The legend of the thunderbird

Bolts of lightning were said to shoot from the eyes of the Thunderbird and claps of thunder to come from the movement of his wings. Fierce and strong, the Thunderbird brought the storms and the rain, the precious source of water for the people’s crops. Due to his fearsome power, he was believed by some to be the greatest of all the spirits. The storms he created could be both a blessing or a curse, depending on whether they brought needed rain or flooding and destructive winds. Despite this, the Thunderbird was loved as a symbol of protection for humans against evil spirits.

The Great Thunderbird, by Selladorra

The Great Thunderbird, by Selladorra

The People believed Thunderbirds lived in the clouds atop the highest mountains. Their great wingspan allowed them to fly to these heights with ease. This dwelling place fit with the legend of the Thunderbird as a part of Creation, a marker between earth and sky. The richly covered feathers that adorned them could be removed like a cape, along with their fierce mask, when they wished to take human form. Some Native people saw them as a symbol of the forces of nature, while others considered them a part of the animal kingdom. Due to the perception of their greatness, only the strongest and most powerful tribal leaders were allowed to adorn themselves with the symbol of the Thunderbird.

Today, the Thunderbird continues to be a mighty and much-loved symbol of the fierceness of the natural world. Its presence on totems, jewelry and other items is a reminder of this greatest of all spirits.

Story by Debra Doggett


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