A thunderbolt is a traditional expression for a discharge of lightning or a symbolic representation thereof. In its original usage the word may also have been a description of meteors, although this is not currently the case. As a divine manifestation it has been a powerful symbol throughout history, and has appeared in many mythologies. Drawing from this powerful association, the thunderbolt is often found in military symbolism and semiotic representations of electricity. .
Lightning plays a role in many mythologies, often as the weapon of a sky and storm god. As such, it is an unsurpassed method of dramatic instantaneous retributive destruction: thunderbolts as divine weapons can be found in most mythologies. The most familiar thunderbolt weapon in the West was that of Zeus or Jupiter. His thunderbolts, manufactured by the cyclopic children of Gaia, were used to strike down impious criminals and divine opponents.
- In Hindu mythology, the god Indra is known as the god of lightning. His main weapon is the thunderbolt (Vajra).
- In Hittite and Hurrian mythology, a triple thunderbolt was one symbol of Teshub.
- In Greek mythology, the thunderbolt is a weapon given to Zeus by the Cyclops.
- In Roman mythology, the thunderbolt is a weapon given to Jupiter by the Cyclops.
- In Maya mythology, Huracan is sometimes represented as three lightning bolts.
- In Norse mythology, Odin's spear Gungnir is an embodiment of lightning. In addition, his son, Thor is specifically the god of thunder and lightning, wielding Mjolnir.
- In Native American mythology, the Ani Hyuntikwalaski ("thunder beings") cause lightning fire in a hollow sycamore tree.
The thunderbolt continues into the modern world as a prominent symbol; it has entered modern heraldry and military iconography, typically depicted as winged and emitting flames.