The God Of Thunder

Apart from earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, which are liable to occur only in certain specific regions of the world, there is no more frightening manifestation of nature than the thunderstorm. Amazing flashes of light crackling out of darkened skies; menacing rumbles, building up to terrific crashes; trees stricken and scorched; on occasion even instantaneous death to humans. All this is readily ascribed to the fury of a supernatural being. In most of the ancient pantheons of Indo-European peoples we can identify a god whose province it was. The question is whether these storm-gods show shared characteristics, apart from their command of thunder and lightning, such as to mark them as heirs to a common Indo-European heritage.

For classicists it is natural to think of the storm function as belonging to the great god of the sky, as it does to Zeus in Greece and to Jupiter at Rome. But elsewhere we find a dedicated storm-god who is not identified with the sky or the sky-god: the Hittite Tarhunna, the Indic Indra, the Slavonic Perun, the Baltic Perkunas, the Germanic Donar or Thor, the Celtic Taranus or Taranis. This is almost certainly the original situation. The Indo-European *Dyeus was essentially the bright sky of day. We saw in Chapter 4 that his Indic and Greek representatives could fertilize Earth with rain. But this peaceful conjugal relationship, of which we are the incidental offspring, is complete in itself. Thunderous electrical rages directed (in most mythologies) against demons or dragons cannot be considered an organic part of it. And the specialist storm-gods have a distinctive character of their own; they are more like each other than they are like the god of the sky, where he can still be made out. So it seems altogether more likely that Zeus and Jupiter have appropriated the functions of a separate storm-god who has faded from sight than that they alone preserve the integrity of *Dyeus' personality, the other traditions having conspired to create a separate thunderer.1

The storm-gods have diverse names. But there is one name whose cognates and variants appear over a wide area.2 The Baltic Perkunas may be taken as its prime exponent. We will begin with him, trace the connections of the name in various directions, and then go on to gods unrelated in name but akin in character.

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