The Deities and Gods of Weather: Exploring Ancient Mythology and Beliefs

by | 10 Oct 2023

Weather has always held a powerful sway over our existence. People around the world have long looked to the elements, seeking to understand the mysteries of the sky. In the past, beliefs about what – or who – controlled the weather were so influential that they shaped agricultural behaviour and even the course of wars. Intrigued? Join Insight for a captivating journey through the various gods of weather across different cultures.

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Zeus

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In Greek myths, Zeus (the formidable king of the gods) ruled over the skies and commanded the weather. Zeus was responsible for thunderstorms and lightning and was often depicted in massive mosaics and marble sculptures with a lightning bolt in hand. Zeus could be pretty vengeful: it was said when mortals forgot about him, he caused drought, precipitating terrible famines – so regular prayers to Zeus were crucial. Zeus’ brother Poseidon, meanwhile, controlled the seas and earthquakes.

Thor

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Thor, the red-bearded (and occasionally blond) thunder god of Norse mythology, was a central figure in Viking sagas and pagan Germanic poetry. In historical myths, he wielded the mighty Mjölnir, a magical hammer that not only represented his control over thunderstorms but also served as a weapon against giants and other adversaries.

For ancient Scandinavians, the sound of thunder was often attributed to Thor’s hammer striking the heavens, while lightning bolts were the sparks from its impact.

Though the Norse gods have their origins in pre-Roman times, the cult of Thor was at its height during the Viking era, when the fierce warriors looked to Thor for victory in battle.

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Tlaloc

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The Aztecs held Tlaloc in high regard as the god of rain, earthly fertility, and water. His name translates to “he who makes things sprout”, so this deity was essential for agricultural prosperity in a region with variable rainfall patterns. The Aztecs made offerings of food (and very occasionally, humans) to Tlaloc to guarantee the survival of their crops, along with rain priests wielding magical ‘fog rattles’ in a ceremony to obtain rain.

Tlaloc’s distinctive features – big eyes and even bigger fangs – were found on almost every item Aztec visual culture produced, from giant stone statues to jade pottery and death masks. Later, when Spanish colonists arrived, Tlaloc made his way onto colorful codexes.

Lono

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In indigenous Hawaiian mythology, Lono was a major deity, closely tied to agriculture, fertility, and rainfall. Lono was honored during the annual Makahiki season, a period of peace, feasting, and celebration marking the end of the harvest season and the arrival of the rainy months. Oral tradition stated that the first day of rain only came when Lono traveled to the Hawaiian islands from the ancient homeland.

During this four-month period, all unnecessary work was stopped, communal fun was encouraged and offerings were made to Lono to ensure bountiful crops. Today, the Aloha festivals on the Hawaiian islands pay homage to Makahiki.

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Sol

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Like Ra in Egyptian myths, Sol was the Roman embodiment of the sun, a celestial force that provided light, warmth, and life to the world. Sol originated in the folklore of the pre-Roman Sabine people in Italy, before becoming one of the ancient Roman gods. He was often depicted riding a chariot across the sky, carrying the sun with him on its daily journey.

The worship of Sol as one of the main Roman gods began during the later stages of the Roman Empire, culminating in the establishment of Sol Invictus, an imperial cult whose name translates to “the Unconquered Sun.” Emperor Aurelian, in the 3rd century AD, elevated Sol Invictus to the position of a state god, emphasizing his importance as a unifying and triumphant force in the midst of the declining empire’s many challenges.

The Rainbow Serpent

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In Aboriginal Australian mythology, the Rainbow Serpent is a prominent figure associated with water, rain, and fertility. This colossal serpent is believed to have created Earth as we know it, forming rivers, lakes and valleys. The Rainbow Serpent lives under water holes and brings blessings of rain, but if not given due respect, it will bring devastating droughts.

The most common depictions of the Rainbow Serpent are found on warm-hued Aboriginal Australian rock art – some of which are up to 6,000 years old. In West Arnhem Land, you can see a vivid piece of rock art containing a 6-meter Rainbow Serpent baring its teeth.

Tāwhirimātea

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The Māori people of New Zealand revered Tāwhirimātea as the deity responsible for the weather, especially winds, storms, and tempests. The weather dictated the life cycle of crops in the Southern Hemisphere, as well as fishing – two major components of Māori life. Tāwhirimātea was a child of Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother.

Ranginui and Papatūānuku always lay closely together, but in order to let light into the world, Tāwhirimātea’s six brothers split them apart. Tāwhirimātea was not happy, unleashing fierce winds and rains to show his displeasure. He defeated all but one brother: Tūmatauenga, the god of war and human activities. The battle between weather and humankind still rages on.

Indra

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In the ancient mythology of Hinduism, Indra held a pivotal role as the ruler of the heavens, storms, and rain – but Indra’s origins go as far back as the Hittites, who lived in Anatolia (modern Turkey) in the 14th century BC. With his thunderbolt, Vajra, he could summon rain to nurture the earth. Indra’s stories are woven throughout Hindu epics, showing off his divine power and the importance of rain for agricultural prosperity. Indra’s festival, known as Indra Puja, is celebrated in some parts of northeastern India to this day, such as Bengal.

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Thunderbird

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Across different Native American tribes (such as the Algonquian, Sioux, Ojibwe and Winnebago), the Thunderbird occupies a significant place in mythology and iconic imagery. This majestic bird, usually depicted in paintings and weaved clothing with its wings outstretched, is associated with thunder, lightning, and storms. The flapping of its wings was said to sound like thunder, while lightning flashed from its beak.

Certain tribes revered the Thunderbird as a deity, capable of producing either good rains or terrifying hurricanes, while other tribes saw it as a powerful but otherwise ordinary member of the animal kingdom. Either way, the Thunderbird continues to star in time-honored tales and feature on Native American art.

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We are curious about the world, and we know you are too. And it’s that curiosity and sense of adventure we aim to spark through our Insightful blog. Each month we bring you stories, interviews, awe-inspiring photography and videos from around the world – always threaded through with our expert insights and destination knowledge.

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