Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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The Flowering Thunderbolt



Those who have been following Russian strongman Putin's rape of Ukraine will be familiar with the sign of the tryzhub (“trident”), the national symbol of Ukraine.

It is the symbol of Perun, the Slavic Thunderer.

Around 820, the people of Kyiv (KEE-yiv; in Russian, Kiev) invited Rurik (Norse Roerekr), Varangian prince of Novogorod, to rule their city. He accepted their offer, and his descendants, called the Rurikids, ruled there for more than 400 years. The tryzhub was their family crest.


Though Rurik was himself a Christian, his Norse forebears had been worshipers of Thor, known to the Slavs among whom they settled as Perun.

Compare the tryzhub with the keraunos (“thunderbolt”) in the hand of Zeus on this Archaic vase:







While these weapons may not to the modern eye bear much resemblance to lightning, there is deep meaning here. This is the fruitful thunderbolt, the flowering thunderbolt, the vegetative thunderbolt: the paradoxical life-giving blast with which the Thunderer, Giver of Rain, brings forth plenty.

The motif would seem to have originated in the art of the Canaanite Levant. This stele of Ba'al-Hadad, the Canaanite Thunderer, from the city of Ugarit, dates from circa 1275 BCE:


Limestone stela of Baal with thunderbolt, Ugarit, 17th-15th C. BCE. Baal  brandishes mace of thunder, hold… | Ancient mesopotamia, Ancient  civilizations, Ancient art


With his right hand, Ba'al raises a mace with which to smite his foes; with his left, he lowers a flowering spear. (The reversed—point-down—spear is the warrior's immemorial gesture of coming-in-peace.) The Thunderer holds the power both to take life, and to give it. Both war and peace are his to give or withhold.

In Buddhist art, the thunderbolt—known as the vajra—has come to symbolize enlightenment. Though psychologized and detached from real-world referents, Buddhism has faithfully retained much archaic imagery, as in its retention of the ancient Indo-European kurgan—burial mound—as the stupa.



Tempting as it may be to see in the tryzhub/keraunos/vajra a motif of ancient Indo-European origin, it is likely that what we actually see here is the pervasive influence of Hellenistic art.

As I write this, the people of Ukraine are fighting valiantly against a relentless Russian juggernaut. When the defenders of Snake Island in the Black Sea—formerly a sacred island with a hero shrine to Achilles—were warned by a Russian warship to lay down their arms or undergo shelling, their now-viral response was: “Go f*ck yourself.” All thirteen defenders were killed in the subsequent bombardment.

Vichnáya pamyát: Memory eternal.


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Tagged in: thunderer ukraine
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Sunday, 27 February 2022

    I've seen depictions of the Edomite god Qos holding something that could be a thunderbolt or a grapevine. I've read that the Romans identified him with both Jupitar and Baccus. Your explanation of the fruitful thunderbolt clears up the imagery for me. Thank you.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 28 February 2022

    Seems like every ancient people had their own name for Thunder. I'll have to take a look at Qos' iconography.

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