Dragon Tattoos: Symbolism and Meaning

One could say that the dragon is one of the most popular mythological creatures of all time.

Some people think that our ancestral memory confuses them with dinosaurs but it seems unlikely, given that dinosaurs were long gone before any early humans were around. Others think that the dragon is based on real living creatures such as the Komodo dragon.

Whatever the case, dragons have many meanings throughout the east and the west. They appear on flags, on T-shirts, in heraldic designs, and in jewelry.

Of course, it should go without saying that dragons make for awesome tattoos as well.

A Divide Between East and West

If one were to try and sum up what dragons mean to various cultures around the world, it would be fair to say that they have positive associations in the east and negative associations in the west.

In the Christian tradition, the dragon is most definitely a bad omen. It is associated with evil and bad intentions. The story of the snake tempting Eve with the apple is essentially the tale of a reptile doing evil and causing the fall of mankind.

In this sense, the dragon is a reptile to be feared. It is brutal and vicious as well as cunning and devious.

Just think of all of the dragons that needed to be killed in medieval folklore. Both St. George and Beowulf had to slay vicious serpents. Tristan was also a dragon slayer.

The story of the dragon is very different in places such as Japan, Korea, and China. In these countries, it is very strongly associated with other values such as:

  • Good Fortune
  • Sexual Potency and Passion
  • Strength and Masculinity
  • Wisdom and Intelligence
  • Spiritual
  • Mastery of Nature
  • Prosperity
  • Destruction and Creation

Chinese Dragon Tattoos

In China, the dragon form is long and serpent-like. It may lack the bat wings of its European counterpart but it can still fly gracefully through the air using magic. In fact, there are numerous festivals in Chinese culture that feature dragons decorated with all manner of bells and jewels.

For the Chinese, the dragon is iconic and represents wisdom, power, good luck, strength, and longevity. They are also strongly associated with the natural elements and can interact with humans from time to time.

Japanese Dragon Tattoos

China is not the only Far East culture that views the dragon as iconic. There are six distinct dragons in Japanese myth, each with their own meanings and color variation:

  • Sue-Riu (the king of dragons)
  • Han-Riu (a very large striped dragon)
  • Kai-Riu (a small red dragon)
  • Ri-Riu, Fuku Riu (a dragon of good luck)
  • Hai-Riu (a dragon bird)

Maybe one of the most famous Fuku Riu dragons in eastern fiction is Falcor the Luck Dragon from The Neverending Story. Falcor is a lucky dragon and simply glides gracefully through the sky without the large wings of the European dragons.

The color of the dragon also matters in terms of what it means. These colors are often popular:

  • A green dragon is often smaller and represents the natural world and life.
  • The red dragon is often associated with masculinity and strength.
  • A gold dragon symbolizes wisdom, intelligence, and kindness.
  • A blue dragon is lazy but also compassionate and forgiving.

Dragon Tattoo Ideas

There are so many types of dragons and so many variations that it can be hard to figure out which one you might choose for a tattoo.

The dragon also means different things to different people across cultures and you may have some profound attachment to any number of stories and meanings associated with the dragon.

Whatever the case, here are some great dragon tattoo ideas:

Eastern or Asian Dragon Tattoo

Long, serpent-like, and magical, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese dragons symbolize many positive things such as good luck, strength, and prosperity.

They make for an ideal tattoo because the long and serpent-like body can cover a wide area and coil around arms and legs, making for an eye-catching design.

Ouroboros Tattoo

The circular serpent eating its own tail is a very ancient symbol that represents the eternal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. It is also ideal as a tattoo wrapped around a finger if you want something more discreet.

Gothic Dragon Tattoo

This classic European dragon looks fierce and strong. It has huge wings and is ready to breathe fire. This dragon is strong and powerful. It symbolizes our most primal instincts and has strong ties to the Christian and European mythical tradition.


The dragon is one of the most revered mythical creatures in both east and west. It takes on so many forms and colors that it can be difficult to choose just one if you want a tattoo.

The good news is that whatever dragon you choose and whatever dragon tradition you feel closest to, there is definitely one that will suit you.

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