On strike! Wait, no, on fire.

In thinking about the thunder god’s different forms, I see a common thread: these deity-forms tend to be the volatile, charismatic, colourful “characters” of their pantheons, with lusty appetites and vivid tales spun round them.

Certainly I can understand the tempestuous traits, the storm naturally manifesting its presiding god, but how did lightning get paired with vivacity? In literature we sometimes read of attraction feeling like a jolt, but this is a modern simile: we know the “buzz” of a sudden shock because we have electricity. In ancient times, the vast majority of the people who experienced that electric flash, had about a millisecond to process how it felt, before getting a serious case of dead. The bolt lights the sky, makes day of night, and in an indirect way heralds life because it foreshadows the vital rain. But that’s rather like honouring rocks as life-bringers because they eventually erode into soil in which things grow – not inaccurate, but a bit of a stretch.

In 1952, scientists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey decided to wake up, have some cookies, and get working on how life originated on planet Earth*. So they rigged up a primordial soup of chemicals, exposed it to the conditions of the ancient world’s atmosphere in microcosm, and shocked it to simulate lightning. Within a few weeks they had amino acids – the building blocks of proteins, which are essential to all overpriced health foods and/or life as we know it. The Miller-Urey experiment is still considered one of the niftiest uses of science ever.

Of course, being that Veda records all knowledge, this “discovery” was already given to the ṛṣis long ago, in the life-giving character of the God who frees the waters and wields the bolt, the primordial ocean awakened to life by the touch of lightning. Whether it happens in the spiritual realm or in laboratory flasks, it’s genesis, magic.

Other aspects of the Devas are also illumined by envisioning the pre-recorded past. For example, consider that in Vedas Indra and Agni are sometimes hymned together; in later writing they are even said to be twins. The first flame known to mankind was likely the wildfire of the lightning-strike, and those echoes seem to resound in the Devas’ hymns: Indra, the most ancient and ever-active, and Agni, the youngest and ever new-born.

In exploring lightning further, we find Indra’s bolt represented as the Vajra – :points to her user icon: THAT – a curious double-edged thing that looks like two forks stuck together by the handles. This spiky lightning was also depicted in the hands of other ancient thunder-wielders, like Marduk. But since Vedic religion wasn’t pictorial, we don’t know when or how this image got associated with Indra.

And the image itself seems strange, doesn’t it? A later Purāṇic story tells that a great sage gave up his life to help the Devas, and that his spine was used to make Vajra. It’s a beautiful tale with a great teaching, but not helpful for explaining how Vajra looks, because anyone with a vertebral column shaped like that, needs to see a chiropractor, stat. And if you consider Vajra as a weapon, then it still makes no sense: almost any way you hold it, the projectile lash would strike you as well as everyone else.

However – for those of us who are not poet-seers and don’t receive our answers directly from the Source – we have SCIENCE, which clarifies the mirror-image Vajra wonderfully. We now know that lightning is more of an ionic exchange between earth and sky, and that the most visibly luminous part of the flash is actually the “return stroke” that travels from earth skyward. Energy travels downward, energy travels upward; the process is hard to see with the naked eye, but Vajra is a simple artistic representation of how lightning actually works. Incidentally, the average lightning bolt can be positively- or negatively-charged; the negative has an average current of 30 kA (kiloamperes) the positive 300 kA. The average stroke lasts for 30 msec, and a typical strike is made of 3 strokes. That blood-stirring, ‘charged’ scent of lightning air – ozone – is O3. And Vajra has three prongs on each side.

Anyhow, nothing earth-shattering (lightning! earth-shattering! ha!), just a few random thoughts from today. And as the strike of lightning is often sudden and unexpected, so is the conclusion of blog posts.

*I admit to some shoddy research here. There may or may not have been cookies involved.

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4 thoughts on “On strike! Wait, no, on fire.

  1. There certainly seems to be a creative and evolutionary symbolism that goes hand in hand with lightning. :) Even more so if you see lightning shared around by a god among a couple of his offspring as the case of Athena and Apollon who have been known to wield their father’s lightningbolts, but are also directly associated with his will more so than any other gods. I am not sure if Indra shares any such kind of relationship when it comes to lightning as an extension of his creative power…anyway some good stuff to mentally chew over, so thanks for the inspiring post! :)

    • Indra’s lightning is far more associated with his destructive power – specifically, the sharp, quick, brutal flash of instant illumination and equally-instant obliteration. Indra, as the Lord of Truth who does not stray from it, if invoked will show the complete truth regardless of the pain in its revelation. (This is why one Vedic prayer to him asks “show not beyond us” – to give only what the devotee is ready to receive.)

      Lightning is his power to expose the false, vaporise the temporal, and, most importantly, sever the ego (symbolised in several stories and images as decapitation). It can seem cruel, indiscriminate, but Indra is the lord of freedom. What he creates, ultimately, is the unfettered being who realises ultimate liberation from illusory restraints. And as lord of the vital breath/life force, he provides the endless space in which to realise this spiritual release. The fast movement and relentless energy of lightning, splits apart what is inert and weighty – remember that he reveals himself in division and multiplicity, yes? – and so the sky opens with nourishing rain. Water rushes down the mountains. Trees and the earth crack open. And the “thunderstruck” devotee is suddenly pushed beyond imagined limitations and into the awareness of a new life.

      In later stories Indra’s vajra is only an instrument of brute violence, a weapon he employs to pointlessly defend a petty throne. But the Vedic Indra has matchless power, because he reveals to the seeker that s/he stands on the threshold of endless possibilities. For his devotee, Indra will crack open the world – and within that shell lies the freedom to create anew.

      You’re quite welcome, for the post. :)

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