The dragon is one of the most potent symbols of the primordial energy that is the source of all power, both god and evil. In the West, dragon symbolism has tended to emphasis the negative side of that energy, mainly through the influence of Christianity, while Oriental mythology represents the dragon as a positive force, a symbol of the human potential to combine the power of the four elements to creative ends. This distinction is reflected in the way in which each tradition views the relationship between the dragon and the landscape.
In Western mythology, the dragon's associated with particular locations is often through its role as a guardian. The dragon is seen as a fearsome, fire-breathing beast that guards treasure (spiritual knowledge), or a maiden (a symbol of purity), and is set up as an obstacle to be overcome by such saintly heroes as St Michael and St George.
In China, the primal power of the dragon was said to be channelled through the landscape along paths of energy "dragon lines". These lines were regarded as very auspicious locations and used by members of the imperial family as burial sites. Locating the way in which the flow of energy, both positive and negative, interacted with the landscape was developed into a highly sophisticated practice, geomancy, which is still used today.
The Chinese dragon is fierce but rarely malevolent: it represents the East, the sun and the bounty of the land. The four-clawed dragon, Mang, represents temporal power. The dragon named long hold a fiery pearl in its claws, which may present the Moon as a source of fertility, although the Taoists and Buddhists it is the "pearl which grants all desires" (wisdom and enlightenment). As symbols of the dark powers of the Earth, dragons and serpents are close relative and, in myth, often indistinguishable. The word "dragon" comes from the Greek dracon or largest serpent.
In North America, the rock art of the Algonkian people depicts serpents beside natural holes and crevices, perhaps as spiritual messengers to the underworld. In Algonkian myth, the dark side of the Earth energy is shown through the great underwater serpent spirit, Mizhipichew, which stirs up the waters of lakes with his tail and must be appeased with offerings of tobacco.
In Australia, serpent beings identified with the rainbow bring forth life through the rain and yet are the dangerous guardians of the waterholes, easily angered if rituals to propitiate them were not followed correctly.