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Elemental Spirits and Lore: The Thunderbird

Only those who have had visions of the thunder beings of the west can act as heyokas. They have sacred power and they share some of this with all the people, but they do it through funny actions. When a vision comes from the thunder beings of the west, it comes with terror like a thunder storm; but when the storm of vision has passed, the world is greener and happier, for wherever the truth of vision comes upon the world, it is like a rain. The world, you see, is happier after the terror of the storm.” – Black Elk Speaks, as told through John G. Neihardt, 1932

The thunder beings and the thunderbird(s) are synonymous throughout Native American lore and cultures. This powerful spirit associated with water, storms, holy powers and the West is known and revered among tribes from the Pacific northwest to the plains to the Eastern coasts, including the Sioux, Arapaho, Lenape, Cherokee, Iroquois, Ojibwe, Salish, Menominee and many others.

To me, the Thunderbird represents a veritable symphony of all elemental powers. To Native Americans he was and is at once that embodied force of nature as well as a mighty cryptid creature, even if that creature only exists in our imaginations and hearts, without which we may manifest nothing. Why then must “imaginary” be inherently exclusive of reality? There is often a very fine line between the two.

There are theories that the earliest ideas for the Thunderbird were inspired by discoveries of pterosaur fossils (not pterodactyl, which only applies to a specific genus of pterosaur), if not perhaps by sightings of late-existing actual pterosaurs or some similar megafauna.

Thunder beings of various kinds are known in cultures the world over, most of which are anthropomorphic e.g. Thor-Donar of Norse and Germanic lore, and Zeus-Jupiter of Greek and Roman mythology. However, speaking of Norse cosmology, there is also a great hawk or falcon named Veðrfölnir  (Old Norse for “storm pale”, often Anglicized as Vedfolnir and roughly pronounced as VETH-fol-neer) who sits between the eyes of an unnamed eagle perched atop Yggdrasil, the world tree. 

From its three great roots the tree attained such a marvelous height that its topmost bough, called Lerad (the peace-giver), overshadowed Odin’s hall, while the other wide-spreading branches towered over the other worlds. An eagle was perched on the bough Lerad, and between his eyes sat the falcon Vedfolnir, sending his piercing glances down into heaven, earth, and Nifl-heim, and reporting all that he saw.” – Myths of the Norsemen by Helene A. Guerber

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite says #
    I see. Yeah I definitely know what multimedia is, just wasn't sure what exactly you meant in context! Thanks for clarifying, good
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I think the thunder beings and possibly the birds of prey are trying to transmit a story through you. Humans are story telling cr
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    The Foundation for Shamanic Studies website had some articles on it. In one of them the author described going to meet a thunder
  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite says #
    I don't think I am either, as I said. Actually I know I'm not. That is a very specific and very powerful role that few have been o

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