Saturday 12 November 2016

Storm gods rule!

In ancient religions all over the world – Greece, Rome, Iceland, India – the chief god was the god of storms, whether it was Zeus brandishing his thunderbolt, Thor with his magic hammer, or Indra riding his multi-tusked elephant.

My new book Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion) explores the fascinating stories surrounding these gods, such as how a wicked giant stole Thor’s hammer and demanded the hand of a princess in marriage as the price of its return. Thor disguised himself as the bride, and managed to escape detection at the wedding ceremony in spite of eating an ox and eight salmon. Then he grabbed the hammer and killed the giant.

The Maoris told of how the sky god made love endlessly to the earth goddess so their children could never get out of her womb. Eventually one of the young deities managed to prise them apart, but this upset the storm god Tawhirimatea who had been quite happy inside his mother, and now became an unruly presence on land and sea.

In some Slavic regions, they believed the darkness held the sun prisoner in a cell which could be opened only by lightning from the storm god, Perun, and a spring festival used to be held at which maidens would dance themselves to death in his honour. This became the inspiration for Stravinsky’s ballet, The Rite of Spring, while the cult 1970s British horror film, The Wicker Man, was inspired by sacrifices to the Celtic storm god, Taranis.

For much more on the role of storms in religion, see Storm: Nature and Culture by John Withington. Reaktion Books. Price £14.95.  ISBN 9781780236612.

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