Sun Lore of All Ages (10-12)

01.08.2015 08:37


Chapter X

Solar Omens, Traditions, and Superstitions

THE past has bequeathed to us a wealth of lore, in the nature of omens and wise saws, superstitions and quaint fancies, the product of imaginative speculation in every phase of human existence, from the earliest times. This is especially true of the influence exerted on human affairs by the sun, moon, and stars; and though, as might be expected, less superstition is attached to the sun than to the moon, owing to the fact that the latter rules the night, when the imagination is roused to activity by the deep shadows and the mysterious gloom, still there cluster about the sun many curious ideas, that, apart from their value to the antiquarian, are interesting to the layman, affording as they do an insight into the life of ancient times.

These superstitions naturally relate to the widest possible range of subjects, for, once given the idea, prevailing at one time in the world's history, that

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the sun was a living being, who, if he did not rule man's destiny, still had a great share in shaping or controlling it, there is no end to the play of the imagination respecting its influence on man's daily existence. Therefore, what follows must necessarily be fragmentary in its nature, impossible of extensive classification, and consequently disconnected. The purpose is merely to place before the reader the better known and most popular of the fancies relating to the sun that primitive and simple-minded people of past ages created, and which, because of the hold which superstition has ever exerted on the race, are believed in, even in this enlightened age.

In the Ægean Islands, a land teeming with myth and legend, there are still extant many strange superstitions respecting the sun. When the Sun disappears from sight in the west each night, they say he has returned to his vast kingdom in the underworld, where he dwells in a great castle. His mother waits to receive him, and has forty loaves of bread ready to appease his appetite; but if, by any chance, this meal is not prepared, the famished Sun becomes a cannibal, and eats his entire family. When he rises red, the islanders say: "He has eaten his mother. He is crimson-hued because he yielded to his bloodthirsty inclinations, when he found no bread to eat."

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Others say the red colours at sunset are caused by the blood flowing from the Sun-God when he hastens to his suicide. Curiously enough, the Greeks regard the rising sun as ushered in through the portals of the east each morning by the Virgin Mary. Again, the sun was regarded by the Greeks as the symbol of perfect beauty, and they formerly painted the sun's disk on the cheeks of a bride. Churches are still dedicated to the Virgin beautiful as the sun, and there are many legends which relate to maidens who boasted that their beauty excelled that of the sun, and of the penalty they paid for making such presumptuous claims.

The Greeks regarded the orb of day as an all-seeing eye, and believed that no deed escaped its detection. The Finns believed that even the abode of the dead could be reached by the blissful rays of the sun. Because the sun looked down on all men, messages were given to the Sun that he might convey them to absent ones of a family, whom he beheld wherever they chanced to be.

We have seen how the Greeks explained the crimson hues that accompanied the rising sun. Its ruddy hue at sunset also called for an explanation, and the ancients believed that, as the sun reached its vanishing point, it gazed on the fires of hell, and these lit up its face, and the western sky.

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It seems to have been an almost universal belief among primitive people that the sun and moon were the abodes of departed souls. In Isaac Taylor's Physical Theory of Another Life, we read that ''the sun of each planetary system is the house of the higher and ultimate spiritual corporeity, and the centre of assembly to those who have passed on the planets their preliminary era of corruptible organisation."

One of the most popular solar superstitions, and one that has survived even to this day, is the notion that the sun dances when it rises on Easter Day. In the middle districts of Ireland the peasants rise at an early hour Easter morning to witness this phenomenon, which they say is in honour of the resurrection. Brand 1 tells us this "is not confined to the humble labourer and his family, but is scrupulously observed by many highly respectable and wealthy families."

Sir Thomas Browne has left us the following quaint thoughts on this subject: "We shall not, I hope," says he, "disparage the Resurrection of our Redeemer, if we say that the sun doth not dance on Easter Day, and though we would willingly assent unto any sympathetical exultation, yet we cannot conceive therein any more than a topical expression. Whether any such motion there was


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in that day Christ arised, Scripture hath not revealed, which hath been punctual in other records concerning solitary miracles, and the Areopagite that was amazed at the eclipse, took no notice of this; and if metaphorical expressions go so far, we may be bold to affirm, not only that one sun danced, but two arose on that day; that light appeared at his nativity, and darkness at his death, and yet a light at both; for even that darkness was a light unto the Gentiles, illuminated by that obscurity. That was the first time the sun set above the horizon. That, although there were darkness above the earth, yet there was light beneath it, nor dare we say that Hell was dark if he were in it."

In some parts of England this quaint belief in the dance of the joyful Easter sun was regarded as the lamb playing for very gladness, in honour of the risen Christ.

In a rare book entitled Recreation for Ingenious Head Pieces, the Easter sun dance is thus referred to in an old ballad:


"But, Dick, she dances such a way
 No sun upon an Easter day
 Is half so fine a sight."


The Swabian people are firm believers in this superstition, and aver that the Sun leaps thrice for

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joy when it rises Easter morning; but at Rottenburg on the Neckar, the Sun was supposed to indulge in this dance at his setting Christmas Eve.

In England, we find this belief in the Easter sun dance still extant in parts of Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, and Devonshire, and it is the custom for the maidens to rise early Easter morning that they may witness the sight, and they also look for the lamb and flag in the centre of the sun's disk.

There is little doubt that the northern European nations welcomed the return of the spring sun with dancing, and the May rejoicings familiar in Cornwall are but an expression of congratulation to the spring. We have a similar custom in this country to-day, and May Day is a festival celebrated with elaborate Maypole dances by the school children of New York City. We see a striking analogy in these dances to the sun dances of the American Indians, which were part of the ritual of their Sun worship, and the radiating lines of ribbons from the Maypole represent the rays of the sun, as the thongs attached to the sun-pole in the Indians’ dance did.

The old Beltane games and dances, common in Perthshire and other parts of Scotland until the beginning of the last century, had a solar significance, the word "Beltane" being a derivative of

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the compound word "Baal," the Phœnician word for sun, and "tein," the Gælic word for fire.

Lady Wilde 1 says that "the Beltane dance, where the participants circle about a bush hung with ribbons and garlands, or about a lighted bush or bonfire, celebrating the returning power of the sun, is still kept up in parts of Ireland on May Day and that those taking part always move sunwise."

This sunwise motion is found in many customs extant to-day. In the Scotch Highlands they still "make the deazil" around those whom they wish well of. This superstition consists in walking three times around the person according to the course of the sun. To circle in the opposite direction or "withershins," is productive of evil, and brings bad luck. We see a survival of this custom of circling about to bring luck in the modern superstition often practised by a card-player to-day, when he rises and walks around his chair three times to produce good luck.

According to an Icelandic saga, a woman going against the sun round a house, and waving a cloth, brought down a landslip against the house, and in Yorkshire it is said that if you walk round the room against the sun at midnight, in perfect darkness, and then look into a mirror, you will see leering out of it at you the face of the devil.


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In Popular Romances of the West of England, by Robert Hunt, there is the following description of a superstitious belief that the sun never shines on a perjured person: "When a man has deeply perjured himself, especially if by his perjury he has sacrificed the life of a friend, he not merely loses the enjoyment of the sunshine, but he actually loses all consciousness of its light or its warmth. Howsoever bright the sun may shine, the weather appears to him gloomy, dark, and cold. I have recently been told of a man living in the western part of Cornwall, who is said to have sworn away the life of an innocent person. The face of this false witness is said to be the colour of one long in the tomb, and he has never, since the death of the victim of his forswearing, seen the sun. It must be remembered the perjured man is not blind, all things round him are seen as by other men, but the sense of vision is so dulled that the world is forever to him in a dark vapoury cloud."

Among the Tunguses, an accused man has to walk toward the sun brandishing a knife, and crying: "If I am guilty, may the sun send sickness to rage in my bowels like this knife."

The appearance of three suns, it is said, denotes war. It is claimed that they are only visible at sunrise, and differ in size. At Herbertingen, they aver that these three suns have frequently

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been seen, and that they appeared just before Napoleon's disastrous campaign in Russia. The largest sun in this case was in the northern direction, and they say that is why the Russians triumphed.

The sun is also an important factor in Mexican superstition. The following cases are typical, and their injunctions closely followed by the people of that country:

The head of the bed must never be placed toward the rising sun, since it will cause the sleeper to rise with a bad headache, and even insanity may result. The sun is also appealed to whenever a tooth drops out, or is extracted. When this occurs, the loser takes the tooth and throws it with all his might at the sun.

When the sun sets on a cloudy day, the following day will be a stormy one. The Mexicans also have a belief that blondes cannot see the sun.

In Germany it is the custom on St. John's Day for hunters to fire at the sun, believing that they will thereby become infallible hunters. According to another German belief, he who on St. John's Day fires toward the sun is condemned to hunt forever afterward, like Odin, the eternal hunter.

We are all familiar with the phrase, "the sun is drawing water," used to express the appearance of the sun's rays as they filter through spaces in the

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clouds, and spread out like a fan over a body of water. This expression arose from the fact that primitive people fancied the sun's rays on these occasions resembled ropes that ran over the pulleys of the old-fashioned draw wells.

A very strange belief is that of the Namaqua Hottentots, that the sun is a bright piece of bacon, which the people who go in ships draw up in the evening by enchantment, and let down again after they have cut a piece off from it.

There is a curious custom found in many parts of the world, which relates to the sun's influence on young maidens entering on womanhood. According to this superstition, these maidens must not touch the ground nor permit the sun to shine upon them. In Fiji, brides who were being tattooed were hidden from the rays of the sun, and in a modern Greek folk-tale the Fates predict that in her fifteenth year a princess must be careful not to let the sun shine on her lest she be turned into a lizard. A Tyrolese story tells how it was the doom of a lovely maiden to be transported into the belly of a whale if ever a sunbeam fell on her.

The old Greek legend of Danaë, who was imprisoned by her father in a dungeon, or brazen tower, is a further illustration of this strange idea relating to the sun's influence on human affairs.

The following solar superstitions show the wide

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play of man's fancy as relating to the power of the sun's light and indicate that there was a belief that the sun was a devout Christian, and kept the holy days prescribed by the Church:

For the sun to shine upon a bride is a good omen.


                   "While that others do divine
Blest is the bride on whom the sun doth shine."
                            HERRICK'S Hesperides.


If the sun shines while it rains, the witches are baking cakes.

The Mexicans say when it rains, and the sun is shining, a she-wolf is bringing forth her offspring, or a liar is paying his debts.

If the sun shines on Candlemas Day (February 2d), the flax will prosper.

If women dance in the sun at Candlemas their flax will thrive that year.


As far as the sun shines in on Candlemas Day
 So far will the snow blow in before May:
 As far as the snow blows in on Candlemas Day
 So far will the sun shine in before May."


"If the sun in red should set,
 The next day surely will be wet;
 If the sun should set in grey,
 The next will be a rainy day."


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When the sun does not shine, all treasures buried in the earth are open.

If the sun shines on Easter Day, it will shine on Whitsunday also.

On Good Friday the sun mourns over the Crucifixion, and does not shine until three o'clock in the afternoon.

The sun is obliged to shine for a short time at least every Sunday in order that the Blessed Virgin may dry her veil.

Three Saturdays in the year, when the Virgin Mary mourns, the sun does not shine at all.

From an old Dream Book we derive the following superstitions:

To dream you see the sun shine, shows accumulation of riches and enjoying posts of honour in the state, also success to the lover.

To dream you see the sun rise, promises fidelity in your sweetheart, and good news from friends.

To dream you see the sun set, shows infidelity in your sweetheart, and disagreeable news. To tradesmen, loss of business.

To dream you see the sun under a cloud, foretells many hardships and troubles are about to befall you, and that you will encounter some great danger.


256:1 Popular Antiquities, John Brand.

259:1 Ancient Legends of Ireland, Lady Wilde.



Chapter XI

Solar Significance of Burial Customs.

NOWHERE in the study of ancient rites and customs is the sun's influence on human affairs in greater evidence than in the ceremonials attending the burial of the dead.

The funeral rites of all people reveal the universal belief that the east is the source of all that men hold dear, light, life, warmth, and happiness, while the west, on the contrary, is said to be the abode of darkness, death, cold, and sorrow. The worship of the Sun cultivated and strengthened this idea, and down through the ages the influence of this belief has swept, retaining even to-day much of its ancient force and vigour.

According to Tylor 1: "It seems to be the working out of the solar analogy on the one hand in death at sunset, on the other in new life at sunrise, that has produced two contrasted rules of burial


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which agree in placing the dead in the sun's path, the line of east and west."

It is said that the body of Christ was laid with the head toward the west, that the risen Lord might face the eastern realm of eternal life and glory, and the Christian custom that sprang from this belief led to the usage of digging graves east and west, which prevailed through mediæval times, and is common with us to-day.

In the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew's gospel we read: "For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." Prom the literal interpretation of these words there arose the belief that Jesus would, at the resurrection, appear from the east, and hence that those buried with their faces upward and their heads to the west, would be in readiness to stand up with their faces toward their Judge.

Swift alludes to this custom in the account of Gulliver's voyage to Lilliput, where he says: "The inhabitants bury their dead with their heads directly downward because they hold an opinion, that in eleven thousand moons they are all to rise again, in which period the earth, which they conceive to be flat, will turn upside down, and by this means they shall at their resurrection be found ready standing on their feet."

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Sir Walter Raleigh referred to this superstition when he stood on the scaffold, and was about to be executed. After forgiving his executioner, there was a discussion as to the way he should face, some saying he should face the east. Raleigh then remarked: "So the heart be straight it is no matter which way the head lieth."

The east and west burial custom was practised by the ancient Greeks, and by the natives in some districts of Australia, although the latter people as a rule regarded the west as the abode of departed spirits, and therefore buried their dead facing that quarter.

The native Samoans and Fijians follow the same custom, believing that if the dead are buried with head east and feet west, the body at the resurrection would be in a position to walk straight onward to the abiding-place of the soul.

According to Schoolcraft, the Winnebago Indians buried their dead in a sitting posture with the face west, or at full length with the feet west, in order that they may look toward the happy land in the west. Other Indian tribes, notably the Indians of Kansas, practised this custom.

It was the Peruvian custom to bury the dead huddled up in a sitting posture with their faces turned toward the west, and in the funeral ritual of the Aztecs there is found a description of the

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first peril that the shade encountered on its journey to the abode of the dead, which they believed was illuminated by the sun when night enveloped the earth.

On the contrary, the Yumanas of South America were accustomed to bury their dead in a sitting posture facing the east, as they believed that in the east was the home of their supreme deity, who would one day take unto himself all true believers in him. The Guayanos have a similar belief and custom. The modern Ainus of Yezo bury their dead lying robed in white with heads to the east, because that is where the sun rises. The mediæval Tartars raised a great mound over their graves, and placed therein a statue with its face turned eastward.

The Siamese believe that no one should sleep with his head to the west, as that is the position in which the dead are placed at burial. Lady Wilde calls attention to the curious customs, practised at the wake of the Irish peasants, which are derived from the ancient funeral ceremonies of the Egyptians. Particularly is this the case where, during the wake, a man and a woman appeared, one bearing the head of an ox, the other that of a cow. This strange custom is thought to represent the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris waiting to receive the soul of the dead.

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In Wales the east wind is called the "wind of the dead men's feet," and the eastern portion of a churchyard was always regarded as the most honoured part. South, west, and north were next in favour, in their order, and suicides were buried with their heads to the north, as, in taking their own lives, they had forfeited the rights of the orthodox to a burial with face to the east. In rural parts of England it was the custom in ancient times to remark at the funeral service: "The dead ay go wi’ the sun."

Even in our own country we see a survival of the universal belief in the proper orientation of a deceased person. Examination shows that the headstones in the old burial-grounds of Plymouth, Concord, and Deerfield, face the west, so that, at the resurrection, the dead will rise to face the Son of Man as He comes from out the east with great power and glory.


The subject of orientation is an extremely interesting one, and plays a prominent part in many of the customs and practices of the present day. In acknowledgment of the divinity of the Sun the Pagans turned to the east in prayer, and so constructed their temples that even the buildings themselves should pay homage to the rising sun.

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We learn from Josephus that as early as Solomon's time the temple at Jerusalem was oriented to the east with great care. It was open to the east, and closed absolutely to the west.

"In plan," says Keary, 1 "it was like an Egyptian temple, the light from the sun at the equinox being free to come along an open passage to reach at last the Holy of Holies. There is evidence too that the entrance of the sunlight on the morning of the spring equinox formed part of the ceremonial; the high priest being in the naos, the worshippers with their backs to the sun could see him by means of the sunlight reflected from the jewels in his garments."

"Temples, with pillars that represented the trees of the sacred groves, had their chief portal almost universally looking toward the east. It is thought that this is due to the fact that the groves, and the temples which represented them, were both indicative of the Garden of Paradise. Again, the portals of Eden where God stationed the Cherubim to keep the way of the tree of life, was on the eastern side of the sacred grove. Not infrequently the approach to these temples was guarded by the figures of the compound sphinx." 2

The orientation of the Egyptian temples formed



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the basis first of the Greek, and later of the Latin temples of worship. Tylor 1 tells us: "It was an Athenian custom for the temple to have its entrance east, looking out through which the divine image stood to behold the rising sun," but for the most part the Greek temples were oriented to the stars that heralded the sunrise, rather than to the orb of day itself.

In India, orientation plays an important part in the daily acts of worship of the Brahman. On rising each day he pays his devotion to the Sun. Standing on one foot, and resting the other against his ankle or heel, he faces the Sun, and stretches out his arms to it. At noon he again worships the Sun, and, sitting with his face to the east, reads his daily portion of the Veda. It is while looking toward the east that his offering of barley and water must be presented to the gods, and in consecrating the sacred fire and sacrificial implements, the east has a holy significance.

On the contrary, the worshippers of Kali, the Death Goddess, the murderous Thugs, regarded the west as sacred, and the Jews, in order that they might not seem to imitate the Pagans in their rites of orientation, placed the sanctuary of their temples toward the west.

It is in Egypt, however, that we find the custom


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of orientation most rigidly practised, and a conspicuous feature of temple architecture. The main idea of the builders seems to have been so to arrange them that the chief dates in the year from a solar standpoint should be clearly marked by the orientation of the building, i.e., the solstices and equinoxes.

The temples at Heliopolis and Abydos were unquestionably solstitial temples. The Pyramids of Gizeh were oriented to the equinoxes. Perhaps the most elaborate and important of all the Egyptian solar temples was the magnificent edifice erected at Karnak to the worship of the Sun-God, Amen-Ra. Sir J. Norman Lockyer has given us the following splendid description of this temple. 1 Because it is a typical case of orientation, and one of the most interesting ruins in the world, the author takes the liberty of quoting it in full:

"The solar temple of Amen-Ra at Karnak is the finest Egyptian solar temple which remains open to our examination. It is beyond all question the most majestic ruin in the world. It covers about twice the area covered by St. Peter's at Rome, so that the whole structure was of a vastness absolutely unapproached in the modern ecclesiastical world. It is one of the most soul-inspiring temples which have ever been conceived


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or built by man. There is a sort of stone avenue in the centre giving a view towards the north-west, and this axis is something like five hundred yards in length. The whole object of the builder of the great temple at Karnak was to preserve that axis absolutely open, the point being that the axis should be absolutely open straight and true. The axis was directed towards the hills on the west side of the Nile where are located the tombs of the kings. From the entrance pylon the temple stretches through various halls of different sizes and details until at last at the extreme end what is called the Sanctuary, Naos, Adytum, or Holy of Holies is reached. The end of the temple at which the pylons are situated is open, the other closed.

"Every part of the temple was built to subserve a special object, viz., to limit the light which fell on its front into a narrow beam and to carry it to the other extremity of the temple into the sanctuary so that once a year when the sun set at the solstice the light is passed without interruption along the whole length of the temple finally illuminating the sanctuary in most resplendent fashion, and striking the sanctuary wall. The wall of the sanctuary opposite to the entrance of the temple was always blocked. The ray of light was narrowed as it progressed inward from the opening toward the sanctuary by a series of doors ingeniously

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arranged, that acted as the diaphragms of the telescope tube in concentrating the light rays. The reason for this was that the temple was virtually an astronomical observatory, and the idea was to obtain exactly the precise time of the solstice. The longer the beam of light used, the greater is the accuracy that can be obtained. The darker the sanctuary the more obvious will be the patch of light on the end wall, and the more easily can its position be located. It was important to do this two or three days near the solstice in order to get an idea of the exact time at which the solstice took place.

"We find that a narrow beam of sunlight coming through a narrow entrance some five hundred yards away from the door of the Holy of Holies would, provided the temple were properly oriented to the solstice, and provided the solstice occurred at the absolute moment of sunrise, or sunset, according to which the temple was being utilised, practically flash into the sanctuary, and remain there for about a couple of minutes, and then pass away.

"We may conclude that there was some purpose of utility to be served, and the solar temples could have been used undoubtedly among other things for determining the exact length of the solar year. The magnificent burst of light at sunset into the

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sanctuary would show that a new true solar year was beginning. If the Egyptians wished to use the temple for ceremonial purposes, the magnificent beam of light thrown into the temple at the sunset hour would give them opportunities and even suggestions for so doing; for instance, they might place an image of the god in the sanctuary, and allow the light to flash upon it. We should have a 'manifestation of Ra' with a vengeance, during the brief time the white flood of sunlight fell on it. Be it remembered that in the dry and clear air of Egypt, the sun casts a shadow five seconds after the first little point of it has been seen above the horizon, so that at sunrise and sunset in Egypt the light is very strong, and not tempered as with us."

An extremely interesting feature of Egyptian temple orientation, although it only pertains to temples dedicated to star worship, is found in the fact that the precession of the equinoxes necessitated an alteration of the axis of the temple at long intervals to accommodate the change of direction of the star to which the temple was originally oriented.

At Luxor, and many other places in Egypt, there are to be seen evidences of this change, a later axis having been constructed to meet the new requirements.

In the western world, in ancient times, we find

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the same rites of orientation observed and practised as prevailed in the Orient. Among the Sun-worshipping Peruvians the villages were so laid out that they sloped eastward so that the people when they rose each day might behold first of all the deity they worshipped. In the temple of the Sun at Cuzco, the great golden disk that represented the sun was so placed that it received the rising rays of the orb of day, and reflected its light through the edifice erected to its worship.

In ancient Mexico the inhabitants faced the east when they knelt in prayer, as their brother worshippers did in the far east, and though the doors of their temples faced westward, the altar itself was situated in the east. Even the Christianised Pueblo Indians face the east when rising, a survival of their ancient Sun worship. The Sun chief of the Natchez Indians of Louisiana always smoked toward the Sun each morning. The Comanche Indians, when about to take the warpath, present their weapons to the Sun, that their deity may bestow his blessing upon them. The ancient cave temples of the Apalachees of Florida faced eastward, and on festival days the priest waited till the rays of the sun had entered the temple before beginning the ceremonial chants.

According to Tylor, 1 the ceremony of orientation


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was unknown in primitive Christianity, but it developed within its first four centuries. It became an accepted custom to turn in prayer toward the east as the auspicious and mystic region of the Light of the World, the Sun of Righteousness, not for the Pagan purpose of adoring the sun itself, and even to-day the boy choristers face the east when they chant the "Gloria."

Orientation played an important part also in the rite of baptism. In ancient times he who was about to embrace the faith faced the west and renounced Satan, with gestures of abhorrence. Then, turning to the east, he acknowledged his faith in Christ, and declared his allegiance to Him. From the fifth century to the time of the Renaissance, the orientation of Christian churches was generally carried out. According to St. John of Damascus, the mystical reasons for this practice were that the crucified Saviour of Mankind faced westward, hence it is fitting that Christians in paying their devotions to Him should face eastward. Again, in the sacred writings, Jesus is called "the east" (oriens ex alto) and the hope is expressed that Christians at the last day will see Christ descending in the east. Finally, Christians, when turning to the east during prayer, establish a difference between themselves and the Jews and

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heretics, for the Jews when praying face west, and certain heretics south, and others north.

In the ninth century there was a strong protest against orientation, but the custom revived later, and to-day all our churches are more or less oriented, particularly those of the Romish and English branches of the Christian Church.

"Any church," says Keary, 1 "that is properly built, will have its axis pointing to the rising of the sun on the Saint's day, i.e., a church dedicated to St. John should not parallel a church dedicated to St. Peter.

"In regard to St. Peter's at Rome, we read that so exactly due east and west was the Basilica, that on the vernal equinox the great doors of the porch of the quadriporticus were thrown open at sunrise, and also the eastern doors of the church itself, and as the sun rose, its rays passed through the outer doors, then through the inner doors, and penetrating straight through the nave, illuminated the High Altar."

There is little doubt that the stones at Stonehenge were so arranged that at sunrise at the summer solstice the shadow of one stone fell exactly on the stone in the centre of the circle, indicating to the priests that the new year had begun. It is thought that fires were lighted on


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this occasion to flash the important news through the country.

Orientation plays an important part in many games and customs in vogue to-day. In the ring games of children, particularly, we see survivals of ancient Sun worship; as, for instance, in the games where the children sing, as they circle round, "Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow," and "Here we go ‘round the mulberry bush." The people of early times held that going sunwise was good and lucky, while to move in the contrary direction was inauspicious. The lama monk whirls his praying cylinder in one direction on this account, and fears that some one will turn it contrariwise, in which case it would lose its virtue. These monks also build up heaps of stones in the road, and uniformly pass them on one side as they proceed in one direction, and on the opposite side in returning, in imitation of the sun's circuit.

In India and Ceylon the same circumambulatory customs were practised. As we have seen, it was an old Irish and Scotch custom to go "deazil" or sunwise round houses and graves, and to turn the body in this way at the beginning and end of journeys for luck, as well as at weddings and various ceremonies.

The Irish and Scotch peasants always went westward round a holy well, following the course of the

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sun, and creeping on their hands and knees, as did the ancient Persians when offering homage at sacred fountains. In the mystic dances performed at the Baal festivals the gyrations of the dancers were always westward in the track of the sun, for the dance was part of the ancient ritual of Sun worship. To turn the opposite way, that is against the sun, was considered very unlucky, and was supposed to be an act intimately connected with the purposes of the evil one. Witches were said to dance that way.

In a religious observance called "paying rounds," much practised by the Irish peasantry when they essayed to cure diseases or bodily ailments, one finds an interesting instance of the custom of going sunwise to produce auspicious results.

It is a general popular belief throughout the United States that in making cake the eggs, or indeed the whole mixture, must be stirred or beaten from beginning to end in the same direction in which the stirring began, or the cake will not be light, and that a custard will curdle if the stirring motion is reversed. Often it is said that the stirring must be sunwise, the popular expression for this motion being "with the sun." The same notion is found in Newfoundland and Scotland.

Some matrons in Northern Ohio say that, to

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insure good bread, the dough should be stirred with the sun, and that yeast should be made as near sunrise as possible to secure lightness. In New Harbour, Nova Scotia, it is customary in getting off small boats to take pains to start from east to west, and, when the wind will permit, the same custom is observed in getting large schooners under way.

The idea of sunwise movement often appears in the common household treatment of diseases. Before the days of massage, in rubbing for rheumatic or other pains, it was thought best to rub from left to right. It is also said that a corn or wen may be removed by rubbing "with the moon," if by night, and "with the sun," if by day. It is thought that the sun or moon, as the case may be, will draw away all pain and enlargement.

Doubtless a close study of local customs prevailing in different parts of the world will reveal many similar examples and survivals of Sun worship. The subject is an exceedingly interesting one, and reveals above all else the great hold that Sun worship once held on the peoples of the earth.


267:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

272:1 The Dawn of History, C. F. Keary.

272:2 The Origin of Pagan Idolatry, G. S. Faber.

273:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

274:1 The Dawn of Astronomy, Sir Norman Lockyer.

278:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

280:1 The Dawn of History, C. F. Keary.



Chapter XII

Emblematic and Symbolic Forms of the Sun

THERE is much of interest in the study of the symbolic forms of the sun, derived as they are from the mythology and worship of the ancients. Many of the solar symbols enter into designs that embellish works of art of ancient and modern production, but, as symbolism and worship are closely correlated, it is in the study of ecclesiastical architecture, and the structural and artistic adornment of edifices dedicated to worship, that we find a fertile field for tracing these emblems and symbols to their sources.

A knowledge of the origin and true significance of symbolic forms lends interest to many emblems common in the everyday life of the present time, and, in some cases, reveals the curious fact and incongruity of the combination of pagan symbols of worship and anti-pagan ritual. This state of affairs is in evidence in practically all of the

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modern church edifices. The meaning of these symbols was lost sight of as the wave of Christianity swept onward, and yet so great was the power that these mute forms at one time possessed over men, that, in spite of the decline and the utter extinction of the worship that created them, they continued to live throughout the ages, and many of them in the light of modern times have attained an altered significance, and are as greatly revered and adored to-day as in the ancient days of heathendom.

Although the Canaanite symbol for the sun was an upright stone, the most ancient and popular solar symbol seems to have been the eye. This symbol was naturally suggested by, and in conformity to, the ancient idea that the sun was an all-seeing god, whose penetrating gaze revealed everything that was visible to man. The sun, in short, possessed to primitive minds all the attributes of a great eye gazing down upon the earth.

To the Persians the sun was the eye of Ormuzd. To the Egyptians it was the right eye of Demiurge, and in the Book of the Dead the sun is often represented as an eye provided with wings and feet.

To the ancient Hindus the sun was the eye of Varuna. To the Greeks it was the eye of Zeus, and the early Teutons regarded it as the eye of Wuotan, or Woden. Greek mythology, in fact,

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shows us a race of sun people, the Cyclops, huge giants possessing but one great eye in the centre of their foreheads.

Not only was the sun regarded as a symbol of the eye of the Supreme Being, but in some cases it was thought to represent his full face and countenance.

Vieing in importance with the eye symbol of the sun was the wheel symbol. This was a very ancient conception, and, in this case, the rays of the sun were represented by the spokes of the wheel. As the sun's motion was a matter of great concern to the ancients, its motive power was a subject of much conjecture, and there emerged the fancy that the sun was drawn across the sky by a number of spirited steeds. According to Hindu myth these steeds of the sun were appropriately red or golden in colour.

The symbol of the sun at Sippara was a small circle with four triangular rays, the four angles between being occupied by radiating lines, and the whole circumscribed by a larger circle. The same symbol occurs repeatedly upon the shell gorgets of the ancient Mound-Builders of the western continent. 1


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In Greece the symbols of Helios, the Sun-God, were horses' heads, a crown of seven rays, a cornucopia, and a ripened fruit; while the symbols of Apollo were a wolf, swan, stag, dolphin, laurel, and lyre. The ancient Chinese solar symbol was a raven in a circle.

Given the symbol of a wheel, and that of the Sun drawn by dashing steeds, we find in the combination of these symbols the image of the chariot of the Sun, around which so many ancient myths and legends cluster. From the vehicle it was but a step of the imagination to regard the Sun as the charioteer, the supreme deity, driving his flaming car each day across the firmament. The warlike propensities of primitive man were responsible for another very early symbol of the sun, that of a highly burnished shield, while, in a passage of the Persian national epic by Firdusi, the sun is regarded as a golden key which is lost during the night, and the lighting up of the sun each morning was looked upon as an unlocking of the imprisoned orb of day.

Egypt has probably given us more symbols of the sun than any other country. This is doubtless because the Egyptians had a more elaborate form of Sun worship than existed in any other land, in that the different aspects of the sun were, as we have seen, deified. The best-known Egyptian

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solar symbols were the scarabæus, hawk and globe, lion, and crocodile.

Taking them up in order, the scarabæus or beetle was, according to Pliny, worshipped throughout the greater part of Egypt. It was a symbol particularly sacred to the sun, and is often represented in a boat with wings extended, holding in its claws the globe of the sun. Horapollo claims it was chosen as a solar symbol, owing to the fact that the creature had thirty toes, which equals the number of days in the ordinary solar month. Frequently the claws are represented as clasping a globe, emblematic of the action of the Sun-God Ra at mid-day.

In the great temple at Thebes, a scarab has been recovered with two heads, one of a ram, the symbol of Amen or Ammon, the god of Thebes, the other of the hawk, the symbol of the

The Scarab Beetle

Sun-God Horus, holding in its claws a globe emblematic of the universe. This scarab has been thought to symbolise The Scarab the rising sun, and the coming of the Beetle spring sun of the vernal equinox in the zodiacal sign of the ram.


Pliny avers that the claim of the scarab as a solar symbol rests on the fact that in this insect there is some resemblance to the operations of the sun, as one species forms itself into a ball and rolls

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itself along. The sculptures indicate clearly that the scarabæus represents the orb of the sun. The earliest scarabs date back to about 3900 B.C., and they were regarded as a sacred symbol for a period of over three thousand years. Inasmuch as the scarab was a solar symbol, it was likewise an emblem of immortality, and thus this symbol in its day closely resembled in its true significance the Christian symbol of the cross. The scarab was especially sacred to the Sun-God Amen-Ra, and further symbolised creative and fertilising power: It was the first life appearing after the annual inundation of the river Nile.

Of equal importance to the beetle as a symbol of the sun in Egypt was the hawk, or the hawk and globe, sacred as the emblem of the solar deity. The Sun-God Ra was generally represented as a man with a hawk's head surmounted by a globe or disk of the sun from which an asp issued, and the hawk was particularly known as the type of the sun, worshipped at Heliopolis as the sacred bird, and the representative of the deity of the place.

The winged disk was likewise a solar symbol, and highly regarded by the ancient Egyptians, who considered it an emblem of divine protection. It typified the sun's light and power, transported to the earth on the wings of a bird (possibly the hawk), and the emblem appears on many of the

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temple walls and over the doorway of numerous dwellings in Egypt.

Porphyry says the hawk was dedicated to the sun, being the symbol of light and spirit, because of the quickness of its motion, and its ascent to the higher regions of the air. Horapollo thinks that it was chosen as a type of that luminary from its being able to look more intently towards its rays than any other bird, whence also under the form of a hawk they depicted the sun as the Lord of Vision.

Macrobius, Proclus, Horapollo, and others state that the lion was a symbol of the sun, and this is substantiated by the sculptures. Macrobius claimed further that the Egyptians employed the lion to represent that part of the heavens where the sun was in its greatest force during its annual revolution, the zodiacal sign Leo being called the "abode of the Sun."

The Egyptians, Hindus, Chaldeans, Persians, and Celts all regarded the lion as a solar symbol. Brown 1 tells us: "In the inscriptions of Daryavush I. at El-Khargeh, the oasis of Ammon, in the Libyan desert, the great god Amen-Ra, the Invisible god revealed in the sun god, is addressed as 'the Lion of the double lions.' These two lions, two brothers, the two lion gods, are two solar


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phases, as diurnal and nocturnal, Har and Set, Shu and Tefuut, and as there is but one solar orb, so he is the lion of the double lions. In the funeral ritual the Osirian, or soul seeking divine union and communion with the sun god, prays: 'Let me not be surpassed by the Lion god: Oh, the Lion of the sun, who lifts his arm in the hill [of heaven]' and exclaims: 'I am the Lions, I am the sun. The white lion is the phallus of the sun.'"

The lion and sun form the familiar national standard of Persia, and a Persian coin by Tavernier shows the sun, horned and radiate, rising over the back of a lion.

In many parts of Egypt, in ancient times, the crocodile appears to have been worshipped. This worship was intimately connected with Sun worship, and rested on the analogy between the natural habits of the crocodile and the course of the sun;—as the crocodile spends its days on the land, and at night-fall seeks the water, so the sun, after running its daily course, sinks at evening into the sea. The crocodile, therefore, came to be regarded as a solar symbol, and so figures on the sculptures.

The cat was a conspicuous solar symbol in Egypt. The female of the species was emblematic of Bast or Bubastis, a solar deity, and the male symbolised the great Sun-God Ra.

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The Egyptians also represented the sun by the figure of a man sailing in a ship upon the ocean. Sometimes the ship was supported on the back of a crocodile, and again the man appeared floating in the ship, but at the same time seated upon the aquatic lotus, and often the ship was omitted, and the man was supported simply by the lotus. Sometimes the man's place in the calyx of the lotus plant is occupied by the figure of a child, and in the Bembini table, a frog is figured squatting on the floating lotus leaf in place of the man or child.

The Egyptians also represented the sun and moon, Osiris and Isis, as the ox and the cow, and Lady Wilde 1 tells us that these were used at the Irish wake ceremonials until very recently. "There is perhaps," says Faber, 2 "no part of the Gentile world in which the bull and the cow were not highly reverenced, and considered in the light of holy and mysterious symbols. Among the Chinese, the great father Fohi, whose whole history proves him to be the scriptural Noah, is feigned to have had the head of a bull. In the neighbouring empire of Japan, this ancient personage is venerated under the title of 'ox-headed prince of heaven,' and his figure is here again that of a man having the horns of a bull."



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Bearing in mind the nature and meaning of these solar symbols, the Egyptian sculptures have, for those who study them, a significance that renders them doubly interesting.

The Sun-Gods of the Hindus were represented as seated on the sacred lotus, or floating on the surface of the great deep, either on a leaf, or a huge serpent coiled up in a boatlike form.

In Greece there were legends of the voyage of the solar deity over the ocean, borne in a golden cup, originated, we are told, from the circumstance of the yellow or golden cup of the lotus being employed to represent the ship of the Sun. Indeed, in Hindustan, the cup of the lotus and the ship of the Sun-God Siva mean the same thing. "So strongly," says Faber, 1 "was the idea of a mariner sun impressed upon the minds of the ancient Pagans, that they even transferred it to the sphere. Not content with making the sun sail over the ocean in a ship, they considered the whole solar system as one large vessel in which the seven planets act as sailors, while the sun as the fountain of ethereal light presides as the pilot or captain.

"These eight celestial mariners who navigate the ship of the sphere are clearly the astronomical representatives of the eight great gods of Egypt, all of whom, including the sun as their head, were


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wont, according to Porphyry, to be depicted not standing on dry land, but sailing over the ocean in a ship."

The natives of Central America represented the sun by a human head, encircled by diverging rays, and with a great open mouth. This solar symbol was widely spread in all that region. In this representation the tongue is protruding, which signifies that the sun lives and speaks. This is clearly evidenced in the famous Aztec Calendar Stone (Calendario Azteco), also called "Stone of the Sun," which was recovered about the middle of the seventeenth century in the subsoil of the Plaza Major, Mexico City. Terry's Guide-Book on Mexico thus describes this interesting relic of antiquity:

"A huge rectangular parallelopipedon of basaltic porphyry, twenty-two feet in diameter, by three feet thick, which weighs twenty-four tons is one of the most interesting of the Aztec relics . . . . This immense specimen, which resembles an irregular mill-stone with a disk carved on it in low relief, evidently served the Aztecs as a calendar stone, and sun-dial. The face is carved with chronological and astronomical signs in geometrical order. The central figure, with a protruding tongue, represents the sun 'Tonatiuh'; the segments radiating toward the edge of the disk are symbolic of its rays.

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"Encircling this central figure are seven rings of unequal widths; from the third to the seventh they are incomplete. The inner ring represents two groups of signs, each group containing four symbols. Above the face is an arrowhead, symbolic of the wind, and beneath it a cluster of balls and hieroglyphs. In the rectangles above and below the eagle claws at the right and left are symbols representing the four elements, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. The symbols on both sides of the upper arrowhead are supposed to represent the years. Five ornamental disks fill the spaces between the symbols. The rectangles of the second ring contain the names of the days of the Aztec month, they begin above the point of the arrowhead and continue toward the left. . . . The third ring contains forty small squares each with five balls supposed to represent days—two hundred in all. Crossing this ring and extending to the sixth are four large arrowheads. The latter ring is the largest of all, and is formed by two huge serpents whose tails terminate in arrowheads ornamented with feathers. The chronological figures between the ends of the tails are thought to correspond to the year 1479 of our era. The human heads ornamented with feathers, eagle claws, disks, ear pendants, and what not represent the gods, (at the left) Tonatiuh, the sun, and (at

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the right) Quetzalcoatl, god of the air. The rim of the huge stone is adorned with conical glyptics, half stars and balls symbolic of the worlds and stars. . . . By means of this Calendario the priests kept their own records, regulated the festivals and seasons of sacrifices, and made their astronomical calculations. The symbols show that they had the means of settling the hours of the day with precision, the periods of the solstices and equinoxes, and that of the transit of the sun across the zenith of Mexico."

Prescott describes this stone in his Conquest of Mexico, and it is now on exhibition in the National Museum of the City of Mexico.

In the sculptures of the ancient Toltecs, the Sun- and Moon-Gods are represented by the symbols of the tiger and the hare respectively.

Akin to the solar symbols of the Canaanites, the primitive Mexicans erected columns of stone elaborately carved. These symbolised the sun, and as Réville puts it, "The sun traces each day the shadow of these monoliths upon the soil. He appears to caress and love them, regarding them as his fellow-workers in measuring time." 1

Many of the mystic signs common to pagan worship are in evidence to-day, "and the High Churchman decorates the edifice in which he


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officiates with symbols similar to those which awed the worshippers of Ashur, Ishtar, or the sun." 1

Chief among these ecclesiastical solar symbols is the cross, symbol of the Christian faith, a symbol that antedated the birth of Christ, and one that found its origin in solar worship. It occurs upon the monuments and utensils of every primitive people, from China to Yucatan. It may be asked, how did the cross, symbol of the sun, originate? The following ingenious explanation has been offered:

"If any one will observe carefully a lamp, or other bright light, with partially closed eyes, the answer will be obvious. The rays which appear to proceed from the luminous point form a cross of some kind. This is due to the reflection from the eyelashes, and edges of the eyelids. The evolution of the sun symbol seems to have been as follows: He was first represented by a circle or disk as he appears when near the horizon. Observations made when he was shining brightly revealed the crossed rays. This led to a combination of the circle and cross. If this is correct the swastika is a modification of the circle and inscribed cross. Not the least remarkable feature of this subject is the fact that the most ancient and universal symbol of the physical sun should


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for entirely independent reasons continue in use as the sign of the Sun of Righteousness, and the Light of the World."

The simple cross, with perpendicular and transverse arms of equal length, represents the nave and spokes of the solar wheel, sending forth its rays in all directions. In the ancient parish church of Bebington, Cheshire, England, there is to be seen to this day not only the solar wheel, as one of the adornments of the reredos, but deltas, acorns, and Maltese crosses (all of which are pagan symbols) enter profusely into the decorative features of the edifice.

One of the oldest and most widely occurring forms of the cross is the cross with crampons turned to right and left, commonly known as the "swastika,"

the suavastika of India, the Thor's hammer of Western Europe. Professor Max Müller thinks that this symbol represents the vernal sun, and that it is an emblem of life, health, and creative energy. It is thought to have arisen from the conception of the sun as a rolling wheel.


The halo depicted as encircling the heads of the saints, and those endowed with holy attributes, is clearly a solar symbol, and the wheel symbol suggested by the disk of the sun was often used as an emblem of God.

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In the chancel of a church in New England to-day we see in the mural decorations symbols that typify the ancient deification of the Sun, and originated from that worship, such as the disk fringed

with darting rays, the sun symbol, in the centre of which is the Christ name symbol, a strange and incongruous combining of the symbols of antagonistic and widely differing cults.


In another church in the same locality is the symbol of the six-pointed star, enclosing the all-seeing eye.

This double equilateral triangle is one of the most sacred of all the emblems of Pythagoras, and was revered for ages as the seal of King Solomon. It is also an important Masonic emblem.


The strange part of this study of symbolism is that the significance of these heathen emblems should be utterly meaningless to the multitudes who worship in their sight, which indicates an indifference to a knowledge of symbolism not in accord with the desire oftentimes emphasised for it, and the great number of emblems which embellish and adorn modern ecclesiastical edifices.

The emblems of heraldry perpetuate the symbolism expressive of the solar worship of primitive times. We see the Royal Arms of England, supported by the solar lion and the lunar unicorn.

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"These two creatures," says Brown, "are naturally antagonistic. In the ancient myth, the Unicorn, when rushing at the Lion, sticks his horn fast in a mythic Tree, behind which his opponent has taken refuge, and the Lion coming round devours him whilst thus defenceless. This is the explanation of the myth. The Lion-Sun flies from the rising Unicorn-Moon, and hides behind the Tree or Grove of the Under-world, the Moon pursues, and sinking in his turn, is caught in this mysterious Tree, and sunslain." 1

In many escutcheons are to be seen solar symbols already referred to, as, for instance, in the cut, the escutcheon of a Greek-letter fraternity shows the winged sun disk and the all-seeing eye.

In astrology also, solar symbolism plays an important part, such as "the rules which connect the sun with gold, with heliotrope and pæony, with the cock which heralds day, and with magnanimous animals such as the lion and bull."

There is to be found in certain old brick houses in England a curious solar symbol. It consists of a flat piece of iron five or six inches in length, shaped somewhat like the letter "S,"

which was placed upon the house walls about the line of division between the



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first and second stories. It is still used in Herefordshire. There, it is said that these irons are in the nature of talismans, and are supposed to protect the house from fire and collapse.

Brown tells us that "Masonic tradition is but one of the numerous ancient allegories of the yearly passage of the personified sun among the twelve constellations of the zodiac, being founded on a system of astronomical symbols and emblems, employed to teach the great truths of omnipotent God and immortality." 1 Its symbolism, therefore, is closely associated with solar symbolism and interesting to note in this connection. The word "Masonry" is said to be derived from a Greek word which signifies "I am in the midst of heaven," alluding to the sun. Others derive it from the ancient Egyptian "Phre," the sun, and "Mas," a child, Phre-mas, i.e., children of the sun, or sons of light. From this we get our word "Freemason."

Masons are instructed to travel eastward in search of light, as the sun rises in the east. The initiation into all the ancient mysteries was a drama founded on the astronomical allegory of the death and resurrection of the Sun, and impressed on the mind of the candidate the unity of God and the immortality of man. These facts are taught in the ritual of the Third Degree.


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The Sun, overwhelmed by the three autumn months, returns to life at the vernal equinox, and is exalted at the summer solstice. In this drama the candidate was required to represent the Sun, and a solar significance characterises the whole ritual.

The following references to the symbolism of Masonry are taken from Stellar Theology by Robert Brown, Jr.

"The Lodge should be situated East and West, because the Sun, the glory of the Lord, rises in the East and sets in the West. A lodge has three lights situated in the East, West, and South. The Master's place is in the East, whence the sun rises, the Senior Warden's in the South, the point the sun occupies at mid-day.

"E.A.M. signifies the sun, F.C.M. the moon, and M.M. the sun, Benevolent God of Fire.

"O.G.M.H.A. is derived from two roots signifying the origin or manifestation of light, also he who was, and is. The source of eternal light, the sun taken as an emblem of Deity.

"O.G.M.H.A. represents the sun. The three steps delineated on the master's carpet have an obvious reference to the three steps or degrees by which the initiated becomes a Master-mason. They allude to the constellations Taurus, Gemini, and Cancer (emblematic of three steps), by means

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of which the sun ascends to the summit of the Royal Arch.

"The emblem of the Blazing Star alludes to the Sun as a symbol of Deity. The rite of Circumambulation has a direct solar allusion, as it was always performed from right to left, in imitation of the apparent course of the sun from East to West by way of the South.

"Masons celebrate June 24th and December 27th. These dates have a purely astronomic significance, and refer to the summer and winter solstice, the periods of great festivals and celebrations throughout the ancient world.

"The symbol of the all-seeing eye is distinctly solar in its character. In most of the ancient languages of Asia, eye and sun are expressed by the same word. In like manner Masons have emblematically represented the omniscience of the great Architect of the Universe.

"The significance of the Pillars of the Porch is of interest. In every Lodge there are two pillars surmounted by globes. These represent the pillars in the porch of King Solomon's temple. The Egyptian temples always contained two such pillars, one called 'Boaz,' meaning the sun, on the north side, the other 'Jachin,' referring to the moon, on the south.

"The corner-stone of the Lodge is placed in the

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[paragraph continues] North-East, as the sun on June 21st rises in the North-East."

According to Professor Worsaal, the ring cross

is a symbol of the sun, and belongs to the later stone age of Scandinavia. It was also the Chaldean solar symbol. The same writer places amongst the emblems of the later bronze age the symbol of the wheel cross,

which is considered a symbol of the sun.


The subject of solar symbolism has been only briefly touched upon in the foregoing, and a close study of its many features affords a rich field for research that should prove of fascinating interest to scholars and antiquarians alike.




289:1 The Moqui Indian Symbol of the sun is a Greek cross with a small circle in the centre, in which are three marks to indicate the eyes and mouth of a face.

293:1 The Lion and the Unicorn, Robert Brown, Jr.

295:1 Ancient Legends of Ireland, Lady Wilde.

295:2 The Origin of Pagan Idolatry, George Stanley Faber.

296:1 The Origin of Pagan Idolatry, George Stanley Faber.

299:1 Native Races of Mexico and Peru, Albert Réville.

300:1 Ancient Faiths, Thomas Inman.

303:1 The Unicorn, Robert Brown, Jr.

304:1 Stellar Theology, Robert Brown, Jr.