The dragonfly has been a subject of intrigue in every single continent it is found in, and with each civilization, has developed a unique meaning to it, its behavior and its lifestyle.
The word Dragonfly and the family it belongs to, Odonata, have evolved from the many myths associated with Dragonflies and their taxonomic cousins, the Damselflies. The word Dragonfly has its source in the myth that Dragonflies were once Dragons.
The family name Odonata comes from the Greek word for tooth as Odonates were believed to have teeth, it is a verified fact now that while they don’t have ‘teeth’ per say, they have strong mandibles that they use to crush their prey.
Symbolisms of the Dragonfly
Maturity and a Depth of character
The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.
The traditional association of Dragonflies with water also gives rise to this meaning to this amazing insect. The Dragonfly’s scurrying flight across water represents an act of going beyond what’s on the surface and looking into the deeper implications and aspects of life.
Power and Poise
The dragonfly’s agile flight and its ability to move in all six directions exude a sense of power and poise - something that comes only with age and maturity.
The dragonfly can move at an amazing 45 miles an hour, hover like a helicopter fly backwards like a hummingbird, fly straight up, down and on either side. What is mind blowing is the fact that it can do this while flapping its wings a mere 30 times a minute while mosquitoes and houseflies need to flap their wings 600 and 1000 times a minute respectively.
The awe inspiring aspect is how the dragonfly accomplishes its objectives with utmost simplicity, effectiveness and well, if you look at proportions, with 20 times as much power in each of its wing strokes when compared to the other insects. The best part is that the dragonfly does it with elegance and grace that can be compared to a veteran ballet dancer. If this is not a brazen, lazy, overkill in terms of display of raw power, what is?
Defeat of Self Created Illusions
The dragonfly exhibits iridescence both on its wings as well as on its body. Iridescence is the property of an object to show itself in different colors depending on the angle and polarization of light falling on it.
This property is seen and believed as the end of one’s self created illusions and a clear vision into the realities of life. The magical property of iridescence is also associated with the discovery of one’s own abilities by unmasking the real self and removing the doubts one casts on his/her own sense of identity. This again indirectly means self discovery and removal of inhibitions.
Focus on living ‘IN’ the moment
The dragonfly normally lives most of its life as a nymph or an immature. It flies only for a fraction of its life and usually not more than a few months. This adult dragonfly does it all in these few months and leaves nothing to be desired. This style of life symbolizes and exemplifies the virtue of living IN the moment and living life to the fullest. By living in the moment you are aware of who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you want, what you don’t and make informed choices on a moment-to-moment basis.
This ability lets you live your life without regrets like the great dragonfly.
The opening of one’s eyes
The eyes of the dragonfly are one of the most amazing and awe inspiring sights. Given almost 80% of the insect’s brain power is dedicated to its sight and the fact that it can see in all 360 degrees around it, it symbolizes the uninhibited vision of the mind and the ability to see beyond the limitations of the human self. It also in a manner of speaking symbolizes a man/woman’s rising from materialism to be able to see beyond the mundane into the vastness that is really our Universe, and our own minds.
The Tall Tales and the short stories
What can one say, for a harmless insect that does not bite, does not sew snakes’ wounds, and definitely does not measure human souls for good and evil, there have been a wide variety of myths and mythology associated with the life and the existence of the dragonfly.
But before we go down to the lore by location, one very striking aspect comes to mind. Change. In many regions and as a norm of this day, the dragonfly is considered to be an agent of change and presumably symbolic of a sense of self realization. Self realization from how the dragonfly uses its power to control its movements and so elegantly. And change and evolution is all about the dragonfly’s ability to fly and the way it can be comfortable on water, land as well as the air.
Asia and America
Let’s start with something nice. To the Japanese, it symbolizes summer and autumn and am admired and respected all over, so much so that the Samurai use it as a symbol of power, agility and best of all, Victory.
In China, people associate the dragonfly with prosperity, harmony and as a good luck charm.
Amongst Native Americans, it is a sign of happiness, speed and purity. Purity because the dragonfly eats from the wind itself
Europe and subsequently Australia
Beginning from calling the dragonfly, the witches’ animal, and that Satan sent it on earth to cause chaos and confusion, to calling it, Ear Cutter, Devil’s Needle, Adderbolt and worst of all, Horse Stinger, which soon spread Down Under, when the British colonized Australia. The name Horse Stinger comes from the misinformed observation that horses that were kicking and stamping around usually had a few dragonflies hovering around them. Fact remains though, that the dragonflies could well have been helping the horse by eating some of the parasitic insects that were doing the actual ‘horse stinging’.
Well, the Welsh call the dragonfly the snake’s servant and think they follow snakes and stitch up their wounds…and continuing with the misnomers, they are called eye pokers and eye snatchers in Portugal.
In Sweden, folklore suggests that we dragonflies come around to check for bad souls - to weigh souls to be more ‘accurate’ and elsewhere, believed to sneak up to children who tell lies and also adults who curse and scold, to stitch up their eyes, mouth, and ears respectively.
For a species of insects that have inhabited our planet for almost 300 million years, it is only natural perhaps that they have such a wide and varied perception amongst various civilizations.