Dragons have existed as a major part of human historical culture across the globe for nearly as long as humans have had the capability to imagine. They have been steeped into our culture and philosophies, used as symbols of wisdom, occult knowledge, opposition, fear, bravery, royalty, strength, greed, and the primal power of natural forces. However despite being so intrinsically present in human history, Dragons have never been specifically used as a point of direct worship, or as the chief basis of a religious or magical tradition. In a few cases, Dragon-like beings/deities such as the Quetzalcoatl have been worshiped and even sacrificed to. In other cases individuals, such as royalty or other significant leaders, have even been described as living incarnations. But despite this prestige Dragons are historically relegated to the periphery of religious worship. They are most often a part of the lore and heroic tales of the religion rather than the object or focal point of that particular faith.
However in more recent times, that perspective has been shifting. In spirituality and magical practice, individuals have been bringing Dragons, their symbolism and energies, into a more prominent personal role and labeling it 'Walking a dragon path'. These paths are largely individual, being developed based on personal encounters and work with draconic energies, and sometimes combining that experience with pre-existing practices. Some of these paths can include spells and rituals specifically themed towards using the presence and actions of a dragon or dragons, others may involve interacting with dragons as spiritual guides or guardians. Nearly any magical path or faith can be adapted to include dragons as the primary guiding or actively assisting force, and it would then be considered 'dragon magic'.
This adaptability is explained through modern recognition of Dragons as individual entities who can carry a wide variety of attitudes, energies, and even forms. Though individual Dragons might have an affinity with a particular element or other specific expression of energy, they do not embody or represent that energy. Rarely do dragons refer to (or identify) themselves as 'An [element] dragon'. They are all just Dragons, better considered as ascended beings or learned masters who have chosen to focus their knowledge and expertise into a particular form of working.
One particular practitioner of Dragon magic put it quite well;
"Just as you don?t have ?elemental humans? you don?t have ?elemental Dragons?? you simply have those who prefer to work with the energies of one element over another. Sometimes, you will find a Dragon who works equally well with all elemental energies and other times you?ll find one who couldn?t tell a salamander from an undine.
Whenever you hear someone talking about ?elemental Dragons,? those that embody the forces of a particular Element, most likely they are either confusing the mage with the magic, or they are seeing an elemental critter in draconic form."
-Online article: "the Myths of 'Elemental dragons'", J'karrah Ebon-dragon. Original location is defunct. Archived/copied version can be located here; https://shamanmysticsdreamingofapaganearth.wordpress.com/tag/jkarrah/
Much like any human practitioner, individual dragons have their own predispositions and can act to fulfill a multitude of roles:
As protectors; Dragons are often very accomplished light-workers, and have formed their own connections to potent (and often primal) forms of energy. They also have had a great deal of time to develop their knowledge and authority, which they are not afraid to utilize when it is needed. However, Dragons are also innately interested in teaching, and they tend to connect mostly with people interested in helping themselves. Most often a Dragon will first help the practitioner learn to connect with their own authority and strength, or to act wisely and in a fashion to avoid the bad choices that lead to trouble to begin with. They are willing to be there to soften the blows, or to protect from undue harms. However Dragons also try to avoid interfering with an individuals learning. A big part of that is allowing you to gain the understandings of action and consequence.
However when called on in magic for a specific act of protection, be it minding an elemental gateway within your circle or helping to eject unwanted energies from a home, Dragons bring the same kinds of potency as any Deity or elemental force. Usually this is done through a lending of strength, where a dragon would act to help shield and empower the practitioner in a way that he/she can draw out their own authority through the added support.
As healers; Following on the idea of helping those who help themselves, Dragons tend to offer healing through the sharing of wisdom and insight, and by acting as a bridge to higher vibrations of energies that the practitioner might not normally be able to reach on their own. Dragons are deeply connected to the movement and qualities of spiritual energy, and have a knack for clearing away negativity, clearing blockages, and especially inspiring rapid growth and personal change. Quite often when a Dragon takes a healer under wing, the motto (at least for the first while) tends to become "Physician, heal thy self."
When actively taking part in a healing they tend to work closely with the energies being used, regardless of the method of healing by the practitioner- be it through magic, reiki, laying on of hands, or other energy workings. Dragons act as facilitators by helping to make the desired energies available in abundance, and of the best qualities (for lack of a better term) as possible. Dragons have a general preference towards working with and through the healer's intent and focus rather than taking a more direct or active approach.
As co-mages; Dragons make for potent allies in any magical path or working, and can be called on to render assistance in a variety of ways- either as enactors of the magic, or as assistants in your own workings. However just as with most other magic practices, connecting with and engaging the help of dragons can be a gradual process. One that begins with making some sort of formal declaration of having a desire to work with dragons- or otherwise asking for their presence as an active part of your magical practice.
As participants in magic, Dragons will freely take on the role normally filled by the deity, pantheon, or elements themselves of other practices. For example in use of a circle, the process would be adapted to ask for the presence of a dragon (or dragons) to watch over the corners. Or in a banishing a practitioner might call for a dragon to cleanse the area and bar the presence of negativity. In calling for an initiation, or a lending of strength and will, or a rite of inspiration, and so-on, Dragons would be called on to help bring the will of the caster to fruition.
It is not uncommon for individuals who follow a path of Dragon magic to describe how a sense of familiarity tends to form over time between the practitioner and the Dragon(s) that take part. This familiarity can extend into a more personal and consistent awareness of the repeated presence of the dragon (or dragons) choosing to work with the individual and often leads to the dragon(s) sharing names with the practitioner. Names they can then use to call to them individually. Other times the mage may give the dragons names that are familiar to him/her that the Dragons then choose to accept. However it comes about, over time a practitioner often finds that they form a working relationship with a specific individual or small group.
The more the mage engages with the Dragons who take him/her under their wing (pun intended) the more the dragons choose to share ideas, inspirations, guidance, and wisdoms that they have collected from their own experience. As this information is shared, it tends to influence the mage's perspectives of magic, how it works, and the tools and symbols that become significant to the individual. It is this combining of unique practices and experiences between mage and dragon that creates so much individuality from one Draconic practitioner to the next. And this individuality also makes it difficult to provide any specific definition, rules, or processes that would be unique to a path of dragon magic. What rules exist for one mage can be only partly similar, or even entirely absent for the next. Some can involve a strict code of honor and right action, others can be more 'Do what you will'. Some can involve specific and formulated casting rituals, others can be about mere focus of will. In the end, the nature of the magic is heavily defined by the nature of the relationship between human and dragon.
When Dragons are called on as direct enactors of magic and will, the form of action is usually suited to what dragons are known for- the most notable facets being knowledge/wisdom, primal strength, protection, flight, and breathing fire*. As such, a dragon might be asked to lend strength of will, or to consult for inspiration and guidance by sharing its knowledge. A dragon might also be called on to lend you the safety of its strong scales, or to shield you within the shroud of its wings. A practitioner might ask their Dragon partner to carry him/her to the astral planes or some other spiritual place. Or, the more stoic of individuals might call for the clensing fire* of the Dragon's breath to burn away the blocks and shadows of one's energies and aura.
* 'Fire' here is used as the quintessential/most common form of breath Dragons are associated with. However as noted earlier it is far from being the only form of energy dragons utilize. But it is the most commonly visualized and most directly associated element of dragons. ... at least in Western culture where 'Dragon' and 'Fire breathing' have become largely synonymous. However a dragon's breath can include any magical element or other form of directly applied energy the Dragon may wish to express.
When a practitioner chooses to call on the energy of dragons, rather than a dragon itself, they are calling on Dragons as an image or archetype to represent a particular quality of elemental energy. Or for the Animists out there, calling on the active embodiment of a particular place of nature. Energy itself is by nature formless and fluid, consisting of light, vibration, and motion. However in practice it is guided by intent and will- efforts of consciousness. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the imagery we use acts as guideposts in generating an idea of function and action through association. This is the basic premise behind most forms of Visualization and symbolism- to which the image of the dragon acts as all of the above.
Giving the expression of an element the image of a dragon represents calling on that element in its most primal (pure/original/oldest) state. For example calling on the 'dragon' of a river is akin to calling on that river as elemental water- not only in the quality of as it is now, but as it has been and as it was originally. In essence it is an act of connecting with the river in the entirety of its concept, formation, and history. In this regard, one would best consider the use of the word 'Dragon' as synonymous to "embodiment of". So calling on the 'Earth Dragon' would be calling on the "Embodiment of" the primal nature of earth energy itself rather than a specific intelligent being.
Calling on a specific energy in the guise of a Dragon is a symbolic way of calling for the pure, primal form of that element as an active force at the acme (highest point/best/strongest state) of its potency. This is different from calling on Dragons themselves, as Dragons are intelligent spiritual beings who actively assist or work with the mage. Meanwhile the Dragons of the elements are symbolic forms of energy that are called on, and move according to, the will of the practitioner connecting to them. Dragons as entities act to add to the will of the individual, Dragons as archetypes act as a result of the will of the individual.
Within both Philosophical and magical pursuits, those who walk a Dragon path tend to be considered more eclectic than the more traditional practices and faiths because it is largely self-built through forming a combination of personal ideals, philosophies and practices pulled from a variety of sources and a large dose of Self-Realization/Personal Gnosis. While this makes it difficult to locate literature on the topic that could be considered largely reliable or trustworthy, it does open the door for the more introspective or self-reflective individuals to thrive on discovering their own way to walk a magical path.