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.
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.
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.
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.