In most cultures dragonflies have been objects of superstition. European folklore is no exception. Many old myths have been lost during the history, but fragments of these old myths are still living in old local names for dragonflies. Only in Germany dragonflies have had over 150 different names. Some of these are Teufelsnadel ("Devil's needle"), Wasserhexe ("Water witch"), Hollenross ("Goddess' horse"), Teufelspferd ("Devil's horse") and Schlangentöter ("Snake killer"). Also the name Snake Doctor has been used in Germany. In England the name Devil's darning needle and Horse stinger have been used. In Denmark the dragonfly have got such different names as Fandens ridehest ("Devil's riding horse") and Guldsmed ("Goldsmith"). Different names of dragonflies referring to them as the devils tools have also occurred in many other European cultures, some examples are the Spanish Caballito del Diablo ("Devil's horse") and the French l'aiguille du diable ("Devil's needle").
The Swedish name for dragonfly is trollslända, which means "hobgoblin fly" in English. Long time ago people in Sweden believed that hobgoblins, elves, brownies and such creatures lived in our great woods. In that folklore the dragonflies was considered to be the hobgoblins twisting tools. During the history the dragonflies even have been connected with love and female, the names damselfly (England), Demoiselle (France) and Jungfer (Germany) are some examples of those nice associations. An old Swedish name for dragonfly is Blindsticka ("Blind stinger"), this name comes from the opinion that a dragonfly could pick out your eyes. Other people thought that the dragonfly could sew together your eyelids. The same name appears as well in Norway ("Öyenstikker") as in Germany ("Augenstecher").
In certain parts of Norway, the dragonfly is also known as "ørsnildra". The exact meaning of this word is unknown to me but the part "ør", does obviously refer to the Norwegian word for "ear", as people (and especially children) often thought that the dragonfly would poke holes in their ear-drums if it got inside their ears!
An other old Swedish name is Skams besman ("Devil's steelyard"), this name probably depends on the dragonfly's body shape that, with some imagination looks like the weighting tool. In the folklore this was interpreted as that the Devil used the dragonfly to weight the people's souls. When a dragonfly flew around your head, your soul was weighted and you should expect seriously injury as punishment. It is very interesting that, despite of those ideas that the dragonfly should be the Devil's tool, the dragonfly have been a holy animal in Scandinavia. In the Æsir cult the dragonfly was thought to be the love goddess Freya's symbol.
Some of the Latin names of dragonfly families have interesting meanings: The name Libellula might have been derived from the word libella ("booklet") referring to the resting dragonfly, which wings, with some imagination, looks quite like the pages of an open book. The name Odonata was created by Fabricius in 1793 as name for the whole dragonfly order, means "toothed". In some countries, e.g. Indonesia, many African and South American countries both the adult and larva dragonflies are caught to be eaten fried or in soup. In China and Japan the dragonflies has been treated as holy animals, and believed to have medical qualities. Even today the dragonfly Sympetrum frequens is used as fever reducing drug.
All over the world dragonflies have been used in different forms of art, one example is stamps, a complete list of all the worlds stamps with dragonfly motifs are found at: Nick Prendergast's Stamps with an Odonate Theme
If you know more about European and especially Scandinavian dragonfly folklore, please send me a mail.
|Page updated June 21 2008|
|Copyright © 2004-2008 Martin Peterson|