KL Yong earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, and mythology.
A hammer imbued with the raw power of thunder and lightning. An unbreakable cudgel that can pin the seas and an arrow that is as powerful as a nuclear missile.
These are but three of the many incredible weapons that have appeared in world mythology.
Where any truly exist, or not, all have captured the imaginations of humans for centuries. In some cases, these powerful mythological weapons are even academically recognized as important cultural icons.
In other words, they don’t simply represent power or blessing. They are also symbols of authority, wisdom, and divine salvation.
1. The Trident of Poseidon
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the Greek myths involved, you would surely still associate the trident with the sea.
The representative weapon of Poseidon, the Greek God of the Seas, the trident was forged by cyclops and capable of controlling or creating all forms of water. Within Greek myths, Poseidon also used the trident to create a horse and to root the sacred island of Delos to the seabed.
With Poseidon also a god of earthquakes, it naturally assumed the trident is capable of shaking the earth too.
Jump forth to modern times, Poseidon’s Trident has appeared in several movies and novels, always as a weapon/artifact of ocean-associated powers. In Disney’s The Little Mermaid, it could even fire energy projectiles.
In turn, the symbol of the trident is now heavily associated with maritime matters. Of note, researchers believe that Poseidon’s trident was based on ancient Greek fishing spears. Historical scholars have also theorized that the three prongs represent three types of water bodies, or the three properties of water.
2. Zeus’ Lightning Bolt
Also often referred to as Zeus’ Thunderbolt, the signature weapon of the King of the Greek Gods was forged by cyclopes and given to him to aid in the overthrowing of the Titans.
A symbol of Zeus’ domain of the sky, the powerful mythological weapon was subsequently also used to defeat other enemies of the Greek gods. The most notorious of which is the giant Typhon.
Hesiod's Theogony detailed this epic battle, which offers a clear picture of the power of the bolt. The serpentine Typhon was described as immense, with wings, and with a hundred heads of fire-breathing snakes on its shoulders. Despite such fearsome features, Typhon still readily fell when struck by Zeus’ lightning bolt. In fact, it was implied that the monster stood absolutely no chance against the weapon.
Of note, a lightning or thunderbolt as a powerful heavenly weapon appears in many other mythologies too, most notably as Indra’s Vajra in Vedic beliefs. This phenomenon offers a hint of the cross-cultural influences that happened during ancient times.
3. Ruyi Jingu Bang
The signature armament of Sun Wukong the Chinese Monkey King, Ruyi Jingu Bang means the As-You-Wish Golden Cudgel in Chinese.
Unbreakable and capable of shrinking or enlarging to incredible sizes, the weapon was a perfect complement to the Monkey King’s agility. In Journey to the West, Sun stylishly defeated numerous gods and demons with it.
The weapon wasn’t created by Sun, though. Neither was it even a cudgel, to begin with.
Before Sun stole it from the Eastern Ocean Dragon Palace, the artifact was known as Dinghai Shenzhen, or ocean-calming magical pin. No more than a huge iron pillar, the artifact was supposed used by Yu the Great to measure the depths of the world flood during ancient times.
After Sun lifted the pillar, it shrunk to the size of a cudgel. Its name and weight of thirteen thousand five hundred catties were then revealed via inscriptions on its surface. Thereafter, the “pillar” became the permanent, beloved weapon of the mighty Monkey King.
4. Ax of Pangu
In Chinese mythology, the world in its present form is said to be the work of the giant Pangu. Himself born of the primordial chaos that existed before everything, Pangu split the sky from the earth with a mighty ax. He also kept pushing the sky upwards till he died.
Famous as this legend is, though, Pangu’s Ax hardly appears in other ancient Chinese myths. Any actual mention tends to be brief too.
The above said, the ax is increasingly featured in Chinese video games, Xianxia movies, and fantasy television series in modern times.
To give an example, in the Taiwanese video game series, Heavenly Sword, Pangu’s Ax is one of ten supreme artifacts of China. In this franchise, it is not only a mighty weapon, it is also capable of creating time-traveling portals with one cleave.
5. Kusanagi no Tsurugi
The most powerful sword in Shinto mythology is more than just a Japanese mythical weapon. It also represents the divine right of the Japanese royal family to rule the Japanese archipelago.
Part of the Japanese Imperial Regalia, the “grass-cutter sword” was retrieved from the carcass of the dreaded Orochi Serpent by Shinto Storm God Susanoo and gifted to his sister, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Thereafter, it was given to the warrior Yamato Takeru, a legendary ancestor of the Japanese emperors.
Capable of controlling winds and with a blade sturdy enough to chip even the personal armament of Susanoo, Kusanagi no Tsurugi is today kept within the Atsuda Shrine of Nagoya, though none has seen the actual sword for centuries.
The formal name of this mythological weapon is also Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, with the alternate name given by Yamato Takeru. While escaping from his enemies, the prince warrior hid in a grassland. He then used the sword to swipe away grass and redirect wildfire back at his enemies.
Thanks to Marvel Comics and its many movies, the legendary hammer of Norse Thunder God Thor is now famous throughout the world.
Described in the movies as forged by dwarves in the heart of a dying star, Mjolnir was extremely durable, enhanced by a variety of enhancements, and usable only by those deemed worthy by the hammer. Additionally, it could also summon thunder when in the hands of Captain America. Although the movies contradicted this by earlier stating the mighty hammer has all along been merely channeling Thor's innate power.
Within classic Norse mythology, however, there is no mention of Mjolnir only being usable by Thor. In one of the most famous myths, the hammer was even stolen by a giant. Thor, misled by the mischief of Loki, then had to masquerade as a bride to reclaim it.
In the Prose Edda, Thor also used his hammer to confer blessings. Additionally, the ancient textbook highlighted that Thor must use Mjolnir together with his enchanted gloves.
Lastly, the mallet-like weapon shown in the Marvel movies is not historically or culturally accurate. In medieval Latin texts, Thor was described as wielding hammer-like objects or a club. Medieval Mjolnir pendants recovered in Scandinavia are also of a blade-like shape, hardly the sort of hammer we saw in the movies.
Whatever Mjolnir is, though, it is undoubtedly a phenomenally powerful weapon. Even the mightiest Norse giant will not survive a strike by it unscathed.
The most famous Norse mythological weapon after Mjolnir, Gungnir is the spear of All-Father Odin, one of the most important Asgardian gods and the father of Thor.
Forged and originally owned by dwarves, the spear was swindled from them by Loki and given to Odin. The Poetic Edda and Prose Edda then contained little else information about Gungnir other than runes being carved onto the tip, that Odin would attack the monster wolf Fenrir with it during Ragnarok, and that the spear is so well-balanced, it will always hit a target no matter the skill of the user.
Jump forth to pre-modern times, Richard Wagner made several mentions of Gungnir in his famous operatic cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung. Other than breaking the sword of Siegmund with it, it was also described as made from the wood of the world tree Yggdrasil and full of runes that empowered Odin.
Interestingly, Gungnir itself was subsequently snapped by Siegfried i.e. Siegmund’s son in Wagner’s masterpiece. The act, metaphorically, symbolizes the end of Odin’s might/influence in that telling.
8. Spear of Longinus
More of a religious icon rather than a weapon, the Spear of Longinus is in Christian traditions, the lance that pierced the side of Christ during his crucifixion.
Mentioned very briefly in the Gospel of John, the actual act was not to further torment Christ but to verify that he was dead. Interestingly, the book also never identified the soldier guilty of the act; the name was only mentioned in apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. For Christian theologians, more important is the phrase, there came out blood and water (John 19:34). The phenomenon is interpreted as Christ being both God and man.
Today, several relics in the world claim to be the Spear of Longinus or to contain parts of it. None are, however, religiously verified or universally recognized.
In pop culture entertainment, the spear is also often depicted as a powerful mythological weapon capable of many miracles. Given the tip was once stained by the blood of Christ, one can safely say all such depictions are not far-fletched.
The sword of King Arthur requires little introduction. Numerous appearances in pop culture entertainment have also imbued England’s most legendary, and possibly most powerful sword with a vast variety of powers.
Within classic Arthurian tales, though, Excalibur is more of a representation of the virtues a king should embrace, rather than a fantastical weapon. Like the Kusanagi no Tsurugi, it is also a symbol of rightful and desirable rule.
Nonetheless, most classic tales still describe the mighty sword as exceptionally powerful in the hands of Arthur. In the version told by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur could defeat a whole army by wielding Excalibur. In Thomas Malory’s version, the blade could emit a light that blinds enemies too.
Even the scabbard was believed to be magical. Some versions describe it as capable of preventing bleeding of the wearer, thus a formidable guard against death.
Lastly, Excalibur is said to be the same as the Sword in the Stone in most versions of the myth. However, there are notable versions that claim otherwise. For example, the Suite du Merlin.
Fragarach, the magical sword of Nuada the Silver Arm in Irish mythology, is one of the most unusual mythological weapons ever written about.
Nicknamed “the whisperer,” the sword would whisper when one wields it while standing atop the Irish Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil). But only if the wielder is a rightful owner.
Forged by the ancient Irish gods, Fragarach could also pierce through any armor, command winds, as well as inflict wounds that will never heal.
Most notably, this superior sword is even capable of immobilizing humans and compelling the truth from them, the latter just like Wonder Woman’s Golden Lasso. The rightful wielder simply needs to brandish the blade against a target’s throat.
Given Nuada and his successor Lugh were both formidable warriors, one can safely assume lies have no place in the presence of Fragarach.
Talking, sentient weapons are the stuff of Anime and modern fantasy fiction. But do you know that one such weapon already appeared in mythology thousands of years ago?
The mace of Mesopotamian war god Ninurta, the “smasher of thousands” has the unique ability to talk with its owner. In the Lugal-e, Sharur even acted as the emissary of Chief God Enlil and s a battle counselor. Specifically, it was through the mace that Ninurta received the command to slay the serpentine god Kur. Sharur also provided the strategy to defeat the dreaded demon Asag.
What’s more, the mace could also fly across great distances. It could even transform into a winged lion.
As an armament, and a battle companion, there are simply no other powerful mythological weapons of equal usefulness. Or uniqueness.
12. Gáe Bulg
Another powerful legendary weapon from Irish mythology, and certainly one of the strangest, the “spear of mortal pain” is the signature weapon of Cuhullin, the Hound of Ulster.
It was gifted to him by his teacher, the female warrior Scáthach. Scáthach also only taught Cuhullin the proper way to use Gáe Bulg. In other words, no other man can properly wield the weapon.
Made from the bones of a sea monster known as the Curruid, the most unique and gruesome feature of this javelin-like weapon is, in turn, the way it decimates victims. Upon entering a human body, the tip will expand into 30 barbs. There is therefore no way of removing the weapon without fatal cutting away of a victim’s flesh.
In alternate versions, the spear has seven tips. Each with seven barbs.
The short of it, while Gáe Bulg might not possess other supernatural properties such as the ability to control weather, it is still not something you’d want to be up against. Just a nick by could result in a painful death.
13. Sudarshana Chakra
The signature armament of Vishnu, the Hindu God of Preservation, the Sudarshana Chakra is a disc-like, spinning weapon, described as having 108 serrated edges. Among its many religious associations, the disc is most famous for representing the wheel of time.
Described in the Puranas as forged from the same solar material Shiva’s trident (see below) is made of, the weapon was famously used by the Preserver God to behead the prideful Asura Svarbhānu. In the Mahabharata, Vishnu’s avatar Krishna also used the disc to behead the offensive Sisupala and to create a fake sunset by blocking out the sun.
Outside of specific legends, the Sudarshana Chakra represents the virtues of Vishnu to be embraced by rulers too. Of note, many Vishnu temples today contain specific shrines decided to the Chakra.
This makes the powerful mythological weapon one of the rare few in the world that is specifically venerated.
14. Shiva’s Trishula
Unlike the west, the trident doesn’t represent the sea in Asian mythologies and traditions. Instead, the prongs of the uniquely shaped weapon symbolize religious trinities.
For example, in Hinduism, the “trishula” could represent creation, preservation, and destruction. It could also represent past, present, and future.
As for specific trishulas, the most famous is that of Shiva, the Hindu God of Destruction. Described in the Vishnu Puran as fashioned from the solar essence of Sun God Surya, the mighty trident not only symbolizes the above-mentioned trinities, it is also regarded as the weapon that destroys physical, spiritual, and ethereal sufferings. The bane of mortal ignorance as well.
Furthermore, in Tamil Shaivism beliefs, Shiva is said to have effortlessly defeated Yama, the God of Death, with his trishula. Lastly, this mighty weapon was also responsible for beheading Ganesh. (Shiva later replaced the head with that of an elephant; thus the unique appearance of Ganesh) For a weapon that could even kill gods, one can easily imagine the raw power within.
While mighty, many mythological weapons pale in comparison to real-life modern armaments of mass destruction such as missiles and bombs. Were you to include pop culture creations such as phasers and the Death Star, many might even feel mundane.
Not so, for the Brahmastra.
A group of mythological weapons of mass destruction made by Brahma, the Hindu God of Creation, the Brahmastra contains the power to destroy worlds and vanquish any being. Once used, the surrounding area of the target will also be rendered lifeless. No rain will fall for millennia and environmental conditions will steadily worsen, till permanent extinction settles in.
In the Ramayana, a Brahmastra was fired by Rama in the direction of Rajasthan. The resulting destruction supposedly resulted in the Thar Desert, which exists till today.
Needless to say, the chilling similarity to modern nuclear missiles has long been noted. One also wonders whether nuclear arms would eventually resemble the terrifying Brahmastra in full, the mythological weapon described as capable of assuming any shape or size.
© 2021 Yong Kuan Leong