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Sunday 4 August 2013

From Dragon bones to Chakra stones

I’ve just been reading a book called The Legends of Cracow, which gives me an excuse to use a few more of the photos from my recent visit there. Of the ten legends described in the book, the first and best known is that of the Wawel dragon, Smok. I’ve already mentioned this legend once, back in a post about Dragons and Dinosaurs. The story is associated with the founding of the city of Kraków by the legendary King Krakus, who is said to have built the royal castle on Wawel Hill in the 8th century. The dragon, before it was slain by a clever peasant, was supposed to have lived in a cave under the hill. There really is a cave there, which is now a tourist attraction – as is the 6-metre high fire-breathing bronze dragon that was installed in the 20th century.

Rather more bizarrely, there is a collection of huge “dragon bones” hanging from chains outside the main entrance to the 14th century Wawel Cathedral. When these were originally dug up, people may have genuinely believed they’d discovered the bones of a dragon. In fact, they come from a variety of prehistoric creatures... although there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on exactly which ones. The TV documentary I mentioned in my Dragons and Dinosaurs post suggested that they are (from top to bottom in my photo): part of the femur of a mammoth, part of the jawbone of a whale, and part of the skull of a woolly rhinoceros.

The legends of King Krakus and the Wawel dragon first appeared in print towards the end of the 12th century. That was around the same time the legends of King Arthur and the Holy Grail were first written down. So as legends go, they are pretty old and venerable. Of course, all legends purport to be “ancient”, but some of them may have popped into existence in much more recent times.

I suspect that’s the case with the tenth and last legend in the book, concerning the Kraków Chakram – the sacred stone of the Hindus. To quote directly from the book: “According to Hindu mythology and contemporary Hindu initiates, centuries ago the God Shiva cast onto the earth seven stones concentrating cosmic and earthly energy... they say that one of the chakrams was cast onto the Wawel Hill and is located beneath the Royal Castle. The others fell in Delhi, Jerusalem, Mecca, Delphi, Rome and Velehrad.”

I have to confess this sounds like New Age syncretism to me. It’s true that Shiva has been worshipped in India for centuries, and it’s possible there’s an ancient legend about him casting seven mystical stones onto the Earth. But Hinduism is an inward-looking religion, and while its ancient sages might have known of sites like Jerusalem, Mecca, Delphi and Rome it seems doubtful they would have heard of Kraków or Velehrad (I had to look that one up – it’s a small village in the Czech Republic about 300 kilometres from Kraków).

Apparently the legend of the Wawel chakra stone first came to light in the period between the First and Second World Wars, when a group of Hindu pilgrims asked to go down into the crypt in one particular corner of the Royal Castle. A “mysterious radiance” was seen to emanate from the crypt while they were down there – and on such flimsy evidence a New Age legend was born! Fortunately I hadn’t heard of this legend when I visited last week, so I didn’t waste any time looking for the chakra stone (and apparently the crypt is closed to the public anyway). However, I think it’s more or less directly below the point from which this photo was taken.

Another reason I’m sceptical about this particular legend is that a Google search for “Shiva chakra stone” doesn’t turn up much of relevance in the way of Hindu primary sources. Most of the search results relate to the Shivalingam – a phallic-shaped stone that is one of the primary symbols of Shiva. And speaking of phallic-shaped stones... that gives me an excuse for one more photograph from my trip to Poland.

Pieskowa Skała is another royal castle, about 30 km from the Wawel, that was built by King Casimir the Great in the 14th century. Just adjacent to it is the 30-metre high free-standing rock formation pictured here, known as Maczuga Herkuleza (the Club of Hercules). The name suggests a legendary connection with the pagan hero Hercules, although there is also a well-known Christian legend concerning its origin (see A Polish Pact with the Devil). As far as I know, however, there are no legends connecting it with the Hindu God Shiva!


Peni R. Griffin said...

For heaven's sake, don't go counting your views! It'll make you crazy. That's 63 more people than you would have talked to in person about Museum Secrets last week, right?

You see all kinds of sky effects traveling through middle America, where the skies are enormous. Most peculiar phenomenon I ever saw: we took visitors out to see the Twin Buttes (San Angelo, Texas, where there's not much to see so you look harder) one evening, and when we got out of the car at the vantage point, the buttes were completely upstaged by the full moon. It balanced right on the horizon, as big as a house, rose pink with pastel blue shadows, and it took us several stunned moments to realize it even was the moon. If the Old Woman with her Bundle of Sticks hadn't been picked out in baby blue there's no telling what we would have thought we saw.

Andrew May said...

Thanks Peni - for some reason your comment appeared under an old post, but I know what you're talking about (this one). I don't normally worry about page views, but that was a particularly low count. In the same week a two-year old post about Philip K. Dick got 1459 views (but only because some kind soul linked it from PKD's Facebook fan page).