Leizi: The Chinese Goddess of Lightning
In Chinese mythology, Leizi is the goddess of lightning. Read on to learn how she became linked to the thunder god and what her role was in his duty!
In Chinese folklore, a number of deities were responsible for causing storms.
The strongest of these was Lei Gong, the god of thunder. He had been charged with using powerful thunderbolts to strike down those who sinned against the Jade Emperor, but darkness and poor aim hindered his job.
He would be helped, eventually, by a victim of his terrible aim. Leizi, also called Dianmu, married the god of thunder and became his assistant.
To the people of China, the flash of lightning that came before the sound of thunder was Leizi showing her husband where to aim his destructive bolts. While they were said to still sometimes struck the wrong target, this system used observations of the natural world to explain how storms form and what people saw during them.
According to legend, Leizi was born as a mortal woman. She lived with her elderly mother in a rural village.
One day, Lei Gong, the god of thunder, passed over their village. Lei Gong had been giving the job of punishing wrongdoers by the Jade Emperor, but he did not always fulfill his task well.
Lei Gong often failed to distinguish between truly evil deeds and more benign actions. He also caused darkness to fall wherever he went, making it difficult for him to see his targets.
As a result, Lei Gong often struck those who did not deserve his punishment. Unfortunately, Leizi was one of them.
One of Leizi’s tasks in caring for her elderly mother was to dump out the rice husks that were too hard for the old woman to chew. When Lei Gong saw her doing this, he assumed she was committing a sin by wasting food and struck her down with thunder.
When the Jade Emperor learned what had happened to the innocent girl, he took pity on her. He resurrected her as a goddess because she had been dutiful and diligent in life.
Lei Gong was ordered to marry Leizi. Because he had killed her, he was responsible for her and would have to care for her as his wife.
As Leizi traveled with her new husband, she realized how often his strikes missed their mark because he could not see in the dark. She used the mirrors she carried to make light flash through the sky so Lei Gong could aim his thunderbolts better.
Leizi was not her husband’s only companion. They often traveled in a large group that worked together to bring storms.
Yun Tong, the Cloud Youth, brought the clouds that darkened the sky when Lei Gong traveled. Yu Zi, the Rain Master, dripped his sword into a pot of water to make drops fall to Earth.
Moving all of them was Fengbo, the Earl of Wind. In some later traditions, he was replaced by Feng Po Po, Lady Wind, instead.
Leizi’s full name in Chinese is Leigong zi qi, or Lei Gong’s wife. Although its shortened version gives her a more personal name, her primary job is as an assistant to the more powerful god of thunder.
Thunder gods are a nearly ubiquitous archetype used by ancient cultures to explain a powerful natural phenomenon. Often, lightning is seen as just a by-product of this power, so Leizi’s mythology is somewhat unique.
The role of Leizi in Lei Gong’s mythology provides a rationale for thunder and lightning that is based on observation.
Lei Gong’s poor aim and confusion over what acts should be punished was used to explain why thunderbolts did not only strike down the wicked. Such randomness did not fit into the orderly ideals of Taoism, however, so it was logical that part of Lei Gong’s mythology would involve an effort to make his power more precise.
Chinese folklore used another recognizable phenomenon, the way light reflected off a mirrored surface, to explain why lightning only appeared in the sky for a moment.
Leizi’s myth also explained the observable phenomenon of lighting shortly preceding the sound of thunder.
Modern science has shown us that lightning is seen before it is heard because light travels faster than sound. Thunder is caused by lightning but the difference in speed makes it seem as though it comes later.
In the myth, Leizi uses light to guide Lei Gong’s thunderbolts. She flashes her mirrors so he can see and, after a short delay, he releases his thunder.
This may even provide an explanation for why nearby thunder and lightning have less of a delay.
Leizi’s goal is to improve her husband’s aim. An explanation provided by the myth could be that lightning and thunder seem to be closer together when she is successful and Lei Gong needs less time to aim because of her light.
Leizi and her husband always travelled together. He needed her help to fulfil his duty of punishing the wicked with thunderbolts but he had also been charged with her constant protection by the Jade Emperor.
Their companions, the clouds, wind, and rain, did not always travel in a group, however. Those three deities could choose to join together or travel on their own as they pleased or as the Jade Emperor commanded.
When all five were in the same place, however, they could cause massive devastation. The strongest and most destructive storms were blamed on the five storm gods working in conjunction with one another.
These storms, however, were also seen as a form of punishment. Because Lei Gong was charged with smiting the wicked, the gods that accompanied him often brought about terrible storms when more than a small number of people had to be dealt with.
Although such storms are no longer seen as a form of divine wrath, the legacy of Leizi and her companions lives on in these major weather events. Tropical storms in 2010 and 2016, as well as a typhoon that struck Japan in 2004, were named in honor of the goddess of lightning.
According to Chinese legends, Leizi was the goddess of lightning.
She had been born as a mortal woman who dutifully cared for her elderly mother. One of her daily tasks was to throw out the rice husks that were too hard for her aged mother to chew.
One day, she was doing this as Lei Gong, the god of thunder, passed overhead. Believing that she was committing a sin by wasting food, Lei Gong struck her with a thunderbolt and killed her.
The Jade Emperor, however, realized that Leizi had been an innocent victim of the thunder god’s poor judgment. She was resurrected as a goddess and, because he had killed her, Lei Gong was married to her so that he would always have to protect and provide for her.
As she traveled with Lei Gong, however, Leizi ended up being of service to her husband. By moving her mirrors to create reflections, Leizi was able to provide brief flashes of light so the thunder god could aim his thunderbolts more accurately.
This myth explained why thunder and lightning were linked. Although scientific explanations for natural phenomenon would not exist until the modern age, the story of Leizi used observations of the natural world as the basis for its rationale.