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14 Powerful Thunder and Lightning Gods from Around the World

For thousands of years, thunder and lightning were mysterious events, personified as gods to be worshipped or considered the acts of certain angry gods. During the Neolithic Period, thunder cults became prominent in Western Europe. Since lightning was often considered a manifestation of the gods, locations struck by lightning were regarded as sacred, and many temples were often built at these sites. Let’s take a look at popular thunder and lightning gods in different cultures and mythologies.

1. Zeus

greek god zeus
Statue of Zeus. Source.

The supreme deity in Greek religion, Zeus was the god of thunder and lightning. He’s commonly represented as a bearded man holding a thunderbolt. When he doesn’t have a weapon in hand, he tends to have an eagle with him. Zeus would give signs to mortals through thunder and lightning. He would also punish evildoers and control the weather.

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In 776 BCE, his worshippers built a sanctuary at Olympia, where the Olympic Games were held every four years. They would offer sacrifices to Zeus at the end of each game. Of all the Olympian gods, Zeus is the most powerful and is seen as the king.

2. Jupiter

Zeus’ Roman counterpart, Jupiter was the chief god associated with thunder, lightning and storms. His Latin name luppiter is derived from Dyeu-pater that translates as Day-Father. The term Dyeu is etymologically identical with Zeus, whose name is derived from the Latin word for god – deus. Like the Greek god, he was also associated with the natural phenomena of the sky.

To the Romans, the flint stone or pebble was the symbol of lightning, so Jupiter was represented with such a stone in his hand instead of a thunderbolt. By the time of the Republic, he was the greatest of all the gods. A temple dedicated to him was built at the Capitoline Hill in 509 BCE.

Jupiter was worshipped using many titles, such as Triumphator, Imperator and Invictus. He symbolized the fearlessness of the Roman army. The Ludi Romani, or Roman Games, was a festival observed in honor of him. The worship of Jupiter declined after the death of Julius Caesar, when Romans started the worship of the emperor as a god. It continued to decline with the rise of Christianity and the fall of the Empire in 5th century CE.

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3. Pērkons

The Hand of Perkūnas
The Hand of Perkūnas. By Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis. PD.

The thunder god of Baltic religion, Pērkons is also associated with the Slavic Perun, Germanic Thor, and Greek Zeus. In Baltic languages, his name means thunderer and thunder god. He’s a bearded man holding an ax and directs his thunderbolts to discipline other gods, evil spirits, and men. The oak was sacred to him, as it’s a tree that’s typically struck by lightning the most.

In Latvian depictions, Pērkons carries weapons such as a golden whip, a sword, or an iron rod. So powerful was this deity, that his worshippers believed that flint or any object struck by lightning were talismans that could protect them. They would wear sharpened stone axes on their clothing, because it was the symbol of the god and could supposedly cure illnesses.

4. Taranis

Taranis statue

The Celtic god of thunder, Taranis was represented by the lightning flash and the wheel. In votive inscriptions, his name is also spelled Taranucnus or Taranucus. He’s part of a sacred triad mentioned by Roman poet Lucan in his poem Pharsalia. He was worshipped primarily in Gaul, Ireland and Britain. According to historians, his worship included sacrificial victims, which were burned in a hollow tree or wooden vessel.

5. Thor

Thor's Fight with the Giants
Thor’s Fight with the Giants. By Mårten Eskil Winge, PD.

The most popular deity of the Norse pantheon, Thor was the god of thunder and the sky, and developed from the earlier Germanic god Donar. His name comes from the Germanic word for thunder. He’s commonly depicted with his hammer Mjolnir and was invoked for victory in the battle and for protection during voyages.

In England and Scandinavia, peasants would worship Thor because he brought fair weather and crops. During the Viking Age, his popularity reached its height and his followers would wear his hammer as charms and amulets. By the 12th century AD, the worship of Thor declined and instead Christianity arose in its place.

6. Tarḫun

Also spelled Tarhunna, Tarhun was the god of storms and the king of Hittite gods. He was known to the Hurrian people as Teshub, while the Hattians called him Taru. His symbol was a three-pronged thunderbolt, which he would carry in one hand. In the other hand, he holds another weapon. He’s mentioned in Hittite and Assyrian records, and played a huge part in mythology.

7. Hadad

carrying a statue of Adad
Hadad, God of Weather, Hurricanes, Storms, Thunder and Rain. PD.

An early Semitic god of thunder and storms, Hadad was the chief god of the Amorites, and later the Canaanites and Aramaeans. A bearded deity with a horned headdress, Hadad held a thunderbolt and a club. Also spelled Haddu or Hadda, his name probably means thunderer. He was worshipped in North Syria, along the Euphrates River and Phoenician coast.

8. Marduk

Marduk god
Statue of Marduk. PD-US.

In Mesopotamian religion, Marduk was the god of thunderstorms, and the chief god of Babylon. He’s commonly represented as a human in royal robes, holding a thunderbolt, a bow, or a triangular spade. The poem Enuma Elish, dating from the reign of Nebuchadrezzar I, says that he was a god of 50 names. He was later known as Bel, which comes from the Semitic term baal that means lord.

Marduk became popular in Babylon during the reign of Hammurabi, around 1792 to 1750 BCE. His temples were the Esagila and the Etemenanki. Since he was a national god, his statue was destroyed by the Persian king Xerxes when the city revolted against the Persian rule in 485 BCE. By 141 BCE, the Parthian Empire ruled the region, and Babylon was a deserted ruin, so Marduk was also forgotten.

9. Leigong

Also known as Lei Shen, Lei Gong is the Chinese god of thunder. He carries a mallet and a drum, which produce thunder, as well as a chisel to punish evildoers. He’s believed to hurl thunderbolts at anyone who wasted food. The thunder god is usually depicted as a fearsome creature with a blue body, bat wings, and claws. While sanctuaries built for him are rare, some people still honor him, in hopes that the god will take revenge on their enemies.

10. Raijin

Raijin is the Japanese god associated with thunderstorms, and is worshipped in Daoism, Shintoism, and Buddhism. He’s often portrayed with a monstrous appearance, and referred to as an oni, a Japanese demon, due to his mischievous nature. In painting and sculpture, he’s depicted holding a hammer and surrounded by drums, which produce thunder and lightning. The Japanese believe that the thunder god is responsible for a bountiful harvest, so Raijin is still worshipped and prayed to.

11. Indra

Indra god

One of the most important gods in Vedic religion, Indra is the god of thunder and storms. In paintings, he’s commonly depicted holding a thunderbolt, a chisel, and a sword, while riding his white elephant Airāvata. In early religious texts, he plays a variety of roles, from being a bringer of rains to being depicted as a great warrior, and a king. He was even worshipped and invoked in times of war.

Indra is one of the main gods of the Rigveda, but later became a major figure in Hinduism. Some traditions even transformed him into a mythological figure, especially in Jain and Buddhist mythologies of India. In Chinese tradition, he’s identified with the god Ti-shi, but in Cambodia, he’s known as Pah En. In later Buddhism, his thunderbolt becomes a diamond scepter called the Vajrayana.

12. Xolotl

The Aztec god of lightning, sunset, and death, Xolotl was a dog-headed god who was believed to be responsible for the creation of humans. The Aztec, Tarascan, and Maya even thought that dogs in general could travel between worlds and guide the souls of the dead. In ancient Mexico, they were a loyal companion even after death. In fact, burials in Mesoamerica have been found with statues of dogs, and some of them were even sacrificed to be buried with their owners.

13. Illapa

In Inca religion, Illapa was the thunder god who had control over the weather. He was envisioned as a warrior in the heavens dressed in silver robes. While lightning was thought to come from the flashing of his robes, thunder was produced from his sling. During the times of drought, the Incas prayed to him for protection and rain.

14. Thunderbird

Native american thunderbird both wings open

In North American Indian mythology, the thunderbird is one of the main gods of the sky. The mythological bird was believed to create lightning from its beak, and thunder from its wings. However, different tribes have their own stories about the thunderbird.

While the Algonquian people regard it as the ancestor of humans, the Lakota people thought it to be the grandson of a sky spirit. In a Winnebago tradition, it’s an emblem of war. As an embodiment of the thunderstorm, it’s generally associated with power and protection.

Engravings of the thunderbird have been found in the archeological sites in Dong Son, Vietnam; Dodona, Greece; and North Peru. It’s often depicted on the totem poles of the Pacific Northwest, as well as in art of the Sioux and Navajo.

Wrapping Up

Ancient people saw thunder and lightning as powerful divine events and they associated various deities with these natural phenomena. While there are different local traditions and beliefs about these thunder and lightning gods, in most cultures, these gods were protectors from the forces of nature, givers of bountiful harvests, and the ones who fought alongside warriors during times of war.

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As she grew up reading books on mystery, mythology, fantasy, and adventure, Olive developed an urge to explore the world as an adult. After completing a degree in Mass Communications, she built a career in marketing for the past two decades but has spent most of her vacations backpacking through different countries. During her trips, Olive likes to immerse herself in the local culture to further expand her understanding of other people and their lifestyles, which she now uses to aid her writing.