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1 July 2016 ·

Dragonflies: myths, meanings and mysteries

Dragonfly photo sent by my cousin when she heard the title

Happy birth day to my newest baby: Dragonfly Song. You’ve been a long time coming.

The dragonfly theme in the book began because when I first imagined the shape of the story and the questions I needed to answer, I saw them in an iridescent blue bubble – and the next day saw a real dragonfly, exactly the same colour. This kept happening: it seemed that whenever I made a significant decision about the story, I saw a dragonfly soon after. It became too much to ignore, and eventually I decided that my character’s name, Aissa, meant dragonfly in the island’s language. Her amulet – the carved name-stone around her neck, that she calls her mama stone – would therefore be carved with a dragonfly symbol.

Met a friend wearing this as I picked up the advance copy

I knew that dragonflies had many myths and symbolic meanings in different cultures around the world. Dragonflysite.com even categorises them by continent, so we can see that they range from symbols of purity to Satan, but suggests that the overwhelming belief is that they symbolise change and perhaps self-realisation. I didn’t happen to read that summary until the book was finished, but it’s particularly apt for Aissa.

However, despite all my reading on Minoan and Cycladic civilisations, I had no idea that the dragonfly was relevant to Aissa’s own culture. Then a month ago, with the book safely with the printer, I went to Crete and had an amazing, mind-boggling day with an archaeologist as I started the research for my next book.

Of course I told her about Dragonfly Song. ‘Of course,’ she said, ‘the dragonfly was an important symbol for the goddess, or her priestess.’

Fragment of fresco with dragonfly, from Akrotiri

On one of the most famous frescos from Akrotiri, on Santorini, the goddess is wearing a dragonfly necklace. A ring  from Archanes in Crete shows dragonflies hovering in front of the goddess; a dragonfly bead from Mochlos in Crete may have been worn by a priestess…

Life is full of coincidences and synchronicity, and sometimes story-making has more of them than the stories themselves.



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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Dragonfly Song, a novel in free verse and prose of an outcast girl who becomes a bull-leaper in Bronze Age Crete. Read full bio