Sun Lore of All Ages (04-06)

01.08.2015 08:35

Chapter IV

Solar Mythology (Continued)

IN Norse mythology we find, as we might expect, many solar myths and sun heroes, whose knightly qualities and redoubtable prowess enable them to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks, and vanquish the most formidable of foes.

Odin governs the high heavens, and the sun is referred to as Odin's eye. Thor rules in the clouds. He is identified as a Sun-God, and, like Hercules, distinguished himself as the enemy of the powers of cold and darkness. He conquers the frost giants. Heimdal's realm is the rainbow, and Balder rules the realm of light, but the sun affects them all. "It is," says Anderson, 1 "Odin's eye, Balder's countenance; Heimdal needs it for his rainbow, and still the sun itself rides as a beaming maid with her horses from morning until evening."

In the following graceful Finnish myth we find the sun represented as a lamp illuminating the halls of Vanna Issa, the Supreme Deity, and entrusted


p. 92

by him to the care of two immortal servants, a youth and a maiden. "To the maiden who is called 'Evening Twilight,' the ancient Father saith: 'My daughter, unto thee I entrust the Sun, extinguish him and hide away the fire that no damage may ensue.' Then to the Dawn: 'My son, it is thy duty to rekindle the light for a new course. On no day is the light to be absent from the arch of heaven.'

"In winter he resteth a great while, but in summer his repose is short, and Evening Twilight gives up the dying light into the very hands of Dawn who straightway kindles it into new life. At such times they each take one look deep into the other's dark brown eyes; they press each other's hands, and their lips touch. Once a year only for the space of four weeks they come together at midnight. Then Evening Twilight layeth the dying light into the hands of Dawn, and a pressure of hands and a kiss make them happy, and the cheeks of Evening Twilight redden, and the rosy redness is mirrored in the sky till Dawn rekindles the light."

The following myth of the "Witch and the Sun's Sister" reveals another type of sun myth involving the actions of members of the Sun's family. In some of these myths the Sun's son figures, and however capricious the Sun may act, the legends

p. 93

that relate to his family indicate that they were kindly disposed toward humankind, and in many of the myths they act the part of benefactors.

In a country far remote there were once a king and a queen, who had a son named Prince Ivan, who was dumb from birth. A groom told the Prince that he was destined to have a sister who would prove to be a terrible witch, and advised him to flee lest harm befall him, He took the advice, and his father provided him with a swift horse on which he took his flight.

After wandering far he sought a dwelling-place in vain, first with two women, then with a giant who was uprooting trees, and lastly with a giant who was levelling mountains. Finally, he came to the dwelling of the Sun's sister, and she received him just as if he had been her own son. After a time, Prince Ivan longed to return to his old home, and persuaded the Sun's sister to allow him to depart. On his homeward journey he was enabled, by magic bestowed on him by the Sun's sister, to assist the two women and the giants who had refused to take him in because of trials which beset them.

On his home-coming his sister, the wicked witch, laid plans to destroy him; but he was warned in time by a mouse, and though closely pursued by the witch he escaped her clutches through the

p. 94

aid of those he had befriended and the Sun's sister.

The mythology of the North American Indians contains many examples of the solar myth. One of their Sun-Gods was Michabo, whose name signifies the Great Hare, the Great White One, or the God of the Dawn, and the East. It is said that he slept through the winter months, and in the fall when he was about to seek repose, he filled his great pipe, and the blue clouds of smoke that he exhaled drifted over the landscape filling the air with the veil-like haze of Indian Summer.

Michabo was regarded by the Indians as their common ancestor, and the ruler of the numerous tribes, the founder of their religious ritual and the inventor of their art of picture-writing. He controlled the weather, and was the creator and preserver of heaven and earth. The totem or clan which was dedicated to him was revered with the greatest respect.

In Myths and Myth Makers, by John Fiske, we read the following poetical description of Michabo, the Indian solar deity:

"From a grain of sand brought from the bottom of the primeval ocean he fashioned the habitable land, and set it floating on the waters till it grew to such a size that a strong young wolf running

p. 95

constantly died of old age ere he reached its limits. He was also like Nimrod a mighty hunter. 1 One of his footsteps measured eight leagues. The Great Lakes were the beaver dams he built, and when the cataracts impeded his progress, he tore them away with his hands. Sometimes he was said to dwell in the skies with his brother, the Snow, or like many great spirits to have built a wigwam in the far north in some floe of ice in the Arctic Ocean. In the oldest accounts of the missionaries he was alleged to reside toward the east. He is the personification of the solar life-giving power, which daily comes forth from its home in the east making the earth to rejoice."

A Modoc Indian myth relates that every day the Sun is utterly destroyed, and reduced to a heap of ashes, but inasmuch as the Sun is immortal, the disk lies dormant in the ashes waiting its summons to renewed life. Some one must, therefore, rouse the slumbering Sun each morning, as a slave is called to daily labour, and this office is performed by the morning star. At the summons to awake, the golden disk springs from the ashes rejuvenated, and goes forth to run his course. Here we have


p. 96

a legend similar to that of the Phœnix, the mythical bird which rose from lifeless ashes once in five centuries.

The following Cherokee legend is one of the most interesting solar myths related by the Indians:

"The Sun lived on the other side of the sky vault but her daughter lived in the middle of the sky directly above the earth, and every day as the Sun was climbing along the sky arch to the west, she used to stop at her daughter's house for dinner.

"Now the Sun hated the people of the earth because they could never look straight at her without screwing up their faces. She said to her brother, the Moon: 'My grandchildren are ugly, they grin all over their faces when they look at me.' But the Moon said: 'I like my younger brothers.' They always smiled pleasantly at him when they saw him in the sky for his rays were milder. The Sun was jealous and planned to kill all the people. So every day when she got near her daughter's house she sent down such sultry rays that there was a great fever, and the people died by hundreds. They went for help to the Little Men who said the only way to save themselves was to kill the Sun. The Little Men made medicine, and changing two men to snakes sent them to bite the old Sun when she came next day, but the light of the Sun blinded them, and they were unable to harm the Sun.

p. 97

[paragraph continues] Again the Little Men were appealed to, and changing a man into a rattlesnake they sent him to bite the Sun, but instead of the Sun the snake bit the Sun's daughter, and she died from the bite. Now was the Sun sad and people did not die any more, but now the world was dark all the time because the Sun would not come out. Again they appealed to the Little Men who told them they must appease the Sun by bringing back her daughter from the ghost country. Seven men were chosen to seek the daughter, and bring her back in a box. They were charged not to open the box after she was put into it. They succeeded in their quest, and started home with the daughter safe in a box. She pleaded so hard to be let out that when they were almost home they opened the box only a little way, but this was enough, and something flew past them into a thicket, and they heard a red bird cry, 'Kwish,' 'Kwish,' in the bushes. They shut down the lid but when they got home the box was empty. The Sun had been glad when they started for the ghost country, but when they came back without her daughter she grieved and cried and wept until her tears made a flood upon the earth, and people were afraid the world would be drowned.

"They held another council and sent their handsomest young men and women to amuse her

p. 98

so that she would stop crying. They danced before the Sun and sang their best songs, but for a long time she kept her face covered and paid no attention until at last the drummer suddenly changed the song, when she lifted up her face and was so pleased at the sight that she forgot her grief and smiled." 1

It is a significant fact that we find here a legend in respect to the propitiation of the sun identical with the Japanese myth related above, where, because of the retirement of the Sun-Goddess into her cave, men made every effort to conciliate her, and, finally, by a ceremony of singing and dancing, they won her back to her place in the sky.

Another Cherokee Indian myth relates that several young warriors once set out on a journey to the sunrise land. On the way they had many strange adventures, and finally they came to the sun's rising place, where the sky touches the ground. They discovered that the sky was an arch of solid rock hanging above the earth, and it seemed to swing slowly up and down, so that as it rocked it left a little opening at its base through which the sun rose each morning.

The adventurers waited for the sun to come out and presently it appeared. It had a human figure, but it was too bright to permit of their seeing its


p. 99

features clearly. As soon as it had emerged through the opening they tried to leap through the narrow orifice before it was closed, but just as the first warrior was passing through, the rock rim of the sky closed and crushed out his life. The others were afraid to make the attempt after this fatality, and returned home, and the return trip took them such a long time that when they at length reached the end of their journey they were all old men.

In another version of this myth, three brothers undertook the journey, and the two younger ones succeeded in leaping through the opening. The older brother attempted to follow, but he was crushed by the great rock rim of the sky. The two successful brothers continued journeying in a land where everything is different, and presently met their elder brother. They all proceeded to the house of the Supreme Deity, whose messenger the Sun was, and were purified and built over. They now possessed magic qualities which enabled them to perform wonderful feats of speed and strength. After a time they returned to their native village, but, like Rip Van Winkle, no one knew them save an old woman.

One of the most beautiful of the solar myths of the Indians is the Algonquin "Legend of the Red Swan" which is as follows: 1


p. 100

"The hunter Ojibwa had just killed a bear, and begun to skin him when suddenly something red tinged all the air around. Reaching the shore of a lake the Indian saw it was a beautiful red swan whose plumage glittered in the sun. In vain the hunter shot his shafts, for the bird floated unharmed and unheeding, but at last he remembered three magic arrows at home which had been his father's. The first and second arrows flew near and nearer, the third struck the swan, and flapping its wings it flew slowly towards the sinking of the sun."

Longfellow has adapted this beautiful episode as a sunset picture in one of his Indian poems:


Can it be the sun descending
O’er the level plain of water?
Or the Red Swan floating, flying,
Wounded by the magic arrow,
Staining all the waves with crimson
With the crimson of its life-blood
Filling all the air with splendour
With the splendour of its plumage?


The story goes on to tell how the hunter speeds westward in pursuit of the Red Swan. "At lodges where he rests, they tell him she has often passed there, but those who followed her have never returned. She is the daughter of an old magician who has lost his scalp which Ojibwa succeeds in

p. 101

recovering for him and puts back on his head, and the old man rises from the earth no longer aged and decrepit but splendid in youthful glory. Ojibwa departs and the magician calls forth the beautiful maiden, now not his daughter, but his sister, and gives her to his victorious friend. It was in after days when Ojibwa had gone home with his bride that he travelled forth and coming to an opening in the earth descended and came to the abode of departed spirits, there he could behold the bright western region of the good, and the dark cloud of wickedness. But the spirits told him that his brethren at home were quarrelling for the possession of his wife, and at last after long wandering this Red Indian Odysseus returned to his mourning, constant Penelope, laid the magic arrows to his bow, and stretched the wicked suitors dead at his feet.

"Thus savage legends from Polynesia and America may well support the theory that Odysseus visiting the Elysian fields and Orpheus descending to the land of Hades to bring back the wide-shining Eurydikê are but the Sun himself descending to and ascending from the world below."

The Algonquin deity Manabozho was a personification of the sun, for, in an Ottawa myth, he is referred to as the elder brother of the Spirit of the West, God of the country of the dead in the region

p. 102

of the setting sun, and his solar character is further revealed in the legend of his vain pursuit of the West, his brother, to the brink of the world.

According to a Peruvian myth, Viracocha, the Supreme God of the Peruvians, rose from the bosom of Lake Titicaca, and journeying westward overcame all the foes that opposed him, and disappeared at length into the western sea, thus portraying his true solar character.

Faber 1 tells us that the ancient Mexicans believed that the world was made by the gods, but professed ignorance as to the precise mode in which it was formed. "They imagined that since the creation four suns had successively appeared and disappeared, and they maintained that that which we now behold is the fifth. The first sun perished by a deluge of water, and with it all living creatures. The second fell from heaven at a period when there were many giants in the country and by the fall everything that had life was again destroyed. The third was consumed by fire and the fourth was dissipated by a tempest of wind. At that time mankind did not perish as before but were changed into apes, yet when the fourth sun was blotted out there was a darkness which continued twenty-five years. At the end of the fifteenth


p. 103

year their chief god formed a man and a woman who brought forth children, and at the end of the other ten years appeared the fifth sun then newly born. Three days after this last sun became visible all the former gods died, then in process of time were produced those whom they have since worshipped."

The Egyptians had a legend which in some respects is so similar to that of the Mexican myth related above that it would almost appear as if the two originated from the same source. They told Herodotus that, according to their records, the sun had four times deviated from his regular course, having twice risen in the west, and twice set in the east. This change, however, had produced no alteration in the climate of Egypt, neither had a greater prevalence of disease been the consequence.

Among the Maoris of New Zealand we find a myth that depicts dramatically the setting sun as it goes to its death through the western portals of the night. Because of its interest as a pronounced type of the solar myth it is given in detail:

"Maui, the New Zealand cosmic hero, at the end of his glorious career came back to his father's country and was told that here perhaps he might be overcome, for here dwelt his mighty ancestress 'Great-Woman-Night,' whom you may see flashing,

p. 104

and as it were opening and shutting there where the horizon meets the sky. What you see yonder shining so brightly red are her eyes, and her teeth are as sharp and hard as pieces of volcanic glass. Her body is like that of a man, and as for the pupils of her eyes they are jasper. Her hair is like the tangles of long seaweed, and her mouth is like that of a barracouta.

"Maui boasted of his former exploits, and said: 'Let us fearlessly seek whether men are to die or live forever.' But his father called to mind an evil omen that when he was baptising Maui he had left out part of the fitting prayers and therefore he knew that his son must perish, yet he said: 'O my last born, and the strength of my old age, . . . be bold, go and visit your great ancestress who flashes so fiercely there where the edge of the horizon meets the sky.' Then the birds came to Maui to be his companions in the enterprise, and it was evening when they went with him, and they came to the dwelling of his mighty ancestress, and found her fast asleep. Maui charged the birds not to laugh when they saw him creep into the old chieftainess, but when he had got altogether inside her, and was coming out of her mouth, then they might laugh long and loud. So Maui stripped off his clothes and crept in. The birds kept silence, but when he was in up to his

p. 105

waist the little tiwakawaka could hold its laughter no longer, and burst out loud with its merry note, then Maui's ancestress awoke, closed on him, and caught him tight and he was killed. Thus died Maui, and thus death came into the world.

"The New Zealanders hold that the sun descends at night into his cavern, bathes in the water of Life, and returns at dawn from the underworld; hence we may interpret their thought that if Man could likewise descend into Hades and return, his race would be immortal.

"It is seldom that solar characteristics are more distinctly marked in the several details of a myth than they are here. Great-Woman-Night who dwells on the horizon is the New Zealand Hades. The birds are to keep silence as the sun enters night, but may sing when he comes forth from her mouth, the mouth of Hades. The tiwakawaka describes the cry of the bird which is only heard at sunset." 1


One of the most wide-spread and best-known sun myths relates to the devouring of the day by the night monster at set of sun, and the disgorging of the victim by the devourer in the morning. A Zulu legend describes the maw of this sun-devouring monster as a land teeming with human life,


p. 106

and its environment, and when the monster is cut open, all the creatures issue forth from the state of darkness, the cock leading, exclaiming: "I see the world."

The well-known fairy tale of "Little Red Riding-Hood" is a sun myth of this type, and in Germany there is added to the tale the fact that, after the wolf had devoured his victim, a hunter slew the wolf, ripped him open, when out stepped the little maiden in her red cloak, safe and sound.

There is a legend current in Germany that relates to a frog that wooed the daughters of a queen. The youngest daughter consented to become his bride, and this gracious act on her part freed the frog from a magic spell, and he was transformed into a handsome youth.

"This tale," says Professor Max Müller, 1 "is solar in its character, and but another version of the Sanscrit story of Bhekî the frog who became the wife of a king only to vanish at the sight of a glass of water, a legend that grew out of a phrase which was possibly, 'the sun dies at the sight of water.'"

Another ancient myth that has come down to us relates to the mystic meeting of the sunlight and moonlight. The light of the sun was a king's daughter who, on a certain day asked to be allowed


p. 107

to walk unattended in the streets of a great city. The king consented, and ordered all the citizens to remain indoors behind closed shutters on that day and refrain from looking out. A minister, who was really the moonlight, could not restrain his curiosity. He stepped out on his balcony and was seen by the king's daughter, who beckoned to him and he joined her at the foot of a tree. Thus did the sunlight and moonlight mingle their beams of light. The king was told of their meeting and set out for the trysting-place, but before his arrival the minister's wife, realising her husband's peril, sought him and so disguised him that he resembled a monster. When the king finally found his daughter, and saw no one near her but a monster, he was convinced that he had been misinformed, and that his daughter had met no one.

The association of the sun with a floating island is revealed in many legends, and in solar symbolism we find the sun depicted as seated on a floating lotus leaf.

Herodotus tells us that near Buto there was a deep and broad lake in which was a reputed floating island. In this island was a large temple dedicated to the sun. The island was once firm, but it is said when Typhon, who was the sea, was once roaming round the world in pursuit of the solar deity Horus, Latona, who was one of the

p. 108

primitive eight gods who dwelt in the city of Buto, received him in trust from Isis and concealed him in the island of Chemmis, which then first began to float. Afterwards he became sufficiently powerful to leave his place of refuge and to expel Typhon who had usurped his dominions, and his own reign then commenced.

The myth of Phœbus Apollo is substantially identical with this, and the island of Delos, the birthplace of the Sun-God, corresponds to the floating island Chemmis.

There is another parallel legend among the Peruvians. When all mankind were swept away by the waters of the Deluge, a personage named Viracocha emerged from Lake Titicaca and became the founder of the sacred city of Cuzco. Viracocha was the Sun-God of the Peruvians, and the common ancestor of the race of Incas.

In Lake Titicaca, which is considered sacred by the Peruvians, there is a small island where they claim the Sun-God hid himself and saved his life when the world was destroyed by the waters of the Deluge. On this island there was a temple dedicated to the sun, as there was on the island of Chemmis, the Egyptian island, and the Greek island Delos. These islands were considered holy places.

Faber 1 tells us: "The sun is further represented


p. 109

as peculiarly delighting to haunt the sacred mountain which first raised its head above the retiring waters, and which received the ark. This mountain top, therefore, had the appearance of a floating island which doubtless gave rise to the many myths that represent the sun as navigating the deep.

"The favourite residence of the Greek solar deity was Parnassus. In the Zend Avesta the sun is described as ruling over the world from the top of Mount Albordi which is said to have been the first land that appeared above the waves of the retreating flood.

"The old Orphic poet, the priests of Egypt, and the Brahmas of Hindostan agree in maintaining that the sun was born out of an egg which had floated on the ocean, and which had been tossed about at the mercy of the elements."

The following extremely interesting solar myth of Irish extraction is related in Myths and Myth Makers by John Fiske:

"Long before the Danes ever came to Ireland, there died at Muskerry a Sculloge, or country farmer, who by dint of hard work and close economy had amassed enormous wealth. His only son did not resemble him. When the young Sculloge looked about the house, the day after his father's death, and saw the big chests full of gold

p. 110

and silver, and the cupboards shining with piles of sovereigns, and the old stockings stuffed with large and small coin, he said to himself, 'Bedad, how shall I ever be able to spend the likes o’ that?' And so he drank, and gambled, and wasted his time in hunting and horse-racing, until after a while he found the chests empty and the cupboards poverty-stricken, and the stockings lean and penniless. Then he mortgaged his farmhouse and gambled away all the money he got for it, and then he bethought him that a few hundred pounds might be raised on his mill. But when he went to look at it, he found the dam broken and scarcely a thimbleful of water in the mill-race, and the wheel rotten, and the thatch of the house all gone, and the upper millstone lying flat on the lower one, and a coat of dust and mould over everything. So he made up his mind to borrow a horse and take one more hunt to-morrow and then reform his habits.

"As he was returning late in the evening from his farewell hunt, passing through a lonely glen he came upon an old man playing backgammon, betting on his left hand against his right, and crying and cursing because the right would win. 'Come and bet with me,' said he to Sculloge. 'Faith, I have but a sixpence in the world,' was the reply; 'but if you like, I'll wager that on the right.'

p. 111

[paragraph continues] 'Done,' said the old man, who was a Druid; 'if you win I'll give you a hundred guineas.' So the game was played, and the old man, whose right hand was always the winner, paid over the guineas and told Sculloge to go to the Devil with them.

"Instead of following this bit of advice, however, the young farmer went home and began to pay his debts, and next week he went to the glen and won another game, and made the Druid rebuild his mill. So Sculloge became prosperous again, and by and by he tried his luck a third time, and won a game played for a beautiful wife. The Druid sent her to his house the next morning before he was out of bed, and his servants came knocking at the door and crying, 'Wake up, wake up, Master Sculloge, there's a young lady here to see you.' 'Bedad, it's the vanithee 1 herself,' said Sculloge; and getting up in a hurry, he spent three-quarters of an hour in dressing himself. At last he went downstairs, and there on the sofa was the prettiest lady ever seen in Ireland. Naturally, Sculloge's heart beat fast and his voice trembled, as he begged the lady's pardon for this Druidic style of wooing, and besought her not to feel obliged to stay with him unless she really liked him. But the young lady, who was a king's daughter from a far country, was wondrously


p. 112

charmed with the handsome farmer, and so well did they get along that the priest was sent for without further delay, and they were married before sundown. Sabina was the vanithee's name; and she warned her husband to have no more dealings with Lassa Buaicht, the old man of the glen. So for a while all went happily, and the Druidic bride was as good as she was beautiful. But by and by Sculloge began to think he was not earning money fast enough. He could not bear to see his wife's hands soiled with work, and thought it would be a fine thing if he could only afford to keep a few more servants, and drive about with Sabina in an elegant carriage, and see her clothed in silk and adorned with jewels.

"'I will play one more game and set the stakes high,' said Sculloge to himself one evening, as he sat pondering over these things; and so, without consulting Sabina, he stole away to the glen, and played a game for ten thousand guineas. But the evil Devil was now ready to pounce on his prey, and he did not play as of old. Sculloge broke into a cold sweat with agony and terror as he saw the left hand win. Then the face of Lassa Buaicht grew dark and stern, and he laid on Sculloge the curse which is laid upon the solar hero in misfortune, that he should never sleep twice under the same roof, or ascend the couch of the dawn-nymph,

p. 113

his wife, until he should have procured and brought to him the sword of light. When Sculloge reached home, more dead than alive, he saw that his wife knew all. Bitterly they wept together, but she told him that with courage all might be set right. She gave him a Druidic horse, which bore him swiftly over land and sea, like the enchanted steed of the Arabian Nights, until he reached the castle of his wife's father, who, as Sculloge now learned, was a good Druid, the brother of the evil Lassa Buaicht. This good Druid told him that the sword of light was kept by a third brother, the powerful magician Fiach O’Duda, who dwelt in an enchanted castle, which many brave heroes had tried to enter, but the dark sorcerer had slain them all. Three high walls surrounded the castle, and many had scaled the first of these, but none had ever returned alive. But Sculloge was not to be daunted, and taking from his father-in-law a black steed, he set out for the fortress of Fiach O’Duda. Over the first high wall nimbly leaped the magic horse, and Sculloge called aloud to the Druid to come out and surrender his sword. Then came out a tall, dark man, with coal-black eyes and hair and melancholy visage, and made a furious sweep at Sculloge with the flaming blade. But the Druidic beast sprang back over the wall in the twinkling of an eye and rescued his rider, leaving,

p. 114

however, his tail behind in the court-yard. Then Sculloge returned in triumph to his father-in-law's palace, and the night was spent in feasting and revelry.

"Next day Sculloge rode out on a white horse, and when he got to Fiach's castle, he saw the first wall lying in rubbish. He leaped the second, and the same scene occurred as the day before, save that the horse escaped unharmed. The third day Sculloge went out on foot, with a harp like that of Orpheus in his hand, and as he swept its strings the grass bent to listen and the trees bowed their heads. The castle walls all lay in ruins, and Sculloge made his way unhindered to the upper room, where Fiach lay in Druidic slumber, lulled by the harp. He seized the sword of light, which was hung by the chimney sheathed in a dark scabbard, and making the best of his way back to the good king's palace, mounted his wife's steed, and scoured over land and sea until he found himself in the gloomy glen where Lassa Buaicht was still crying and cursing and betting on his left hand against his right.

"'Here, treacherous friend, take your sword of light'; shouted Sculloge in tones of thunder; and as he drew it from its sheath the whole valley was lighted up as with the morning sun, and next moment the head of the wretched Druid was

p. 115

lying at his feet, and his sweet wife, who had come to meet him, was laughing and crying in his arms."

Some authorities claim that the legend of William Tell is a sun myth. He is admittedly a skilful navigator, a practised archer, and, as the myth relates, after he had successfully emerged from the storm and tempest he leaps at dawn, rejoicing in his freedom on the land, and slays the tyrant who had enslaved him. These facts are all well in accord with those predominating in the typical solar myth.

It is quite impossible in a volume treating of sun lore in all its phases to discuss the solar myth exhaustively. An attempt has been made to indicate that primitive man, wherever he was situated, strove to interpret natural phenomena in the familiar language of his daily existence, and to attribute to the manifestations of physical laws a human agency. The result of this close observation of nature led to the deification of its powers and paved the way for a wealth of imagery, a treasure of myth and legend, which lends colour and brightness to the more sombre pages of the early history of man.


91:1 Norse Mythology, R. B. Anderson.

95:1 In this connection it is interesting to note the unexplained association of Orion, the personification of Nimrod, the mighty hunter, and the timid hare. In the constellations we find Orion and Lepus contiguous. That they were designed to be thus closely associated in the heavens cannot be doubted.

98:1 From the 19th Report of the Bureau of Ethnology.

99:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

102:1 The Origin of Pagan Idolatry, George Stanley Faber.

105:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

106:1 Chips from a German Workshop, Professor Max Müller.

108:1 The Origin of Pagan Idolatry, G. S. Faber.

111:1 Lady of the house.



Chapter V

Solar Folk-Lore

THE distinction between mythology and folklore is an extremely fine one, and though there is such a distinction, still the two subjects are so essentially analogous it will not be strange if portions of the material in this chapter would, according to some authorities, seem misplaced, and more properly included in the chapter on Solar Mythology, and vice versa. In view of the difficulties of an absolutely correct classification, the author makes no claim that his is the correct one.

In the early stages of the history of man, every act of nature and the movements of the heavenly bodies was attributed to the machinations of some one, a mysterious personage, an all-powerful being, an unseen god. The sun, as the chief luminary, commanded man's attention from the earliest days, and it was but natural for primitive man to speculate on the phenomena of his daily appearance and disappearance in terms that seem to us now childish and puerile.

p. 120

To men who looked to the west across a vast expanse of sea, the sun at nightfall seemed to sink directly into the waves, and, as they were confident that the sun was an extremely large and hot body they were convinced it would give out a hissing noise when the waters closed over it.

From the expression of the thought to the actual fact was but a step, and so we find Posidonius recording that the inhabitants of Cape St. Vincent, the westernmost point of Europe, claimed that the sun disappears each night into the sea with a great hissing noise.

We find the same idea current in the islands of Polynesia, in Iberia, and Germany, where the people claim to have heard the mighty hissing of the sea-quenched sun.

The Egyptians regarded the sun as a child when it was rising, and as an old man when it was setting in the evening. These ideas were also transferred to the annual motion of the sun. Macrobius states that the Egyptians compared the yearly course of the sun with the phases of human life; thus, a little child signified the winter solstice, a young man the spring equinox, a bearded man the summer solstice, and an old man the autumnal equinox. They also thought that Hercules had his seat in the sun, and that he travelled with it round the moon.

p. 121

The Hindus often referred to the sun as "the eye of Mithra, Varuna, and Agni," and at sunrise or sunset, when the sun appeared to be squatting on the water, they likened it to a frog. This simile gave rise to a Sanscrit story, which is found also in German and Gaelic.

"Bhekî (the frog) was a beautiful maiden. One day when she was sitting near a well, a king rode by, and fascinated by her beauty, asked her hand in marriage. She consented on the condition that he would never show her a drop of water. He accepted, and they were married. One day being tired and thirsty she asked the king for a glass of water, and forgetting his promise, he granted her request, and his bride immediately vanished. That is to say, the sun disappeared when it touched the water."

The sun was also regarded as a well, and in the Semitic, Persian, and Chinese languages the words "well" and "eye" are synonymous. Considered as a well, the rays of the sun were likened to the moisture that flows from the well.

In different parts of Africa we find the sun variously regarded. In Central Africa, where it is extremely hot, the rising of the sun is always dreaded, and the orb of day is a common enemy. It was the custom, among certain tribes, to curse the sun at his rising for afflicting the people with burning heat.

p. 122

In Southern Africa, on the contrary, the natives believed that they were descended from the Sun; and if, by chance, the rising of the sun was obscured by clouds, they thought the Sun purposely hid his face from them because their misdeeds offended him, and straightway they performed acts of propitiation. Work at once ceased, and the food of the previous day was given to the old women. The men of the tribe then went in a body to the river to purify themselves by washing in the stream. Each man threw into the river a stone from his hearth, and replaced it with a new one from the bed of the river. On returning to the village the chief kindled a fire in his hut, and the members of the tribe all gathered embers from it to light their individual hearth fires. The ceremony concluded with a dance in which the whole tribe joined. The idea seems to have been; that the lighting of the flame on earth would serve to rekindle the dead solar fire. When the sun set, these people said "The Sun dies."

The early inhabitants of Polynesia called the sun "Ra," which was also the Egyptian sun name. They believed that it was endowed with life, and the offspring of the gods. To account for its rise in the east each morning, after its disappearance in the west each night, they said that during the night it passed through a passage under the seas,

p. 123

so as to rise in its appointed place in the eastern sky each day.

In some of the islands the sun was thought to be a substance resembling fire, and they regarded its disappearance each night as a falling of the orb into the sea, and, as we have seen, the inhabitants of the westernmost islands were confident that they had heard the hissing occasioned by the sun's plunge into the ocean.

The early tribes seemed to think they could control the light of the sun and s Lay or hasten its setting. "The Melanesians make sunshine by means of a mock sun," says Frazer. 1 "A circular stone is wound about with red braid and stuck with owl's feathers to represent the rays of the sun, or the stone is laid on the ground with white rods radiating from it to imitate sunbeams." A white or red pig is sacrificed in the sunshine-making ceremony, and a black one when rain is desired.

In New Caledonia they burnt a skeleton to make sunshine, and drenched it with water if they wished for rain. They also had a more elaborate ceremony for producing sunshine, which Frazer 2 thus describes: "When a wizard desires to make sunshine he takes some plants and corals to the burial ground, and makes then into a bundle, adding two locks of hair cut from the head of a living child



p. 124

[paragraph continues] (his own child if possible), also two teeth, or an entire jawbone from the skeleton of an ancestor. He then climbs a high mountain whose top catches the first rays of the morning sun. Here he deposits three sorts of plants on a flat stone, places a branch of dry coral beside them, and hangs the bundle of charms over the stone. Next morning he returns to this rude altar, and at the moment when the sun rises from the sea, he kindles a fire on the altar. As the smoke rises he rubs the stone with the dry coral, invokes his ancestors and says: 'Sun: I do this that you may be burning hot, and eat up all the clouds in the sky.' The same ceremony is repeated at sunset."

The sun, according to many traditions of primitive man, spent a part of its time in the underworld, or in a submarine passage beneath the seas, and if it did not go of its own volition, it was carried there by some enemy. Thus in Servia a tale is told, that when the devils fell, their king carried off the sun from heaven affixed to a lance. This was a great calamity, and the Archangel St. Michael was selected to try to recover it. He therefore set out for the underworld and succeeded in making friends with the archfiend. As they stood together by a lake, St. Michael proposed to the devil that they engage in a diving contest. The latter consented, and thrusting the lance

p. 125

which held the sun into the ground, he dived in. This was St. Michael's opportunity, and making the sign of the cross, he grabbed the lance and made off, hotly pursued by the Evil One. Being fleet of foot he outdistanced him, but his pursuer was so close to him at one time that he managed to scratch his foot. In honour of St. Michael and his valiant deed, men, from that time on, were destined to have indented soles.

The old Germans called the sun "Wuotan's eye," and there is a German legend that reveals the sun as the punisher of evil thinkers: It appears that a prisoner was once on his way to execution, an object of pity to all whom he passed, but one woman, who was engaged in hanging up her linen to dry in the sun, remarked that he well deserved his fate. Immediately her linen fell to the ground, nor was she able to hang it up in this drying-place thereafter. It is further related that, at her death, she was taken up to the sun to remain there as long as the world endures, as a punishment for her lack of pity.

The peasants in various parts of Germany call the Milky Way the "Mealway" or the "Millway," and say that it turns with the sun, for it first becomes visible at the point where the sun has set. It leads, therefore, to the heavenly mill, and its colour is that of the meal with which it is

p. 126

strewed. This brings us to the Norse story of "The Wonderful Mill," 1 I an exceedingly interesting bit of folk-lore of solar significance. "The peasants of Norway to this day tell of the wondrous mill that ground whatever was demanded of it. The tradition is of great antiquity. The earliest version known is as follows: Of all beliefs, that in which man has at all times of his history been most prone to set faith, is that of a golden age of peace and plenty which has passed away, but which might be expected to return. Such a period of peace and plenty, such a golden time, the Norsemen could tell of in his mythic Frodi's reign, when gold, or Frodi's meal, as it was called, was so plentiful that golden armlets lay untouched from year's end to year's end on the King's highway, and the fields bore crops unsown. In Frodi's house were two maidens of that old giant race, Frenja and Menja. These daughters of the giant he had bought as slaves, and he made them grind his quern or hand-mill Grotti, out of which he used to grind peace and gold. Even in that golden age one sees there were slaves, and Frodi, however bountiful to his thanes and people, was a hard taskmaster to his giant handmaidens. He kept them to the mill, nor gave them longer rest than the cuckoo's note lasted, or they could sing a song. But that quern


p. 127

was such that it ground everything that the grinder chose, though until then it had ground nothing but gold and peace. So the maidens ground and ground, and one sang their piteous tale in a strain worthy of Æschylus, as the other rested. They prayed for rest and pity, but Frodi was deaf. Then they turned in giant mood, and ground no longer peace and plenty, but fire and war. Then the quern went fast and furious, and that very night came Mysing the sea-rover and slew Frodi and all his men, and carried off the quern, and so Frodi's peace ended. The maidens, the sea-rover took with him, and when he got on the high seas he bade them grind salt, so they ground, and at midnight they asked if he had not salt enough, but he bade them grind on. So they ground till the ship was full and sank. Mysing, maids, mill, and all, and that's why the sea is salt."

This wonder-working mill once stood in heaven, it is said, for Frodi its owner was no other than the Sun-God Freyr. The flat circular stone of Frodi's quern is the disk of the sun, and its handle is the pramantha with which Indra or the Aswins used to kindle the extinguished luminary.

To explain the circular motion of the sun, the Incas of Peru believed that it was hung in space by a cord, and that each evening it entered the sea, and being a good swimmer it pierced through the

p. 128

waves, and reappeared next morning in the east.

The Incas claimed that the Sun was their own elder brother, and ruled over the cohorts of heaven by divine right. Their legends relate that the Sun took pity on the children of men, who, in primitive times, lived in a state of savagery, and he therefore sent his son and daughter to enlighten them, and teach them to live properly. They are said to have risen from the depths of Lake Titicaca, that marvellous sheet of water twelve thousand feet above the sea. They taught the Peruvians the essentials of culture and education.

According to another tradition, the Peruvians traced their origin from the first Inca, the Sun and his wife, who came from the island of the sun in Lake Titicaca, and founded the city of Cuzco, the sacred city of the sun. This island in the lake is therefore sacred to the Peruvians, and many ruins of the Incas are to be found there.

The Peruvians paid particular attention to the daily meridian passage of the sun, and observed that when it was in the zenith, it cast no shadow.

The early natives of Brazil believed that the sun was a ball of light feathers, which some mysterious being exhibits during the day, and covers at night with a pot.

The folk-lore of the North American Indian

p. 129

tribes is rich in legends respecting the sun. The Indians believed that the sun was an animated being endowed with human attributes. The following tales are related by the Thompson River Indians:

There was once a most mischievous and incorrigible youth who one morning strolled away from his home. On his return, he found that his parents had deserted him, but his old grandmother, who was unable to travel, was left behind. She taught the boy how to make a bow and arrows, and with these he was able to provide a daily supply of food. She also made blankets for him out of the skins of many coloured birds. These were of such beauty that they attracted the attention of the Sun. It had always been the custom of the Sun to travel about naked during the day, and clothe himself only in the dark hours. 1 But when the Sun saw these beautiful blankets, he purchased them from the boy, and wrapped them about his body, and soon disappeared, so that at set of sun you may see the gorgeous colouring of these robes in the western sky, especially the blue tint of the blue-jay blanket.

Another tale relates that originally the Sun lived much nearer the earth than now, 2 and preyed



p. 130

upon mankind. It was his custom to kill people every day on his travels, and carry them off to his home at night-fall to eat. His son lived quietly at home clad in fine garments of many colours. There was once an Indian who in gambling was most unlucky. One day, while much depressed, he set out on a journey in search of adventure, and finally came to the Sun's abode in the absence of the owner. The son received him kindly, but fearing that his guest would be discovered by his cannibal father, he hid him under a heap of robes. The Sun arrived in the evening carrying a man on his back, and as he came near the house, he said: "Mum, Mum, Mum. 1 There must be a man here," but his son persuaded him that he was mistaken. The next day the Indian was glad to leave this dangerous locality, and returned to his home laden with gifts from his benefactor. Out of gratitude he returned later to the Sun's house and made his friend the present of a wife and one for his father. This pleased the Sun so much that he gave up the killing and eating of human beings. In the foregoing legend we find expressed the idea, current in the traditions of many primitive people, that celestial beings feed on human bodies.


p. 131

The following tale is told of the Sun and his daughter: 1

Originally the Sun was an eminent chief, possessed of great power and wealth. He was also blessed with a beautiful daughter, and the fame of her beauty spread afar. A powerful magician, entranced with the maiden, sought her hand, and though at first repulsed, finally won the Sun's favour and married his daughter. The Sun implored his daughter to visit him frequently. This, however, she neglected to do, and, finally, when she did go to her father with her two children, he transformed her into the present Sun. This is why the Sun travels each day from east to west in search of her father. Her children are occasionally seen as sun-dogs closely following their mother.

The Indians of Northern California relate the following story:

Once the sun fell by accident down from the sky just about sunrise, but the quick little mole was watching, and caught it before it touched the earth, and succeeded in holding it up until others arrived, when, by exerting all their strength, they


p. 132

succeeded in replacing it where it belonged in the sky, but ever thereafter the mole's hands were bent far back to show how he had worked to hold up the sun.

As evidence of the Indian belief in the Sun's solicitude in their affairs, and his protecting and saving influences, the Cheyenne tale of "The Eagle Hunter" is told:

There was an Indian who once set out to catch an eagle. Digging a hole in the ground he crept in, covered it over with brush, and cleverly baited it with a skinned buffalo calf. Presently an eagle espied the prey, flew down, and began to eat of it, when the Indian laid hold of its feet, and held it captive; but he had underestimated the power of the bird, which had strength enough to carry the man up to a mountain crag, where it was impossible for him to descend. The Indian realising his desperate plight, prayed to the Sun for deliverance, and the Sun, taking pity on him, sent a great whirlwind which swept the hunter from his lofty perch, and safely deposited him on the ground.

In a Maidu legend it is related that the Sun dwells in an impregnable house of ice into which she retreats after killing people on the earth. Once she abducted the Frog's children, and was closely pursued by their angry mother, who finally overtook the Sun and swallowed her, but the Sun

p. 133

burst her open and transformed her into a Frog again.

There are many Indian tales wherein the sun figures as a target. The Shoshone Indians believed that, in the beginning, the sun did not shine till the Rabbit shot at him with his magical arrow (the fire drill).

In the following Mewan Indian legend, 1 the sunlight is extinguished by the arrow shot: "There was once a poor worthless Indian boy who got his living by begging. At length, finding people loath to assist him, he threatened to shoot out the sun, and as this had no effect, he made good his threat, and shot the sun, thus letting its light out, and the whole world became dark. It was dark for years, and every one was starving for want of light, when the Coyote-Man discovered a dim light a long distance off, and sent the Humming-bird to investigate. The bird, finding its way to the sun, pecked off a piece, and returned with it under its chin, and making repeated trips finally succeeded in restoring the full light of the sun, and to this day you can see the marks of its burden beneath the chin of the Humming-bird." This association of the Humming-bird with the sun is found in the traditions of the Aztecs. In their temples was enthroned a deity known as "the Humming-bird


p. 134

to the left," and this bird was considered by them to be a divine being, the emissary of the sun. In the Aztec language it is often called "Sunbeam," or "Sun's hair."

Among the Indians there seems to have been an almost universal tradition that originally men lived in a world of darkness, or semi-darkness, before the sun was placed in the heavens. A Mewan legend relates that, in the early days, the land was shrouded in fog, and was cold and dark. It was such a poor place to live in that Coyote-Man was not satisfied with the conditions, and set out on a journey to seek some way to better it. He finally came to a pleasant land of sunshine, and, charmed with it, returned to tell his people of the delightful land he had visited. They suggested that he offer to buy the sun, so he returned to the land of light and made this proposition, but it was rejected, so Coyote-Man resolved to steal the sun as his people were in sore need of it.

This was a difficult matter as the sun was carefully watched by the Turtle, who slept with one eye always open. Coyote-Man, resorting to magic, took the form of a big oak log, and the Turtle, when out seeking for wood, took him and threw him on the fire. But the fire did not even singe him, and seeing the Turtle asleep, he resumed his form, seized the sun and ran off with it to his own land.

p. 135

The people, however, did not understand it, and bade Coyote-Man make it go, and, as he was sorry for the people he had deprived of the sun, he arranged a plan so that the sun could light up both lands. He carried the sun west to the place where the sky joins the earth, and found the place for the sun to crawl through, and where it could go down under the earth, and come up in the eastern sky in the morning through the hole in the east. The sun did his bidding, and thus both lands thereafter rejoiced in the blessedness of sunshine.

The Natchez of Mississippi, the Apalachees of Florida, the Mexicans and Peruvians, all believed that the sun is the bright dwelling-place of their departed chiefs and warriors.

A primitive Mexican prayer offered in time of war embodies this idea: "Be pleased, O our Lord, that the nobles who shall die in the war be peacefully and joyously received by the sun and the earth, who are the loving father and mother of all."

It is said that General Harrison once called the Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, for a conference: "Come here, Tecumseh, and sit by your father," he said. "You my father?" replied the chief with a stern air, "No, yonder sun [pointing toward it] is my father, and the earth is my mother, so I will rest on her bosom," and he sat upon the ground.

The Kootenay Indians speak of the sun as a

p. 136

blind man who is cured by his father-in-law, Coyote-Man. Here we have another reference to the Coyote's service to mankind in bringing sunshine to his people.

Among the New Zealanders the sun is regarded as a great beast whom the hunters thrashed with clubs. His blood is supposed to be used in some of their incantations, and according to an Egyptian tradition, the sun's blood was kneaded into clay at the making of man.

We have seen how the sun was metaphorically regarded in India and other lands not merely as a human creature, but as the eye of a supreme and all-seeing deity. In like manner the inhabitants of Java, Sumatra, and Madagascar called the sun "the eye of day." This metaphor has been used extensively even in modern poetry.

When the astronomers Galileo, Scheiner, and Fabricius discovered the spots on the sun, the Aristotelians indignantly insisted that they were mistaken, and that the phenomenon was due to defects in the optical properties of their telescopes or eyes. They argued that it was quite incompatible with the dignity of the Eye of the Universe that it should be afflicted with such a common ailment as ophthalmia.

Tylor 1 tells us that the Rev. Tobias Snowden,


p. 137

in a book published in the last century, proved the sun to be Hell, and the dark spots, gatherings of damned souls.

In Greece there was a general protest when the astronomers denied not only the divinity, but the very personality of the sun, and declared it to be nothing but a huge fiery globe. These statements were regarded as blasphemous, and, in fact, Anaxagoras was punished with death for having taught that the sun was not animated, and that it was nothing but a mass of iron, about the size of the Peloponnesus.

Such a state of affairs strikes us in this enlightened age as decidedly extraordinary, and yet in the history of the early settlers of this country we have in the trials for witchcraft an equally absurd and foolish state of affairs.

Every age, therefore, to be judged fairly on its merits, must be viewed in the light of its state of progress, and, grotesque as many of the foregoing legends related of the sun may seem, it behooves us to withhold our mirth, and endeavour to realise how much these traditions were a serious part of the lives of the people of unenlightened ages.


123:1 The Golden Bough, J. G. Frazer.

123:2 Ibid.

126:1 From Dasent's Popular Tales from the Norse.

129:1 This may have been the Indian way of accounting for the invisibility of the sun at night.

129:2 It is strange that the nebular hypothesis conforms with this idea, that the sun and earth were close together at one time.

130:1 We are almost tempted to add, "I smell the blood of an Englishman," for here we have a tale identical in many particulars with the popular fairy tale of "Jack the Giant Killer," which some authorities claim is of solar origin.

131:1 This myth is typical of many that may well be styled Evaporation and Rainfall myths that are thus interpreted. The water is enamoured of the cloud, the beautiful daughter of the Sun. The Sun does not favour the suitor, and strives to kill him by subjecting him to a number of tests. The Water achieves success in all of these, and then receives the Sun's permission to marry his daughter.

133:1 The Dawn of the World, C. Hart Merriam.

136:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.




Chapter VI

Sun Worship

THE pre-eminence of the Sun, as the fountain-head of life and man's well-being, must have rendered it at a date almost contemporaneous with the birth of the race, the chief object of man's worship.

"It was," says Karnes, 1 "of all the different objects of idolatry the most excusable, for upon the sun depend health, vigour, and cheerfulness, and during its retirement all is dark and disconsolate." Hence, as we shall see, the chief masculine deity of every nation which was the chief object of their idolatrous worship, is in every case to be identified with the sun.

The Abbé Banier wrote in like vein: 2 "Nothing was more capable of seducing men than the Heavenly Bodies, and the sun especially. His beauty, the bright splendour of his beams, the rapidity of his course, exultavit ut Gigus ad currendam viam,



p. 142

his regularity in enlightening the whole earth by turns, and in diffusing Light and Fertility all around, essential characters of the Divinity who is Himself the light and source of everything that exists, all these were but too capable of impressing the gross minds of men with a belief that there was no other God but the sun, and that this splendid luminary was the throne of the Divinity. God had fixed his habitation in the heavens, and they saw nothing that bore more marks of Divinity than the sun." In the words of Diodorus Siculus: "Men in earlier times struck with the beauty of the Universe, with the splendour and regularity which everywhere were in evidence, made no doubt that there was some Divinity who therein presided, and they adored the sun as expressing the likeness of the Deity."

The worship of the sun was inevitable, and its deification was the source of all idolatry in every part of the world. It was sunrise that inspired the first prayers uttered by man, calling him to acts of devotion, bidding him raise an altar and kindle sacrificial flames.

Before the Sun's all-glorious shrine the first men knelt and raised their voices in praise and supplication, fully confirmed in the belief that their prayers were heard and answered.

Nothing proves so much the antiquity of solar

p. 143

idolatry as the care Moses took to prohibit it. "Take care," said he to the Israelites, "lest when you lift up your eyes to Heaven and see the sun, the moon, and all the stars, you be seduced and drawn away to pay worship and adoration to the creatures which the Lord your God has made for the service of all the nations under Heaven." Then we have the mention of Josiah taking away the horses that the king of Judah had given to the sun, and burning the chariot of the sun with fire. These references agree perfectly with the recognition in Palmyra of the Lord Sun, Baal Shemesh, and with the identification of the Assyrian Bel, and the Tyrian Baal with the sun.

Again, we have good evidence of the antiquity of Sun worship in the fact that the earliest authentic date that has been handed down to us was inscribed on the foundation stone of the temple of the Sun-God at Sippara in Babylon by Naram-Sin, son of Sargon. There has also been recovered an ancient tablet, an inscribed memorial of the reign of one of the early kings of Babylon, on which is sculptured a representation of the worship of the Sun-God by the king and his attendants. In the sculpture, the Sun-God appears seated on a throne beneath an open canopy shrine. He has a long beard and streaming hair, like most conceptions of the Sun-God, and in his hand he holds a ring, the

p. 144

emblem of time, and a short stick too small for a sceptre, which some archæologists think represents the fire-stick which was so closely associated with the Sun-God. On a small table-altar, which stands before him, is a large disk ornamented with four star-like limbs, and four sets of wave-like rays, while above the group is the inscription: "The Disk of the Sun-God, and the rays (of his) eyes."

The scene clearly indicates the fact that the priests of Sippara were worshippers of the solar disk, and solar rays, and their creed seems to bear a close resemblance to that in vogue in the 18th Egyptian dynasty. The inscriptions on this memorial tablet are a valuable record of the religious life and ceremonial of the Babylonian temples.

he Babylonians, whose deity Shamash, the Sun-God, was worshipped at Sippara and Larsa, believed that in the firmament there were two doors—one in the east, and the other in the west. These were used by the Sun-God in his daily journey across the sky. He entered through the eastern door, and made his exit through the western portal. One tradition records that he rode in a chariot on his daily course drawn by two spirited horses.

In the representations of the Sun-God on the ancient cylinder seals, however, he is generally

p. 145

depicted journeying on foot. Each evening when the Sun-God disappeared in the west, he feasted and rested from his exertions in the abode of the gods, the underworld.

The authorities do not agree as to the place where the worship of the Sun was introduced, but perhaps those who claim Chaldea as the birthplace of Sun worship have the best of the argument, as it is well known that the Chaldeans were the first who observed the motion of the heavenly bodies, and astrology flourished in this reign in the earliest times. The principal deities worshipped by the Chaldeans were arranged in triads of greater and less dignity, nearly all the members of these being personifications of the heavens or the heavenly bodies.

The first triad comprised Ana, the heavens, or the hidden Sun, Father of Gods, Lord of Darkness, Lord of Spirits. Next in order came Bil, also a Sun-God, the Ruler, the Lord, the source of kingly power. His name has the same significance as Baal, and he personifies the same aspect of nature, the Sun ruling in the heavens.

The gods of the Canaanite nations, Moloch, Baal, Chemosh, Baalzebub, and Thammuz, were all personifications of the sun or the sun's rays, considered under one aspect or another. These cruel gods, to whom human sacrifices were offered, represented the strong fierce summer sun.

p. 146

Solar worship was the predominant feature of the religion of the Phœnicians, and the source of their mythology. Baal and Ashtoreth, their chief divinities, were unquestionably the Sun and Moon, and a great festival in honour of the Sun-God, called "the awakening of Herakles," was held annually at Tyre, in February and March, representing the returning power of the Sun in spring. The Phœnician Sun-God, Melkarth, belonged to the line of Bel or Baal, and was the tutelary divinity of the powerful city of Tyre. Melkarth personified the Sun of spring, gradually growing more and more powerful as it mounts to the skies; hence the Phœnicians regarded him as a god of the harvests, and of the table, the god who brings joy in his train. Quails were offered as sacrifices at his altars, and as it was supposed that he presided over dreams, the sick and infirm were sent to sleep in his temples that they might receive in their dreams some premonition of their approaching recovery. The white poplar was particularly dedicated to his service. His votaries celebrated his worship with fanatical rites, invoking him with loud cries, and cutting themselves with knives. Strangely enough, in the North American Indian worship of the sun, a similar custom of self-mutilation is undergone in the sun-dance ceremonial.

The hardy Tyrian navigators soon spread this

p. 147

solar worship from island to island even as far as Gades, where a flame burned continually in his temples. His name signifies, according to some, "the King of the City" or "the powerful King."

The Phœnicians also adored the Supreme Being under the name of Bel-Samen, and it is a remarkable fact that the Irish peasants have a custom, when wishing a person good luck, to say, "the blessing of Bel, and the blessing of Sam-hain be with you," that is, of the Sun and Moon.

The Israelites found the worship of Baal already prevailing in the interior of Palestine, and the adjacent countries on the east, when they came out of Egypt.

We know little of the ritualistic worship of Baal save that high places and groves were especially devoted to his honour, and regarded as sacred. He had a numerous priesthood, and a passage in Jeremiah reveals that human beings were sacrificed to his worship.

The ancient Persians were Sun worshippers, and Mithras, their Supreme Deity, represented the orb of day. Among these people, however, Fire worship soon became the predominating religion, which flourished under the guiding hand of Zoroaster.

The early inhabitants of Armenia likewise worshipped the Sun, and on festival occasions

p. 148

they were wont to sacrifice a horse to the object of their worship.

One of the most interesting evidences of ancient Sun worship has been brought to light in Syria, during the last few years, by German excavators who have been engaged in exposing the wonderful and imposing ruins at Baalbeck. Chief among these in importance is the Great Temple of the Sun, dedicated to Jupiter, and identified with Baal and the Sun. With him were associated both Venus and Mercury, under whose triple protection the ancient city of Heliopolis was placed. Unfortunately, the Great Temple has been almost entirely destroyed. All that remains are six columns of the peristyle, capped with Corinthian capitals, and joined by an elaborately decorated and massive entablature. An inscription on the great portico states that the temple was erected to the Great Gods of Heliopolis by Antonius.

In Egypt we find Sun worship exalted to the highest degree, and the Sun may well be regarded as the central object of the Egyptian religion. Diodorus says: "The first generation of men in Egypt, contemplating the beauty of the superior world, and admiring with astonishment the frame and order of the universe, imagined that there were two chief gods, eternal and primary, the Sun and Moon, the first of whom they called 'Osiris,' the

p. 149

other 'Isis.' They held that these gods governed the whole world cherishing and increasing all things."

The Egyptian priests taught that all their great deities were once men, but that after they died their souls migrated into some one or other of the heavenly bodies. As Osiris was declared to be the Sun, it is evident that, according to this system, the soul of the man was thought to have been translated into the solar orb, so that "when" says Faber, 1 "the pagans worshipped the sun as their principal divinity they did not worship him simply and absolutely as the mere chief of the heavenly luminaries, but they adored in conjunction with him and perpetually distinguished by his name the patriarch Noah, whose soul after death they feigned to have migrated into that orb, and to have become the intellectual regent of it. The person worshipped in the sun was not simply Noah but Noah viewed as a transmigratory reappearance of Adam. The setting and rising of the sun really meant the entrance into and the quitting of the Ark, or his death and resurrection."

The setting of the sun in the west at night, and its rising again in the east the following morning, presented a mystery to which the Egyptians attached great importance. To them the disappearance


p. 150

of the sun signified the end of a contest, the Sun-God vanquished by the demons of the darkness, descended to the realm of death. "In the Book of the Dead" says Tylor, 1 "it is written that the departed souls descend with the Sun-God through the western gate and travel with him among the fields and rivers of the underworld."

The war that the Sun waged with his enemies did not, however, end with his disappearance in the west at eve of day. All through the hours of darkness the battle went on in the underworld, until, finally, the sun gained the upper hand, and emerged victorious in the east, all glorious and triumphant to gladden the hearts of men, and proclaim the immortality of his soul; for, to the Egyptians, the soul as wholly identified with the Sun-God, and partook of all the vicissitudes that befell him. It died with him at nightfall, fought with him against the powers of darkness in the underworld, and renewed its life with him in the glories of the dawn.

The Egyptians, in the deification of the sun, considered the luminary in its different aspects, separating the light from the heat of the sun, and the orb from the rays. Egyptian Sun worship was therefore polytheistic, and several distinct deities were worshipped as Sun-Gods. Thus,


p. 151

there were Sun-Gods representing the physical orb, the intellectual Sun, the sun considered as the source of heat, and the source of light, the power of the sun, the sun in the firmament, and the Sun in his resting-place.

It is quite impossible in a work of this nature to adequately treat the subject of Egyptian Sun worship. Volumes have been written on the subject and space forbids more than a brief account of the worship of the more important of the Egyptian solar deities.

The worship of the Sun-Gods Ra and Osiris was the most ancient religion mentioned on the oldest monuments of Egypt. "They are those," says Tiele, 1 "which in after times prevailed most generally and may be said to have formed the foundation of the national religion."

Undoubtedly the most important of the Egyptian Sun-Gods was Ra, and there appear to have been few gods in Egypt who were not at one time or another identified with him. As far back as Egyptian history reaches this Sun-God appears, as where in the pictures on the mummy cases, Ra, the Sun, is seen travelling in his boat through the upper and lower regions of the Universe, and his worship appears to have been universal throughout Egypt.


p. 152

Ra personified the physical sun, the glorious mid-day sun ruling the firmament, and symbolised to the ancient Egyptians the majesty and power of kings. He was worshipped as an omnipotent and all-powerful god under the names Ra and Amen-Ra. 1

Wilkinson 2 tells us that the name of this deity was pronounced Rä, and with the definite article Pi prefixed it was the same as Phrah, or, as we erroneously call it, Pharaoh of the Scriptures. The Hebrew word Phrah is no other than the Memphitic name of the sun.

The hawk and globe emblems of the sun are placed over the banners or the figures of the Egyptian kings in the sculptures to denote this title. This adoption of the name of the sun as a regal title was probably owing to the idea that, as the Sun was the chief of the heavenly bodies, he was a fit emblem of the king who was the ruler over all the earth. In many of the kingly titles the phonetic nomen commenced with the name of Ra, as the Rameses, and others, and the expression "living forever like the sun, the splendid Phrê," are common on all the obelisks and dedicatory inscriptions.



p. 153

The Sun-God Ra was usually represented as a man with a hawk's head, surmounted by a globe or disk of the sun, from which an asp issued. His figure, and that of the disk were generally painted in red colour, appropriately suggesting the heat of the mid-day sun. He is sometimes accompanied by a scarabæus or sacred beetle, which was an emblem of the sun throughout Egypt.

Pa-ra, the city of the Sun, or, as the Greeks called it, Heliopolis, was the small but celebrated city of Lower Egypt where Ra was especially worshipped. It lies a little east of the Nile and is not far from the spot where Memphis was built. Its usual name among the Egyptians was An or On. Plutarch has this reference to the Sun worship at Heliopolis: "Those who minister to the god of Heliopolis never carry any wine into the temple, looking upon it as indecent to drink it during the day when under the immediate inspection of their Lord and King."

The priesthood of the Sun were noted for their learning. They excelled in their knowledge of astronomy and all branches of science.

The rat was sacred to Ra, and his votaries were forbidden to eat the rodent.

The best loved of all the Egyptian Sun-Gods, and the first object of their idolatry was Osiris (the one who sees clear), personifying the setting

p. 154

sun. The mysterious and daily disappearance of the orb of day exercised over the Egyptians a phenomenal power. The sun then appeared to them, as Keary beautifully describes it in his Dawn of History "to veil his glory and sheathe his dazzling beams in a lovely many-coloured radiance which soothed and gladdened the weary eyes and hearts of men, and enabled them to gaze fearlessly and lovingly on the dreaded orb from which during the day they had been obliged to turn their eyes."

Osiris was distinctly a god of the life eternal. The Egyptians believed that when he sank from sight behind the western hills the souls of the departed were in his retinue, and that, in his nightly sojourn in the underworld, he held high court and judged the dead. Thus, in the inscriptions on the Egyptian temples, we see Osiris in his character as Judge figured in the sacred blue, holding in one hand a sceptre, and in the other the emblem of life, his head surmounted with the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.

"In the judgment scenes," says Keary, 1 "he appears seated on a throne at the end of a solemn hall of trial, to which the soul has been arraigned, and in the centre of which stands the fateful balance, where in the presence of the evil accusing spirit and of the friendly funeral gods and genii


p. 155

who stand around, the heart of man is weighed against a symbol of Divine Truth."

The Sun-God Osiris was therefore to the Egyptians a deity of the living, and a god of the dead, a link connecting the earthly life with the life eternal, the upper and the under worlds, and consequently was personified as two distinct characters. One, as we have seen, depicts him as Judge of the Dead. In his capacity as an earth dweller, Osiris was worshipped under the form of a bull, the Apis, who by successive incarnations never abandoned his home land, and the sight of those who worshipped him through successive ages.

The Egyptians regarded the bull as the living representation of the deity, and believed that the soul of the god tenanted the body of the animal, thence deeming the bull the very same as Osiris himself.

The seat of Osiris worship in Egypt was at Thinis (Teni) in Upper Egypt, on the west bank of the Nile between Thebes and Memphis. Osiris is frequently alluded to as "Lord of Abydos," a city in the immediate vicinity of Thinis, and at this place there have been discovered many temples dedicated to his worship.

That Osiris was a Sun-God is clearly indicated by a number of expressions used regarding him taken from the inscriptions. In the hymns his

p. 156

accession to the throne of his father is compared to the rising of the sun, and it is even said of him in so many words: "He glitters on the horizon, he sends out rays of light from his double feather, inundates the world with it as the sun from out the highest heaven." Like the sun he is called in the sacred songs, "Lord of the length of time." One of his usual appellations is, "Mysterious soul of the Lord of the Disk," or simply "Soul of the Sun."

The Egyptians often called Osiris "Unefer," that is, the good being, representing the beneficent power of the sun that triumphs always over the powers of darkness. In conclusion, the story of the death of Osiris agrees closely with the solar sunset phenomenon, and renders the personification of Osiris as the setting sun a true one.

The most venerable of all the Egyptian Sun-Gods, if not the most popular, was Atum or Amum, personifying the sun after it had set, and was hid from view.

There are two derivations of the name Amum, one meaning, "that which brings to light," the other simply expressing the invitation or greeting of welcome, "Come." In deifying Amum the Egyptians worshipped the unrevealed and unseen Creator of all things, the source of all things, the Ruler of Eternity, whence everything came, and to which all things would return.

p. 157

On the inscriptions, the figure of Amum was coloured blue, the sacred colour of the source of life; the figure was that of a man with either a human head, or a man's head concealed by the head and horns of a ram. The word "ram" meaning concealment in the Egyptian language.

In the Sun-God Horus we see the dawn personified, and the triumphant conqueror of the shades of darkness and the demons of the underworld emerges in the glorious light of victory each morning. He was figured as the eldest son of Osiris, a strong vigorous youth, who avenged his father by waging a successful war against the monster who had swallowed him up.

Horus is depicted in the inscriptions as sailing forth from the underworld up the eastern sky at dawn, piercing the great python, born of night, as he advances.

"The ultimate victory of life over death, of truth and goodness over falsehood and wrong," says Keary, 1 "were the moral lessons which this parable of the sun's rising read to the ancient Egyptians."

The resemblance of lions to the sun is borne out by the fact that the Egyptians placed the figures of lions under the throne of Horus. This deity was sometimes regarded as the God of Silence,


p. 158

and represented as a child with his finger held up to his lips.

In addition to the previously mentioned personifications of the Sun, Egyptian Sun worship included a worship of the actual disk of the Sun. This form of worship was in vogue in the reign of Amenophis III., its first appearance on the monuments being in the 11th year of that monarch's reign.

The worship of the solar disk, or Aten, became the sole object of adoration in the reign of Amenhôtop IV. This monarch, in fact, forbade the worship of any god save this, the "great living disk of the sun," and caused the names of all other gods to be erased from the monuments, and their images to be destroyed.

In the hymns, this deity is referred to as he who created "the far heavens and men, beasts and birds; he strengtheneth the eyes with his beams, and when he showeth himself all flowers live and grow, the meadows flourish at his up-going, and are drunken at his feet, all cattle skip on their feet, and the birds that are in the marsh flutter for joy. It is he who bringeth the years, createth the months, maketh the days, calculateth the hours of time by whom men reckon."

In his zeal to make the god of the disk preeminent, King Amenhôtop IV changed his name

p. 159

to one which signified "gleam of the sun's disk." The death of this monarch resulted in a great reaction, the old gods being restored to their original favour.

Although the solar personifications alluded to would appear to include all the Sun deities worshipped by the Egyptians, there were several minor Sun-Gods that had a place in their religion, chief among these being the god Ptah, personifying the life-giving power of the sun. This god was worshipped with great magnificence at Memphis.

The Sun-God Mandoo personified the power of the sun's rays at mid-day in summer. He was regarded as a god of vengeance and destruction, and a leader in time of war.

The rays of the sun were personified in the gods Gom, Moni, and Kons, who are always referred to as the sons of the Sun-God. The sun's rays, personified in the deity Sekhet or Pasht, had a feminine significance. This goddess was figured with the head of a lioness, and it is said she was at once feared and loved. Her name Pasht means the lioness, and was perhaps suggested by the fierceness of the sun's rays, answering to the lioness's ferocious strength, or the angry light in her eyes. Another name for this goddess was "the Lady of the Cave," and her worship, though common throughout Egypt, had its seat at Bubastis.

p. 160

Tiele considers that Set, the enemy and brother of Osiris, was also a Sun-God, as he is sometimes called "the Great Lord of Heaven," and "the Spy." He personified the fierce and terrible desolation wrought by the sun's power.


141:1 History of Man, Hon. Henry Home of Kames.

141:2 The Mythology and Fables of the Ancients, Abbé Banier.

149:1 The Origin of Pagan Idolatry, George Stanley Faber.

150:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

151:1 History of the Egyptian Religion, Dr. C. P. Tiele.

152:1 It is a singular fact that the great Polynesian name for the Sun-God is also Ra.

152:2 Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson.

154:1 Dawn of History, C. F. Keary.

157:1 Dawn of History, C. F. Keary.