A thunderbolt or lightning bolt is a symbolic representation of lightning when accompanied by a loud thunderclap. In ancient Hellenic and Roman religious traditions, the thunderbolt represents Zeus or Jupiter (etymologically 'Sky Father'), thence the origin and ordaining pattern of the universe, as expressed in Heraclitus' fragment describing "the Thunderbolt that steers the course of all things". It is the same in other Indo-European traditions, for example the Vedic Vajra.
In its original usage the word may also have been a description of the consequences of a close approach between two planetary cosmic bodies, as Plato suggested in Timaeus, or, according to Victor Clube, meteors, though this is not currently the case. As a divine manifestation the thunderbolt has been a powerful symbol throughout history, and has appeared in many mythologies. Drawing from this powerful association, the thunderbolt is often found in military symbolism and semiotic representations of electricity.
Lightning plays a role in many mythologies, often as the weapon of a sky god and weather god. As such, it is an unsurpassed method of dramatic instantaneous retributive destruction: thunderbolts as divine weapons can be found in many mythologies.
- in the Hebrew Bible, the word for "arrow", khets חֵץ, is used for the "arrows" of YHWH/Elohim, which are represented as lightnings in Habakuk 3:11, but also as general calamities inflicted on men as divine punishment in Deuteronomy 32:42, Psalm 64:7, Job 6:4, etc.
- Indo-European traditions
- In Hittite (and Hurrian) mythology, a triple thunderbolt was one symbol of Teshub (Tarhunt).
- Vedic religion (and later Hindu mythology) the god Indra is the god of lightning. His main weapon is the thunderbolt (Vajra).
- In Greek mythology, the thunderbolt is a weapon given to Zeus by the Cyclops. Based on this, in Roman mythology, the thunderbolt is a weapon given to Jupiter by the Cyclops, and is thus one of the emblems of Jupiter, often depicted on Greek and Roman coins and elsewhere as an eagle holding in its claws a thunderbolt which resembles in form a bundle of crossed sticks.
- In Celtic mythology, Taranis is the god of thunder, in Irish, Tuireann.
- In Nordic mythology, Thor is specifically the god of thunder and lightning, wielding Mjolnir.
- In Turkish mythology, Bayülgen creates the thunderbolts.
- In Maya mythology, Huracan is sometimes represented as three thunderbolts.
- In Cherokee mythology, the Ani Hyuntikwalaski ("thunder beings") cause lightning fire in a hollow sycamore tree.
- In Ojibway mythology, thunder is created by the Thunderbirds (Nimkiig or Binesiiwag), which can be both benevolent and malevolent to human beings.
- In Igbo mythology, the thunderbolt is the weapon of Amadioha/Amadiora.
- In Yoruba mythology, the thunderbolt is the weapon of Shango.
- In Tibetan Buddhism, the 'Vajra' or thunderbolt is symbol of Vajrayana branch.
- In Paleo-Balkan mythology, Zibelthiurdos (also "Zbelsurdos", "Zibelthurdos"): a god recognized as similar to the Greek Zeus as a wielder of lightning and thunderbolts.
- In Navajo mythology, the hero twins, Naʼídígishí and Naayééʼ Neizghání, have bows that shoot thunderbolts as arrows.
- In Chinese mythology, Lei Gong uses thunderbolts as a weapon and his wife, Tian Mu, creates the accompanying lightning flashes with her mirror.
The name "thunderbolt" or "thunderstone" has also been traditionally applied to the fossilised rostra of belemnoids. The origin of these bullet-shaped stones was not understood, and thus a mythological explanation of stones created where a lightning struck has arisen.
In the modern world
The thunderbolt or lightning bolt continues into the modern world as a prominent symbol; it has entered modern heraldry and military iconography.
- In iconography
- The thunderbolt is used as an electrical symbol.
- A thunderbolt is used in the logo of the Australian hard rock band AC/DC.
- In fiction
- The thunderbolt is the symbol seen on the chest of the costumes worn by the DC Comics characters Captain Marvel, the Flash, and Static.
- In the Harry Potter franchise, the scar on Harry's forehead is in the shape of a thunderbolt.
- In the novel The Godfather, "being hit with the thunderbolt" is a Sicilian expression referring to a man being spellbound at the sight of a beautiful woman. The novel's emerging main character is affected in this fashion and eventually marries a woman whose appearance initially affects him in this way.
- DK B64.
- Plato (2008). Timaeus. 1st World Publishing. p. 15, paragraph 22C-D in original. ISBN 9781421893945. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
- Clube, Victor; Napier, Bill (1982). The cosmic serpent: a catastrophist view of earth history. Universe Books. p. 173ff. ISBN 9780876633793.
- Dictionary of Roman Coins
- Vendetti, Jan (2006). "The Cephalopoda: Squids, octopuses, nautilus, and ammonites". UC Berkeley. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
- Geoffrey Peckham. "On Graphical Symbols". Compliance Engineering. Retrieved August 3, 2012.