The Lightning Curse Of The Volga Bulgars


An Abbasid diplomat named Ibn Fadlān traveled northward between the Caspian and Aral Seas to reach the Volga Bulgars around May 922. The diplomat found them living in yurts and tents at a seasonal market location along the Volga River. The khan of the Volga Bulgars was a recent convert to Islam, and thousands of his people converted with him. Yet, many of the Volga Bulgar people retained their original Tengri faith, and recent converts were slow to leave behind their traditional customs and superstitions.

One such superstition that Ibn Fadlān witnessed during his stay with the Volga Bulgars involved lighting. Like many cultures, the Volga Bulgars considered lightning to be an omen—in their case, a bad omen. If lightning struck one of their tents, the Volga Bulgars reportedly treated the spot as if it were infested with plague. The tent was abandoned, and all of the items that happened to have been inside the tent at the time of the strike were left behind. Even humans who survived such a strike were reportedly shunned and left behind. On this interesting tradition, Ibn Fadlān wrote:

“I have never seen more lightning than in their country. When it strikes a tent, they do not go near it again but leave it as it is, together with anything that is inside it—men, goods or other things—until time has destroyed them. They say that it is a tent upon which the wrath of God has fallen” (Ibn Fadlān, Risala, Penguin edition pg. 37)

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Volga River trade negotiations, painted by S. V. Ivanov  (1864–1910), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).


  • Risala by Ibn Fadlān, translated by Paul Lunde and Catoline Stone. New York, Penguin Classics, 2012.

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