that salamanders are the origin of the concept of Western European Dragons as a whole.
In Chinese mythology, the Peng is said to be a bird with wings thousands of li across that covered the skies with clouds. Altaria may very well be based on this Roc-like bird, but what about that makes it a dragon you ask? Well, the bird known as the Peng apparently could turn into a giant fish known as the K’un. Much of China’s dragon mythology seems to be based upon the dragon overlords of China’s rivers and seas, and while the K’un wasn’t exactly one of these dragon lords, the connection with the water seems to be an integral one in Chinese lore.
If there’s a dragon mythology story from Pokemon people know the best, it’s probably the one about how little Magikarp turns into the mighty Gyarados. The real-world semblance is the story that if a carp could ever jump over the mighty Dragon Gate waterfall in a single bound, it would transform into a majestic dragon. If nothing else, it’s humbling to know that even a tiny fish can make it big in the world of Pokemon.
Few mythologies interest me more than the Norse mythos, and Zygarde’s original / 50% form tells the tale of Jormungandr, also known as the Midgard Serpent. One of the children of Loki and his giantess wife, Jormungandr was tossed by Odin into the seas of man despite being destined to kill Thor. Jormungandr is an early representation of an Ouroboros, or a dragon eating its tail. In Jormungandr’s case, it’s because it grew too large for the world’s oceans, in Zygarde’s case, the notation of being based on an Ouroboros suggests a cyclical sort of balance. A peacekeeper of sorts, that is just waiting to step in when the time comes. Fortunately Ragnarok and Pokemon Z both seem to be a long ways away. To complement this, the 10% form of Zygarde is likely based on another of Loki’s children, Fenrir, who will consume the world and Odin during Ragnarok.
It really doesn’t get more clear than where Rayquaza comes from. Known by many high school graduates as the Aztec wind god, Quetzalcoatl was widely worshiped as the feathered serpent master of the wind. Considering the snakelike appearance of Rayquaza coupled with its domination of the skies, the parallel seems pretty clear. The Mayan god of the wind, Kukulkan, who demanded sacrifices of blood for the wind to keep blowing, may also have been some sort of inspiration for Rayquaza’s design.