Z is for Zmaj. And no, you are not mistaken. The Zmaj is not a creature of Celtic myth. They hail from the Balkans, where the letter Z is used with gay abandon while the letter J is treated as though it were a Y or a long ‘I’ which is why the name for them is pronounced as though it were spelled Zzzm-eye.
While I need but one letter.
But we’ll get to that in a moment.
Some consider them dragon-kin, and portray them so:
while others see them as lizard-like:
and still others as wyrms, with a snake’s long body and a ram’s horns:
From Milenko Bodirogić’s “Fairies and Dragons – Serbian Mythology”. Photo source: www.serbia.com.
Unlike most dragons, the Zmaj is considered a benevolent creature, willing to defend his people and one of the very few who can defeat the Azjada. That is a kind of demon who’s apt to bring hailstorms and even tornadoes down upon ready-to-harvest fields of grain, on vineyards and on orchards full of ripe fruit.
The Azjada, who is also called an Ala, may hide within anvil-shaped storm clouds like these. Or produce them from her own body:
The goal of the Azjada seems unclear. Some say they come to destroy the crops, and others blame it on simple greed. Their intention is to steal the harvest and feast upon it. All agree that they are voracious and particularly fond of eating children, the more tender and innocent the better. No surprise, then, that she is considered close kin to the infamous Baba Yaga, though the Azjada appears to be far younger and prettier and lives in the sky, not a chicken-legged house hidden deep in the woods.
Why am I including the Zmaj in all of this?
Because some of them fled the Balkans and claimed sanctuary in Faerie. The slaughter and utter destruction resulting from endless wars, and especially the world wars, drove them to distraction. Here was an enemy they could not defeat, a multi-million-pated monster far more lethal than the merely three-headed Zmey Gorynych of Russian and Ukrainian fame.
A painting by Viktor Vasnetsov (Wikimedia Commons)
They were granted refuge, but won themselves only a few years of peace before The Fall swept them back out of Faerie and dumped them here, on the other side of the world from their original homes, and where they have remained, for the most part, taking advantage of the ignorance of husbands in the West.
For the Zmaj‘s a cunning creature indeed, and capable of shapeshifting into many other forms, including that of a human. Such men are lustful, well-built, and commonly of an exceedingly pleasing demeanor, such as may sorely tempt a disappointed wife or lover. Or even an exiled Faerie Queen.
Not that all in the West can by fooled by them. Here, for example, is a painting by William Blake entitled “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun,” one of a series he produced to illustrate the Book of Revelations between 1805 and 1810:
Another of the paintings is much better known these days, having been the focus of a popular novel (and movie) by Thomas Harris concerning a serial killer who wants to become The Red Dragon.
Neither book nor movie, however, had much to say about the true identity of this particular dragon, which is clearly a Zmaj with dishonorable intentions! Note the ram’s horns!
Once the cuckolded husband identifies his rival, however, the resolution is remarkably peaceful. Because the Zmaj is so fond of humans, he will not turn on them, and while in his human guise, he has only the strength of a mortal man to draw upon. One can, in fact, win a fist fight with him. Or, if a woman, one can seize his ear with one’s fingernails and simply lead him out the door and perhaps out of the village as a whole, telling him to begone.
The real danger comes later. For the Zmaj may well breed sons on such women, and those sons are likely to grow into men who are formidable in many ways.
A medieval example would be Vuk Brankovic, a Serbian nobleman whose control over his fief was so complete it was simply known as Vukova zemlja (Vuk’s land), and who would have considered MacArthur a worthy adversary.
Who knows what Zmaj-bred men like that might do in today’s world, where they are not limited to the speed of a galloping horse nor handheld weapons like swords and lances?