Angry glowing eyes, lightning in his hand. Who hides inside this armor?
God of Thunder – you say? You are right!
But tell me which one, because you know, there were many…
Characteristic deities of all Indo-European mythologies.
Can we even count them?
Encyclopaedia lists the names of the fourteen Thunderers:
Armenian Aramazd, Germanic (west) Donar, Indian Indra, Roman Jupiter, Baltic Perkunas,
Slavic Perun, Iranian Piran (or Mithra), Hittite Teshub (or Tarhuna), Slavic (west) Svetovid,
Celtic Taranis, Germanic (north) Thor, Anglo-Saxon Thunor, Ossetian Uacilla and Greek Zeus.
But there are twenty one I-E mythologies in the Encyclopaedia! Add to this the lost ones and some local branches… Finally, we end up with 14-16 known names and probably another dozen forgotten. We should also add the non-Indo-European mythologies, which borrowed the idea of a God of Thunder and incorporated him into their own pantheons or added his characteristics to their own gods (for example Finnish Ukko).
That makes for a whole crowd of thunder-wielding gods!
Who was more powerful: Zeus, Thor or Indra?
This is a kind of question that I quite often stumble upon when wandering across the internet.
There are also artworks like this one:
or this one:
While there is basically nothing wrong with such questions and illustrations,
my answer would be: “none of them“and “this cannot be“.
Although these gods were depicted differently and had different names, they were all the same deity.
The Supreme God of Thunder of the Proto-Indo-European people.
After our ancestors spread all over the world to conquer most of it, their culture diversified, evolved and so did the Thunderers.
Therefore, there is little sense in direct comparison of the individual Thunder Gods because they existed in different environments.
But if we really wanted to make some ranking, we could compare the relative powers of Thunderers,
and the roles they played in their own pantheons.
Of course it can only be done for mythologies which left enough written sources.
Let’s focus on the three best known Thunderers depicted above.
We could add Jupiter, but in order to avoid swelling the post too much, we will consider him
a Roman equivalent (or even copy) of Zeus.
- Origin. Son of Cronus and Rhea – the Titans who were the second generation of divine rulers of the world. In order to get his position and become a god, Zeus had to fight his father and other Titans. This way he became the leader of the third divine generation.
- Power. Zeus featured great wisdom, strength and magical power. He was the highest judge of gods and men. He was also the strongest. Only his son Heracles proved to be equal during a wrestling match between the two, which ended in a tie. Zeus’ magical powers included extensive use of lightning, shapeshifting (applied mostly for the purpose of his countless erotic conquests; but he could also transform humans into animals, trees, springs, stones etc.), rule over weather phenomena, revival of the deceased or placing them on the sky as constellations. Zeus was able to create human and half-divine beings from urine, tears, clouds, ants… He could also grant immortality and eternal youth.
- Cosmogonic Duel. Zeus greatest feat as a guardian of the world order was the victory over Typhon, the ultimate monster of chaos, son of Gaia. Although the most powerful of the gods, Zeus lost the first engagement (together with his sinews). Only with the help from Hermes, Pan and the Moirae was he able to recover and put his opponent down. He was also one of the two most proficient fighters during the Gigantomachy (the other one was Heracles).
- Family life. Zeus was married to Metis, Themis and finally Hera, who bore him a total of 10 children. Another 19 he begot with multiple lovers. This gives a total of at least 29 children gods. Let me know if you manage to count his human offspring (there were kings, princesses, heroes, sages, etc.)…
- Origin. Son of Odin and Jörd (Fjörgyn). While Odin was the highest of the Aesir, Jörd seemed to be a kind of Earth-Mother (like Greek Gaia). Thor never fought his father, and they were members of the same pantheon. Similarly to Olympians, Aesir became the ruling gods only after they defeated the Vanir, and earlier the primeval Giant Ymir and his offspring – Hrimthurs.
- Power. Thor WAS NOT the king of gods. And he never tried to be (maybe because his father did not attempt to get rid of him in the first place). The role of the highest judge, patron of the superior power and wisdom was taken by Odin. Also Thor’s magic skills were not impressive. He ruled the weather, especially storms and tides. And he was able to use lightning, which made him a God of Thunder by definition. When compared to the feats of All-Father, his magical skills were rather negligible.
But, man, he was strong!
Yes. All in all, Thor might not have been a sage or magician, but when it came to the physical strength, no one could match him, even the giants.
Nevertheless, when Hrungnir’s leg crushed him to the ground he was helpless and was only saved by his three-day old son Magni…
- Cosmogonic Duel. Thor was known for his almost constant struggle against the Jötnar – evil giants, the heirs of Hrimthurs and enemies of Aesir. Notwithstanding, his greatest enemy was Midgardsorm, the world-serpent, offspring of Loki. Thor was unable to defeat the beast when they first met, but will do when the Ragnarök comes. And he will do it single-handedly! Unfortunately he will die soon after from inhaling too much of the monster’s foul breath.
- Family life. Thor was married to Sif, the most beautiful of all women. Strangely enough for a couple with such characteristics, they had only one daughter – Thrud. Father of the other Sif’s child – Ullr – was unknown. Besides Thrud, Thor had two sons, both with giantess Jarnsaxa.
- Origin. Son of Aditi and an unknown father, although some sources mention Dyaus (Sky Father). That would make Indra similar to Zeus, who was also a descendant of primeval god of the sky (Uranus). Indra’s father, whoever he was, also wanted his son dead. Thus, his mother carried him for 1000 months in her womb, until he grew impatient and left her body through the side. Some say that Indra killed his father soon after.
- Power. Lord of Heaven, patron of strength and thunder, king of gods. He met all the requirements for being a God of Thunder, especially that his main weapon was lightning, materialized in the form of vajra. Indra was a mighty god, capable of world-shaping acts, such as splitting of Earth and Heaven or placing the Sun on the firmament. He also started the flame burning in the very center of the Universe. Indra could freely change his form and kill and resurrect humans. Sounds serious, but in Indian mythology the Rishi (sages) and some human heroes were also capable of such feats, which makes Indra not-so-powerful in the end. And he ruled the weather, of course.
- Cosmogonic Duel. Indra was the main enemy and vanquisher of demons. His most significant triumph was over Vritra, with the aid of Vishnu, who entered his weapon. According to some versions, other gods and heroes helped Indra fight the demon, who initially defeated him. Whatever the details, finally the victory was Indra’s.
Unfortunately for the god, brahmanahatya (the act of killing a brahmin) was considered a hideous crime, and victorious Indra had to flee and hide, temporary losing his throne to king Nahusha. When it comes to other battles and conflicts, Indra not always had the upper hand. He was humiliated by demons several times, but also sages used to give him a hard time.
- Family life. Indra married Shachi – goddess of beauty. They had four divine children. Indra was not a very faithful husband and had several children with others.
Do we have a winner yet?
After considering all the above I think that Zeus was the most almighty God of Thunder of the three. Although his “body count” of monsters and demons was lower than that of Thor or Indra, Zeus excelled in administering justice to humans with lightning strikes (mostly death sentences). His domination over other gods was undisputed, while Thor and Indra fell a bit short when compared to their fellow deities in certain aspects. And when talking about the sexual prowess… Zeus probably had more lovers and children than all other Thunderers together!
Come here mighty beasts, puny humans and beautiful ladies.
I’ll make you electrified.
Do you see what Zeus holds in his hand? I know you do, but does this bundle of thunderbolts remind you of something?
I think it does – look here, in the upper left corner:
Can anyone tell me why Zeus, the Greek god holds vajra – the divine weapon of Indra – during the cosmogonic duel?
See? It is the same thing!
Why are they so similar if the arts of ancient Greeks and Indians were so much different? How did Greeks know about vajra if the hydria with its depiction was dated two centuries before the conquest of Far East by Alexander of Macedon?
I think there is still much to learn about our ancestors. It seems that their knowledge and power are greatly underestimated and unrecognized by our hi-tech civilization.
This is not the end yet
There is one more interesting thing about Zeus.
In terms of overall power, or I should rather say – omnipotence, he could be considered the closest to the one and only God from monotheistic religions.
Even so, in one aspect Zeus was much closer to humans than his counterparts. It was his direct connection to our material world.
We exactly know the places where he spent his childhood and where he resided as the king of gods.
The first one is the famous Psychro Cave in Dicte Mountains in Crete and the second is, obviously,
Mount Olympus on the Greek mainland.
And you know what? I had a chance to see both.
Should you ever visit Crete – go to the amazing Lassithi Plateau, and visit the Psychro Cave – it’s a very rewarding trip.
The cave is quite easily accessible – even for amateurs in everyday shoes, dragging a stroller with a screaming kid inside…
As you see, not very cozy, rather dark, cold and humid (after all it’s a cave!). Certainly not the most pleasant place for newborns, but nobody said that being a God of Thunder was pure pleasure. Even a god needed to endure some hardships to become strong!
All in all, there are no doubts why Zeus moved to Olympus.
I also tried to move up there and it was fun – trek along the Enipeas river was wonderful.
Unfortunately, it turned out that Mount Olympus was by far more challenging than the path to Psychro Cave.
Especially when accompanied by the aforementioned kid – a year older, so less screaming, but no strollers and more rocks.
We gave up long before halfway, so I had to postpone my visit to the Throne of Zeus.
Maybe next time…
I hold you to your word, Mortal!
Do you know what is so special about Mount Olympus?
It rises almost 3000 meters high right from the sea level.
Quite a rare sight – you should definitely see it yourself!