Sun Lore of All Ages (07-09)

01.08.2015 08:36


Chapter VII

Sun Worship (Continued)

Sun Worship in India

IN India, a land teeming with mythology, we find as we might expect, Sun worship a predominant feature of the Hindu religion. All the myths prove that the fancied combat between light and darkness, waged daily in the spacious field of the firmament, is of solar origin. As we have seen Osiris, the Sun-God of the Egyptians, triumphing over the demons of darkness, so in India we find Indra, the great solar deity of the Hindus, successful in his combat with Vritra the serpent of night.

The worship of Indra constitutes the very essence of the Vedic religion, although he was by no means the only Sun-God worshipped in India, for the Hindus worshipped the sun in its various aspects after the manner of the Egyptians. The rising sun was called "Brahma, "on the meridian it was known as "Siva," and in the west at nightfall, "Vishnu."

"In regard to Vishnu," says Keary, "the great

p. 164

epic of the Hindus relates that when he was armed for the fight Agni gave him a wheel with a thunderbolt nave. This can only mean a wheel that shoots out thunderbolts from its nave when it turned." 1 The wheel has throughout the ages symbolised the sun.

In Central India, Sun worship still prevails among many of the hill tribes, and the Sun is invoked as the Holy One, the Creator, and Preserver. White animals are sacrificed to him by his votaries.

One of the early and most important Sun-Gods was Sûrya. He is represented as moving daily across the sky in a golden chariot drawn by seven white horses. Perhaps the most holy verse in the Veda is the following short prayer to the Sun-God Sûrya taken from the Rig Veda, an invocation powerful in expression, and beautiful in thought:



"Sing praises unto Sûrya, to the son of Dyaus,
 May this my truthful speech guard me on every side wherever heaven and earth and days are spread abroad.
 All else that is in motion finds a place of rest. The waters ever flow, and ever mounts the sun.
 No godless man from time remotest draws thee down when thou art driving forth with wingèd dappled steeds.
 He turns him to an alien region of the east, and Sûrya thou ariseth with a different light. p. 165
 O Sûrya: with the light whereby thou scatterest gloom, and with thy ray impellest every moving thing,
 Keep far from us all feeble worthless sacrifice, and drive away disease and every evil dream.
 Sent forth, thou guardest well the path of every man, and in thy wonted way ariseth free from wrath.
 When, Sûrya, we address our prayers to thee to-day, may the gods favour this our purpose and desire.
               .         .         .         .         .         .         .
 Ne’er may we suffer want in presence of the sun, and living happy lives may we attain our age.
 Cheerful in spirit, evermore, and keen of sight, with store of children, free from sickness and from sin.
               .         .         .         .         .         .         .
 O Sûrya, with the golden hair, ascend for us day after day, still bringing purer innocence.
 Bless us with shine, bless us with perfect daylight, bless us with cold, with fervent heat and lustre.
 Bestow on us, O Sûrya, varied riches to bless us in our home, and when we travel."


The ancient Sun worship of India is reflected in the daily religious rites and festivals of the modern Hindus. Thus, the time-honoured formula repeated daily since long past ages by every Brahman, indicates clearly the divine element in the sun: "Let us meditate on the desirable light of the divine sun, may he rouse our minds." Here is a direct appeal to a solar deity, and every morning the Brahmans may be seen facing the east, standing on one foot, and stretching out

p. 166

their hands to the sun as they repeat this prayer which has come down unchanged from remote ages.

The Zoroastrians, and the modern exponents of that faith, the Parsees, saw in the sun fire and light, a manifestation of a divine and omnipotent power, and regarded them in a measure as symbols of the deity; but there can be little doubt that this distinction was not always borne out, and that the sun, and fire itself, were literally worshipped by them.

In the Parsee temples burns a fire which, it is said, has never been extinguished since it was kindled by Zoroaster four thousand years ago. In praying, the Parsees are admonished to stand before the fire, and turn their faces toward the sun, and when a young Brahman's head is tonsured, he is to this day so placed that he has the sacred fire to the east whence comes the sun of which it is a type.

Sun Worship in Greece

The ancient Sun-God of the Pelasgians, displaced by the later worship of Apollo, was Arês. "There can be no question," says Keary, 1 "that in prehistoric times the worship of Arês was


p. 167

widely extended. Traces of his worship are to be found in the Zeus Areios who was honoured at Elis, and in the name of Areiopagus of Athens." Little actual knowledge of this early worship however has come down to us.

The two great solar divinities of Greece were Helios or Hyperion, and Phœbus Apollo. Just as the Egyptians regarded their Sun-Gods Ra and Osiris as distinct aspects of the sun, so the Greeks distinguished the orb from the rays of the sun.

Helios represented to the Greeks the physical phenomenon of light, the orb of the sun which throughout the seasons rises and sets daily. Phœbus Apollo, on the contrary, was the beneficent divinity who not only created the warmth of spring-tide, but protected mankind from the dangers and diseases of the more desolate seasons. He was essentially human in his sympathies and yet wholly godlike in dignity.

Some writers, notably Hesiod, regard Hyperion as the father of the sun, moon, and dawn, and therefore the original Sun-God, and the father of Phœbus Apollo, but Homer identifies Helios with Hyperion as "he who walks on high."

The worship of the Sun-God Helios, the counterpart of the Latin Sol, was imported into Greece from Asia, but by no means gained a high degree

p. 168

of popularity. The number seven was sacred to Helios, and in the island of Trinacria (supposed to be Sicily), it was said he had seven herds of cows, and seven herds of lambs, fifty in each herd, which never increased or diminished in numbers. The god delighted to watch them peacefully grazing when he rose in the morning, and as he left the sky at night-fall. As we shall see later in the chapter on the solar mythology of Greece, and as related in the Odyssey, the sacred herds of Helios were ruthlessly slaughtered by the misguided companions of Ulysses. Incensed by this insult the Sun-God threatened to descend into Hades and shine among the dead. He contented himself, however, by complaining to Jove, who, acknowledging the justice of his claim for vengeance, roused up a mighty storm which well-nigh destroyed the miscreants, and completely disabled their ship. Tylor 1 tells us that the Greek Sun-God Helios, to whom horses were sacrificed on the mountain top of Taygetos, was that same personal Sun to whom Socrates, when he had stayed rapt in thought till daybreak, offered a prayer before he departed. An annual festival in honour of Helios was celebrated at Rhodes with musical and athletic contests.

The Greeks believed that the Sun rose out of


p. 169

the ocean on the eastern side, and drove through the air in a chariot giving light to gods and men. The poet Milton in his Comus thus refers to the daily journey of the Sun-God:


"The star that bids the shepherd fold
 Now the top of heaven doth hold,
 And the gilded car of Day
 His glowing axle doth allay
 In the steep Atlantic stream,
 And the slope Sun his upward beam
 Shoots across the dusky pole,
 Pacing toward the other goal
 Of his chamber in the east."


In Lucian's time the Greeks kissed their hands as an act of worship to the rising Sun.

Shakespeare frequently alludes to Hyperion, and Keats wrote of his downfall, and of the accession of his successor Phœbus Apollo.

We come now to a consideration of the preeminent feature of Hellenic Sun worship, the worship of the Sun-God Phœbus Apollo, the god who is more especially the deity of the later Greeks, the Dorians and Ionians.

The authors of this religion were probably the Dorians, who inhabited the northern portion of Greece, and who founded their first kingdom in Crete. Before the Doric invasion, however, there was in Crete a species of Sun worship, for the bull-

p. 170

headed Minotaur, according to the authorities, could hardly have been anything else than a Sun-God of the Asiatic stamp.

With the coming of the Dorians to Crete, Apollo worship was established, and through the migrations of these people (about the tenth century before our era), the cult of Phœbus Apollo spread on every side, until this religion was in favour wherever the Greek language was spoken.

In Homer, Apollo is easily the greatest of all the Sun-Gods, and superior in character to almost every other deity. In the Iliad he is the central and most majestic figure.

Phœbus Apollo, or "Far-Darter" as he is sometimes called, was the son of Jupiter and Latona, and brother of Diana, the Moon Goddess. He was born on Delos, the smallest and most desolate of all the Ægean Islands, after all other places had rejected him. Delos, however, was a most appropriate birthplace for a Sun-God, as the ancients believed that the Sun was born from the sea. His name, Phœbus, signifies the glorious nature of the light of the sun, while the name Apollo probably had reference to the devastating effects of the sun's rays at mid-day.

At the birth of the Sun-God on the seventh day of the month, we are told that sacred swans made the circuit of the island seven times, and all the

p. 171

attendant goddesses gave a shout, and Delos was radiant in golden light. We have here, it is said, the echo of an old belief, that at the hour of sunrise the horizon sends forth a sound.

Zeus bestowed on the infant Apollo a cap, a lyre, and a car drawn by swans. Soon after his birth the swans carried Apollo off to the land of the Hyperboreans, where for six months of the year the climate is marked by sunshine and gentle breezes. Here the Sun-God thrived and waxed vigorous. It is not within the scope of this chapter to dwell on the myths that tell of the mighty deeds of the Far-Darter, as they come properly under the chapter on solar mythology. The establishment, however, of the Delphinian oracle, perhaps the most important event in the life of the Sun-God, is related here, as Delphi was, properly speaking, the seat of Apollo worship.

At an early date Apollo developed the attributes of a warrior, and set out in the quest of adventure. Searching for a suitable place in which to establish an oracle, he came to Delphi, a peaceful vale in Crissa, in the heart of Greece. Its solitude and sublimity completely charmed him and he chose it as the site of his oracle. His advent was not peaceable, however, as Hera had set in his path the great serpent Pytho, and a terrific combat ensued from which Apollo emerged victorious. Some

p. 172

authorities claim that this contest with Pytho signifies the war which, according to many mythologies, the Sun-God wages with the River God. The great river is the earth which flows all around the world, and which the Greeks knew by the name "Oceanus."

Perhaps, in the widest significance, this battle between Phœbus Apollo and the serpent represents the contest between the Sun-God and the earth river, for the Sun, although seemingly conquered by Oceanus each night, and smothered in his coils, emerges triumphant in the morning.

From his victory over Pytho, Apollo obtained the title of "Pythius, "and in commemoration of the event the Pythian games were instituted, in which contests the victors were crowned with wreaths of beech leaves.

His foes vanquished, the first requisite of an oracle, a priest was sought, and it is related that Apollo cast his eyes seaward and beheld a Cretan ship sailing for Pylos. Assuming the form of a dolphin he plunged into the sea, and boarded the ship to the great amazement of the crew. Under his guidance they came to the bay of Crissa, and the god in the form of a blazing star left the ship and descended into his temple. Assuming the form of a handsome youth with wavy locks, he greeted the crew as strangers, and invited them to

p. 173

land, and worship him as Apollo Delphinus, as he had met them in the form of a dolphin, and hence Delphi derived its name.


The resemblance between the lives of the Sun-God Phœbus Apollo, and Jesus Christ, the central figure and Exemplar of the Christian religion, is striking. The circumstances of their birth were in many respects similar, in that they were born in comparative obscurity. The mother of Apollo sought in vain for a suitable place to bring forth her offspring, and had recourse at last to a desolate and barren island in the midst of the sea. The Virgin Mary found her only refuge in a comfortless and humble shelter for the beasts of the field. Three gifts were presented the Far-Darter at his birth by Zeus, and the Magi presented the same number of gifts to the infant Jesus. Further, the infant Apollo was hurried away to a peaceful land soon after his birth, and in like manner the child Jesus was conveyed to a place of safety to escape a threatened danger.

For a while Phœbus Apollo hid his greatness in a beggar's garb, bearing with patience the gibes and sneers of his comrades, preferring to bide his time when all men should acknowledge his greatness. This mode of existence was in every way similar to the life of Christ.

p. 174

Again, as personifying the sun, Phœbus Apollo must necessarily be born weak and suffer hardships, he must wander far and lead a life of strife and action, but above all it was imperative that he should die. It is this last act which makes the character of the Sun-God approach the nearest to human nature.

Although the Sun-God's death at night-fall is ignominious, akin in this respect to the crucifixion, still its predominant feature is one of glory, and the reappearance of the triumphant sun after death is in every way typical of the resurrection, thus portraying in a startling manner the completeness of the analogy between the lives of Christ and Apollo.

In the Homeric hymn to Apollo we read that the Far-Darter took the shape of a dolphin, and guided men from Crete to Crissa. "This plunging of the god into the water, and his taking the shape of a fish," says Keary, 1 "is the setting of the sun, and the birth of Apollo in the mid-Ægean is his rising. Both are alike parts of the sun's daily journey."

Again, the sun is essentially nomadic in its character, a continual wanderer in the firmament and this characteristic is borne out in the life of Phœbus Apollo, who in his infancy started upon his


p. 175

travels, his life being one of ceaseless wandering and activity.

Apollo brought not only the blessings of the harvest to mankind, but he was the god of music and song. He founded great cities, and promoted colonisation, gave good laws, and in a word, was "the ideal of fair and manly youth, a pure and just god requiring clean hands of those who worshipped him." To him were sacred the wolf, the roe, the mouse, the he-goat, the swan, the dolphin, and the ram. Traces of his solar nature are revealed in some of the statues, which represent him with a full and flowing beard, typifying the sun's rays. Generally he is represented as having the figure of a youthful athlete.

It remains to mention the different titles conferred on Phœbus Apollo. The many festivals inaugurated in his honour are referred to in another chapter. As there is a beneficent side to the sun's character, displayed in its genial warmth, so there is a destructive and desolating force in its rays at mid-day. As a destroyer and producer of plagues Phœbus Apollo was styled "Carneius," and worshipped with particular zeal at Sparta. In this capacity he was also worshipped under the title "Hyacinthus," a worship that was for the most part peculiar to the Peloponnesus.

As a beneficent god the Far-Darter was styled

p. 176

[paragraph continues] "Thargelius." The most noted of the temples dedicated to his worship was situated at Amyclæ.

Apollo was regarded as the patron of herdsmen, and in this capacity was called "Nomius." He was also styled "Delphinius," and worshipped in a temple at Athens which bore the name "Delphinian."

From the fact that the number seven was sacred to Apollo he was called "Hebdomeius." As a god of light he was styled "Lycius," the original centre of this worship being Lycia, in the southwest of Asia Minor. Apollo was regarded as the father of Æsculapius, the god of medicine, and those afflicted with disease had recourse to him, for through his kind offices their bodies were purified, and health regained.

In Rome, the worship of Apollo was not established until 320 B.C., a temple being raised to him in that year in consequence of a pestilence that had swept the city. Afterwards a second temple was dedicated to his worship on the Palatine Hill.

To the poets of all ages Phœbus Apollo has been a source of inspiration, and the symbol of poetry. Callimachus, an Alexandrine Greek, who lived about 250 B.C., wrote a hymn in honour of the Sun-God Apollo. In later times, however, no distinction was made by the Greek poets between Apollo and the Sun-God Helios.

p. 177

The poet Keats wrote an ode and a hymn to Apollo, and Shelley's Hymn to Apollo is considered one of the finest and most sublime poems in our language. It is the Sun-God's description of his divine attributes, and because of its beauty is quoted in full:


"The sleepless Hours who watch me as I lie,
 Curtained with star-inwoven tapestries
 From the broad moonlight of the sky,
 Fanning the busy dreams from my dim eyes.
 Waken me when their mother, the grey Dawn,
 Tells them that dreams and that the moon is gone.


"Then I arise, and climbing Heaven's blue dome,
 I walk over the mountains and the waves,
 Leaving my robe upon the ocean foam;
 My footsteps pave the clouds with fire; the caves
 Are filled with my bright presence, and the air
 Leaves the green earth to my embraces bare.

"The sunbeams are my shafts with which I kill
 Deceit, that loves the night and fears the day;
 All men who do or even imagine ill
 Fly me, and from the glory of my ray
 Good minds and open actions take new might
 Until diminished by the reign of night.

"I feed the clouds, the rainbows, and the flowers
 With their ethereal colours; the moon's globe
 And the pure stars in their eternal bowers
 Are cinctured with my power as with a robe;
 Whatever lamps on Earth or Heaven may shine
 Are portions of one power, which is mine.p. 178

"I stand at noon upon the peak of Heaven,
 Then with unwilling steps I wander down
 Into the clouds of the Atlantic even;
 For grief that I depart they weep and frown.
 What look is more delightful than the smile
 With which I soothe them from the western isle?

"I am the eye with which the Universe
 Beholds itself and knows itself divine;
 All harmony of instrument or verse,
 All prophecy, all medicine are mine,
 All light of Art or Nature; to my song
 Victory and praise in their own right belong."


The Dorians, as they migrated and founded new kingdoms, found the worship of the Sun-God Herakles flourishing in other lands, and gradually this form of religion became popular and supplanted the worship of Apollo.

Herakles was, however, considered more in the light of a solar hero than a Sun-God. In Herakles we behold the Sun, loving and beloved, wherever he goes seeking to benefit the sons of men; yet, as was the case with Apollo, sometimes bringing destruction and desolation down upon them through the fierce heat of his noonday rays.

The twelve labours of Herakles are supposed to refer to the sun's passage through the Zodiacal signs, as they suggest forcibly in many cases the successive conquests of the Sun hero. Herakles was represented on coins of Cyzicus about 500-450 B.C.

p. 179

[paragraph continues] The death of Herakles is the most impressive incident of his varied career. "No one," says Keary, 1 "who reads the account of it, can fail to be struck by the likeness of the picture to an image of the setting sun. . . . The flame of his pyre shines out far over the sea, and the sun's last rays shine out in the light of the fiery sky." The many myths related of the Sun hero, Herakles, are referred to in the chapter on solar mythology.

Japanese Sun Worship

In the spirit religion of Japan we find the worship of the Sun-God is supreme. He is regarded as the "heaven-enlightening great spirit,—below him stand all the lesser spirits through whom as mediators, guardians, and protectors, worship is paid by men."

Among the Shinto deities, however, the Sun-Goddess was the central figure. To reconcile Buddhism and Shintoism the chief priests claimed that the Sun-Goddess had been merely an incarnation of Buddha.

The shrine of the Sun-Goddess stood in the Mikado's residence, and was reverenced by that monarch as one of his family gods. Her emblem was the mirror, which is to the present day considered


p. 180

one of the sacred treasures of the Japanese sovereigns.

A temple of the Sun-Goddess was established at Watarahi in the province of Isé, and the shrine of the Goddess of Food was placed in the temple. These two deities henceforth occupy together the chief place in the Japanese Pantheon. They were honoured above all other gods by festivals and ceremonies held annually. Offerings and sacrifices were presented to these goddesses on the seventeenth day of the sixth moon, and the ritual of the invocation was in part as follows: "Hear, all you ministers of the gods, and sanctifiers of offerings, the great ritual declared in the presence of the From-Heaven-Shining-Great Deity."

At the harvest festival thanksgiving was offered to the Sun-Goddess for bestowing upon her descendants dominion over land and sea.

Sun Worship in Peru and Mexico

From Japan we cross the Pacific to find the indigenous tribes of the western continents reverencing and worshipping the Sun in ancient times. The Sun worship of Peru first claims our attention, as it easily overshadows in importance and magnificence the solar worship of any other of the western tribes.

p. 181

It has been shown that Sun worship prevails, for the most part, where the sun is welcomed for his genial warmth, and where nature suffers at his departure. Thus, in the lowlands of South America, Sun worship attained little prominence, but on the high plateaus, such as those in Peru, it flourished vigorously, and was the dominant feature of the life of the natives.

The Peruvians believed that the Sun was at once the ancestor and the founder of the Inca dynasty, and that the Incas reigned as his representatives and almost in his person. The Sun, therefore, was the sovereign lord of the world, the king of heaven and earth, and was called by them "Inti," which signifies Light.

The Peruvian villages were so built that the inhabitants could have an unobstructed view of the east, in order that each morning the nation might unite in saluting the rising Sun, and rejoice in the advent of the Lord of Light. The Sun alone of all the deities had a temple in every large town in Peru.

The Peruvian Sun temples probably exceeded in magnificence those of any other nation on the earth. In Peru, as elsewhere, a certain relationship was thought to exist between the substance of gold, and that of the sun. In the nuggets dislodged from the mountain sides they thought they

p. 182

saw the Sun's tears, consequently, in the Peruvian edifices dedicated to the worship of the Sun, we find gold used lavishly to beautify and embellish the structure.

The following description of the Great Temple of the Sun at Cuzco, the grandest ecclesiastical edifice in the empire, gives some idea of the beauty and grandeur of these places of worship:

The temple consisted of a vast central auditorium surrounded by a number of smaller buildings and was built with an elegance of masonry rarely, if ever, equalled.

The roof was formed by timberworks of precious woods plated with gold, and the precious metal was so prodigally lavished on the interior that the temple bore the name of "The Place of Gold" or "Golden Palace." A thick sheet of gold six inches wide ran round the outside of the edifice as a frieze, and there was a similar decoration in every apartment. The doors opened to the east, and at the far end above the altar was a golden disk with human countenance shaped and graven to represent the sun, and studded with precious stones. It was so placed as to reflect, at certain seasons, the first rays of the rising sun on its brilliant surface, and, as it were, reproduce the likeness of the great luminary.

Around the sacred disk was arranged in a semi-circle

p. 183

the mummies of the departed Incas seated on golden thrones, so that the morning sun rays came day by day to bless the remains of the rulers of bygone ages.

The adjacent buildings were the abodes of the deities who formed the retinue of the Sun. The principal one was sacred to the Moon, the Sun's consort, who had her disk of silver, and arranged around her were the mummies of the ancient queens. Other chambers in the temple were dedicated to the stars, to lightning, and to the rainbow. Outside the temple was a great garden filled with rare and beautiful plants, which contained, also, exquisite imitations of trees, bushes, and flowering shrubs, and animals all wrought in solid gold. The vases and temple ornaments, all the utensils used by the priests in the temple, and even the conductor pipes, were composed of the precious metal.

In the Peruvian ceremonials of Sun worship, drink offerings were presented to the deity in a golden vessel, and the people believed that if the liquid disappeared the Sun partook of it, which might be truly said of it, as it soon vanished by evaporation.

Under the Incas, Sun worship became the state religion of Peru, and the central idea of the life of the people. It is evident, however, that Sun

p. 184

worship was not acceptable to all the Incas, for there is on record a protest made by an Inca that the Sun could not be a supreme and all-powerful deity, constrained as he was to pursue one fixed course in the firmament. If he was supreme he should be a free agent, argued this wise sovereign.

Columns in honour of the Sun were erected in Peru as in other lands where Sun worship prevailed, level at the top, so as to form a seat for the sun who, the Peruvians said, "loved to rest upon them." At the equinoxes and solstices they placed golden thrones upon them for the Sun-God's further convenience. Surrounding the city of Cuzco there were twelve stone columns dedicated to the sun, which represented the twelve months in the year.

Human sacrifices to the sun were common in Peru, and the rising sun looked down on sacrificial altars reddened by the blood of thousands of victims. The holiest sacrifice was the blood of a captive youth, smeared on a rock that crowned a mountain top, so that the sun's first rays would light up the gory sacrifice.

Sun worship thrived in Peru until the Spanish Conquest, when Pizarro ruthlessly overthrew the temples, and stifled the religion. It is said that the great golden disk representing the sun, that was the chief object of worship in the Great Temple

p. 185

at Cuzco, was secured as booty by one of the rough adventurers of the conquering army, and became the stake in a subsequent drunken gambling bout that the plunderer engaged in.

Although the Sun worship of the Peruvians reached a higher state of exaltation, and perfection than that of any other South American people, still the pre-eminence of the Sun, and its deification, was the very essence of the early religion of Central America, and particularly Mexico. The ancient Mexicans called themselves "Children of the Sun," and daily greeted the rising sun with hymns of praise, and offered to the solar deity a share of their meat and drink. Even to this day, the inhabitants of the interior of Mexico, as they go to mass, throw a kiss to the Sun before entering the church.

Four times by day and night the priests of the ancient Sun temples addressed their invocations and prayers to the Sun, and all the temples were dedicated to his worship. In the ceremonial of the temple worship, blood drawn from the ears of the high priest was offered to the Sun, as was also a sacrifice of quails. The priest invoked the Sun saying: "The Sun has risen, we know not how he will fulfil his course, nor whether misfortune will happen. Our Lord do your office prosperously."

The temples of the ancient Toltecs, who inhabited Mexico as far back as the year 674 of the

p. 186

[paragraph continues] Christian era, were dedicated to the Sun. The Moon they worshipped as his wife, and the Stars as his sisters. No image was allowed within these temples, and their offerings were perfumed flowers, and sweet-scented gums. They reared in adoration of the Sun and Moon great pyramids which have endured to this day and examples of which may be seen at San Juan, Teotihuacan.

The highest "El Sol" is 216 feet in height, has a base about 761 feet square, and the summit is reached by a flight of sixty-eight steps. Many strange idols have been found in this region embellished and ornamented with designs of solar significance, the sun's rays being especially noticeable in the carvings.

The supreme god of the early Mexicans was Quetzalcohuatl, who personified to them the Sun of to-day; his father was Camaxtli, the great Toltec conqueror, whom the Mexicans regarded as the Sun of yesterday:—while the god Tetzcalipoca signified to them the Sun of to-morrow.

Quetzalcohuatl is described as being regal of stature, of white complexion, and of pleasing countenance. His face was fair, and his beard bushy, and he was clothed in flowing robes. It is related that the clouds, or cloud snakes, bear down the old Sun, and choke him, but the young Quetzalcohuatl rushes up in the midst of them from

p. 187

below, and destroys them. As we shall see, the Sun-God Hercules, the solar deity of the Greeks, was famed even in his infancy for his triumph over the serpents sent to destroy him.

Quetzalcohuatl reigned over the Toltecs peaceably for many years, but finally his enemies brought about his downfall, and deposed him. Legend says he embarked in his ship and sailed down a river to the sea, where he disappeared and was no more seen. When Montezuma beheld Cortez and the Spanish ships approaching the land, he thought that the great Sun-God was returning to his beloved land.

Sun Worship of the North American Indians

Proceeding northward, we find the worship of the Sun that anciently existed and flourished in the far east, equally prominent in the life of the early Indian tribes of North America.

The chiefs of the Huron tribe claimed descent from the Sun, and believed that the sacred pipe was derived from this luminary. It was, they thought, first presented to the Pawnees, and by them transmitted to the other tribes. Many of the Indian tribes have a similar tradition.

The Iroquois regarded the Sun as a god, and offered him tobacco, which they termed "smoking the Sun." On important occasions the braves

p. .188

gathered together in a circle, squatting on the ground, the chief then lighting the calumet, and offering it thrice to the rising Sun, imploring his protection, and recommending the tribe to his care. The chief next took several puffs and passed the pipe on for all the others to smoke in turn. As in many Christian churches to-day, the prayers of the people mingle with the smoke of incense, so were the invocations of the early Indians addressed to their Sun deity, supposed to be wafted to him by the smoke that wreathed upward from the sacred calumet.

Certain tribes offered to the Sun the first game they despatched when they were out on a hunting expedition. The Apalachees of Florida, in their sacrifices to the Sun, offered nothing that had life. They regarded the Sun as the parent of life, and thought that he looked with displeasure on the destruction of any living creature. They saluted the Sun at the doors of their wigwams as he rose and set, and in the sacred hut or cave where they worshipped, the Sun's rays were permitted to enter so as to illuminate the altar at certain times of ceremonial importance. This accords closely with the ideas of orientation which played such an important part in the Sun temple worship of the Egyptians. In the course of their service of Sun worship, the Apalachees released the sacred Sun

p. 189

birds through a crevice in the roof of the cave temple. These, as they winged their way upward, were thought to convey their expressions of adoration to the Sun, the supreme deity.

To the Creeks the Sun represented the Great Spirit, toward him they directed the first puff of smoke from the calumet, as they sat in solemn council, and to him they bowed reverently in their discussions. The early Indian tribes of Virginia prostrated themselves before the rising and setting Sun and Tylor 1 tells us that the Pottawotomies would climb sometimes at sunrise to the roofs of their huts to kneel, and offer to the luminary a mess of Indian corn.

The powerful Sioux tribe regarded the Sun as the Creator and Preserver of all things and to him they sacrificed the best of the game they killed in the hunt. The Shawnees believed that the Sun animated everything, and therefore must be the Master of Life or Great Spirit.

The Sun worship of the Indian tribes dwelling in the southern portions of North America seems to have been on a more elaborate scale than that in vogue in the north. Doubtless it was influenced by the widely extended and exalted Sun worship of the South American tribes. Among the tribes inhabiting what is now the state of Louisiana, it


p. 190

was customary for the chief to face the east each morning, and prostrate himself before the rising Sun. He also smoked toward it, and then toward the three other cardinal points of the compass. These Indians even erected to the Sun a rude temple, a circular hut some thirty feet in diameter. In the midst of it was kept burning a perpetual fire, prayers were offered to the Sun three times each day, and the hut was the repository of images and religious relics. Following the Inca custom, the bones of their departed chiefs were also placed in the sacred structure. Their highest and most powerful chief was regarded as the Sun's brother, and he conducted as high priest the temple service of worship to the Sun.

The Dakota Indians called the Sun "the mysterious one of day," and believed that this deity watched over them in time of need. The following translation from portions of an Indian hymn to the Sun indicates the attitude of the worshippers toward their deity:


Great Spirit, master of our lives,
Great Spirit master of all things visible and invisible, and who daily makes them visible and invisible,
Great Spirit master of every other Spirit good or bad,
Command the good to be favourable unto us, and deter the bad from the commission of evil.
               .         .         .         .         .         .         . p. 191
O Great Spirit, when hidden in the west protect us from our enemies who violate the night, and do evil when thou art not present,
Make known to us your pleasure by sending to us the Spirit of Dreams.
               .         .         .         .         .         .         .
O Great Spirit, sleep not longer in the gloomy west, but return and call your people to light and life.


Brinton 1 tells us that the Algonquins did not regard the Sun as a divinity but merely as a symbol. They called the Sun "Wigwam of the Great Spirit," and they prayed not to the Sun but to the old man who dwelt in the Sun.

Fire worship is closely related to Sun worship, and in many cases the North American Indians regarded fire, and not the Sun, as the Creator of all things, and the Supreme Deity.

The Choctaws refer to fire as "the greater chief," and speak of it as "he who accompanies the Sun, and the Sun him." In preparing for war they invoke the aid of both the Sun and Fire.

The following Ottawa legend 2 is of much interest as showing clearly the motives with which savage animists offer sacrifices to their deities, and the spirit in which they believe the gods accept them:

"Onowuttokwutto, the Ojibwa youth who has followed the moon up to the lovely heaven prairies,



p. 192

to be her husband, is taken one day by her brother the Sun to see how he gets his dinner. The two look down together through the hole in the sky upon the earth below. The Sun points out a group of children playing beside a lodge, at the same time throwing a tiny stone to hit a beautiful boy. The child falls, they see him carried into the lodge, they hear the sound of the rattle, and the song and prayers of the medicine man that the child's life might be spared. To the entreaty of the medicine man the Sun makes answer: 'Send me up the white dog.' Then the two spectators above could distinguish on the earth the hurry and bustle of preparation for a feast, a white dog killed and singed, and the people who were called assembling at the lodge. While these things were passing the Sun addressed himself to his youthful companion saying:—'There are among you in the lower world some whom you call great medicine men, but it is because their ears are open, and they hear my voice, when I have struck any one, that they are able to give relief to the sick. They direct the people to send me whatever I call for, and when they have sent it I remove my hand from those I have made sick.' When he had said this the white dog was parcelled out in dishes for those that were at the feast, then the medicine man, when they were about to begin to eat said, 'We send

p. 193

thee this, Great Manito.' Immediately the Sun and his companion saw the dog, cooked and ready to be eaten, rising to them through the air, and then and there they dined upon it."

Of all the Indian customs and forms of worship of solar significance, the great ceremonial of the Sun dance best exemplified their worship of the Sun. Although it partook of the nature of a solar festival, and might properly be included in the chapter on Solar Festivals, still the deep religious significance of this rite, and the fact that it was essentially an act of Sun worship, renders it in accord with the subject under discussion. The following description of the Sun dance of the Senecas is taken from volume xxiii., of the Journal of American Folk-Lore:

"The Seneca sun dance is called by any individual who dreams that the rite is necessary for the welfare of the community. It begins promptly at high noon, when three showers of arrows or volleys from muskets are shot heavenward to notify the sun of the intention to address him. After each of the volleys the populace shout their war cries 'for the sun loves war.' A ceremonial fire is then built, and the sun priest chants his thanksgiving song, casting from a husk basket handfuls of native tobacco upon the flames as he sings. This ceremony takes place outside of the

p. 194

[paragraph continues] Long House where the rising smoke may lift the words of the speaker to the sun. Immediately after this the entire assemblage enters the Long House where the costumed feather dancers start the Ostowa̋’´gowa. Among the Onondaga of the Grand River Reserve in Ontario the leader of the sun ceremony carries an effigy of the sun. This is a disk of wood ten inches in diameter, fastened to a handle perhaps a foot long. The disk is painted red, and has a border of yellow. Around the edge are stuck yellow-tipped down feathers from some large bird to represent the sun's rays."

The great tribal ceremony of the Kiowas was the Sun dance, which was generally celebrated each year about the middle of June. It lasted four days, and during this time the sacred image representing a human figure, and supposed to possess magical qualities, was exposed in the medicine lodge. It was the only time in the year that the sacred image was revealed to the people, and the veneration of the object was similar in many respects to the worship paid to the alleged relics of the saints that are now extant.

The Kiowas considered even the accidental shedding of blood at a Sun dance an evil omen, and their ceremonies were free from the horrible acts of self-torture that made the Sun dances of many of the Indian tribes especially revolting.

p. 195

A description of the Sun dance of the Sioux follows. 1 This is given in much detail as the subject is of prime importance in any discussion of the solar ceremonials of the Indian tribes.

After the day for the Sun dance had been appointed by the medicine men, a straight and tapering pine, forty or fifty feet high, was selected for the sun pole. This was chosen by the oldest woman in the camp, and the task of stripping it of boughs and foliage, and clearing a passage about it, was left to the gaily dressed maidens. This work was performed on the second day of the ceremony. Before sunrise the next day a long line of naked young warriors was formed, gorgeous in war paint and feathers, bearing their weapons. This line was drawn up facing the east, and the sun pole which was five or six hundred yards away.

Overlooking the scene, on a high hill, stood an old medicine man, whose sole duty was to signal the moment of the sun's rising. Suddenly the signal was given, and with a great shout the Indians mounted their ponies and rode straight at the pole, discharging their weapons at it as they advanced. Chips from the pole flew in all directions, and if it fell a new pole must be selected. Later in the day the pole was cut down, and set up in the centre of


p. 196

a great plain, guy ropes of buffalo thongs, diverging from its top, being used to steady it. These ropes were fastened at the lower end to the tops of stakes which were driven in the ground at regular intervals about the sun pole, forming a circle about it.

Early on the morning of the third day the true worship of the Sun was begun, and a number of young warriors who had prepared for the ordeal by fasting for a number of days, presented themselves, being placed facing the sun. They were arrayed in full war paint and feathers, with fists clenched across their breasts; jumping up and down in measured leaps they circled about, keeping time to the monotonous beating of the tom-toms. Now and then a similar group of young maidens would appear in another part of the arena, and take up a song. The dancing continued for intervals of from ten minutes to a quarter of an hour, broken by rests of about equal length, and lasted from sunrise to sunset. During the day horses were brought into the arena, and the medicine men, after many incantations, dipped their hands into coloured earth, and smeared it on the flanks of the animals.

On the fourth day of the Sun dance the self-torture began, the male dancers of the previous day participating in this rite. The row of dancers took their places promptly at sunrise, but it was not before nine or ten o'clock that the torture

p. 197

began. Each of the young men presented himself to a medicine man who took between his thumb and forefinger a fold of loose skin of the breast, and a skewer, which had been previously fastened to the lower end of a guy rope which supported the sun pole, was then passed through the victim's flesh. The object of the devotee was to break loose from this fetter which bound him to the sun pole without using his hands. This could only be accomplished by so straining against his bonds that the skewer was torn free from the skin through which it passed. The torture was frightful, and frequently the victims fainted under the ordeal. All the while the beating of the tom-toms and the weird chanting of the singers continued. When the day was about over the survivors of the ordeal of torture filed from the arena one by one, and just outside of it they knelt with arms crossed over their bleeding breasts, and with bowed heads faced the setting sun. They rose only when it had disappeared from view.

It remains to refer briefly to evidences of Sun worship in various parts of the world, and the survivals of this cultus in the religious observances and ceremonials of to-day.

In Rome, in the fifth century, it was the custom to bow to the sun before entering a church, and to salute the rising sun from the summit of a hill.

p. 198

[paragraph continues] The Emperor Constantine was an ardent votary of the sun, and it was a great triumph for Christianity when he forsook this form of idolatry.

In Armenia forms of Sun worship exist to-day, and the Bedouins of the Arabian Desert constantly practise the adoration of the rising Sun, in spite of the Prophet's command against such observances.

In the Upper Palatinate it is the custom to take off the hat to the rising sun, and in Pomerania the fever-stricken patient is admonished to face the rising sun, and invoke the sun thrice as follows: "Dear Sun, come down soon, and take the seventy-seven fevers from me, in the name of the Holy Trinity."

The rude Tartar tribes sacrificed their horses to the Sun-God, whom they say frees them from the miseries of winter, and Mongol hordes may still be met with whose high priest prays to the sun, and throws milk up into the air as an offering to the Sun-God.

In Australia and Polynesia solar mythology overshadows the deification of the sun, and the early history of these regions is rich in legends and tales of the mighty deeds of the sun hero.

No chapter on Sun worship would be complete without some reference to Stonehenge, for Druidical worship embraced, even if it was not entirely governed by, the sacred rites of solar worship.

p. 199

[paragraph continues] The position and location of the group of stones on the wide plain commanding an unobstructed view of the horizon, reveal the character of the worship of those who placed them there as solar in its nature. Those who annually meet at Stonehenge in the present day, at dawn on the twenty-first of June, note that the sun rises exactly over the centre of the stone known as "the Pointer." It has been thought by some students that the Sun worship of the Druids was introduced into England and Ireland by Egyptian colonists, as the rites of the Druids conform in a remarkable degree with those attached to Sun worship in ancient Egypt. A list of the Sun-Gods of the various nations follows, with the authorities that establish their respective claims to solar deification. 1


Deities Declared to be the Sun


Saturn or Cronus

Macrobius, Nonnus


     „         „

Pluto or Aidoneus

The Orphic Poet

Bacchus or Dionysus

Virgil, Ausonius, Macrobius, Sophocles


The Orphic Poet


All authorities


Macrobius p. 200

Deities Declared to be the Sun





     „       Nonnus


The Orphic Poet



Mercury or Hermes


Osiris, Horus, Serapis

Diodorus Siculus, Macrobius, Eusebius.

Belus or Baal




The following list indicates the principal titles given to the Sun-Gods by the ancient nations.



Baal or Belus

Chaldeans, Assyrians, Moabites





Moloch, Baal, Chemosh, Baal-Zebub, Thammuz






Adonis, Baal, Melkarth, Bel-Samen



Ethiopians p. 201



Ra, Osiris, Horus, Atum, Ptah, Mandoo, Gom, Moni, Kons, Sekhet, Pasht, Set




Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Indra, Sûrya


Adonis, Dionysus, Urotal




Arês, Herakles, Apollo, Bacchus, Liber, Dionysus

Greeks, Romans







In conclusion, no claim is made that the subject of Sun worship has been treated exhaustively in the foregoing fragmentary account of this ancient form of idolatry in many lands. The main purpose has been to indicate how widespread solar deification was, and how, at one time or another, it has been the central and predominant feature of the religious life of all people.

Again, the similarity of the ceremonials and forms of Sun worship, the sacrifices and rituals

p. 202

of the various and widely separated nations of the earth, provide features that cannot fail to interest the student of history and ethnology.

Some of these points of resemblance are so striking as to suggest that at an early date in the world's history there was some means of communication between, or link that joined, the eastern and western continents.

Because of the far-reaching influences of Sun worship—influences that exist to-day—and by reason of its importance in the life and history of the ancient nations, the subject must ever remain one of the most interesting and absorbing that the life pages of the race record.


164:1 Curiosities of Folk-Lore, C. F. Keary.

166:1 Dawn of History, C. F. Keary.

168:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

174:1 Outlines of Primitive Belief, C. F. Keary.

179:1 Dawn of History, C. F. Keary.

189:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

191:1 Myths of the New World, Daniel G. Brinton.

191:2 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

195:1 T F. Schwatka in vol. xvii., Century Magazine.

199:1 The Origin of Pagan Idolatry, G. S. Faber.



Chapter VIII

Sun-Catcher Myths

IN the mythology of every land there may be found legends relating to the snaring of the sun, or the retarding of its daily course. The regularity and the steadfastness of the sun's apparent diurnal motion, and its undeviating and deliberate journey across the sky, was such a peculiar and obvious circumstance that it was a matter of conjecture and speculation at a very early date in the world's history. The cause of this phenomenon was naturally attributed to compulsion; for why should the sun mount the sky each morning with absolute regularity, and pursue the same path always unless compelled to do so?

Some time or other the Sun probably did as he liked, and doubtless he was caught in a trap, and beaten into submission; or, perhaps formerly he went rapidly across the heavens, but, being caught he was forced to proceed at a more leisurely gait. Thus the ancients speculated regarding the daily apparent movement of the sun, and these notions gave rise to a wealth of tradition, myth, and legend

p. 206

that have come down to us in many devious ways. The tales that relate especially to the snaring and trapping of the Sun have been termed by mythologists "Sun-Catcher Myths."

In a pass of the Andes there stand, on the cliffs that rise high on either side, two ruined towers. Into their walls are clamped iron hooks, which tradition relates held fast a net that was stretched across the pass to catch the rising Sun. According to an Indian legend, the Sun was once caught and bound with a chain which only permitted him to swing a little way to one side or the other.

It is said that Jerome of Prague, when travelling among the heathen Lithuanians, early in the fifteenth century, found a tribe who worshipped the Sun, and idolised a large iron hammer. The priests informed him that once the Sun had been invisible for many months because a powerful king had imprisoned him in a strong tower, but the signs of the zodiac had broken open the tower with this very hammer, and released the Sun, therefore they worshipped it.

A Japanese myth relates that in early times the Sun, displeased at men's misdeeds, retired into a cave, and left the world in darkness. 1 This caused


p. 207

great distress, but finally the wise men devised a plan to lure her from her retreat, which plan was successful. When the Sun discovered the ruse, she desired to forsake the world once more, but, before she could do so, she was bound by cords, and held fast by eight hundred thousand gods, who have ever since restrained her from leaving the world.

As we have seen, the worship of the Sun was abandoned for a time in Peru, as one Inca denied that the Sun was a supreme deity because he followed a circumscribed course. "If he were free," said the Inca, "he would visit other parts of the heavens where he had never been. As he follows one path, he must be tied like a beast who goes ever round and round in the same track."

Both in the Orient and Occident we find myths relating to the subjection of the Sun, but whereas the culture of the East invented the beautifully adorned legends of Phœbus Apollo, and the mighty Herakles, who, although all-powerful, was doomed to a life of servitude at the behest of another, in the West the crude imagination of the barbarians conjured up the mental picture of the snaring of the Sun by an artfully contrived net or trap.

The association of the Sun with cords or ropes in the myths is clearly derived from the phenomenon in evidence when the sun's rays filter

p. 208

through a broken mass of clouds; then the long streams of light that seem to radiate from the sun and touch the earth are in imagination not unlike strands of gold which, as the legend related, held the Sun fast bound to earth. Thus did they appear to the Polynesians, who call these rays of the sun the ropes by which the Sun is fastened. They say the Sun once drove swiftly through the sky, but a god subdued him, and now bound by ropes and cords he goes humbly along his daily appointed path.

The Polynesian myth 1 that tells of this snaring of the Sun is one of the most interesting legends in solar mythology, and it is therefore given in much detail:

Maui, the Polynesian hero god, after performing many great exploits, returned home to dwell with his brothers. He soon became restless, however, and, looking about for adventure, he decided that the Sun's daily course across the sky was altogether too rapid, and night-fall followed dawn too quickly to suit him.

"So at last one day he said to his brothers: 'Let us now catch the sun in a noose, so that we may compel him to move more slowly, in order that mankind may have long days to labour in to procure subsistence for themselves.' But they


p. 209

answered him: 'Why, no man could approach it on account of its warmth and the fierceness of its heat.' But nothing daunted, Maui persisted that he could snare the sun, and with the aid of his brothers spun and twisted ropes to form a noose. After they had sufficient ropes with which to bind the sun, Maui and his brothers journeyed a long distance eastward to the very edge of the place out of which the sun rises. Then they set to work, and built on each side of this place a long high wall of clay with huts of boughs of trees at each end to hide themselves in. When these were finished, they made the loops of the noose, and the brothers of Maui then lay in wait on one side of the place out of which the sun rises, and Maui himself lay in wait upon the other side.

"The young hero held in his hand his enchanted weapon, the jaw bone of his ancestress, and said to his brothers: 'Mind now, keep yourselves hid, and do not go showing yourselves foolishly to the sun, if you do you will frighten him; but wait patiently until his head and forelegs have got well into the snare, then I will shout out, haul away as hard as you can on the ropes on both sides, and then I'll rush out and attack him, but do you keep your ropes tight for a good long time (while I attack him), until he is nearly dead, when we will let him go, but mind now, my brothers, do not let

p. 210

him move you to pity with his shrieks and screams.'

"At last the sun came rising out of his place like a fire spreading far and wide over the mountains and forests. He rises up, his head passes through the noose, and it takes in more and more of his body until his fore-paws pass through, then are pulled tight the ropes, and the monster began to struggle and roll himself about, whilst the snare jerked backwards and forwards as he struggled. Then forth rushed that bold hero Maui with his enchanted weapon. Alas, the sun screams aloud, he roars; Maui strikes him fiercely with many blows; they hold him for a long time. At last they let him go, and then weak from wounds the sun crept slowly along its course. Then was learnt by men the second name of the sun, for in its agony the sun screamed out: 'Why am I thus smitten by you? Oh man: Do you know what you are doing? Why should you wish to kill Tama-nui-te-ra?' Thus was learnt the second name. At last they let him go, and the sun went very slowly and feebly on his course.

"Maui, however, took the precaution to keep the ropes on him, and they may still be seen hanging from the sun at dawn and eve."

It is also related that in snaring the Sun, Maui injured it, and thus deprived it of half its light,

p. 211

and since then the days have been longer and cooler and men have been able to work in peace.

The following Sun-catcher myth 1 refers more to a temporary staying of the Sun in its daily course, than to a permanent change in its rate of speed such as Maui effected:

"There was once a man who, like the white people, though it was years before pipes, muskets, or priests were heard of, never could be contented with what he had. Pudding was not good enough for him, and he worried his family out of all heart with his new ways and ideas. At last he set to build himself a house of great stones to last forever. So he rose early and toiled late, but the stones were so heavy, and so far off, and the sun went around so quickly, that he could get on but very slowly. One evening he lay awake, and thought, and thought, and it struck him that as the sun had but one road to come by, he might stop him, and keep him till the work was done. So he rose before the dawn, and pulling out in his canoe, as the sun rose, he threw a rope around his neck, but no, the sun marched on, and went his course unchecked. He then put nets over the place where the sun rose, he used up all his mats to stop him, but in vain, the sun went on, and laughed in the hot winds at all his efforts. Meanwhile the house stood still,


p. 212

and the builder fairly despaired. At last the great Itu, who generally lies on his mats, and cares not at all for those he has made, turned round and heard his cry, and because he was a good warrior sent him help. He made the facehere creeper grow, and again the poor man sprang up from the ground near his house, where he had lain down in despair. He took his canoe, and made a noose of the creeper. It was a bad season when the sun is dull, and heavy, so up he came half asleep and tired, nor looked about him, but put his head into the noose. He pulled and jerked, but Itu had made it too strong. The man built his house, the sun cried and cried till the island of Savai was nearly drowned but not till the last stone was laid was he suffered to resume his career. None can break the facehere creeper. It is the Itu's cord."

A study of North American mythology reveals in the traditions of the Ojibways a myth similar in many respects to the Polynesian Sun-catcher myth. This legend 1 relates that in primitive times the animals ruled the earth, having killed all of humankind except a girl and her small brother. They lived in fear and seclusion:

"The boy never grew bigger than a little child, and his sister used to take him out with her when she went to get food for the lodge-fire, for he was


p. 213

too little to leave alone. A big bird might have flown away with him. One day she made him a bow and arrows, and told him to hide where she had been chopping, and when the snow birds came to pick the worms out of the wood, he was to shoot one. That day he tried in vain to kill one, but the next, toward night-fall, she heard his little footsteps on the snow. He brought in a bird, and told his sister she was to take off the skin, and put half the bird at a time into the pottage, for till then men had not begun to eat animal food, but had lived on vegetables alone. At last the boy had killed ten birds, and his sister made him a little coat of the skins. 'Sister,' said he one day, 'are we all alone in the world? Is there nobody else living?' Then she told him that those they feared, and who had destroyed their relatives, lived in a certain part, and he must by no means go that way, but this only made him more eager to go, and he took his bow and arrow and started. When he had walked a long while, he lay down on a knoll, where the sun had melted the snow, and fell fast asleep, but while he was sleeping the sun beat so hot upon him, that his bird-skin coat was all singed and shrunk. When he awoke and found his coat spoilt, he vowed vengeance against the sun, and bade his sister make him a snare. She made him one of deer's sinew, and then one of

p. 214

her own hair, but they would not do. At last she brought him one that was right. He pulled it between his lips, and as he pulled it became a red metal cord. With this he set out a little after midnight, and fixed his snare on a spot just where the sun would strike the land as it rose above the earth's disk, and sure enough he caught the sun, so that it was held fast in the cord, and did not rise. The animals who ruled the earth were immediately put into a great commotion. They had no light. They called a council to debate upon the matter, and to appoint some one to go and cut the cord, for this was a very hazardous enterprise, as the rays of the sun would burn whoever came so near. At last the dormouse undertook it, for at this time the dormouse was the largest animal in the world. When it stood up, it looked like a mountain. When it got to the place where the sun was snared, its back began to smoke, and burn with the intensity of the heat, and the top of its carcass was reduced to enormous heaps of ashes. It succeeded, however, in cutting the cord with its teeth, and freeing the sun, but it was reduced to a very small size, and has remained so ever since."

In this myth we have the Sun-catcher myth of the South Sea Islands combined with part of our own fairy tale of Jack-and-the-Bean-Stalk. In this latter tale it is related that Jack, in spite of

p. 215

his mother's prayers, goes up the ladder that is to take him to the dwelling of the Giant who killed his father; so the boy of the Indian legend will not heed his sister's persuasion, but goes to seek the enemies who had slain his kindred.

In these myths the loosing of the imprisoned Sun is told in a story of which the European fable of the "Lion and the Mouse" might be a mere moralised remnant.

We have another version of the foregoing myth, which was told by the Wyandot Indians to the missionary Paul Le Jeune:

"There was a child whose father had been killed and eaten by a bear, and his mother by the Great Hare. A woman came and found the child and adopted him as her little brother, calling him 'Chakabech.' He did not grow bigger than a baby, but he was so strong that the trees served as arrows for his bow. When he had killed the destroyers of his parents, he wished to go up to heaven, and climbed up a tree. Then he blew upon it and it grew up and up till he came to heaven and there he found a beautiful country. So he went down to fetch his sister, building huts as he went down to lodge her in, brought her up the tree into heaven, and then broke off the tree low down, so that no one can go up to heaven that way. Then Chakabech went out, and set his snares for

p. 216

game, but when he got up at night to look at them, he found everything on fire, and went back to his sister to tell her. Then she told him he must have caught the sun. Going along by night he must have got in unawares, and when Chakabech went to see, so it was, but he dared not go near enough to let the sun out. By chance he found a little mouse, and blew upon her till she grew so big that she could set the sun free, and the sun released from the trap went again on his way, but while he was held in the snare, day failed down here on earth."

Still another version of the Sun-catcher myth is found among the Dogrib Indians, who dwell in the far North-west:

"When Chapewee after the Deluge formed the earth and landed the animals upon it from his canoe, he stuck up a piece of wood which became a fir-tree, and grew with amazing rapidity until its top reached the skies. A squirrel ran up this tree, and was pursued by Chapewee, who endeavoured to knock it down, but could not overtake it. He continued the chase however, until he reached the stars, where he found a fine plain, and a beaten road. In this road he set a snare made of his sister's hair, and then returned to earth. The sun appeared as usual in the heavens in the morning, but at noon it was caught by the snare

p. 217

which Chapewee had set for the squirrel, and the sky was instantly darkened. Chapewee's family, on this said to him: 'You must have done something wrong when you were aloft, for we no longer enjoy the light of day.' 'I have,' replied he, 'but it was unintentional.' Chapewee then endeavoured to repair the fault he had committed, and sent a number of animals up the tree to release the sun by cutting the snare, but the intense heat of that luminary reduced them all to ashes. The efforts of the more active animals being thus frustrated, a ground mole, though such a grovelling and awkward beast, succeeded by burrowing under the road in the sky until it reached and cut asunder the snare which bound the sun. It lost its eyes, however, the instant it thrust its head into the light, and its nose and teeth have ever since been brown as if burnt."

In the following Omaha myth of "How the Rabbit Caught the Sun in a Trap," 1 we find the Sun ensnared again unwittingly. These myths differ from the Polynesian Sun-catcher myths in this respect,—that there appears to have been no deliberate intention of catching the Sun, no deliberate plan to restrain his liberty, which is a characteristic feature of the South Sea Island myths.

"Once upon a time a rabbit dwelt in a lodge


p. 218

with no one but his grandmother. He was accustomed to go hunting early in the morning. Inevitably a person with very long feet had preceded him, leaving a trail. The rabbit desired to find out who this party was, and got up one morning very early, but even then he had been preceded, so he laid a snare that night so as to catch this early bird, laying a noose where the footprints used to be seen. Rising early the next morning he inspected his trap, and found he had caught the sun. Now he was very much frightened, and the sun said to him: 'Why have you done this? You have done a great wrong. Come hither and untie me.' Finally the rabbit mustered up courage and bending his head down rushed at the sun and severed the rope with his knife, but the sun was so hot that the rabbit scorched the hair between his shoulders, so that it was yellow, and from that time the rabbit has had a singed spot on his back between his shoulders."

In the legends of the Bungee Indians of Lake Winnipeg, we find again a reference to the state of dissatisfaction existing in early times with the Sun's vagarious method of lighting the world, and the schemes that were suggested to bring about a change of conditions. In the following myth 1 the Sun is ensnared as the result of a deliberate plan:


p. 219

"Before the Creation, the world was a wide waste of water, and there was no light upon the earth, the sun being only an occasional visitor to this world. Anxious to keep the sun from wandering away very far, the god Weese-ke-jak constructed an enormous trap to catch the sun, and the next time the sun came near the earth he was caught in the trap. In vain he struggled to get free, but the cords by which he was held were too strong for him. The near proximity of the sun to the earth caused such heat, that everything was in danger of being burned. Then Weese-ke-jak concluded to make some sort of a compromise with the sun before he would consent to give him his liberty. It was stipulated that the sun was only to come near the outer edges of the earth in the mornings and evenings, and during the day to keep farther away, just near enough to warm the earth without scorching it. But now another difficulty presented itself, the sun had not the power to unloose the band by which he was held, and the intense heat prevented either Weese-ke-jak or any of his creations from approaching the sun to cut the band and set him free. The beaver at that time was rather an insignificant creature, having only a few small teeth in his head, and being covered with bristly hair like a hog, his tail being only a small stump about two or three inches long. He

p. 220

offered to release the sun, and succeeded in gnawing through the cords that held the sun before being quite roasted alive. The cords being severed the sun rose from the earth like a vast balloon. Weese-ke-jak in gratitude for his deliverance from the burning rays of the sun rewarded the beaver by giving him a beautiful soft coat, and fine sharp teeth of a brown colour, as if scorched by fire. This is how the beaver came by his hatchet-like teeth and furry coat."

A feature of these legends is the stress laid on man's indebtedness to a small and insignificant animal, which, in every case, at the risk of his own life, frees the Sun from the toils into which he has been brought by man's machinations. A moral seems to be drawn from these myths, that even the lowly may effect great things, and the despised of earth may rise to heights which even the mighty cannot attain.

We come now to a brief discussion of the myths relating to the temporary retarding or accelerating of the Sun's speed in order that man might accomplish a purpose. Chief among these traditions is the Biblical story of Joshua's command to the Sun to stay its course, related in the tenth chapter of the Book of Joshua: "And he [Joshua] said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people

p. 221

had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel."

This idea that man could stay the Sun's daily course is to be met with in the Fiji Islands, where, on the top of a small hill, a patch of reeds grew. Travellers who feared that they would not reach the end of their journey before the Sun set, were wont to tie the tops of a handful of these reeds together to detain the Sun from going down. It has been thought that by this act they may have imagined they could entangle the Sun in the reeds for a time and thus stay his course.

When the Australian blackfellow desired to prevent the Sun from going down till he reached home, he placed a sod in the fork of a tree exactly facing the setting Sun. Another Australian custom is to place stones in trees at different heights from the ground, in order to indicate the height of the Sun in the sky at the moment when they passed a particular tree. Those following are thus made aware when their friends in advance passed the spot. Frazer, 1 referring to this custom, considers


p. 222

that the natives who practised it may have imagined that "to mark the sun's progress was to arrest it at the point marked. On the other hand, to make the sun go faster, the Australians throw sand into the air, and blow with their mouths toward the sun."

South African natives in travelling will put a stone in a branch of a tree, or place some grass on the path with a stone over it, believing that this will cause their friends to keep the meal waiting till their arrival, as it would make the Sun go slower down the western sky.

The Indians of Yucatan, when journeying westward, placed a stone in a tree, or pulled out some of their eyelashes, and blew them toward the Sun to stay or speed the Sun's course.

The idea that the Sun's speed could be regulated may have arisen from the fact, that, under certain conditions, it really does appear to vary in its rate of motion in relation to its position in the heavens. During the first few hours succeeding sunrise, when the Sun is not far from the horizon, and can be compared with terrestrial objects, it really appears to move with greater speed than when it journeys across the meridian; and when at nightfall it seeks the west it seems in like manner to hasten with accelerated speed. From this optical illusion the fancy may have sprung born of the

p. 223

false reasoning that, if the Sun varied his speed to suit his will, man could also control his course, and hasten or retard his progress. This has doubtless given rise to the similarity of these legends that have come down to us from many different and widely separated lands, for primitive man the world over viewed the phenomena of nature from much the same standpoint, and wove his legends from the fabric of an imagination common to all men.


206:1 Here again we encounter in a land far distant the tradition common among the American Indians, that at one time the land they dwelt in was shrouded in darkness.

208:1 Polynesian Mythology, Sir George Gray.

211:1 Researches in the Early History of Mankind, Edward B. Tylor.

212:1 Researches in the Early History of Mankind, Edward B. Tylor.

217:1 Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1879-80.

218:1 Vol. xix., Journal American Folk-Lore.

221:1 The Golden Bough, J. G. Frazer.



Chapter IX

Solar Festivals

BECAUSE of the importance of Sun worship, and its widespread influence upon the primitive inhabitants of the world, there were instituted in honour of the solar deity, in many lands, great festivals and elaborate ceremonials, the traces of which have come down to us in modified form even to this day. Our most important ecclesiastical feast days in fact are but survivals of ancient solar festivals.

Twice in the year the sun apparently changes its course. In midwinter, having reached the lowest point in its path, it turns about and begins to mount the skies; in midsummer, conversely, having attained the highest point it reaches, the sun seems to turn about once more, and descend the steeps of the firmament. These two epochs, the winter and summer solstices as they are called, that mark the sun's annual course, were regarded as supremely important by the ancients and gave rise to great national festivals that were celebrated

p. 228

with pomp and ceremony throughout the ancient world.

At the feast of the winter solstice men testified their gladness at witnessing the return of the all-powerful sun. To the inhabitants of Greenland it meant the early return of the hunting season, and all nations regarded it as a sign that springtime and harvests were on the way, and the dormant life of the winter season was on the wane.

In many countries this festival season was known as "Yole," or "Yuul," from the word Hiaul, or Huul, which even to this day signifies "the sun" in some languages. From this we get our word "wheel," and the wheel is one of the ancient symbols of the sun, the spokes representing the sun's rays. As we shall see later this symbol was a prominent feature in one of the great solar festivals.

Procopius describes how the men of Thule climbed the mountain tops at the winter solstice, to catch sight of the nearing sun after their thirty-five days of night. Then they celebrated their holiest feasts.

Plutarch, referring to the solar festivals of Egypt, says, that "about the winter solstice they lead the sacred cow seven times in procession around the temple, calling this the searching after

p. 229

Osiris, that season of the year standing most in need of the sun's warmth."

In China, the Great Temple of the Sun at Pekin is oriented to the winter solstice, and the most important of all the State observances of China takes place there December 21st, the sacrifice of the winter solstice.

In our own time a number of Christian religious observances and festivals are of distinct solar origin. Notable among these feast days is Christmas. "The Roman winter solstice," says Tylor, 1 "as celebrated on December 25th (VIII Kal. Jan.) in connection with the worship of the Sun-God Mithra appears to have been instituted in this special form by Aurelian about A. D. 273, and to this festival the day owes its apposite name of 'Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.' With full symbolic appropriateness, though not with historical justification, the day was adopted in the western church where it appears to have been generally introduced by the fourth century, and whence in time it passed to the eastern church as the solemn anniversary of the Birth of Christ, Christmas Day. As a matter of history no valid or even consistent early Christian tradition vouches for it."

Many of the early dignitaries of the Church


p. 230

reveal in their writings the solar character of this festival. Augustus and Gregory discoursed on "the glowing light and dwindling darkness that follow the nativity," and Leo the Great denounced in a sermon the idea that Christmas Day is to be honoured, not for the birth of Christ, but for the rising of the new sun.

The solar origin of the great feast is attested in Europe by bonfires, and the burning of the Yule log, and in the Christmas service chant, "Sol novus oritur."

Even the sacrifices offered to the Sun in pagan times at the great solar festivals find their survival in the sacrifices of a lamb which we offer at Eastertide, and an ox at Christmas. The lighting of the Christmas tree is but the light to guide the Sun-God back to life, and the festival cakes of corn and fruit, made in honour of the Sun in ancient times, and laid on the sacred altars of the Persians as an offering of gratitude to the Lord of Light and Life, find their prototype in the plum pudding that graces the board at our Christmas feasts of rejoicing. Christmas is, therefore, nothing but an old heathen celebration of the winter solstice, the feast of rejoicing that a turning point in the sun's course has been reached, and that the life-giving orb has attained the end of its journey of dwindling hours of daylight, and has started back on a course that

p. 231

brings with it each day an increase of warmth and light.

Of equal importance to the solar Christmas festival celebrated at the winter solstice was the great celebration of the summer solstice recognised throughout Europe. This was preeminently a fire festival, for the ceremonies featured the lighting of huge bonfires on the hilltops, leaping through the flames, and rolling blazing wheels of fire from the summits of the hills, indicating the sun's descending course in the heavens.

According to Tylor, 1 "These ancient rites attached themselves in Christendom to St. John's eve. It seems as though the same train of symbolism which had adapted the midwinter festival to the nativity, may have suggested the dedication of the midsummer festival to John the Baptist, in clear allusion to his words, 'He must increase, but I must decrease.'"

Durandus, speaking of the rites of the Feast of St. John the Baptist, informs us of the curious custom that prevailed of rolling fire wheels down from the hills. This practice was common in France, and many North German examples of it are on record. The following is an account of one of these festivals, which took place at Conz on the Moselle, in 1823, as described by Grimm:


p. 232

"Every house delivers a sheaf of straw on the top of the Stromberg, where the men and lads assemble towards evening, whilst the women and girls gather about the Burbacher fountain. A huge wheel is now bound round with straw in such a manner that not a particle of wood remains visible; a stout pole is passed through the middle of the wheel, and the persons who are to guide it lay hold on the ends of the pole, which projects three feet on either side. The rest of the straw is made up into a great number of small torches. At a signal from the mayor of Sierk (who, according to ancient custom, receives a basket of cherries on the occasion), the wheel is kindled with a torch and set rapidly in motion. Everybody cheers and swings torches in the air. Some of the men remain above, others follow the burning wheel down hill in its descent to the Moselle. It is often extinguished before it reaches the river, but if it burns at the moment it touches the water, that is held to be prophetic of a good vintage, and the people of Conz have a right to levy a fuder of white wine upon the surrounding vineyards. Whilst the wheel is passing before the female spectators, they break out into cries of joy, the men on the hilltops reply, and the people from the neighbouring villages who have assembled on the banks of the river mingle their voices in the general jubilee."

p. 233

There is a striking analogy between the St. John fire celebrations and the Vedic legend of Indra's fight with the midsummer demons.

"In this legend," says Keary, 1 "the demon Vritra possessed himself of the sun wheel and the treasures of heaven, seized the women, kept them prisoners in his cavern, and laid a curse on the waters until Indra released the captives and took off the curse."

The significance of the ceremony lies in the details that enter into it, the key to which is found in the following passage from a Vedic hymn: "With thee conjoined, O Indu (Soma), did Indra straightway pull down with force the wheel of the sun that stood upon the mighty mountain top, and the source of all life was hidden from the great scather."

The German custom is therefore seen to be nothing but a dramatic portrayal of the great elemental battle as depicted in the sacred books of the ancient Hindus. The wheel of fire on the hilltop represents the sun resting on the crest of the cloud mountain. Both the wheel and the sun descend from their positions of prominence and are extinguished, the wheel by the waters of the stream at the base of the hill, the sun by the sea of clouds.


p. 234

The elements of strife and warfare enter into the scene. The descending wheel is pursued to the water's edge by a crowd of men brandishing torches; Indra and his hosts wage successful warfare against the army of the demon Vritra. The fact that women are excluded from the ceremonies emphasises the idea of a combat, for it is their province solely to watch the battle as spectators and cheer the victors.

Another notion associated with this rite of the blazing wheel was that, as the wheel went rolling away from them in its descending course, it symbolised a wheel of fortune, and the ill luck of the people went rolling away, a signal for great rejoicing.

This ceremony of the descent of the wheel was anciently observed on St. John the Baptist's Day at Norwich, England, and even to this day it is the custom to light huge bonfires on the hilltops in Ireland, according to the ancient pagan usage when the Baal fires were kindled as part of the ritual of Sun worship. Around these fires the peasants dance, and when the fire burns low, it is the custom to lift children across the glowing embers to secure them good luck during the year, which is similar to the custom practised by worshippers of Baal and Moloch in ancient times of passing children through the fire

p. 235

that burned at the feet of the cruel and insatiable god.

There was also practised in Ireland, in connection with the midsummer festival which celebrated the turning-point of the sun at the summer solstice, a strange dance which was religious in its character, and solar in its origin. The Greeks called this "the Pyrrhic dance" from "pur" meaning fire, and practised it from the most ancient times. The feature of the dance was its serpentine character, as the dancers circled about in a long line simulating the coils of a serpent. In Ireland the dance had the same characteristics, and though the esoteric meaning of the dance had been lost, it was in all probability a mystic rite symbolic of the course of the sun, for the dancers invariably circled from east to west.

In Wales, the custom of lighting bonfires on Midsummer Eve is still kept up in many villages, and the peasants gather about them dancing and leaping through the flames. The leaping through the flames is supposed to ward off evil spirits, prevent sickness, and bring good luck.

The connection of the ceremony of the bonfires with the old worship of the Sun is indisputable. Its practice was general among nearly all European nations, and in not very remote times, from Norway to the shores of the Mediterranean,

p. 236

the glow of St. John's fires might have been seen.

In Brittany, the custom of the Baal fires is still preserved, and the peasants dance around them all night in their holiday attire. It is said that the maid who dances round nine St. John's fires before midnight is sure to be married within the year. In many parishes the curé himself goes in procession with banner and cross to light the sacred fire, and all the ancient superstitions connected with the festival are kept alive with unabated zeal.

The Scandinavians believed that when midsummer came the death of their Sun-God Balder took place, and to light him on his way to the underworld they kindled bright fires of pine branches, and when, six months later at the winter solstice, he regains his life and mounts to greet them, they burn the yule log and hang lights on the fir-trees to illuminate his upward course.

Frazer tells us 1 how the fern seed, the oak, and the mistletoe are closely associated as symbols with the solar festivals celebrated at the winter and summer solstices:

"The two great days for gathering the fabulous fern seed, which is popularly supposed to bloom like gold or fire on Midsummer Eve, are Midsummer Eve and Christmas, that is, the two solstices. We


p. 237

are led to regard the fiery aspect of the fern seed as primary, and its golden aspect as secondary and derivative. Fern seed, in fact, would seem to be an emanation of the sun's fire at the two turning-points of its course, the summer and winter solstice. This view is confirmed by a German story, in which a hunter is said to have procured fern seed by shooting at the sun on Midsummer Day at noon. Three drops of blood fell down, which he caught in a white cloth, and these blood drops were the fern seed. Here the blood is clearly the blood of the sun from which the fern seed is thus directly derived. Thus it may be taken as certain that the fern seed is golden because it is believed to be an emanation of the sun's golden fire.

"Now, like the fern seed, the mistletoe is gathered either at midsummer or Christmas, that is, at the summer and winter solstice, and, like the fern seed, it is supposed to possess the power of revealing treasures in the earth. Now if the mistletoe discovers gold, it may be in its character of the Golden Bough, and if it is gathered at the solstices, must not the Golden Bough, like the golden fern seed, be an emanation of the sun's fire? The primitive Aryans probably kindled the midsummer bonfires as sun charms, that is, with the intention of supplying the sun with fresh fire. But as the fire was always elicited by the friction

p. 238

of oak wood, it must have appeared to the primitive Aryan that the sun was periodically recruited from the fire which resided in the sacred oak. In other words, the oak must have seemed to him the original storehouse or reservoir of the fire which was from time to time drawn out to feed the sun. Thus, instead of saying that the mistletoe was an emanation of the sun's fire, it must be more correct to say that the sun's fire was regarded as an emanation of the mistletoe."

The Christian festival of Easter has its solar characteristics. "The very word Easter," says Proctor, "is in its real origin as closely related to sun movements as the word East," and the notion that the Sun dances on Easter morning as it rises is firmly believed to-day by superstitious people. In Saxony and Brandenburg the peasants still climb the hilltops before dawn on Easter day to witness the three joyful leaps of the Sun, as our English forefathers used to do.

Tylor 1 tells us that "the solar rite of the New Fire, adopted by the Roman Church as a Paschal ceremony, may still be witnessed in Europe with its solemn curfew on Easter Eve, and the ceremonial striking of the new holy fire."

The two great festivals of the ancient Irish were La Baal Tinné, or May Day, the day of the Baal


p. 239

fires, sacred to the Sun, and La Samnah, or November Eve, sacred to the Moon. The May festival was the most important, as then it was that the Druids lit the fire of Baal, the Sun-God, and a portion of the ceremony at this festival consisted in driving cattle along a narrow path flanked by two fires, singeing them with the flame of a torch, and sometimes bleeding them, the blood being then offered as a sacrifice to the Sun-God.

Plutarch relates that among the Egyptians there were several festivals in honour of the Sun. A solar sacrifice was performed on the fourth day of every month, and so important was the deity that, as propitiatory offerings, they burnt incense three times a day, resin at its first rising, myrrh when on the meridian, and a mixture called "kuphi" at sunset. A festival in honour of the Sun was held on the thirtieth day of Epiphi, called the "birthday of Horus’ eyes," when the sun and moon were supposed to be in the same right line with the earth. On the twenty-second of Phaophi, after the autumnal equinox, there was a similar ceremonial to which, according to Plutarch, they gave the name of the "nativity of the staves of the sun," intimating that the sun was then removing from the earth, and as its light became weaker and weaker, that it stood in need of a staff to support it.

p. 240

The most important date of the Egyptian year was the twentieth of June, that marked the summer solstice, but more especially the rise of the all-fertilising Nile. This was the New Year Day in Egypt. The greatest solar festival of the Egyptians, however, was the festival of Osiris, and the special feature of this occasion was the procession in which the sacred ox Apis appeared.

The following description of this festival is taken from Mythology and Fables by the Abbé Banier:

"The ox whom the priests nourished with so much care, and for whom all Egypt had such a veneration, was looked upon as a god. To gain some credit to this superstition, they said he represented the soul of Osiris. Herodotus tells us that this ox was to be black over all the body, with a square white mark upon the forehead. Upon the back he was to have the figure of an eagle, a knot under the tongue in the figure of a beetle, the hairs of the tail double, and according to Pliny a white mark upon the right side, which was to resemble the crescent moon. Porphyry says that all these marks had reference to the sun and moon, to whom the ox Apis was consecrated, that the black hair which was to be the colour of his body in general represented the scorching influence of the sun upon bodies, and that the white spot which he had in his forehead, and the crescent

p. 241

which he bore upon the side, were symbols of the moon. The eagle and beetle were also symbols of the sun.

"The festival of Apis lasted seven days. The people went in crowds to bring him from the place where he was found, the priests led the procession, and every one was desirous to receive him into his home. On the day of the Osiris festival the priests conducted the ox Apis to the banks of the Nile and drowned him with great ceremony. He was then embalmed and interred at Memphis. After his death the people mourned and made lamentation as if Osiris had been now dead. The priests cut off their hair, which in Egypt was a sign of the deepest mourning, and this mourning lasted till they got another ox to appear resembling the former in the same marks, when they began to make merry as if the Prince himself had arisen from the dead. The superstition of the Egyptians in relation to the ox Apis was carried to great excess. They honoured him as a god, and consulted him as an oracle; when he took what food was offered to him it was a favourable response, and his refusing it was looked upon as a bad presage."

In Greece there were many solar festivals inaugurated in honour of the Sun-God Phœbus Apollo. In Sparta an annual festival, known as "Carneia," was held in August. It was a religious ceremony,

p. 242

the purpose of which was to appease the dreaded god. This festival was celebrated in Cyrene, in the islands of Rhodes and Sicily, and in many of the Greek cities in lower Italy.

In September a festival was celebrated at which the Sun-God was invoked as an aid in battle, and in October the first-fruits were presented as a sacrifice.

At Athens there was an annual festival, held in May, to commemorate the yearly tribute of youths and maidens to Crete as sacrifices to the Minotaur. At Thebes there was a festival in honour of Apollo Ismenius, held every eighth year, called the "Daphnephoria." At this celebration branches of olives hung with wreaths, and representations of the sun, moon, and stars, were carried in procession, a feature of the festival.

A festival in honour of "Hyacinthus," one of the titles of Apollo, was celebrated annually at Sparta, in July, and lasted nine days. It began with laments, but concluded with expressions of joy and gladness. In honour of Apollo, the Sun-God, a festival called "Thargelia" was held at Athens, in May, to celebrate the harvest yield. In August the Athenians celebrated a similar festival called "Metageitnia." These celebrations and festivals bear testimony to the importance of Sun worship among the ancient Greeks.

p. 243

Among the Peruvians there were four solar festivals of importance celebrated throughout the year with great pomp and display. Chief among these was that of the winter solstice, which fell in June. It was the festival of the diminished and growing Sun. It lasted nine days, the first three of which were given up to fasting. On the morning of the great day the Emperor himself officiated as high priest, and all the people gathered at dawn in the public square to await the coming of the supreme deity, the Sun. At sight of him great shouts of joy rose from the multitude, who threw kisses to the orb of day, and prostrated themselves. The chief priest then offered a libation to the Sun-God, drinking of the cup himself, and then passing it on to his retinue, an act of solar communion. All then marched to the temple of the Sun, where a black llama was sacrificed, and its entrails were carefully inspected for omens affecting the coming year. A fire, produced by the focused rays of the sun from a mirror, was then lighted on the altar, and from it fire was conveyed to all the Sun temples in the city. These fires were kept burning continuously until three days before the next solstice when they were allowed to burn out.

The second great solar festival of the Peruvians was known as the "feast of purification," and fell in September. The object of this ceremonial was

p. 244

to invoke the Sun's aid and beneficent influence to secure the prosperity, health, and security of the people. The third festival was held in May, and was a thanksgiving harvest celebration, while still a fourth festival took place in December known as the "festival of power."

The Hopi Indians of North America, in their elaborate festivals in honour of the Sun, impersonated the Sun-God. The impersonator wore a disk-shaped mask, surrounded with eagle-wing feathers, and this was fringed with flowing strands of red horsehair to represent the sun's rays. The sun masks were a prominent feature in the solar ceremonials of many of the Indian tribes.

The curious and interesting custom of "need-fires," although not exactly to be classed as solar festivals, may very properly be treated of in this chapter, owing to the solemnity of the ceremony, the implicit faith of the people in their efficacy, and especially owing to their solar significance.

The "need-fires," or "forced-fires" as they are sometimes called, were kindled at times of great epidemics among the cattle that threatened their total annihilation, and the custom of kindling these fires is still in vogue in certain countries. Keary 1 thus describes the custom:

"Wherever it can be traced among people of


p. 245

[paragraph continues] German or Scandinavian descent, the fire is always kindled by the friction of a wooden axle in the nave of a waggon wheel or in holes bored in one or two posts. In either case the axle or roller is worked with a rope, which is wound around it and pulled to and fro with the greatest possible speed by two opposite groups of able-bodied men. The wheel was beyond all doubt an emblem of the sun. In a few instances of late date it is stated that an old waggon wheel was used.

"In Marburger, official documents of the year 1605, express mention is made of new wheels, new axles, and new ropes, and these we may be assured were universally deemed requisite in earlier times. It was also necessary to the success of the operation that all the fires should be extinguished in the adjacent houses, and not a spark remain in any one of them when the work began. The wood used was generally that of the oak, a tree sacred to the lightning god Thor, because of the red colour of its fresh-cut bark. Sometimes, especially in Sweden, nine kinds of wood were used The fuel for the fire was straw, heath, and brushwood, of which each household contributed its portion, and it was laid down over some length of the narrow lane which was usually chosen as the most convenient place for the work. When the fire had burned down sufficiently, the cattle were forcibly driven through

p. 246

it two or three times in a certain order beginning with the swine, and ending with the horses or vice versa. When all the cattle have passed through the fire, each householder takes home an extinguished brand which in some places is laid in the manger. The ashes were scattered to the winds apparently that their wholesome influence may be spread far abroad. In Sweden the smoke of the need-fires was believed to have much virtue: it made fruit trees productive, and nets that had been hung in it were sure to catch much fish.

"The earliest account of the need-fires in England is that quoted by Kemble from the Chronicle of Lanercost for the year 1268. The writer relates with pious horror how 'certain bestial persons, monks in garb but not in mind, taught the country people to extract fire from wood by friction, and set up a "Simulacrum Priape" as a means of preserving their cattle from an epidemic pneumonia.' This 'Simulacrum Priape' was unquestionably an image of the sun-god Fro or Fricco.

"Jacob Grimm was the first to make it evident that, for the Germans at least, the wheel was an emblem of the sun, and numerous facts which have come to light since he wrote, abundantly verify his conclusion.

"He mentions among other evidence that, in the Edda, the sun is called 'fagrahvel,' 'fair, or

p. 247

bright wheel, 'and that the same sign ☉ which in the calendar represents the sun stands also for the Gothic double consonant 'hw,' the initial of the Gothic word 'hvil,' Anglo-Saxon 'hveol,' English 'wheel.'

"In the need-fires on the island of Mull, the wheel was turned, according to Celtic usage, from east to west, like the sun. Grimm has also noticed the use of the wheel in other German usages as well as in the need-fire, and he is of opinion that in heathen times it constantly formed the nucleus and centre of the sacred and purifying sacrificial flame. There was a twofold reason for this use of the emblem of the sun, for that body was regarded not only as a mass of heavenly fire, but also as the immediate source of the lightning. When black clouds concealed the sun, the early Aryans believed that its light was actually extinguished, and needed to be rekindled. Then the pramantha 1 was worked by some god in the cold wheel until it glowed again, but before this was finally accomplished the pramantha often shot out as a thunderbolt from the wheel, or was carried off by some fire robbers. The word 'thunderbolt' itself like its German equivalents expresses the cylindrical or conical form


p. 248

of the pramantha. When the bolts had ceased to fly from the nave, and the wheel was once more ablaze, the storm was over."

From the foregoing, which treats merely of the more important solar festivals, it is clear that these products of paganism are as much in force at present from a symbolic point of view, as they ever were, and that Christianity countenances, and in many cases has actually adopted and practises, pagan rites whose heathen significance is merely lost sight of because attention is not called to the sources whence these rites have sprung.

In short, Sun worship, symbolically speaking, lies at the very heart of the great festivals which the Christian Church celebrates to-day, and these relics of heathen religion have, through the medium of their sacred rites, curiously enough blended with practices and beliefs utterly antagonistic to the spirit that prompted them.

The reason for the survival of many of the symbols of Sun worship and the practice of many customs peculiar to this ancient form of idolatry, lies in the fact that the early Christian teachers found the people so wedded to their old rites and usages, that it was vain to hope for the complete abandonment of these long-cherished practices. Hence a compromise was wisely effected, and the old pagan customs were deprived of the idolatry

p. 249

that was so obnoxious to the Christian, and transferred as mere meaningless symbols and empty forms to the Christian festivals. Old paganism died hard, and fought long and stubbornly in its struggle with Christianity, but time has fought for the Christian, and now even the meaning of symbols and forms that once played such an important part in pagan worship is lost sight of, and their former force and power is lost for evermore.


229:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

231:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

233:1 Curiosities of Folk-Lore, C. F. Keary.

236:1 The Golden Bough, J. G. Frazer.

238:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

244:1 Curiosities of Folk-Lore, C. F. Keary.

247:1 The pramantha was the handle of the mythical hand-mill of Frodé, the regent of the Golden Age. This hand-mill was a flat circular stone which represented the sun's disk, its handle was used by Indra and the Aswins to kindle the cloud-extinguished orb of day.