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Lots of Deities Drove Cooler Vehicles than Yahweh

The Pushpak Aircraft
The Pushpak Aircraft, by Balasaheb Pandit Pant Pratinidhi, 1916.
In addition to the very interesting divine vehicles associated with Yahweh (the God of the Christians and Jews), many gods and goddesses have driven massively cool vehicles. In fact, as I point out elsewhere, many of their avatars (changed aspects) may be the vehicles themselves rather than a transformation of the deity.

Divine chariots are described quite a bit in the Bible, and also are described a lot in religions around the world. For instance, ancient Hindu texts are crammed full of descriptions of various types of flying chariots — vimanas — and information on how to make them, fuel them, and control them.

According to Wikipedia, a vimana is:

A chariot of the gods, any mythical self-moving aerial car, sometimes serving as a seat or throne, sometimes self-moving and carrying its occupant through the air; other descriptions make the Vimana more like a house or palace, and one kind is said to be seven storeys high.

The pushpaka (“flowery”) is the vimana of Ravana, who is the hero of the great Hindu epic The Ramayana, which describes the pushpaka as follows:

The Pushpaka chariot that resembles the Sun and belongs to my brother was brought by the powerful Ravana; that aerial and excellent chariot going everywhere at will …. that chariot resembling a bright cloud in the sky … and the King [Rama] got in, and the excellent chariot at the command of the Raghira, rose up into the higher atmosphere.

Rama being welcomed back to Ayodhya. He is also shown flying in the celestial flying machine, the Pushpak Vimana.
Rama being welcomed back to Ayodhya. He is also shown flying in the celestial flying machine, the Pushpak Vimana.
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The Thunderbirds of the Native Americans are similar to the flying things called “gods” by very many ancient cultures — and similar to the United States Air Force Thunderbirds of today. See my post on Thunder Gods, Such as Yahweh….

The Persian king Kai Kavus built himself a Flying Throne and flew it to China.

King Solomon reportedly had a flying carpet 60 miles square that could “get from Damascus to Medina within a day”. The wind once caused the carpet to drop 40,000 people to their deaths, due to Solomon having too much pride.

The Greek god Helios drove the Chariot of the Sun across the sky every day; it was drawn by fire-darting steeds. Phaëton, his son, borrowed the chariot, but lost control and plunged into the river Eridanos. Thor drove his Chariot of Thunder across the sky; it was pulled by his two magic goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. Poseidon frequently drove his Chariot of the Sea through and atop the ocean, pulled by hippocampi (sea-going horses with fish-like hindquarters).

Kali with her chariot Vitthakalai.
Kali with her chariot Vitthakalai.
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Maa Kali drives a gold-decorated chariot called the Vitthakalai. Sol, the Norse sun goddess, flew in a chariot pulled by the horses Arvak and Alsvid, whose manes shone like the sun. Dionysus’s chariot was pulled by panthers, tigers, or centaurs, or by a bull, a panther, and a griffin, or something — as usual, no one was exactly clear on what they were seeing.

Dinoysius driving his chariot pulled by a bull, a panther, and a griffin.
Dinoysius driving his chariot pulled by a bull, a panther, and a griffin.
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Elijah and Ahab’s Deadly Barbecue Contest

Elijah Barbecue ContestSource
Spoiler alert: Yahweh burns the sacrifice right on cue.

It’s easy to see why the miracles in the Bible (and in other religious texts) impressed the hell out of (or into) those observing them. But nowadays the miracles seem a lot more like parlor tricks. Here’s a quick look at one of my favorites:

The Bible tells the detailed story, in 1 Kings 18, describing the contest at Mount Carmel between the priests of Ba‘al, led by Ahab, and the priests of Yahweh, led by Elijah, to see whose god was best.

First, Elijah has Ahab gather all the “children of Israel” and all the 450 “prophets of Ba‘al” and the “400 prophets of the groves, which eat at Jezebel’s table” at Mt. Carmel (no word on how he accomplishes that). There, when his pleas that the heathen-worshipping Israelites switch to Yahweh fall on flat ears, Elijah proposes a contest—all the heathen prophets and their god Ba‘al versus Elijah and his god Yahweh. Whichever god can light his people’s fire, wins.

1 Kings 18:23 Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:
24 And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
25 And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
26 And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.

So, although the heathens lay out a nice sacrifice and call on Ba‘al all morning long to light the fire, nothing happens. Elijah makes fun of them, causing them to express their pain via cutting, apparently not a new fad at all:

1 Kings 18:27 And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.
28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.

So, the heathens carry on calling on Ba‘al until evening, without a sign from the god. So, Elijah says, here’s how it’s done:

1 Kings 18:29 And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
30 And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down.
31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:
32 And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.

After he has the altar and sacrifice nicely arranged, Elijah orders the heathens to pour 12 barrels of water all over it:

1 Kings 18:33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.
34 And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time.
35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.

Once everything is soaking wet, Elijah calls on the Lord, telling him he’s prepared everything the way Yahweh told him to. At the perfect dramatic moment, Yahweh sends down his fire, which consumes “the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench”:

1 Kings 18:36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.
37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.
38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.

Not surprisingly, Yahweh makes a lot of instant converts among the straying Israelites. To keep them converted, Elijah kills the 450 prophets of Ba‘al:

1 Kings 18:39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.
40 And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.

This barbecue miracle requires only an airplane with a zappy weapon.

The whole Biblical text of the story is below, including the weird stuff that came after (huge rainstorm, a small still voice…). Continue reading Elijah and Ahab’s Deadly Barbecue Contest

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Thunder Gods, Such as Yahweh…

Thunder gods, such as Yahweh, are popular all over the world. Making big noise and throwing lightning bolts, they get people’s attention, and fearful obedience. Wind gods and sky gods may also be thunder gods—sky gods tend to speak with voices of thunder and cause strong winds. There is further overlap between thunder gods, weather gods, storm gods, war gods, fire gods, and sun gods. A lot of deities tend to be noisy and flaming, up in the sky.

japanese thunder godSource
This Two-Fold Paper Screen, from the Tokyo National Museum, painted by Tawaraya Sota in the 17th century, shows the Japanese thunder god, left, and Wind God, right.

Thunderbolts as divine retribution are popular not only in the Bible, but in many ancient cultures. The Hindu lightning god Indra has the thunderbolt Vajra as his preferred weapon. Teshub, the Hurrian sky and storm god, has a triple thunderbolt; Zeus has his thunderbolt, given to him by the Cyclopes; and the Norse thunder god Thor has his magic hammer, Mjölnir (Pulverizier), which not only zaps what he aims at, but returns to him so he can fire again. The Mayan god Huracan is sometimes depicted as three bolts of lightning, and, as his name suggests, he was known for creating powerful whirlwinds.

Amadioha, the thunder and lightning god of Nigeria’s Igbo people, administers justice using thunderstones he hurls down to Earth. He is still a popular god these days, and, as with Yahweh, people swear the truth of what they’re saying by asking the god to strike them dead by lightning if they lie. If Amadioha strikes someone dead with lightning, the priests reportedly see it as the god’s will, and take the dead person’s property, leaving the body unburied. If a person has been cursed in Amadioha’s name, he can only release himself by transferring the curse to a goat that he releases into the wild. This is reminiscent of the Old Testament scapegoat, to whom the high priest of Israel confesses all his people’s sins, before releasing it. The Igbo phrase that translates as “Amadioha will punish you” is like the “God will get you” of Yahweh’s followers.

Perkele, the name of the Finnish thunder god, is a frequently used swear word in Finland. “Management by Perkele” is an expression for a Finnish leadership approach that takes fast action instead of considering everyone’s point of view.

raijin netsukeSource
The Japanese Thunder God Raijin, right, is in the form of a netsuke, a kind of button used in 17th- and 18th-century Japan to fasten men’s purses to the sashes of their robes.

The Australian Aborigine god Mamaragan typifies thunder gods in that he speaks with a voice of thunder, rides a storm cloud, and throws lightning bolts. But his abode is not the high mountains or heavens like most thunder gods, rather just a puddle. The Chinese god Lei Gong specializes in thunder; he has four assistants to help him produce lightning, clouds, rain, and winds, including his wife, Dian Mu, the goddess of lightning, who uses mirrors to flash bolts across the skies. The Roman historian Pliny the Elder writes of nine Etruscan gods who were able to shoot thunderbolts of various colors.

mayan serpent godSource
A Mayan Serpent God Scene from the ruins at Yaxchilan.

The ancient Roman religious deities, the Novensiles (sometimes identified as muses or as members of a divine council), specialize in “lightning readings”—revealing the divine intent behind lightning. Reportedly, Jupiter (or the Etruscan version, Tinia) can wield three types of lightning, from three different celestial regions. The first type, which he can use at his discretion, is perforating lightning,1 which is mild and meant as friendly persuasion or dissuasion.2 Crushing lightning, which is harmful, can be used only by approval of the Dii Consentes, a group of 12 major deities. Burning lightning, which is deadly, is used only by approval of the Dii Superiores et Involuti (hidden gods of the higher sphere).3



1. Massimo Pallottino, “The Doctrine and Sacred Books of the Disciplina Etrusca,” Roman and European Mythologies (University of Chicago Press, 1992), 43–44; Stefan Weinstock, “Libri fulgurales,” Papers of the British School at Rome 19 (1951), 125.
2. Georges Dumézil, La religion Romaine Archaïque (Paris 1974), 630, 633 (note 3), drawing on Seneca, Naturales Questiones 2.41.1–2 and 39.
3. Weinstock, Papers of the British School, 127.

codex borgia page 10Source
The Aztec Codex Borgia always has something interesting going on. These scenes constitute page 10 of the 1898 facsimile edition. See all 76 pages at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Codex_Borgia
marutsSource
Maruts. These Hindu storm gods number from two to 180 depending on the story. They are extremely warlike, with lightning, thunderbolts, and iron teeth. They roar like lions as their fiery red horses pull their golden chariots through the skies.
Dios Cocijo ( Zapotec god of the rain ) found at Monte Alban, in the Valley of Oaxaca, circa 200-500 CE.source
Cocijo, Zapotec god of the rain, from Monte Alban, in Oaxaca, circa 200-500 CE.
chariot of zeusSource
Zeus, the Greek version of Jupiter, is shown in his chariot, preparing to launch a lightning bolt.
chacSource
Chaac, the Mayan god of rain, lightning, and thunder, is shown here reproduced from the Dresden Codex, the oldest known book written in the Americas, from the 11th or 12th century CE.
falling thunder godSource
Falling Thunder God.
thunderbirdSource
Native American Thunderbird.

SourceSource
Thunderbirds Shooting Lightning, old sign.

modern-day thunderbirdsSource
Modern-Day Thunderbirds follow the leader.

thorSource
The Norse Thunder God Thor, above, in his Germanic version as Donner, uses his hammer to summon the storm clouds in Richard Wagner’s opera, Das Rheingold.
sami offering to diermes or thorSource
Horagalles is the god of sky, thunder, lightning, the rainbow, weather, oceans, and lakes for the northern European Arctic indigneous Sami people. He is usually shown with a nail in his head and holding a hammer.
blackhawk spiritbeingSource
Haokah, above. In about 1880, the Lakota Sioux Chief Black Hawk illustrated a vision he had of himself as the horned thunder god Haokah, 'changed to a destroyer and riding a buffalo eagle.' The rainbow shown is the entrance to the spirit world, and the dots are hail.
papa and rangiSource
Papa (left) and Rangi. This Māori carving likely represents the primal creator couple, Papa the Earth Mother and Rangi the Sky Father, locked in embrace.
chromesun-mississippiansource
Mississippian birdman. 'A digital illustration by the artist Herb Roe, based on a S.E.C.C. design whelk shell engraving from Spiro, Oklahoma.'