“Storms are the embodiment of Mother Nature’s flair for the dramatic, and the words that we use to write about them are infused with that drama,”—the words aren’t mine, but they express something I often acknowledge. The quote comes from a Verbomania post about the word “brontide”—a noun for things that sound like distant thunder. Weather-related words are indeed part of the religious vocabulary as well. I wasn’t quite daring enough to suggest it in Weathering the Psalms, but it seems that thunder may be behind most basic religious beliefs. Well, that and bad luck. Think about it—most cultures have a very powerful storm-deity. That power is expressed in thunder. Even in the twenty-first century a sudden clap can made the sophisticated duck and cover.
We don’t know as much about ancient Mesopotamian culture as we’d like to, but it’s pretty clear that storm deities commanded major of respect. Eventually in the city-state of Ugarit, in what is now northern Syria, a god named Hadad (aka “thunderer”) became the patron of the city and was known mainly by his title “lord” (Baal). There may have been more than one lord, but the one in charge of day-to-day affairs was the one who controlled storms. We’ve entered another rainy season around here (something you tend to notice when the roof leaks), and my thoughts often turn to how very much the weather controls us. Interestingly, thunder hasn’t been much in the picture. We’ve lived in our house coming up on a year and I have been awoken by thunder (something that still scares me as much as when I was a kid) only once. Thunder is the approach of gods.
There’s drama about the weather. In fact, fiction writers have long known that one of the most effective ways to suggest the mood of a story is the meteorological method. Weather sets the scene. The sound of distant thunder has a naturally ominous, almost predatory quality. The growling, low and loud bursts from the sky sound so like human expressions of rage that it is only natural that they should be interpreted this way. Since the sky is (or used to be) out of the reach of humans, the sounds from above were from the realm of the divine. When gods approach the mood is threatening. We dare not meet them. That mythology has long informed our perceptions of meteorological phenomenon, acknowledged or not. Brontide is an underused word that brings the drama of both nature and the divine together. It could be a psalm word.