Mythsterhood, Episode 14, Dragons of Turkey

Hello mythsters, and welcome to a very special episode: the first one in which all three of us are recording together. Much giggles ensued, as one might expect, and we had a lot of fun discussing a slice of dragon mythology of very special interest to Koji. This week, we delve into the dragons of Turkey and you’ll see why this episode is further special.

So, without further ado, grab your MythsterMap and let’s bring on those dragons.

Podcast transcript

Jaz: Hello, Mythsters! Today we have Koji back on the show. Welcome Koji!

Koji: Hello, hello! 

Jaz: And, of course, welcome Anike. 

Anike: Hello. 

Jaz: So, it’s the first time we get to record all three of us. All three heads of the hydra. How awesome is this? 

Anike: It’s pretty awesome! 

Jaz: Yeah. Absolutely. So, how is everyone doing today? Koji, are you holding up alright? Because you’ve been sort of busy, haven’t you? 

Koji: I have been very busy, moving into the house, but we finally have everything under control, and we’re pretty much moved in at this point. 

Jaz: Great news. I bet you’re enjoying the whole nesting thing now. 

Koji: Oh, it is excellent. 

Jaz: Yeah, isn’t it? I’m still in nesting phase myself, and I absolutely love it as well. Anike, how are you doing? 

Anike: Can’t complain. Better, after some tummy troubles, but otherwise, no complaints. How are you, Jaz? 

Jaz: I’m doing fine. I injured my back last week, but we’re slowly getting better, and yesterday I got to run one of the dogs at training for one of the first times in months. 

Anike: Nice! 

Jaz: Yeah, I was a bit worried about the aforementioned back injury, but it actually went off better than I expected, and Kate absolutely loved it as well. She was the one that got to run. I’m just hoping they don’t shut us down too quickly again because it’s too much fun to stop. Right, so let’s get started on today’s bit of dragons. Koji is actually here today because she lived in Turkey and has a very special interest in the mythology of the area we’re discussing today. 

Anike: Mayhaps she can even help us get some of the pronunciations right for once. 

Koji: Yeah, don’t count on that. But I’ll do what I can. 

Jaz: Okay, in that case, the usual disclaimer prevails. We’ll try our hardest to pronounce things correctly, but sometimes we will fail. On that cheery note, where would you like to start? 

Koji: I was thinking that we will start with St. George. 

Anike: Hang on, there, Koji! You’re way ahead of us in the wrong area already. We’re doing Turkey this week. 

Koji: I know, and St. George was from Turkey. Our favorite English Saint? Never even went to England. He was born in Cappadocia, Turkey. He wasn’t a knight, but rather a soldier in the Roman army. And that dragon he slew? It was added 500 years after his death as a symbolic representation of the evils St. George conquered. 

Anike: Woah. 

Jaz: Wow. That’s awesome. So apparently everyone has something to say to claim St. George, because the Russians claim it was Esme he slew. But actually, the fact that we’re getting concrete details about his actual life in this version is really, really interesting. It makes me sort of lean towards believing this version rather than the one we encountered in Russia. 

Koji: Well, the other interesting thing is that the Turkish people don’t actually celebrate St. George. 

Anike: That’s interesting. 

Jaz: Yeah, definitely. 

Anike: I am not sure if we should’ve invited Koji this week, because now everything is all blundered up. 

Jaz: I smell a side-quest. 

Koji: So, one of us has to write a St. George blog at some point. 

Jaz: Yeah, definitely, definitely. This will be fascinating. 

Koji: Okay. Let’s get into the actual Turkish tales. Or actually, I want to start with the etymology of the Turkish word for dragon which is Evren. 

Anike: That’s also a common Turkish name, if I remember correctly. 

Koji: Yeah, it is. So, Evren means dragon. But it also means the universe or everything that exists. In modern language it is used to describe the cosmos. 

Jaz: So that means we’ve got another creation myth here, right? 

Koji: It seems like, especially because in a lot of monuments, the evren is shown supporting the tree of life or as a cornerstone of arches. Basically, the creature everything else is built on. But what I also found was that the world is thought to have been “revived” by one or more dragons. 

Anike: Revived? Does that mean what I think it means, as in, actually reborn?  

Koji: Yes, no, maybe? Further digging, led me to the concept of the infinite time cycle. That the dragon is associated with the cycle of the day, the seasons, and the years. Apparently the evren spends winter underground and in the spring, shoots into the air. It seems like he is slowly spinning time, which is a really cool concept. I’m thinking revived means to give motion to, in other words, to create the dimension of time. The dragon is also seen as a symbol of chaos, because when it attacks, it breaks the current order, which I believe we’ve seen in other serpents as beasts of change. Of course, I could be wrong here. But when you look at other words with the same root, ev means homes. Evrim means evolution, and evirmek means to turn around. So this churning process and motion is seen in the word. 

Anike: Well, the Turkish evren was pretty serpentine as well, so that turning motion makes sense. 

Jaz: Serpentine. Do we have any other specifics about their looks in our notes, Anike? 

Anike: They apparently looked more like Asian dragons than European dragons. Long, sleek, most often without wings. Most often it doesn’t fly. It has a pretty vicious mouth, with rows of menacing teeth, that make it look like a man-eater. It’s usually black, with bright eyes. In some areas, it features seven heads, similar to the naga, but they breathe fire. It also has a horn on its head, lives in the wetlands or caves or wells, and what might be the coolest part, is the evren can shoot flames out of its tail. 

Koji: Out of its tail. So, fire coming out of both ends. That’s pretty cool. 

Jaz: Or hot. At any rate, it is definitely better than what comes out of most rear ends. 

<General laughter.> 

Anike: I inhaled some–That was sort of a spray laugh, I was in the middle of–  

Jaz: Actually, it’s super super timely because one of the rear ends, a bit more furry than evren’s, farted at me before you came on, Koji. He’s got his butt pointed in my direction and everything. 

Anike: It was an omen. 

Jaz: Yeah, definitely. 

Koji: I mean, at least no fire. 

Jaz: Yeah. It’s a good thing there are no open flames here, but yeah. 

Anike: I was just thinking, a lighter nearby would have been catastrophic. 

Jaz: Since you took the name and the appearance, I’ll share some of the basic mythology we’ve found about the Evren. According to sixteenth century mythology, so a little later, the evren was born from a doe. So it became the protector and patron of tanners. Long before that, it was thought to have very powerful blood. If blood was drawn from its head, it could cure anything. If it was drawn from the tail, it was a powerful poison. 

Koji: A very yin yang feel to that. 

Jaz: Definitely. And it also applies to a lot of medicinal plants that would have been used back then as well. Because a lot of plants can be poisonous if you overdose them or if you use them the wrong way, so awesome little tidbit there. 

Koji: Good to know. 

Anike: That’s pretty much like cyanide and arsenic. 

Jaz: Yeah. But Koji, why do I think you just mentioned yin yang as an excuse to jump ahead to Bükrek and Sangal. 

Koji: I mean, maybe… 

Jaz: Well, wait your turn. Because, some of these dragons had the head of a wolf, and they were seen as the master of water and air. And it’s also the symbol of the state and sovereignty. Some Turkish people believe Evren live in wells, and dole out the water. If it runs low, they believe the snake migrated or held up the water intentionally. This goes with a myth similar to central asian tree of life mythology, where there is a dragon living in the underworld, battling against a large bird that lives in the heavens. This dragon locks the waters up, a lot like Vrtra from India. But he lets out small amounts in return for sacrifices. There was also the belief that a man would have to sacrifice himself to a dragon in order to assure his company safe passage across a body of water. While there are  quite a few dragon tales in Turkish mythology, there are four main dragons that pop up as the most famous. And now, Koji, I will let you talk all you want about Bükrek and Sangal. 

Koji: Thank you. And don’t be mad, I’m just excited. Bükrek and Sangal are dragons from the Altai belief system. 

Anike: Ohhhhhh! I’m sensing a pattern here. This is the wrong region again. That’s all the way over in Eastern Siberia. 

Koji: Right. Which goes to show how far the Turkic belief structures stretched, all the way from Altai to Turkey. With significant changes along the way. In the Turkish version of the myth, Bükrek is a lizard who lives in the sea and has no wings. He has a long neck and very strong claws. His voice is said to be quite beautiful and can be heard from all over the world. 

Anike: Maybe that’s why Bükrek is also the term for that certain fold in a love letter? 

Jaz: There’s a word for that?

Koji: That is so romantic. 

Jaz: Isn’t it? Oh, wow.  

Koji: Apparently there is a word for that, and it also happens to be the name of a fierce, heroic dragon that protects the world from his evil counterpart, Sangal, who lives in the sea of fire. Supposedly Bükrek and Sangal fought for nine years before Bükrek won. Now Bükrek returns to earth every thousand years to check up on humanity and make sure we’re okay. 

Anike: Well, that’s sweet. 

Koji: Isn’t it, I love Bükrek.

Jaz: But Bükrek isn’t the only sweet dragon the Turkish have, is it? They also have the legend of Shahmaran, who is half woman and half snake — a very familiar motif, I might add– and is featured in tales from Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and among the Kurdish people. The story goes that Camasb gets trapped in a cave after trying to steal honey with a few of his friends. 

Koji: Can I interrupt you for a second? It’s Camasb, the c is pronounced like a J. 

Jaz: The story goes that Camasb gets trapped in a cave after trying to steal honey with a few of his friends. Some of the stories have his friends putting him in a well and refusing to bring him up. 

Koji: Those sound like great friends.  

Jaz: Totally. Either way, he finds a hole in the cave or well, which reveals a passage to a chamber that looks like a mystical and beautiful garden filled with thousands of off-white snakes. The queen of the snakes is the Shahmaran. Shahmaran and Camasb fall in love and live together in the garden, where she teaches him all about medicine and medicinal herbs. But eventually Camasb misses living above ground. Shahmaran lets him go, but asks that he not tell anyone about her. 

Anike: I have a very horrible feeling that this is not going to end well. 

Koji: I know, right? Every time a god asks a simple thing, when their  lover is leaving, just to keep their secret… do they do it? No. 

Jaz: Well. He did, for several years. Until the king became ill. The royal vizier discovers the only treatment is the flesh of Shahmaran. Camasb tells the townspeople where Shahmaran lives and they pull her out of her cave. Shahmaran accepted her fate, though. She told them to blanch her in an earthen dish, give her extract to the vizier and her flesh to the sultan. They did so, and the king recovered and the vizier died. Camasb drinks the water of Shahmaran and becomes a doctor, and is appointed the vizier. 

Anike: Told ya. Hate to say it, but, told ya. 

Jaz: Yes, yes. It never ends well. But at least Shahmaran was a good dragon. She looked after people and healed the sick. Apparently, in Mardin, Turkey a few years ago, they put up a huge statue of Shahmaran in the town square for the people to decorate. It was supposed to revive the oral tradition of Shahmaran while challenging gender beliefs by showing the importance of women. She’s still featured often on jewelry and in embroidery.

Koji: I’ll give you that that is pretty cool. 

Jaz: In some other versions of the myth, she can kill with her breath or her gaze. And one thing I want to note, is this is the second dragon linked to healing and lethal powers at the same time. 

 Anike: I love the little pieces of interconnectedness. 

Koji: Yeah. Also, what is the dragon that can kill with its gaze? The little guy that turns you to stone and can kill you? 

Jaz: The basilisk? 

Koji: The basilisk. Yeah. So it’s got some basilisk going on. 

Anike: Spoilers! 

Koji: Okay, I went, Jaz went. What do you have for us Anike? 

Anike: I went back a little further, to Hittite mythology. The Hittites lived in Anatolia, modern Turkey, around 1600 BC to 800 BC, and they had a dragon called Illuyankas who has a few myths wrapped around it. It’s believed that Illuyankas lies in the mountains that stretch from Kayseri, Turkey, down to Aleppo, Syria. Illuyankas was thought to symbolise evil, and she was killed by the storm god, with the help of either his son or his daughter, depending on the myth. 

Jaz: Why don’t we start the version in which the daughter is the sidekick?  

Anike: Okay. Well, in that version, Tarhunt battled with Illuyankas. First, he threw a cloud on the dragon so it would drown, but Illuyankas shook it off. Then he tried to burn it with the sun’s rays, but the shadow of the beast absorbed the light, neutralizing it. Furious, Illuyankas understandably began to devastate villages and kill the inhabitants of the earth. Not so understandably. He left a great lineage of dragons in craters and volcanoes. 

Koji: Wait, so Illuyanka only started rampaging after Tarhunt tried to kill him? I can’t really say I blame him. 

Anike: Same here. 

Jaz: I’m sure he was doing something evil before. You know how these stories tend to leave that part out and just call them evil. 

Anike: Fair point. Well, some time later, Inara, the goddess of animals, decided to help her father out. She enlisted the help of a human man (in exchange for sleeping with him). Then she held a banquet where she invited Illuyanka and all of his offspring. She fed him and gave him so much drink he turned sleepy of course. The human tied him up and left him and his offspring in the direct sunlight, where Tarhunt finally finished off the job of killing him.

Koji: Bravo Tarhunt? 

Jaz: Very brave. 

<General Laughter> 

Jaz: Aren’t we all impressed? 

Koji: I mean, I can’t help it, but I’m always rooting for the dragons in these stories. 

Jaz: Totally. 

Anike: Same, same. 

Koji: Okay, let’s hear about the one with the son, if it’s any better.  

Anike: It’s a little more sympathetic to Illuyanka at least. In this version, during the battle, Illuyanka takes Tarhunt’s eyes and heart. Tarhunt has a son named Sarruma, who grows up and marries the daughter of the dragon Illuyanka. Tarhunt tells his son, miraculously, somehow, to ask for his eyes and heart as a wedding gift, and his son does so. His eyes and heart restored, Tarhunt immediately goes to face the dragon Illuyanka once more. When Sarruma finds out about the battle, however, he realizes he has been used and feels absolutely terrible. He demands that his father take his life along with Illuyanka’s, and so Tarhunt kills them both with thunderous rain and lightning.

Jaz: Some dad. He should win an award or something. 

Anike: How many fathers have we already come across that are not so good images of parenthood? 

Jaz: I mean, at least he’s consistent, because he’s a shithead in either version of the story. 

Koji: That’s true. I’m wondering, though Sarruma’s dead, Illuyanka’s dead, Tarhunt won. What happened to Illuyanka’s daughter? 

Anike: That’s a good question. 

Jaz: Probably, because he didn’t need her to put out, to get an ally, she probably wasn’t deemed important enough for the story. 

Koji: Yeah, so she’s just there for that little thing of, oh, they got married, and then she’s gone. 

Anike: But does that mean there’s a bloodline going around, somewhere in Turkey, of people carrying dragon blood? 

Jaz: There’s an intriguing thought. 

Koji: That could be. I totally feel a story.  

Anike: But at least in this story, the son was good. That’s got to count for something, even if the father was not so. 

Koji: So, he was half-human, because his father was a god. 

Jaz: We assume he was humanoid shape, so it counts, indeed. 

Anike: So that begs the question if Illuyanka’s daughter was humanoid. 

Koji: I also don’t know that. Like, were they human and dragon getting it on, or like… hmmm 

Anike: I guess, in the realm of gods and demigods, how you look doesn’t really matter. 

Jaz: Yeah, and it wouldn’t be the first human and dragon match we’ve seen before. 

Anike: No, that’s true. 

Koji: Yeah, but you go further east and the dragons turn into humans to have sex with humans. 

Anike: And vice versa. 

Jaz: So, maybe these were like, closeted shape-shifters or something. It’s possible. 

Koji: Oh my gosh, I just realized this totally has a Romeo and Juliet vibe to it. 

Anike: It does, now that you mention it. 

Koji: Like the two warring families, and the forbidden love. 

Anike: And the kids that get involved. 

Jaz: So romantic. Hey guys, it looks like we made it through everything in one episode. 

Anike: Oh really? I guess that’s what happens when we dedicate an entire episode to one country. 

Jaz: But if we did that, we’d be on dragon myths for the next five years. 

Koji: I’d be okay with that. 

Jaz: But there are so many other myths to explore! Which reminds me, if we covered all of Turkey today, what should the Mythsters expect in the blog next week? 

Koji: I am thinking a bit of Armenia, maybe some Azerbaijan and Georgia. 

Anike: That sounds good, I can’t wait.

Jaz: That is all she wrote for now Mythsters. We will meet again for our next episode in Africa. Now, the debate is still open on how we are going to split that up, because something tells me it will be too big for one episode, yet again. And also, with the holidays coming up, we’re going to take a bit of time off. So you will get the blog next Monday, then it will be two weeks until our next episode finds you in the new year. And for now, bye-bye Mythsters! And do your best to celebrate safely.


Theme music: Wanderer by Alexander Nakarada ( Licensed under Creative Commons BY Attribution 4.0 License


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