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  • Writer's pictureKrista Jain

Folklore Spotlight: Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms occurred almost half the amount of days in the last two weeks. For here in Texas, that's a lot of rain! It made me interested in looking up some mythology centering around storms. After I began reading a few stories, and I found a good many! I decided this would be some awesome folklore to share on my blog.

Needless to say, the topic of weather is a lot broader than I ever had a #FolkloreSpotlight on. It's broader than the time I wrote about honey bees. Weather is everywhere. It affects everybody no matter what part of the world you live in. As such, there are billions of ideas surrounding storms. Stories of origins, tales of storm gods, supernatural encounters with storms or storms incarnate, etc...

I can't share all the stories I found. I would have to write another book for that, so instead, I'll share my favorite findings. I'll include some links at the bottom in "Further Reading" for some more of the stories I don't touch on or don't touch enough. If any interest you, check them out, cause I'm gonna speed through them!

Most of the stories I found were Native American, but that comes as little surprise as their folklore often encompasses beautiful stories of nature. Beliefs and symbolism for nature changed from tribe to tribe, so it was difficult to decide if one story was a different version from the last or if it was a new idea. Either way, there were a lot of stories involving thunder in particular.

Some tribes believed in a god of storms that took revenge on people using disasters. Others believed it was just nature cleansing the land. They all seemed to share the motif of how powerful storms can be. The storms or beings in the stories are always greater than man, and many legends describe storm beings as also being the creator of the universe.

Let's start strong and go into the mythology of the Thunderbird, which is a notable creature in Native American mythology today. The Thunderbird is a powerful creature that controls rain, thunder, and lightning. Most tales seem to describe it as being a good protector, though it can also bring terrible destruction through its storms as well.

These birds are large enough to catch and feast on whales and come from a land above the clouds where they control the weather. In the case where they interact with people, they can shapeshift in a human form. Some depictions show an image of a bird and man mix. I can't say for all stories, but it also seems like a day in their lasts a year in ours, based on one story I read where he takes a man to the land and feeds him whales. (If you want to read this story, click here!) The tribes who told stories of the Thunderbird believed if any boy had visions of the creature, they would become a great shaman!

The Thunderbird is, in my opinion, the coolest creature in Native American folklore! It's amazing to think of a bird greater than the size of an eagle, beating roars of thunder in the air with each beat of its wing while it sparks with bright energy. Its powers may be overwhelming, but thunder and lightning aren't the end at how powerful a storm can be.

Some tribes believed a tornado was a living thing, which led to the stories of Dagwanoenyent, (I have no idea how to say that, so don't even ask!) a witch who would take on the form of a twister. She nearly killed a boy and his uncle after the boy stole some food and spilled bear oil over her head. The uncle got caught in her whirlwind and the boy hid in the stomach of his guardian. Together, they searched and found the uncle lying under a tree. After they moved it, he got up and was fine. They finally destroyed the witch by burning her with more bear oil. Killing her was impossible, but they broke up her body and turned her bones to powder so she couldn't reform. Pretty dark, but a powerful tale! (Psst, read about it here!)

Many tribes had weather stories centering on a young boy who, unlike the boy above, would either gain thunder and lightning abilities or is the son of thunder himself. One tale was about two brothers. Once gained the power of thunder, while the other could shoot lightning from his mouth. It's rather a long series of events, but after their parents passed away, they became the weather we see today. (Brothers become Thunder and Lightning.) I wonder what the Thunderbird thinks of these kids who share his power?

One woman got sucked up in a tornado and found a land of the Thunder People. Kinda reminds me of Wizard of Oz too, but in this version, one little man said he used to storm to bring her there because he loved her, though the chief said he would be in charge of feeding her as she was human. They had a baby boy together and she and the baby went back home, being warned that if the boy was ever struck, he would be lost forever. Guess what happened? The boy had a lot of energy and would always go outside in a storm. His grandparents were tired of him but could do nothing as he would roar like thunder whenever he became mad. Finally, rage took over grandma and she struck him. The boy exploded in a burst of mist and returned to the land of the Thunder People, where he was never seen again. Happy ending, huh? Don't hit your kids, parents! (Full story.)

If we leave the world of Native American mythology, we can find another boy who is the son of thunder in Japan! Rai-Taro is the sun of Thunder. They like to walk in the clouds and look down on man together. They watched everything from battles and play to royalty and poor peasants. The gods decided they wanted to send the boy to Earth so they could learn from him about his experience with mortals when he grows up. His father gave him a choice. You can let a soldier raise you and you can learn how to fight. You can be raised by royalty, or you can choose a poor, childless couple. Rai-Toro chose the couple.

While working in the field, a powerful storm suddenly enveloped the man, pouring in rain, thunder, and lightning. After it cleared, there was a little baby. He took the child and blessed him, knowing he was a gift from the god of thunder. For many years, they raised with utmost love and compassion as if they were his true parents. He worked in the field with his father and could predict the weather. All of their farming neighbors loved to ask him because his predictions were always right.

They hosted a huge birthday party on the eighteenth anniversary of when they found him, but the boy was sad. When they asked why he announced that he had grown up and it was time for him to go home. He told his human parents he learned how to work, how to suffer with dignity, and how to love unconditionally, and now he must share these lessons with the gods. After he left, the couple cried and the wife mentioned how they were growing old and now their boy would not learn the mortal lesson of death. (I love this one! Read the full tale here!)

Finally, I can't write a post about thunder mythology if I don't include the ever-popular Zeus from Greek mythology and Thor from Norse. They are both called the God of Thunder in their respective stories, though they control a lot more than the weather. Zeus is eyed like the head of the other gods who like to watch and interact with mortals. (Especially the ladies!) Thor is more of a battle god who goes on adventures and slays monsters.

The two also wield iconic weapons too. Zeus is often depicted with a lightning bolt. (This is the lightning bolt that was stolen in the first book of Percy Jackson and the Olympians!) Of course, Thor wields the hammer only he is allowed to hold, Mjöllnir. His myth is kept popular nowadays because of his character in Marvel media. Interestingly enough, he had more than a hammer. He had gloves that bolstered his strength, a belt, and a staff he hardly used.

With such a vast array of mythology to cover, we will never run out of stories to discover and learn what these elements meant for certain cultures, like how some Native American tribes eyes tornados as living things, or how you shouldn't anger a thunder god who could level your home and field. There's plenty more here about storms I didn't cover, so check the links below if you want to read more of them, or let me know if you want me to revisit this topic on storms and weather. If you made it this far, do you have a favorite story or myth about thunderstorms? The more stories the merrier! See you next time! :)

Further Reading

Native American Stories


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