Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Flash of Myth: Lightning

 Copyright Sam Javanrouh,2009
My grandparents used to tell a story about how Mom's mother Florence was literally scared to death by a bolt of lightning hitting a nearby tree. Allegedly the explosion either knocked her out of the rocking chair on the front porch of their clapboard farmhouse on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, or she was in such shock that she fell out of the chair on her own. At any rate, she took to her bed and died the next day.  I suspect there was more to the story than that, but like all snatches of eavesdropped family history, the story was colorful and short. Just like the fabled lightning bolt it charged the moment and was gone in a flash. Forever after that day the distant rumble of thunder was the signal to my grandmother that she should stop whatever she was doing wherever she was doing it and go to bed, where she would cover her head with the linens and wait out the storm. I rode out a lot of thunderstorms by myself during my childhood.

The other side of the thunderstorm anxiety coin in my house was my grandfather, who was the local fire chief. Being fire chief imbued Pop with a lot of Ripley's Believe-It-or Not kind of  knowledge about things other people didn't know. Things like: If you dunked a cat in ice water all it's fur would fall out. I never asked for the empirical proof of how he came by this tidbit, but I think it was the white fire chief's helmet that graced him with this plethora of wisdom. The guys at the fire house seemed to  think he was some sort of genius  because they would look up at him in awe...or maybe it was disbelief... I never could tell.  While the first rumble of distant thunder signaled Mom to go into hiding, Pop would run around the house and unplug every appliance with a cord on it from the wall sockets...except the lamps. Why the lamps were exempt from the rule is still a mystery, but since there weren't any circuit breakers other than the ones that were part of the ancient fuse boxes in our house, this might have not been a bad idea. Perhaps his subconscious fear of lightening originated from a particularly nasty aircraft crash that occurred during a vicious storm near our home-in the middle photo in the following link, Pop is the fire chief at the far left of the recovery crew. (,-md-lightning-explodes-air-liner,-dec-1963)

And then, there was the Ball Lightning Incident, which was the antithesis of proof of Pop's vast knowledge of thunderstorms. It happened during a whopper of a storm that came up the Delaware River when I was about ten years old: a ball of bright blue fire shot through the screen door at the front of the house, traveled the entire with of the building, and exited through the open bathroom window, trailing a tail of  white smoke behind it. It was accompanied by a loud sonic report and the aftershock of fracturing glass and took only seconds. My grandmother was snuggled down beneath the bedclothes in a Valium-induced haze and slept undisturbed through the whole thing. Thereafter the front door and  windows remained firmly closed during any threatening weather, no matter how hot it got in the house upon orders of the local fire chief.

How I was never traumatized by my grandparents real or imagined fear of lightning I will never know. The simple fact is that I love the energy and power of thunderheads, I will run out into the downpour like a mad woman to embrace the wind driven rain. Maybe it's because I'm a Pisces, or maybe it's because I was raised not far from a river whose tides frequently pulled the storms in and out. I can smell the rain in the heavy atmosphere as the barometric pressure falls, and the hair will stand up on my arms in response to the gathering electricity of a thunderstorm.

Myth about the fear of thunder and lightning was once credited to the anger of the gods. In fact, one of the identifying attributes of Thor is the lightning bolt.( The lightning of Thor is often represented by the swastika, which is also a symbol of power in the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions. Native Americans recognize it as one of many representations of the Sun Wheel. Thunderbirds-a stylized form of the eagle- are thought to carry lightning bolts in their talons.The right facing swastika was adopted as the symbol of the Nazi Party during the 1920s as an amulet of power. It is said that the mighty Roman god Jove kept eagles to hurl thunderbolts as punishment for men. 

Folk magick abounds with  lightning lore: wood taken from a tree struck by lightning should never be used in a fireplace lest it attract lightning to the house. Mirrors are covered so as not to absorb or attract it in some places, while in others mirrors are set out to taken in the energy. Planting holly around the foundation of a home is said to deflect lightning, as well as elder, hazel or acorns kept in the dwelling. ( Cassell's Dictionary of Superstitions, pg. 157) A fire started by a lightning strike should be allowed to burn out on its own, and the charred wood gathered to be used in magick. A particular prized find were Devil's pebbles, beads of melted glass caused by lightning striking sand.

The Navajo have many taboos concerning lightning; items such as wood or stones should only be handled by a shaman because they have sacred significance. ( ) Some Navajo blankets have patterns inspired by lightning in them.

Wiccan Author Scott Cunningham ( 1956-1993), an adept at elemental magick, recommended charging personal healing,protection and power items during thunderstorms by placing them in a secure open spot where the items will be exposed to the rain and reflection of lightning.  Cunningham taught that since lightning storms are periods of intense power, the spells cast during them will be amplified. He advised that protection spells would particularly benefit from this energetic boost.  (Scott Cunningham,Earth, Air, Fire and Water, pg. 189)

Ultimate respect should always be used when employing elemental magic. The forces of Nature are unpredictable, and therefore when practicing in the outdoors-particularly during a thunderstorm- I urge you to use caution and common sense. The feeling of lightning flashing all around you is indeed exhilarating, but standing in a clearing and pointing your wand at the sky during a violent storm with the hope of commanding the elements will make you more of a lightning rod than a magickian. Practice with safety first in mind!


  1. What a great post! I'm a fan of thunder and lightning too, but the cats are not so happy about storms.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Rue....My cats were never very happy, either,LOL.


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