The Spotted Salamander, The Little Dragon Of The Countryside
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Myths and legends about the salamander
If unicorns and dragons do not exist, another legendary being lives a stone's throw from home: the spotted salamander.
The word already has a hint of mystery. Three syllables slip through the night and fire to give body to a fantastic creature, starting with a great S serpentine. Sa-la-mandre, almost a magic formula! In ancient times, this creature was sometimes a bird living in a blaze, sometimes a dragon that spit flames. Depending on the culture and time, its incorruptible fire can be positive or evil, associated with purity and justice or on the contrary with sin and lust. Yes, such an about-face is common in the history of symbols.
Good or bad, icy and burning at the same time, the legendary beast crosses the centuries in the company of the mandrake and the hippogriff. In the Middle Ages, the alchemists seized it. As an animal of the fire element, the salamander is one of the essential ingredients for transforming mercury into gold. It is even recommended to immerse it alive in a cauldron filled with liquid metal....
This association with fire probably comes from the spectacular yellow spots that this amphibian wears on its back. And the irritation that his skin can cause. As it hides willingly in wood piles, one can also imagine the unexpected appearance of a salamander suddenly emerging from a bundle thrown into a blaze. That's how this old story would have been born. For the rest, the animal that lives discreetly in our forests fortunately has little in common with the worrying monster described by Aristotle or Pliny the Elder. Nevertheless, this sulphurous past is not without consequences: even today, it still happens that people frightened by a salamander kill it with a stick.
Discover the legends around the spotted salamander
In Egypt, a hieroglyph in the shape of a salamander would represent a man who died of cold. According to Aristotle, the animal is able to extinguish a fire in its path like snow. It is the cold that overcomes the hot.
In the Hebrew tradition, the salamander is an evil dragon... or purifier. Kabbalah recommends immersing the beast in three-year-old oil to avoid any fire in his house.
Francis I adopted the salamander on his coat of arms, which covered the walls of castles with the motto "I feed on it and I extinguish it". In other words, I nourish myself with the fire of faith and Christian purity and extinguish the fire of sin, godlessness and sedition.
In the French countryside, it was said that the salamander's breathing could make a person swell until his skin burst. In Auvergne, where it is known as bellows or bull-float, the salamander would kill cattle herds and, in Berry, its presence would be enough to make them swell.
According to Paracelsus, an illustrious alchemist, the salamander smells of sulphur and lives at the bottom of volcanoes. The noises that come from the magmatic depths can be explained by the construction work of his fire houses.