Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What ancient people thought about lightning in the sky?

Lightning plays a role in many mythologies.
by
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi


Lightning and thunder have awed man and beats ever since these creatures made their appearance on earth. Inevitably, these forces of nature found their way into mythology and folklore. In ancient Rome, lightning have even played a political role.

Lightning plays a role in many mythologies, often as the weapon of a sky and storm god. As such, it is an unsurpassed method of dramatic instantaneous retributive destruction: thunderbolts as divine weapons can be found in many mythologies.

Various ancient societies associated the lightning with a wheel. Marija Gimbutas has shown that the Baltic thunder god, Perkunas, was thought to procure fire by rotating his lightning-club in the nave of the solar wheel. In India the thunderbolt was envisaged as a disc with a hole in the middle that rotated when launched and shot lightning in all directions. This disc was a form of the vajra, the sacred lightning weapon of Indra, and was later depicted in the hands of Vishnu as the chakra.

References to lightning and thunder can be traced to Akkadian times (2200 B.C.) and the works of Hittite (900 B.C.). For the Vikings, lightning was produced by Thor as his hammer struck an anvil while riding his chariot across the clouds. In the Hindu mythology, lightning is the weapon of lord Indra, the king of Devas. Reportedly, there is even a temple in Tibet that is consecrated to lightning.

In ancient Rome, the members of the college of Augurs searched the southern skies for lightning. A lightning bolt passing from east to west was a good omen. If it was from west to east, it meant something was wrong with current political situation. The Augurs reports were politically exploited to postpone unwanted meetings, to delay passage of laws and event to prevent election of magistrates!

Nearly all cultures believed that thunder and lightning were caused by the activity of sky gods. These sky gods were associated with planets; they reigned supreme, and thunderbolts were their emblem of power over heaven and Earth. In Scandinavia, it was the great god Thor swinging his mighty hammer. The Greeks believed that it was Zeus (Jupiter) who threw thunderbolts. In Germanic mythology, Thor is specifically the god of thunder and lightning, wielding Mjolnir. In Maya mythology, Huracan is sometimes represented as three lightning bolts.

The Goddess of Lightning, also called Dian Mu in Chinese, is a supernatural being that has magic power and is in charge of lighting in the heaven. It is said that she is the wife of the God of Thunder. She is viewed as the symbol of justice as she can distinguish good from evil and uphold justice.

The history of the Goddess of Lightning can date back to the period of Song Dynasty (960~1279). In ancient China, the image of the Goddess of Lightning was often depicted as a kind and elegant woman. She has two lightning mirrors, which can help her look carefully whether the person is good or evil.
There spread a legend about the Goddess of Lightning. The legend goes that, in ancient times, there was no lightning during the thunderstorm. One night, the God of Thunder killed a good woman by mistake. He blamed himself for a long time. Then he told the Jade Emperor about this woman. Jade Emperor also commiserated with the woman and conferred the Goddess of Lightning on her. From then on, the God of Thunder and the Goddess of Lightning worked together to chase away the evil spirits and punish the criminals. In order not to kill the good people, the Goddess of Lightning would use her mirror to judge first and then the God of Thunder will make thunder to punish the evil. Therefore, we can always see a flash of lightning before hearing the thunder during the thunderstorm.

There is a good reason why all mythologies in the world contain references to lightning. Most of the natural disasters like earthquakes, cyclones, floods etc., result in deaths of many people. But lightning seems to choose its individual victims! Apparently, the vengeful Gods punish only the erring individual! There must be something divine about lightning!

Even today, lightning and thunder can, and occasionally do, strike fear into the hearts of humans by their dazzling display of fire-works, by deafening roar and by their enormous destructive potential. Lightning wreaks havoc by causing forest fires, by interrupting power distribution, by disrupting communications, by destroying property and by causing injury and death to humans and other animals.
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