A thunderstorm just blew through our area. It dumped a ton of hail out in our yard; it’s far too warm and wet for the hail to last very long but it was loud and filled with lightning and thunder, all very impressive. Our dogs, unfortunately, are terrified and are likely to refuse to go outside without human accompaniment for several days. They’ve been needy and we’ve allowed them access to our bedroom once the cats are put away in their room; being around the people seems to help them calm down.
During the storm, it occurred to me that thunderstorms must have played a part in the birth of religion. Even to a modern, scientifically literate sophisticate such as myself the storm is a little bit scary — and I know full well what’s going on up there in the sky and why the world is behaving the way it is. A lightning strike can kill a human being, can light a house on fire in an instant. Hailstones can get large enough to draw blood when they strike. For someone with little ability to understand air currents, atmospheric pressure, static electricity, sonic booms, and how hail is formed, the sudden violent insanity of the weather must have been terrifying, confusing, and awe-inspiring.
There are clearly very, very powerful forces at work, and it’s hard to avoid describing a thunderstorm without using words alluding to anger and rage. Nature herself is angry. If nature can be angry, then she must be something like a person, to have emotions. Maybe, then, someone can do something to calm her down, make her less angry and less scary. That would seem to be a terribly important thing to do during the chaos, violence, and destruction that a thunderstorm can generate. And it would account for a lot of ancient visions of the gods as temperamental, capricious, destructive, cruel, and judgmental.
Now that we understand what causes thunderstorms, of course, we have no need for myths about thunder-gods. But that doesn’t make the thunder any less impressive when you’re in the middle of it.