Sean Poindexter is still ahead of me on the Shorty nominations. But that’s okay, it’s how we were introduced and how he came to be this week’s Really Big Idea author. Sean’s big idea gave me a big garish flashback, causing me to remember in all-too-vivid detail a particular page in the old second edition Deities and Demigods book from Dungeons and Dragons.
To believe as our ancestors did, that there is a reality behind myth, is now beneath contempt. But in important ways, these things were more real to them than the everyday world around them. People need things to believe in. If you doubt this, ask your nearest progressive about global warming, or your nearest white supremacist about the global Jewish conspiracy. Another key fact about people is that they’re lazy. People rarely invent, typically they embellish. (There was a warming trend – it just didn’t end with boiling seas. There are rich Jewish bankers.) The idea that there is something behind myth is therefore a powerful one, and dragons one of the strongest myths.
To the Shadow of Tiamat
The title of the first book in the Dragon’s Blood Chronicles refers to a being by the name of Tiamat. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because I didn’t make it up. Tiamat is an ancient name, older than any god or deity worshiped on Earth by humans today. The name has a very specific and significant meaning in my books.
If you’ve read the book you’ll notice that the dragons use the term “To the Shadow of Tiamat!” as a benediction. Several dragons also use the term “Praise Tiamat!” or reference her in some reverent manner. This would usually lead people to conclude that the dragons worship Tiamat as a god.
In fact, they do not.
In ancient Babylon, Tiamat was an important part of their creation myths and the mother of all monsters. Tiamat has been used in other forms of media as well. One of my favorite bands is called Tiamat: I’ve been listening to them since I was very young, and that is part of what sparked my interest in the name. Tiamat is also an important part of the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game, and even made an appearance on the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon show. In this incarnation, she is depicted as a multi-headed dragon. She is also evil. My Tiamat is not evil, nor does she have more than one head. She is also depicted as being able to turn into a beautiful woman, particularly in the Forgotten Realms DnD setting (in Dragonlance, she is referred to as Takhesis). Since dragons in my world can assume human form, presumably so can Tiamat. Ancient Babylonians did not specify that she was a dragon, but they believed in dragons and that she was their mother:
When the skies above were not yet named
Nor earth below pronounced by name,
Apsu, the first one, their begetter,
And maker Tiamat, who bore them all,
Had mixed their waters together,
But had not formed pastures, nor discovered reed-beds;
When yet no gods were manifest,
Nor names pronounced, nor destinies decreed,
Then gods were born within them. (Dalley 233)
Apsu is not mentioned in the first book, but he was a dragon as well. He and Tiamat spawned the race. Where they came from is something you’ll just have to wait to find out. The mystery of how dragons (and, for that matter, all otherworldly beings) came to be is answered over the course of several books. I can’t just give everything away at the beginning.
In my books, Tiamat was a dragon, though a different kind of one. Her children were the dragons of Earth. They revere her as the mother of their race, and believe she will be waiting for them in the afterlife (the aforementioned “Shadow” is a reference to this) but do not worship her as a god.
If you looked closely at the names of some of the dragons in my books, you’ll see some other familiar names as well. Many of the older dragons were worshiped as Gods or other great powers by primitive beings. When humanity was in its cultural infancy, dragons and humans co-existed—relatively. They didn’t exactly live in the same neighborhoods, but primitive humans were aware of them, though they weren’t always aware that they were dragons. Often they were viewed as gods or demons. Since dragons don’t generally like being around humans—even though they can imitate them perfectly—some liked taking advantage of the reverence primitive humans payed them. Dragons enjoy works of beauty, hence their need to collect wealth. Having a cult of humans around to produce art for them, and to satisfy some of their other needs, was an enjoyable pastime for dragons. Eventually, a ruling body of dragons put a stop to this and forbade other dragons from doing this any longer. From that point on, if dragons were to ever interact with humans, they must do so in the guise of a human. Likewise, they were forbidden from interfering in human politics or culture.
Unfortunately, the “damage” was already done, hosts of pantheons and belief systems revolving around different dragons infested human spirituality. Some of the dragons even managed to pass their spiritual beliefs on to humans. As time passed and tales changed, Tiamat became a creator goddess to the ancient Sumerians. If you looked closely at the names of some of the dragons in my books, you’ll see some other familiar names as well. Many of the older dragons were worshiped as Gods or other great powers by primitive beings. Whether the humans based their gods on dragons with those names, or the dragons took their names from the mythology of humans they lived near, is up for the reader to learn…