Only those who have had visions of the thunder beings of the west can act as heyokas. They have sacred power and they share some of this with all the people, but they do it through funny actions. When a vision comes from the thunder beings of the west, it comes with terror like a thunder storm; but when the storm of vision has passed, the world is greener and happier, for wherever the truth of vision comes upon the world, it is like a rain. The world, you see, is happier after the terror of the storm.” – Black Elk Speaks, as told through John G. Neihardt, 1932

The thunder beings and the thunderbird(s) are synonymous throughout Native American lore and cultures. This powerful spirit associated with water, storms, holy powers and the West is known and revered among tribes from the Pacific northwest to the plains to the Eastern coasts, including the Sioux, Arapaho, Lenape, Cherokee, Iroquois, Ojibwe, Salish, Menominee and many others.

To me, the Thunderbird represents a veritable symphony of all elemental powers. To Native Americans he was and is at once that embodied force of nature as well as a mighty cryptid creature, even if that creature only exists in our imaginations and hearts, without which we may manifest nothing. Why then must “imaginary” be inherently exclusive of reality? There is often a very fine line between the two.

There are theories that the earliest ideas for the Thunderbird were inspired by discoveries of pterosaur fossils (not pterodactyl, which only applies to a specific genus of pterosaur), if not perhaps by sightings of late-existing actual pterosaurs or some similar megafauna.

Thunder beings of various kinds are known in cultures the world over, most of which are anthropomorphic e.g. Thor-Donar of Norse and Germanic lore, and Zeus-Jupiter of Greek and Roman mythology. However, speaking of Norse cosmology, there is also a great hawk or falcon named Veðrfölnir  (Old Norse for “storm pale”, often Anglicized as Vedfolnir and roughly pronounced as VETH-fol-neer) who sits between the eyes of an unnamed eagle perched atop Yggdrasil, the world tree. 

From its three great roots the tree attained such a marvelous height that its topmost bough, called Lerad (the peace-giver), overshadowed Odin’s hall, while the other wide-spreading branches towered over the other worlds. An eagle was perched on the bough Lerad, and between his eyes sat the falcon Vedfolnir, sending his piercing glances down into heaven, earth, and Nifl-heim, and reporting all that he saw.” – Myths of the Norsemen by Helene A. Guerber

Eagles, Hawks and Falcons are all connected to or representative of the Thunderbird, and all share many powers and roles in common across many different cultures. Hawks have been appearing to me more and more in the past few months, even appearing and soaring low right over my head immediately after I inadvertently called them to me by simply wishing to see them.

While they are most strongly associated specifically with the west, in some tribal traditions the thunderbirds dwell in every direction and they come with the spring. This has been the “Spring of the Thunderbird” for me. I have been going through a storm of changes, terrors, and pains for just over a year now, but this spring has been bringing big transformations and powerful messages. The storm is clearing and new life and growth are beginning.

While journeying to a Native American ancestor on my birthday this past April, I was told to “listen for the Thunderbird”. More did the hawks appear. Just a couple of weeks ago I was honored to drum for a shamanic journeying group and in the drumbeat I felt the beating, thundering wings. I called the Thunderbirds to the circle and they visited a friend I had invited who was formally journeying with a group for the first time, showing her visions of their sacred quarter of the West.

Days after that journey, I acquired and charged a thunderbird pendant, closing the ritual with a request to experience them and their power more. Not two minutes after I finished and put on the pendant, a gentle thunder rolled and rain suddenly fell from a previously crystal-blue sky on a day when no rain was expected. I ran outside and walked in the beautiful shower that swept through the neighborhood in but fifteen minutes, moving from west to east.

Am I being called to be a heyoka, a sacred trickster and holy woman? No, I don’t think so. Am I being called to finally step more fully into my power, the roles I am meant to play in this life and to accept my ancestral and elemental birthrights? Absolutely. For this is the core message Thunderbird brings to all he visits.


Falling rage and desolation

Blow and howl as a sacred storm.

Purge the anger and the hate

Let them be, then let them fly

Into a dark and thundering sky

Where all pours down as tears of release

That in mercy cleanse and purify.

Thunderbird beats his booming wings

The fire and lightning flash from his eyes.

The vision is a blessing, a bestowal of sacred power

Felt in the mightiest of storms

And the gentlest spring shower.


© 2019 Meredith Everwhite (article and poem) - All Rights Reserved

Featured Image: "Under Thunderbird's Protection" by Norval Morrisseau