The meaning of the dream symbol: Lightning

It may symbolize a 'flash' of insight or inspiration.

It may symbolize punishment: 'the wrath of the gods’. If so, you may have a guilt-complex that needs sorting out. However, not all guilt-feelings are neurotic; your dream may be telling you have done something wrong. If lightning strikes you, or something that may symbolize you (e.g. a house), the dream message may be either that you need to demolish your current self-image in favour of one that corresponds more closely to your true self or that your current lifestyle or pattern of behaviour is threatening your true self.


The archetypal symbolism of Lightning refers to God-like and otherwise superhuman power, and the reality of its threat. As such, mortal human beings are reminded of their ultimate submission to God and/or nature herself. However, in the dream sense, the massive electrical potential of lightning, may be indicative of a brilliant new idea or a powerful new direction found in the high frequency spark of a ‘radical brainstorm’. Accordingly, we need to examine our emotional reaction to the lightning and the physical location upon which the bolt strikes its devastating, yet illuminating blow.


Lightning symbolizes the spark of life and the powers of fertilization. The Hebrew word used in the Creation story may be translated either as light or as lightning. Lightning has been compared with seminal ejaculation, symbolizing God’s virile action in creation. Australian Aboriginal mythology is more explicit in stating that lightning is a tumescent penis. According to the Atjiraranga-Mitjina myth, studied by Geza Roheim, lightning and bull-roarer are the erected penis of the son who is to be killed by his father, the thunder. In the same sense Psalm 29: 9 speaks of the voice of the Lord making ‘the hinds to calve’. When God speaks it is to the accompaniment of crashes of thunder and flashes of lightning (Exodus 19: 16-18). The Old Testament God is a god of lightning and also of fire, and lightning is his instrument (Job 37: 3ff.).

Jeremiah presents the God who created the world as a god of thunder and lightning (10: 12-13) while Psalm 77: 18-19 also alludes to thunder and lightning. The primitive Elohim was the god of the thunderbolt. God’s face flashes like lightning (Daniel 10: 6) and his hands are covered with lightnings (Job 36: 32).

Ancient Babylonian tradition takes up this theme. To the Greeks, too, Zeus was the god of the thunderbolt.

On the spiritual plane, lightning produces inward light since it forces the individual to close his or her eyes, that is, to meditate. Lightning marks the individual deeply in the sense of Job’s ‘he hath set his mark upon me’ (16: 12).

Lightning is a sign of power and strength, the manifestation of an energy which restores equilibrium (Job 37: 14-18).

In African tradition, too, lightning, as well as thunder, is the attribute of the almighty sky-god. According to a Pygmy myth, lightning was the instrument - the divine phallus - of the elemental sacred marriage of Heaven and Earth, an echo of Indo-European mythology in which it was the instrument of Indra. The Pygmies also regard it as the instrument with which the sky-god punishes adultery.

Its association with rain - celestial semen - is almost world-wide. Together they comprise two facets of the same symbol, based upon the twofold nature of Fire and Water, which can be either positive or negative. They may be the agents of fertility, but they can also be divine punishments wiping mankind out by fire or flood.

In Ancient Peru, the fertilizing Sun assumed the aspect of lightning with which it became confused and which, in turn, became embodied in the image of a serpent, frequently with two heads, which was a symbol of rain.

In Vedic tradition, the acolyte invoking Agni touches the water and chants: ‘You are the lightning; cleanse me from evil. From the priestly order I go to the Truth.’

In this context the association of Fire and Water is particularly striking. If lightning is truly fertilizing, it also acquires a twofold sense of purification, since the Truth demands purity. Lightning and water are associated in the Chandogya Upanishad, as well, in a description of the fecundating monsoon storms. For lightning is not simply a phenomenon, not simply light or fertilizing rain, but is in truth the symbol of another reality, that of the shining realms of Brahma. The Kena Upanishad makes it plain that the Brahman is that which ‘gives fire to the lightning... and thus belongs to the ranks of the gods. But this truth can only be known, understood and grasped in overall intuition by him who has expelled evil and who has his roots in the infinite and unassailable world of Heaven.’

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