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Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a … Mace?

A jet nose-driving prior to crashing at a Chinese air show.
A jet nose-driving prior to crashing at a Chinese air show.
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When I saw a recent photo of a jet nose-diving at a Chinese air show, it jogged a long-standing question in my mind. Why do anthropologists and archaeologists call rock-art pictures such as the ones in this post “maces”? My suggestion for an answer is “Because their academic world-view does not allow them to see these pictures as airplanes or spaceships.”

Sign at Washington State Park Rock Art Site, Missouri.
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Here’s a precolumbian Mesoamerican “avian-motif stone” that served as a macehead:

'Avian Motif Stone Macehead,' precolumbian, from Costa Rica.
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Later maces look quite a bit different:

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The mace of the U.S. House of Representatives.
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In the spring 2011 article “America’s Ancient Cave Art,” from the Paris Review, via slate.com, John Jeremiah Sullivan makes an interesting observation. He and his colleague are lying on their backs in a Tennessee cave, looking up at a “panel” of images:

…And last a picture of a crown mace, a thing shaped like an elongated bishop in chess, meant to represent a symbolic weapon, possibly held by the chiefly elite during public rituals. It’s a ‘type artifact’ of the Mississippian sphere, meaning that, wherever you find it [in the U.S.], you have the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, or, as it used to be called (and still is by archaeologists when they think no one’s listening), the Southern Death Cult. In this case the object appeared to be morphing into a bird of prey.

See this post for more (mind-blowing) S.E.C.C. art. Also, see the post on Thunder Gods. There are some very interesting photos of cave art that accompany Mr. Sullivan’s’ article, especially this one.

The University of Arkansas offers a website with many good pictures of local rock art, including many pictures of maces, and also this rather amazing rock art picture:

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Meanwhile, while researching “mace,” I wasn’t surprised to discover that (as with the ancient Thunderbird gods), the U.S. Air Force is using the name. The USAF used to have a surface-to-surface missile it named the Mace, and still has a tactical squadron of jet fighters called the Royal Maces.

The Royal Maces.
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More maces from Washington State Park Rock Art Site, Missouri.
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'Hawk petroglyph with crown mace wings,' Devil Step Hollow Cave, Tennessee.
‘Hawk petroglyph with crown mace wings,’ Devil Step Hollow Cave, Tennessee.
The mace was a favorite motif in art of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.
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A digital painting by the artist Herb Roe, of a mississippian era priest holding a ceremonial flint mace and a severed human head.
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This Mississippian design includes a mace.
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The insigna for the U.S. Air Force Flying Maces.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.
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Zeus, the Greek version of Jupiter, is shown in his chariot, preparing to launch a lightning bolt.
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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.
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Falling Thunder God.
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Native American Thunderbird.

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Thunderbirds Shooting Lightning, old sign.

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Modern-Day Thunderbirds follow the leader.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Mississippian birdman. 'A digital illustration by the artist Herb Roe, based on a S.E.C.C. design whelk shell engraving from Spiro, Oklahoma.'