Thunderbird: Not The Car, The Legend
July 9, 2013

Thunderbird: Not The Car, The Legend

Scientifically, thunder, lightning, and the winds associated with storms are manifested when moist air collides with the warm unstable air above. Mostly, these storms occur in the afternoon hours by the heating of the day. Some storms can be severe, producing damaging winds, multiple lighting strikes, and tremendous explosions of thunder.

Lightning occurs when the negative charge in the cloud is attracted to a positive charge on the Earth’s surface, trees, buildings, etc. Thunder, on the other hand, is the loud noise associated with the lightning strike when atmospheric gases are heated by the discharge of the lightning bolt. Wind is caused when a low pressure and a high-pressure system converge. The closer the two systems are to each other the stronger the wind.

Now that the science is covered, we will delve into Native American legends of a thunderstorm. According to a few Native American legends, the Thunderbird is a supernatural creature with enormous wings.

The flapping of its wings as it flies, stirs up the air, pulls the clouds together, and causes the wind. Thunder is the sound made by this enormous bird’s wings as they flap. Heat or sheet lighting, as we call it, in the legend, is caused when the Thunderbird blinks its eyes and flashes of light are released. The bolts of lightning in some legends derive from the glowing snakes the Thunderbird carries around. Others depict the bolts of lightning that are shot from its eyes.

Many totem poles, masks, quilts, and other artifacts from various Native American cultures use the Thunderbird on them. Although there are many different descriptions of this creature, from a multi-colored body, having two horns, and sometimes with teeth filled beaks, the native legend lives on.

Stories of the Thunderbird have been passed down for generations. It is described, depending on the storyteller, as a single creature or an actual species.

In some stories, the Thunderbird lives at the top of a mountain and is the servant of the Great Spirit. It causes the storms and controls rainfall.

The Kwakwakawakw and Cowichan tribes believed it could shape shift into human form. It would tilt back its beak and remove its feathers. One story tells of a family of Thunderbirds that lived on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Other tribes tried to capture them to be slaves, but the family transformed back into Thunderbird form and sought revenge.

The Anishinaabe have a sundance ceremony where they will place a Thunderbird nest near the top of the tree of life and dancers will look toward the nest and raise their arms reaching for it. A Thunderbird pipe and medicine is also used during this ceremony. This ceremony is a celebration in remembrance of a time when a killer whale invaded the bay and all of the fish disappeared. The tribe was starving and called out to the Thunderbird for help. The massive bird swooped down and grabbed the whale from the bay. The fish returned and the tribe was able to survive.

A Passamaquoddy legend of the Thunderbird describes two members of the tribe entering a magical mountain range in search of the origin of thunder. The peaks of the mountains would separate the slam closed again. The two leaped through when the mountaintop opened, but only one made it successfully. The other was crushed. The tribesman saw warriors playing with a ball. When they were finished, they entered their wigwams and exited covered in feathers with wings. With bows and arrows they flew away to hunt. The tribesman spoke to an elder of the Thunderbird village and told of his quest. The villagers placed him in a tub and beat him until all his bones were broken. He was then reformed into a Thunderbird, sent away and now keeps a vigilant watch over the village.

So, now when a storm is brewing, the wind increases, lightning flashes, and an enormous clap of thunder roars, look up and see if you can catch a glimpse of a Thunderbird as it flies by.

Join me next time for another creature, legend, or some other mysterious tale in Supernatural Endeavors.

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