It turns out that the Celts were people who lived in a bunch of places in Europe, and not just in the British Isles, like I thought. They were one of many European cultures that believed in dragons and in their special powers. Probably the Asians were the first ones to invent the idea of dragons, but then that idea traveled to Europe, maybe through Iran.
The English word dragon came from the Greek word drakon, which has some meanings like "sharp-sighted one," "one with a deadly glance," and "serpent." The Greek word was adopted into Latin as draco, which came to mean "a giant snake." So the European dragon, especially for the Celts, was an Earth Serpent, and it represented all the elemental power of the earth.
The ancient Druids, who were the priests of the Celtic people, believed that the earth was like the body of a dragon, and they built sacred stone circles on the "power nodes" of the dragon's body. Wherever a dragon had walked or had its lair was a place with lots of sacred energy. The Druids looked for mystic lines that were called "The Path of the Dragon" or "ley lines." When the priests found one of these lines, they told the people to build their homes and temples along it so that they could take advantage of the earth's energies.
|Stone Circle at Callanish, Isle of Lewis, Scotland|
In this way, dragons had the power to connect humans to the earth's magnetism and healing waters. Also, dragons were the guardians of wisdom and knowledge. If you see some Celtic artwork that shows a dragon swallowing its tail, this shows a circle that goes on and on, and it is the symbol of eternal life.
|Cari Buziak, artist|
Celtic people revered dragons as if they were gods because dragons could bring the forces of heaven and earth together. Also they guarded the gates to the Heavens and to the Underworld. They were guardian spirits who protected all living things, and that made them one of the most powerful of all Celtic symbols.
The dragons of European folklore looked a lot like serpents. They had wings like bats and legs like lizards. Usually there were two pairs of legs, but some dragons didn't have have any front legs, and these dragons were called wyverns.
|1958 Welsh Stamp|
The Welsh people had a more positive view of dragons than most other Europeans did, and that's why they put a red one on the Welsh flag. Other traditions said dragons were evil, and that they breathed fire, and that they usually had a bunch of treasure hidden someplace in a cave. These were the kinds of dragons that people like Beowulf and St. George had to go out and slay. Which was very dangerous and also seems like it would be a huge bother, but I guess somebody had to do it!
|The Flag of Wales|