Episode 109: Chinese Thor

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Polytheistic people of different cultures have a thunder god like the most well-known Thor in Norse mythology thanks to Marvel. Today we will talk about LeiGong 雷公, God of Thunder in Chinese mythology.

The image of LeiGong has involved throughout Chinese history. The earliest record of it is from the book Classics of Mountains and Seas 山海经from the 4th century BC. It says there was a God of Thunder from the place called LeiZe 雷泽. It has a man’s head and a dragon body. Thunders were formed when he bulges his belly. I guess it makes sense because the dragons flying in the sky and that’s where the thunder is from too. And the idea that the bulging belly is the cause of thunder is cute. It sounds like the dragon man was burping when it thunders.

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In the book In Search of the Sacred 搜神记from the Jin dynasty 晋代 around the year 350 AD, it says the God of Thunder has red skin color. His eyes are as bright as mirrors. He has horns and has a monkey head.

In the book Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang 酉阳杂俎 from the Tang dynasty 唐朝 around the 9th century, it says God of Thunder has a pig head and each of his hands and feet has two fingers I guess they also looked like pig’s hoof. He always holds a red snake.

In the book LunHeng 论衡 from the Han dynasty 汉朝, it says God of Thunder was strong and carries a drum in his left hand and a hammer in his right hand. This is the one that the most close to Thor.

In the book GuJinTuShuJiCheng 古今图书 集成from the Qing dynasty 清朝 from the year 1725, it says the God of Thunder has a pig head and the body has fish scales.

So in a word, God of Thunder in Chinese mythology doesn’t really have a specific image. His head was originally a man’s head and later he has either a monkey head, a pig head, a devil head or some other beast’s head. His body was originally a dragon body and later he has a man’s body or a pig’s body or other beast’s body.

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The modern versions of the God of Thunder are mostly based on the image from the Ming dynasty 明朝 and the Qing dynasty 清朝. In the book JiShuoQuanZhen 集说诠真, it says he was strong and bare chest and belly. He has two wings and three eyes. His face is as red as a monkey. He has a rather long and sharp chin. His feet are as sharp as the eagle’s claws. He carries a wedge and a hammer. From his head to his waist, he has 5 drums hung around his body. Today people who have a long chin are sometimes be called having the God of Thunder’s face 雷公脸.

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Weirdly a lot of the modern image of God of Thunder sometimes have a bird beak. Maybe it is from one story in the book SanJiaoShouShenDaQuan 三教搜神大全 from the Ming dynasty 明朝 that a guy was hit by the thunder and became God of Thunder. When that guy was alive, he took care of his mother everyday and liked to cook chicken for her. That’s why he looks like a chicken with a beak and wings.

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No matter what he looks like, especially probably not as attractive as Thor, there has been always a God of Thunder since thousands years ago and his birthday is on the 24th of the sixth month in the lunar calendar. It makes cause it is around July, the thunderstorm season.

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People worship God of Thunder not only for the purpose of weather and agriculture but also in Taoism, God of Thunder punishes evil spirits and earthly mortals guilty of secret crimes. People sometimes use the phrase “hit by the thunder 天打雷劈” to swear or warn others that no do some things evil even nobody knows. Because they would be punished by the God of Thunder.

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In folklore and Taoism, probably since the Song dynasty 宋朝 around the 10th century, God of Thunder has a wife – Mother of Lightning 电母. So the name indicates, she is in charge of the lightning and they usually come together. She uses two flashing mirrors in her hands to send bolts of lightning. She doesn’t have a special image just a pretty lady with two mirrors. She appears in many Chinese ancient stories and novels. Besides the duties of God of Thunder and Mother of Lightning 雷公电 母, it is believed thunder and lightning would appear when the couple is having an argument.

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Mentioned:

山海经 Classics of Mountains and Seas

搜神记 In Search of the Sacred

酉阳杂 俎Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang

论衡 LunHeng

古今图书 集成 GuJinTuShuJiCheng

集说诠真 JiShuoQuanZhen

三教搜神大全 SanJiaoShouShenDaQuan

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