Symbolic Meaning of Lightning

symbolic meaning of lightning

Symbolism of Lighting

Mother Nature is providing some spectacular light-shows in my neck of the woods, in the form of lightning. As usual, this got my mind twirling about the symbolism behind the event. I already knew a few symbolic attributes about lighting, but my curiosity got me on the hunt for more metaphorical goodies to share with you about the symbolic meaning of lightning.

Before launching into research from culture, myth and legend, I always like to search my own perception of a symbolic event first. What do I mean by that? Well, consider the staggering effect lightning has. How does it make you feel when you see that powerful voltage crackling in the skies? Do you find it electrifying? Terrifying? Inspiring? All of these are valid responses, and indeed, hints to deeper symbolic meaning of lightning.

To wit, lightning is a metaphor for human emotions such as: Fear, Reverence, Creativity and much more. Witnessing lightning has a tendency to churn up a whole slew of internal reactions. In essence, lightning ignites our deeper selves. These bolts of energy can potentially tap into our most primal, basic emotions.

Our ancestors knew this. For example, the Celts acknowledged lightning as huge juju. In fact, they established sacred spaces wherever they witnessed lightning strike. Wherever lightning struck, that was the spot of the sacred, the holy, the point-of-contact that signified connection with unfathomable power. These lightning-kissed spots became places of worship, honor and reverence. If a clansman or clanswoman got struck by lightning, Celtic edict stated that he or she would be forever endowed with the power of the highest deities...essentially, 'touched by the god/goddess'. This was the case whether he or she survived the strike, or transitioned into the 'otherworld'. Explore more about Celtic symbols here.

symbolic meaning of lightning

In Native American wisdom, lightning is closely aligned with the thunderbird. This association deals with honesty, truth and morality. According to certain tribal legends, the thunderbird emits lightning bolts from its eyes. These bolts strike down those who misguide, mislead or withhold the truth. I don't know about you, but the threat of lightning striking me down if I told a lie would be a great encouragement to stay honest! Get more about Native American symbols here.

Chinese wisdom designates the symbolic meaning of lightning with fertility. This has to do with lightning and its affiliation with nourishing rains. The Tao Te Ching, a sacred philosophical text, speaks of lightning in terms of fertility, to quote: "The powerful lightning bolt clings to the cloud to turn it to rain. It opens the womb and soon there will be the birth of new life." This refers to the regenerative power of rain initiated by the lightning bolt. Rain of course is a prime agricultural requirement, so lightning was a blessing and an occasion for celebration in this culture. Discover more about Chinese symbols and meanings here.

Many of you already know Zeus is associated with a lightning bolt. In this cultural arena (Greek), the symbolic meaning of lightning deals with strength, as well as intellect and 'bright ideas'. The Greeks also held lightning as a symbol of intuition and spiritual illumination. This concept deals with the union of fire and water. Two seemingly opposite elements join together to create a phenomenal interaction. The Greeks recognized that kind of combustion within the human psyche. Have you ever had an idea or a problem and discover the oddest solution/answer to it? Those moments go 'kapowie!', don't they? From 'out of the blue' something crops up and allows us to move forward. This is akin to the epiphany-provoking, inspiration-conjuring bolt of lightning Zeus wielded. More about the symbols of gods and goddesses can be found here.

Speaking of inspiration, this page wouldn't be incomplete without the mention of US inventor, Benjamin Franklin. His experiments gave him the 'bright idea' that lightning was one-in-the-same as electricity. From these experiments, Franklin eventually invented the lightning rod, which protected early homes from being struck by lightning. Bright idea, indeed!

Here are a few keywords for the symbolic meaning of lightning you may find illuminating...

symbolic meaning of lightning

Quick-List for Symbolic Meaning of Lightning

  • Power
  • Clarity
  • Sacred
  • Fertility
  • Creativity
  • Revelation
  • Inspiration
  • Destruction
  • Enlightenment
  • Announcement

I included "revelation" and "announcement" in the symbolic quick-list because countless cultures and myths ascribed lightning to be a herald of the divine. Thunder and lightning announced the presence of God to Moses (Exodus 19:16-18). In many shamanic traditions, lighting is a signal for an initiate to progress to the next level of training in the art of shaman wisdom.

Superstitions Surrounding Lightning

I love tracking down superstitions and marrying them with modern metaphor. The symbolic meaning of lightning offers tons of electrifying tidbits in folklore.

For example, English legend argues about which tree offers the best refuge from lightning. In fact, there is a Sussex rhyme about it:

"Beware of the oak, it draws the stroke.
Avoid the ash, it prompts the flash.
Creep under the thorn, it saves you from harm."
symbolic meaning of lightning

Interestingly, the ancient Celts recognized the oak tree attracts lightning, whereas the holly repels there might be something to the Sussex folk rhyme.

In the US, there is a superstition that burning wood that's been hit by lightning in the home's fireplace is a sure-fire way to get lightning to strike your house. Bummer. This superstition has a clause though. Apparently, opening the windows during a thunderstorm will encourage the energy of lightning to escape the home, avoiding any damage. Ah, superstitions... gotta love 'em.

According to French legend, charred remnants of a lightning strike (like wood bits or stones) can heal. The superstition states that placing a wood chunk or a stone struck by lightning on an open wound will offer strength and healing to the injured party.

I hope you have enjoyed this article on the symbolic meaning of lightning. Please do check out the links at the end of this page for more relevant the symbolism of storms, water and more!

As always, thank you for reading.

May all your encounters with lightning be inspirational and illuminating.



Special thanks to Dave Crotty for the lightning images.

An Important Note About Signs, Symbols and Their Meanings

Signs and symbols cultivate their meanings according to culture, context, passage of time in society as well as mass societal opinion. What's cool and highly important is that signs and symbols earn their most powerful meanings from our own personal perspectives.

This website strives to provide you with the best, time-honored information when defining signs and symbols. However, in the final analysis, "Beauty (and symbolism) is in the eye of the beholder."

Having said that, it's in our best interest to invest the time to do personal research on symbolic events happening to us. This website is just one perspective in an ocean of variety and diversity in the realm of symbolism. So dive in! There is a whole universe of deeper meanings to explore! You can start your research by clicking on the links at the end or to the side of this page. Odds are good I've got a follow-up article about this symbolic topic. ;)

As always, thanks for your willingness to learn more about the language of symbolism. It's a language that is universal and everywhere. It's super-groovy to travel with you on your symbolic path, and maybe offer a little translation along the way. Thanks for reading and exploring!


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