Lightning Bolt as a Symbol

Lightning, as a celestial phenomenon, was perceived by many cultures as a manifestation of the gods, destruction, awe, and an omen of impending threat. Usually this was attributed to the chief deity or “king of all”, who with an ax or hammer destroyed hostile creatures and punished people who disobeyed the will of heaven. Also, lightning was perceived in some cultures as unearthly enlightenment, omen, direction and protection.


In psychology, lightning is associated with male vitality. However, “the fire of passion ignited by it, as well as the possession of ideas, is also a flame in which one can burn … The ray of fire can descend from a clear and veiled sky”(A. Aeppli).


Lightning in Christianity appears as a divine symbol and intervention from Heaven, as when God’s Ten Commandments were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, or when God’s judgment was spoken of at the Second Coming.
In the Renaissance, lightning carried the enigma of God’s plan:

What do the walls and ramparts and the moat help the fortress,
when God burns them with rays from on high?
It is not the guards who defend us with a anxious call,
but only God’s care protects from trouble.

Hoberg, 1675.


Masculine vitality – this is how lightning can be used, which can “fertilize” dry regions and fields, and when lightning falls, it shakes and spreads life in such areas that are less accessible to water basins.

Among the Etruscans, who were the basis of early Rome, there was lightning divination, which was called “brontoscopy”. It was an important skill which, used, could foresee favorable circumstances if lightning came from the east; unfavorable if coming from the west; most gracious if they come from the northeast; foretelling misfortune if they come from the northwest. Later, the Etruscans passed this skill on to Roman fortune tellers.


Teshub with triple lightning

Lightning was considered a “supernatural thunderbird,” according to the North American Indians. Xolotl is the lightning deity of the Aztecs in the form of a dog, which also played the role of companion of the dead. When lightning strikes, it seems to split the earth into the realm of the dead and the underworld for gods and men.

From the time of the Incas in ancient Peru, lightning and thunder were called “ilapa”. The rifles of the Spanish conquerors were named in the same way. According to Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616), the Incas considered thunder and lightning to be performers and servants of the sacred sun. According to them, thunder and lightning lived in the air.

Lightning also resembled a snake descending from the sky. In this connection, Itzcoatl , the serpent deity, and even the Finnish legend of the “variegated serpent” that fell into the depths of the sea, where the salmon devoured it and its belly took out the glittering sparks of heavenly fire – can be recognized creative expression and close connection with the creation of fire with its destructive-creative power.


Lightning in Hellenic mythology is an attribute of Zeus the Lightning-bearer, later Jupiter to the Romans. Lightning is also a way of the Slavic god Perun (Perkons, Perkunas), of the oriental Hadad in older epochs. Those who were struck by lightning were considered to be marked by the deity thunderbolt and buried on the spot.

The power of the heavenly gods is expressed as “fertilizing lightning” in the myth of Zeus and Semela:

After Zeus promised to fulfill her every wish, she asked him to go to her once as a bridegroom, as he would go to Hera. Zeus could not break his word and arrived in her chambers in a chariot with flashing lightning and thunder and sent lightning at her. Frightened to death, Semela fainted; six months later she had a child, which Zeus pulled out of the fire and sewed into his thigh.

Apollodoros’ Bibliothek

Lightning at different gods:

  • In the Torah, the word arrow khets חֵץ is used as “Elohim / Java arrows”, which are represented as lightning;
  • The Hurritic * deity Teshub (Tarnhunt) had the symbol of triple lightning;
  • The Vedic tradition and later Hinduism, the famous deity Indra, and its weapon was the Vajra (lightning); Greek mythology – Zeus;
  • The Celtic beliefs had their own deity – Taranis, in Irish Tirean; Nordic Mythology – Thor;
  • In Turkish mythology, Baulgen created lightning;
  • The May deity Hurakan is sometimes depicted with three lightnings;
  • In Guarani ** mythology, Tupa (e) is the image of lightning and the Lord of Thunder;
  • For the Cherokee tribe, believing in thunder was through Ani Huintikuualaski (“lightning-like creatures”);
  • Ojibue *** Mythology offers its version – the Thunderbirds Nimkyig / Binesiwag; In Igbo **** mythology, lightning is the weapon of Amadioha / Amadora;
  • Yoruba ***** mythology, lightning is a weapon of Shanghai;
  • In Tibetan mythology, vajra is the weapon of Vajrayana;
  • In Chinese mythology, Lei Gong uses lightning and his wife, Dian Mu, creates lightning from her mirror.


* Hurrits – a Bronze Age people living in Anatolia and Northern Mesopotamia.
** Guarani – a people living in central South America. Especially in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia.
*** Ojibwe – Remaining Indigenous Peoples in present-day Canada. One version of their name is that it means “those who cook / fry it until it’s done” – supposedly to have tormented their enemies with fire.
**** Igbo – people in Southern Nigeria.
***** Yoruba – a tribe from southwestern Nigeria.