Electricity as a Deity
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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Zeus or Jupiter may be the well-known Greek or Roman god of thunder and lightning, but this deity isn’t the only one who has been worshipped for his powers over electricity. While religions and cultures are vastly different in different regions around the world, there have been different cultures that worshipped a god (or goddess) of thunder and lightning. Before this energy form was used to power homes, phones, computers and other devices, civilizations thought this power could be harnessed for other uses.

      Thor is the Norse god who holds dominion over many elements including thunder, lightning and storms. This god has regained popularity in recent years, as Thor is a character in the Marvel comic books and movies. In this particular mythology, it was believed that when a thunderstorm occurred, Thor rode through the skies in his chariot and he controlled the storm. The hammer Thor carries, Mjölnir, created flashes of lightning when Thor threw it. Though one form or another of Thor was worshipped from the Roman era through the post Viking era (and there is even still modern day folklore about this popular god), in each one of his incarnations he was actually best known as the god of thunder.

During his time as a ruling god, Thor had an annual feast prepared in his honor. Festivity goers would call upon Thor at the height of storm season, which falls during modern day winter. At this feast, people would offer up food in hopes that Thor would fight off the frost and winter storms; they would ask for spring to come early. It seems like the traits of this god may have been highly influential because if you look at a calendar and see that day of the week that comes before Friday? Well, it’s named in honor of Thor. That, and Finland, a close neighbor of Norway’s, had a thunder god as well.

      Ukko may literally translate to old man in Finnish, but this word has parallels in two gods. In Estonian mythology, Uku is the god of the sky, weather and thunder; in Finnish mythology, Ukko (also known as Äijö/Äijä, Ylijumala or Perkele [though this last name is now used more as a curse word in Finland]) is the god of the sky, thunder and the most powerful god in this mythology. In fact, the Finnish word for thunder is ukkonen. Ukko has a similar status among Finnish gods and goddesses as Zeus does in Greek mythology; Ukko was the leader of the gods.

Similar to the Norse mythology, Ukko was often depicted with a hammer, though his weapon sometimes was referred to as a sword or an axe. Whatever the weapon was, Ukko used it to strike lightning, thus producing thunderbolts. Thunderstorms were said to be Ukko doing one of two things: riding his chariot throughout the heavens or having a relationship with his wife, Akka (which literally translates to old woman). Because of his powers, Ukko was also worshipped in the spring as the seeds needed to be sown. People would gather for a feast that they would offer to Ukko, asking him to bring the rain and end the drought. This feast would go on for hours and as a sacred ale would be drunk, the festivities would get rather rowdy.

With most of the religions of modern day being monotheistic (and the science of weather being better understood), the notion that people were not only worshipping a personified form of storms and electricity, but also had deities dedicated to them may seem a little bizarre. It wasn’t odd for these two European cultures that had their own respective lightning and thunder gods. But it wasn’t just ancient European civilizations that worshipped a god with this power; cultures across the world had their own incarnations of this powerful being.

Catch next month’s blog post to learn about two more electric gods who ruled over civilizations in the Americas!

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