I I awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of a violent gale and torrential rain. I was drawn out of sleep just at the moment when the strength of the wind and the heaviness of the rain intensified alarmingly. The house rattled and as the noise built I realised that I was holding my breath, waiting for the gust to peak and die back. It didn’t, it just kept on building in strength and ferocity. For one moment, in that disorientating suspension between sleep and wakefulness – the darkness and the cacophony the only reality I was fully aware of – I felt afraid.
As Pagans, we honour nature in all its forms; the beauty and the terror all have their place and deeper meaning and function, some of which might be at odds with our own sense of safety and happiness or comfort. There is nothing quite like an encounter with nature at it most powerfully raw to connect us to our vulnerability and frailness as humans. It can be an uncomfortable feeling because we might want to embrace the Divine as a loving and benevolent force and such violent upheaval might contradict our notions of such. For me, it all depends on your definition of love and benevolence. I always feel quite comforted that what might appear to human beings as destruction, earth quakes for instance, on a wider scale can be seen as merely the earth stretching and moving like me on my yoga mat, trying to keep the whole flowing and functioning in the most balanced way possible! Sometimes it can bring us up short to realise we are not at the centre of things.
The most intimate and scariest moment that I have experienced with wild weather was a close encounter with lightning in Cornwall. I have always loved thunder storms. A favourite thing as a child was to be wrapped up cosy and safe in bed while the sky roared and brightened. I was actually born during a thunder storm (which might explain a lot!), coming in with a flash and a bang (hope to go out that way too!). I have many great thunder and lightning memories but none as dramatic as my Cornwall happening.
Laurie and I were visiting Duloe which is home to the smallest stone circle in Cornwall. The sky was already starting to look angry and there were rumbles of thunder coming from over Bodmin Moor. The cloud formations were incredibly striking; strata of varying shades of grey, from pale to dark, the patterning giving the sky a hyper-real edge. The air felt ominously still.
Laurie very sensibly decided to return to the car, leaving me alone in the stones. I was very happy, singing to the stones and some rather puzzled looking sheep – there is something quite moving about singing in stone circles! As I sang I became aware that the storm was moving in across the village. The rain had started to gently fall and I became mesmerised by lightning coming to ground, moving across the fields towards me. At that moment, it was possible to perceive the storm as a living presence. As the rain got heavier, I said my farewell to the stones and the sheep and made my way back across the field to the little tree-lined track that would take me to the road. By the time I reached there, the rain was very heavy and so I stood beneath a maple by the field gate. It leaves became burdened by the weight of the rain and it began to drip over me. I moved a few feet down beneath a hawthorn whose smaller leaves seem to create a better shelter from the wet. I didn’t even think for one moment that traditionally the hawthorn is meant to protect against lightning strike!
The rain was by now monsoon-like and I could smell a strange and powerful odour. I had no idea that this was ozone, that the earth was sending up a path for the lightning to travel down to her – a sort of love call; a call to union from the earth mother to the sky father – and I was stood right next to the intended contact point!
The lightning strike and the thunder clap happened at exactly the same time. I have never heard such deafeningly loud thunder – before or since – it was right above me, all around me, felt in every fibre of my body. The lightning hit what I thought to be the maple I had just been standing beneath (but was in fact, on later inspection, the telegraph pole next to it), no more than ten feet away from me. It hit with an equally deafening snapping, cracking sound. My body took over and I ran. It has to be said I am a crap runner but that day I was positively gazelle-like! Running felt like no effort whatsoever. My senses were sharp, acutely aware of the flood of water rushing down the road, the beat of my own heart and the alarms in the church hall, triggered into action by the enormous clap of thunder. My adrenalin was up for hours – poor Laurie had to put up with me rambling incoherently all the way to Falmouth!
It was an awe-inspiring experience, frightening yet incredible. It had a profound effect upon me to have been so intimate with such a vast elemental power of nature, and me, so small and vulnerable in its presence. I clearly felt the thunder and lightning as a vast being that day, an irrepressible energy that I was extremely privileged to have witnessed at close hand without harm to myself; a strange but wonderful gift.
Two gods of thunder whom I feel affection for are the Celtic Taranis and the Norse Thor, both being linked to the fertility of the earth and abundance. It feels very magical to me that lightning actually fertilising the ground that it touches, clearing and freshening the air. Despite the danger inherent in the power of the thunder deities, when we open to their spiritual potential, we can find that their thunder resounds in our hearts as strength; their lightning illuminates our minds with inspiration and their fruitful rain brings spiritual growth and a rich and abundant life – all worth the bit of knee trembling and heart racing that their presence might stir in us.
There is a wonderful poem by Wilfred Owen called ‘Storm’. It is actually about the taboo of a man’s love for another man but I have often thought that it reminds me of my own love of deity and the facing of my own fears with regard to that relationship. The thunder gods can change us in quite sudden and violent ways; they can fry our circuits but they can enrich us, illumine us, fertilise our spirits if we respect their awesome energy and face our fears honestly. If we can be a little like the earth and send up a path for the thunder god’s inspiration to travel down, the land of our being will find itself richer for the blessing..
His face was charged with beauty as a cloud
With glimmering lightning. When it shadowed me
I shook, and was uneasy as a tree
That draws the brilliant danger, tremulous, bowed.
So must I tempt that face to loose it lightning.
Great gods, whose beauty is death, will laugh above,
Who made his beauty lovelier than love.
I shall be bright with their unearthly brightening.
And happier were it if my sap consume;
Glorious will shine the opening of my heart;
The land shall freshen that was under gloom;
What matter if all men cry aloud and start,
And women hide bleak faces in their shawl,
At those hilarious thunders of my fall?