Vietnam’s Four Magical Animals

Sounds around the World Series

I had almost given up of finding some of my older blog posts which I lost after changing the provider, but ‘luck’ is on my side. 🙂
Tonight I was able to retrieve a few older posts from my travels in Vietnam. Here is the first one:


Magical Animals In Vietnam

On one of last evenings here in Vietnam—on my attempt to learn more about practices, ceremonies and rituals in Buddhist pagodas—I surprisingly received a neat, little lesson about magical animals and the way they are perceived in Asia from a Vietnamese friend of mine.

In brief, every animal carries certain attributes but four are considered especially, magical creatures:

  • Dragon
  • Turtle
  • Unicorn
  • Phoenix (or Peacock)

It might be that not all of the official names are proper translations from the point of view of a westerner, since their character as well as their appearances can differ enormously from the ones in the western.


The Dragon

In Asia the dragon is an animal connected to the element of water. It spits water out of its mouth instead of fire, fertilising all land, and taking care for a good and abundant harvest. For this reason it is also the animal connected to riches, abundance, prosperity, peace, a stable life, success, and a representation of royalty and power.

Its resemblance is that of a serpent instead of the winged dinosaur as traditionally perceived in the west. It is able to fly from one side of the globe to the other within the fraction of a second.



The Turtle

All turtles can become very old and so are considered to be among the wisest of animals. Representing knowledge and wisdom, the turtle has participated in Vietnam’s rich history, helping King ‘Le Loi’ in the fight against the Chinese.


The Unicorn

The use of this translation is the most challenging to me, since it does not resemble anything like the familiar white stallion with the horn on its head. In Asia, it is more of a mixture between a dragon (its head) and a horse (its corps)—or here in Vietnam even the corps of a lion.

Originally the wild unicorn lived in the sea to the East of Vietnam until one Buddha domesticated and introduced it to land. Its main attribute is one of physical and ethical strength. As such it represents the ideal male part of society, which is should to be of perfect ethically conduct and can be considered a role model for every human.


The Phoenix

The proud, female bird with a long and beautiful tail resembles more the looks of a peacock. It represents the female part of society, connected to ideas related to family, marriage and the softer, maybe even more passive attributes and values.

Pictures often depict a dance between the peacock and the dragon; another symbol for a happy and blessed marriage.


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