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Snowwowl July  2003

    In the legends of native North Americans, the thunderbird is a powerful spirit in the form of a bird. Lightning flashes from its beak, and the beating of its wings is creates the thunder. It is often portrayed with an extra head on its abdomen. The majestic thunderbird is often accompanied by lesser bird spirits, frequently in the form of eagles or falcons. 
The thunderbird petroglyph symbol has been found across Canada and the United States and within nearly all Native North American people’s legends and stories. 

    Thunderbird was used as an allegory, that is he was used as an attempt to allegorize certain forces of nature in the natural order such as wind, thunder, lightning, etc. 
Basically, Thunderbird was an attempt to represent the patterns of activity of a powerful, mysterious force in such a way that could be grasped and if not totally understood, at least accepted in a natural way as opposed to remaining solely in the grips of spiritual mysticism. – Snow Owl


    “In Plains tribes, the Thunderbird is sometimes known as Wakinyan, from the Dakota word kinyan meaning "winged." Others suggest the word links the Thunderbird to wakan, or sacred power. In many stories, the Thunderbird is thought of as a great Eagle, who produces thunder from the beating of his wings and flashes lightning from his eyes. Descriptions are vague because it is thought Thunderbird is always surrounded by thick, rolling clouds which prevent him from being seen.

    Further, there were a variety of beliefs
about Thunderbird, which suggest a somewhat complicated picture. Usually, his role is to challenge some other great power and protect the Indians - such as White Owl Woman, the bringer of winter storms; the malevolent Unktehi, or water oxen who plague mankind; the horned serpents; Wochowsen, the enemy bird; or Waziya, the killing North Wind. 

    But in some other legends (not so much in the Plains), Thunderbird is himself malevolent, carrying off people (or reindeer or whales) to their doom, or slaying people who seek to cross his sacred mountain.”

Erdoes, Richard, and Ortiz, Alfonso, eds., American Indian Myths and Legends, Pantheon Books, New York, 1984.

    “Many Plains Indians claim there are in fact four colors (varieties) of Thunderbirds (the blue ones are said, strangely, to have no ears or eyes), sometimes associated with the four cardinal directions, but also sometimes only with the west and the western wind. (According to the medicine man Lame Deer, there were four, one at each compass point, but the western one was the Greatest and most senior.)”

Fire and Erdoes 1972

     “The fact that they are sometimes known as "grandfathers" suggest they are held in considerable reverence and awe. It is supposed to be very dangerous to approach a Thunderbird nest, and many are supposed to have died in the attempt, swept away by ferocious storms. The symbol of Thunderbird is the red zig-zag, lightning-bolt design, which some people mistakenly think represents a stairway. Most tribes feel he and the other Thunder beings were the first to appear in the Creation, and that they have an especially close connection to wakan tanka, the Great Mysterious.” 

Gill, Sam D., and Sullivan, Irene F., Dictionary of Native American Mythology, ABC-CLIO Inc., Santa Barbara, 1992.

    “Myth Crypto zoologists like Mark A. Hall, having studied the Thunderbird myths
of numerous tribes, and compared them to (mostly folkloric) accounts of unusually large birds in modern times, as well as large birds (like the Roc) in other mythic traditions, suggest that there may well be a surviving species of large avians in America - big enough, apparently, to fly off carrying small animals or children, as has been claimed in some accounts.” 

Hall, Mark A., Thunderbirds: The Living Legend of Giant Birds, Fortean Publications, Minneapolis, 1988.

    “It was believed among the Lakota and other tribes that if you had a dream or vision of birds, you were destined to be a medicine man; but if you had a vision of Thunderbird, it was your destiny to become something else; heyoka, or sacred clown. Like Thunderbird, the heyoka were at once feared and held in reverence. They were supposed to startle easily at the first sound of thunder or first sight of lightning. Thunderbird supposedly inspired the "contrariness" of the heyoka through his own contrary nature. He alternates strong winds with calm ones. While all things in nature move clockwise, Thunderbird is said to move counterclockwise. Thunderbird is said to have sharp teeth, but no mouth; sharp claws, but no limbs; huge wings, but no body. All of these things suggest Thunderbird (and the heyoka) have a curious, paradoxical, contrary nature. You could become heyoka through a vision of the Thunderbird, or just of lightning or a formidable winged being of power.”

Steiger, Brad, Medicine Power, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1974

    It came as quite a shock to me (pun intended, all laugh now…?) to learn that Lightning causes more human deaths per year than any and all other weather events except for floods. 

    Without a doubt, a storm can be terrifyingly majestic, but if you have ever been in the midst of a heavy duty Lightning show, then you already know that one can be absolutely terrified of beauty; I have and I was. It wasn’t until afterwards, having safely making it through that I could look back in any type of appreciation of the sheer power and magnitude of fury that Lightning can generate. 

     The following is a compilation from various sources, all attributed I hope, along with picture examples of this phenomena called Lightning. – Snow Owl

What Causes Lightning?

    Lightning originates around 15,000 to 25,000 feet above sea level when raindrops are carried upward until some of them convert to ice. For reasons that are not widely agreed upon, a cloud-to-ground lightning flash originates in this mixed water and ice region. The charge then moves downward in 50-yard sections called step leaders. It keeps moving toward the ground in these steps and produces a channel along which charge is deposited. Eventually, it encounters something on the ground that is a good connection. The circuit is complete at that time, and the charge is lowered from cloud to ground. 

The flow of charge (current) produces a luminosity that is very much brighter than the part that came down. This entire event usually takes less than half a second. 

Photo Courtesy of
NOAA Photo Library,

NSSL Collection

Cityplex Towers in S Tulsa –
 Photo by Dave Crowley
Photo by Lightning Boy himself, Douglas Kiesling

This creator and photographer of this site “Lightning Boy”, has simply incredible pictures of the might, majesty and beauty of one aspect of Mother Nature. Do yourself a huge favor and enjoy his labors, which are readily apparent, done with love as well as an artistic heart. – Snow Owl

Photo by Lightning Boy himself, Douglas Kiesling
Photo by Lightning Boy himself, Douglas Kiesling
Photo by Lightning Boy himself, Douglas Kiesling
Photo by Ulph Wahlbom
Photography by Nick Djordjevic

The following pictures are from a purchased and registered National Geographic program and thus are copyrighted by them.

Lightning and Saguaro Catus at night.
Multiple strikes in desert hills.
One powerful bolt!
Over Tucson, Arizona.
Scratch one tree!
Lightning strike over water – and if that is a boat in the middle, sure am glad I’m not on it!

The above link is for the most part dedicated to various aspects, history as well as legends regardling lightning, as well as facts concerning injuries caused by lightning.

The above link is to a site that quite ably shows and discusses the basics of understanding lightning.


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